1 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord. 4 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, the Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said, “O Lord God, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The Lord relented concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God. 7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
In 2016, Christianity Today published an article entitled, “Pay-to-Pray Scam: Christian Prayer Center Must Refund $7 Million.” This is beyond irritating to read.
For four years, anyone with a prayer request could pay the Christian Prayer Center (CPC)—a website with nearly 1.3 million Facebook fans—between $9 and $35 to intercede for them.
Visitors to the site (as well as its Spanish-language sister site, Oracion Cristiana) saw testimonials from religious leaders and laypeople who claimed that God gave them healthy babies, winning lottery tickets, money for mortgage payments, and clean HIV tests and cancer scans after they paid for prayer, according to the Washington State attorney general’s office.
More than 125,000 people did pay. From 2011 to 2015, their more than 400,000 transactions poured more than $7 million into the pocket of site creator Benjamin Rogovy.
The trouble was, the popular site—which eclipsed even the International House of Prayer in its Facebook following—was a fraud. A counter-Facebook page, the Christian Prayer Center Scam, went up in 2012.
The testimonials were fake. The photos of happy customers were stock footage. And “Pastor John Carlson,” who sent weekly emails and had a LinkedIn page, was made up. Correspondence was signed by the non-existent “Pastor Eric Johnston.”
This is truly astonishing. There is something particularly obscene about greed and deceit masquerading as intercessory prayer. This is because of how powerful and beautiful intercession is. By intercession, we mean crying out to God on behalf of others. If the scoundrel in the news article above represents the corruption and blaspheming of intercessory prayer, then the prophet Amos in Amos 7 represents its flowering and beauty.
Let us consider what this amazing chapter reveals about the nature of judgment, the nature of intercession, and the heart of God.
The nature of divine judgment.
We begin with a point that has been well-established heretofore in the book of Amos: rebellion invites the judgment of God. We can see this in three visions of judgment that the Lord shows Amos.
First, we have a vision of locusts.
1 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings.
This is a vision of a locust plague that the Lord intends to send upon His rebellious children. The locusts, we are told, would come upon “the latter growth,” the growth “after the king’s mowings.” This requires some explanation, and Philip Johnston does this effectively.
There were two main crops each year in ancient Israel. The first was sown in the autumn, watered by the late autumn rains and harvested in the spring. The second was sown in winter, watered by the spring rains and harvested in the early summer…
The “king’s share” (lit., “mowing”) is mentioned only here. This was obviously some or all of the first harvest. Whatever the proportion, it shows that the king took a significant part of the best produce in a heavy tax…
The timing of the plague means that the monarchy already has its share, so the king may remain unconcerned about the plight of the ordinary people, but their share is completely wiped out as locusts “strip the land clean.” Lack of rain during the long, dry summer will make further crops impossible resulting in famine and starvation.
This is a devastating picture of judgment. The locusts would destroy the latter growth. Through this locust plague, the necessities of life are decimated by divine judgment in response to Israel’s sin.
Next, we have a vision of fire.
4 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, the Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land.
This is no ordinary fire. We can see this in the fact that it “devoured the great deep.” A fire that consumes the waters of the earth, indeed, the very foundations of the earth. Furthermore, it “was eating up the land.” So land and water fall under the fire of God’s judgment. See in this the totality of divine judgment.
Third, we have a vision of a plumb line.
7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
There is an interesting translation issue here we need to deal with. It involves the words “plumb line.” Philip Johnston notes:
The Hebrew word ‘anāk (“plumb line”) has the same stem as the Akkadian term ‘annaku. The latter was thought to mean “tin or lead,” hence the interpretation as “lead weight” (i.e., plumb line). However, recent study suggests that ‘annaku means specifically “tin,” not lead, and tin is too light to make an effective plumb line.
But apparently the issue is not quite this simple. Tchavdar Hadjiev, for instance, acknowledges this idea but points out that “subsequent studies have disproven the assertion that ‘anāk here cannot mean plumb line” and that “it is best to go with the traditional translation ‘plumb line’…and see the vision as announcing the transition from forgiveness to punishment.”
What is a plumb line? It is a tool—a string with a lead weight on the bottom—that establishes a truly vertical line. If you go and stand by a wall and hold the plumb line next to it you can tell whether or not the wall is straight or crooked. If it appears to be leaning away, then the integrity of the wall is brought into question, for this much is clear: the plumb line is straight.
This is the image the Lord God is using in this vision. He is “setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.” Indeed, we all stand beside the plumb line of God. The plumb line is God’s character and God’s word. God is straight, true, holy, and right. If our lives are not in line with the plumb line, it is not the fault of the plumb line. The plumb line is true. God’s character is true. God’s word is the great measuring standard. No, if we are not in line, it is because we have turned from God. Our integrity has been compromised.
The point is clear enough: humanity is judged on the basis of our conformity to God’s character and God’s standards. And, in context, it means this: divergence from the Lord’s word and ways invites the judgment of God.
