Visions of Fire and a Plumb Line
In Amos 7:1-3 God showed Amos a vision of locusts that were to come upon the land. Amos begged God to “please pardon!” and God then “repented,” or changed His mind, saying, “It shall not be.”
God then showed Amos a second vision in Amos 7:4,
4 Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the farm land.
As with the first vision (about locusts), Amos understood that a fiery judgment would also destroy Israel, making it impossible (so he thought) for God to fulfill His New Covenant promise.
Amos saw the fire consume “the great deep,” which, in Gen. 7:11 and in Isaiah 51:10 referred to the ocean. When the ocean was consumed by this divine fire, it then began to destroy the land itself. The NASB calls it “farm land.” The Hebrew word is cheleq, from chalaq, an inheritance that has been apportioned to someone.
In other words, the fire of God threatened Israel’s land inheritance. Recall the threat that the locusts presented against the “vegetation” (i.e., that is, the people). The second vision was of a fire that threatened the inheritance of land that had been given to the tribes and families in the days of Joshua.
Amos was again horrified by this prospect and appealed for mercy once again in Amos 7:5, 6,
5 Then I said, “Lord God, please stop! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?” 6 The Lord changed His mind about this. “This too shall not be,” said the Lord God.
Once again God repented in order to show mercy.
The Plumb Line Vision
Amos 7:7 and 8 says,
7 Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall, with a plumb line in His hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am about to put a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.
God had already relented on His judgment twice when Amos appealed for mercy. This time, however, He says, “I will spare them no longer.” The KJV reads, “I will not again pass by them any more.” The Hebrew word translated “pass by” is avar, a word used in Exodus 12:12, where God says, “I will pass through the land of Egypt.”
In Amos 7:8 it means that God will not pass by, or overlook, Israel’s sin any longer. Hence, the NASB says, “I will spare them no longer.” Intercession had delayed divine judgment twice already, but not a third time.
A plumb line was a rope or string attached to a weight at one end. Holding up the plumb line, a construction worker was able to tell if a wall or post was “true” (vertical) or if it leaned to one side. Thus, a plumb line was a prophetic symbol of truth and righteousness.
So we see that in this third vision God had used His plumb line of truth and righteousness to discover that the “wall” of Israel was not plumb (vertical). In other words, Israel lacked truth and righteousness. They believed lies, and so their faith was misplaced.
Amos 7:9 continues,
9 The high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. Then shall I rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
Here we read that “the high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste.” These religious structures were “the wall” that God was checking. The sanctuary walls lacked truth, so they were about to be torn down.
Names of Israel
In verse 9 above, God refers to Israel by three different names: Isaac, Israel, and the house of Jeroboam. The name Isaac seems to be a mystery to most commentators, because they look unsuccessfully for some event in Isaac’s life that might foreshadow Israel’s. Most do not realize that other nations in the area referred to Israel by the name Saka, Sakka, or Sacae, a name derived from Isaac.
Saka and Sakka are found on the Behistun Rock in later years as the equivalent of Gimirri (or Gomri, Gomer).
The House of Gomri (i.e., Omri) was the official Assyrian name for Israel found on the Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer. (See below.)
Because Gomri, was shown on the Behistun Rock (the tomb of Darius the Persian) to be the equivalent of Saka and Sakka, it is evident that the Persians called Israel by those names, rather than by the name Israel.
These name changes are the main reason the tribes of Israel were lost until recent times when these monuments were discovered.
The point is that when God refers to Israel by the name Isaac (or Isak), He was using one of the names that other nations called Israel. Perhaps the suggestion is that Israel would soon be exiled to those nations who called them by the name of Isaac.
The second name God uses in Amos 7:9 is Israel, which needs no explanation.
The third name is “the house of Jeroboam.” There were two kings of Israel named Jeroboam. The first king of Israel was Jeroboam I, whose reign began when the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam was the son of Solomon who continued to rule in Jerusalem over Judah. But the other tribes of Israel, with the exception of Benjamin, followed Jeroboam, revolting against the house of David. Jeroboam was the one who built the golden calves in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:25-30) and started the whole slide into apostasy.
Jeroboam II lived more than a century later and was actually ruling Israel when Amos prophesied at Bethel. In fact, Amos 7:10 says the high priest complained to King Jeroboam, accusing Amos of sedition.
No doubt Jeroboam I was the main reason for calling Israel “the house of Jeroboam.” The name suggested that the whole nation had followed him into apostasy and idolatry. Because of this, God sent a prophet to Jeroboam as he worshiped at the altar in Bethel, foretelling the destruction of the house of Israel. We read in 1 Kings 13:34,
34 And this event became sin to the house of Jeroboam, even to blot it out and destroy it from off the face of the earth.