Again, this has been well established already in Amos: sin invites judgment. And these images establish the nature of divine judgment: We cannot stand beneath it.
The nature of intercession.
But there is a new element in Amos 7, something we have not seen before: intercession.
After the first vision of judgment, the vision of locusts, we read:
2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”
And after the second vision of judgment, the vision of fire, we read:
5 Then I said, “O Lord God, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”
What is this, “O Lord God, please cease!”? It is intercession. It is crying out to God for mercy on behalf of a guilty people.
It is a bold cry, an almost shocking cry. John Chrysostom paraphrases Amos plea as, “Think better of this, Lord.” In other words, do not do what you intend to do! We have seen this before in scripture, more than once in fact. Consider Moses’ actions in Exodus 32:
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”
This too is shocking, for here Moses puts his own salvation on the line, asking to be blotted out of God’s book if God will not forgive His people.
This is intercession. This is what true prophets do. They not only warn, they plead. They not only rebuke, they intercede. And, in fact, this is what we are all to do as followers of Jesus: intercede for others.
In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace. . . . His need and his sin become so heavy and oppressive that we feel them as our own, and we can do nothing else but pray.
Paul makes it very clear in 1 Timothy 2 that we are all to engage in heartfelt intercession on behalf of others.
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people
In both verse 2 and verse 5, Amos’s rationale for mercy is the same: “How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” He is so small. Hear the pity in this. How on earth can humanity, even though guilty, withstand the withering judgment of God? The Lord is asked to consider the weakness and frailty of human beings.
It strikes me that this is also at the heart of the most famous intercession of all: that of Jesus for those who crucified Him. In Luke 23, we find this word from the cross.
33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Do you see?
Amos: “He is so small!”
Jesus: “…they know not what they do.”
The heart of intercession cries out for mercy, for pity, even though such is not “deserved” by the guilty party.
The nature of God’s heart.
The nature of judgment. The nature of intercession. Amos 7 reveals both of these. Above all else, though, it reveals the nature of God. How does God respond to Amos’ intercession?
In the first two instances when Amos intercedes and asks for mercy, God relents and determines that He will not execute the judgment He showed Amos in the visions.
2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The Lord relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the Lord.
5 Then I said, “O Lord God, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The Lord relented concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.
In both cases, the Lord says, “This shall not be.” Meaning, “This judgment shall not be.” He hears the cry of His prophet. He agrees to withhold judgment. See, here, the nature of God’s heart. See the mercy of God! H.A. Ironside is correct when he writes:
God loves to be entreated. He delights to answer when He hears the cry of such as bear His needy people on their heart.
In Micah 7, this is put so beautifully:
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
This is true. God delights in showing mercy. The Lord is not cruel. His judgment always emerges out of His love. His judgment is His painful love, His calling us back to Himself through ways that shake us to the core. But this too is love.
And yet, after the third vision, the vision of the plumb line, God says He will not show mercy. He will not relent. And this is very important. Why will God not relent? Listen again.
8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
An important point is being made here, and the point is that the plumb line is God Himself. Judgment, then, is not merely isolated responses to isolated actions. The problem is more fundamental. Mankind is fundamentally and ever in violation of God’s standards. We stand before the divine plumb line every moment, and the result is not good. We are crooked. We are fallen. The problem is deep. The problem is fundamental. And Amos, as amazing as he is, cannot always be there to intercede for everybody’s sin.
So, no, the Lord will not relent. Judgment will come upon sin. It has too. We are sinful and He is holy. Our very nature is out of line with the plumb line. The task is too big for the interceding prophet, for any human being.
But let me ask you something: What if there were One for whom the problem was not too big? What if there was One who could make constant, perpetual, eternal intercession for His people? What if there was One who never stopped crying out for mercy?
Listen. To. This. Hebrews 7.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him.”
Jesus never stops speaking your name to His Father.
Jesus never stops making intercession for you.
And on what basis can Jesus—our Prophet, Priest, and King—offer this unending intercession? On the basis of the sacrifice He offered of His own life, on the basis of His cross, on the basis of His empty tomb: “He always lives to make intercession.”
Church, Jesus is our great Intercessor! And if you will come to Him in repentance and faith, if you will give Him your life, you will live under His interceding mercy. And you will love Him for His shepherd’s heart. He will take you under His wings. He will never let you go.
Church! Jesus lives to make intercession to the Father for you! Abide in Him!
Lost sinner, Jesus is your only hope! Give your life to Him.
 Johnston, Philip S. “Amos.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. ed. John H. Walton. Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), p.77.
 Johnston, “Amos,” 78.
 Hadjiev, Tchavdar S. Joel and Amos. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Vol. 25 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), p.166.
 Ferreiro, Alberto, ed. The Twelve Prophets. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. ed. Thomas C. Oden. Old Testament, Vol. XIV (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p.108.
 Ironside, H. A. Notes on the Minor Prophets. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1963), p.172.