Yet the fact that another Jeroboam had become king in Israel seemed to bring events full circle. It was as if the time had come for a double witness to be spoken against Jeroboam.
Reaction from the Priest of Bethel
Amos 7:10, 11 says,
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam (II), king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. 11 For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will surely go from its land into exile’.”
When governments become corrupt, truth is treated as sedition. This is the primary evidence that kings or other leaders have usurped God’s authority and rule as if there is no higher power above them.
As God’s spokesman, Amos had every right to speak the words of truth about God’s right to rule Israel. But usurpers do not like to be reprimanded for their rebellion and sin. So Amos had to flee for his life. Amos 7:12 and 13 says,
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah, and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 13 But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.”
Amos, the Foreigner
Amos was a foreigner because he came from Judah. Judah and Israel were two separate nations at that time—and they are still distinct to this day. Most of the Israelites never returned from their captivity, and the governmental entity called Israel, embodied in the princes of the tribes, never returned, nor were they rejoined to the nation of Judah. Hence, the Israelites are not Jews, nor is the Jewish nation Israel in the sight of God.
The reunification of Judah and Israel, says Hosea 1:11, will take place when both nations submit to the Messiah. That, of course, is a messianic prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. The nation that is today called Israel cannot fulfill the prophecies of the ten tribes, in spite of their claim upon the name. Although the Messiah was to come through Judah, the birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, as we read in 1 Chron. 5:1, 2. Jacob himself gave his name Israel to the sons of Joseph in Gen. 48:16. The tribes of Joseph were in Israel, not Judah.
Amos’ Response to the High Priest
Amos 7:14, 15 says,
14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel’.”
Though the book of Amos is categorized as one of the so-called “Minor Prophets,” he himself claimed that he was not a prophet. Hearing God’s voice and speaking it to others is a basic function of the prophetic office; however, that job is not limited to prophets, for all should hear and all may prophesy in a general sense.
In fact, no one should speak their own words but should be conduits for God’s voice. Paul said in Gal. 2:20 that it is “not I but Christ.” This calling is not just for prophets or apostles such as Paul. It is for everyone.
So even though Amos was not a prophet or the son of a prophet, he prophesied. He did the work that God called him to do and spoke that which was revealed to him. As a missionary, he was faithful to deliver his message to Israel. And he prophesied as well, for God had told him, “Go prophesy to My people Israel.”
Amos understood the word of God to mean that he was to travel north out of his own country of Judah to a foreign country known as Israel. Amos 7:16 and 17 continues,
16 “And now hear the word of the Lord: you are saying, ‘You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you speak against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line, and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile’.”
First, we see here that “Isaac” in Amos 7:9 is now expanded to be “the house of Isaac.” It is, of course, a reference to Israel. The house of Isaac is the Beth-Sak, as the Saka/Sacae were also called in history. If men had remembered this in later centuries, they might have been able to trace the migrations of the tribes of Israel, instead of losing them in Assyria.
Both Hosea and Amos actually provide us with the names which the nations were to call Israel after their deportation to Assyria. Hosea prophetically calls Israel Gomer by having him marry a harlot-bride by that name. Amos calls Israel the house of Isaac, revealing the name Beth-Sak as one of the names of Israel. However, because God had divorced Israel (Jer. 3:8; Hosea 2:2), Israel was stripped of her name and given alternate names during her captivity and exile.
Most of the prophets do not leave Israel in that condition. The prophets foretell a time of remarriage under a New Covenant, a time when all men from every nation may join Israel by adhering to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His New Covenant.
The apostle Paul explains this further by defending the equal right of non-Jews. Paul tells us in Eph. 2:14 that the dividing wall between them had been abolished in Christ, for it was a wall that had been erected by the traditions of men and not by any law of Moses or instruction by any of the prophets, nor even by any of the prophets of the second temple era.
Amos tells Amaziah, the high priest, that because he had rejected the word of the Lord, both he and the entire nation were to go into captivity. Special judgment was to come upon the high priest’s family, though the actual fulfillment of those prophecies is lost in history.
Nonetheless, we know from history that the Israelites were taken to Assyria in waves, climaxing with the fall of Samaria, their capital city, in 721 B.C. The high priest himself was to “die upon unclean soil.” Presumably, this meant that he was to be taken into captivity to a foreign land, whose soil was unclean, even as he and others had already desecrated the land of Israel through their idols. Israel as a whole sat on “unclean soil,” and no one, it seems, was raised up to cleanse the land by blood, according to the instructions in Deut. 21:4 and 7-9.