Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Commentary on Amos 7:7-8 (with 7:9)

I've been spending the year reading the Bible, from cover to cover. My wife and I started reading the Bible when our church started a group to read the Bible in a year. It's been a fantastic ride and has given me a better perspective on my own Volume of Sacred Law.

Because of this desire to understand more, I have been reading blogs and listening to podcasts on the Bible. One of my favorite podcasts is "Sermon Brainwave" podcast made in conjunction with Working Preacher. It is a podcast for pastors by pastors that is produced and hosted by several faculty members from Luther Seminary, the local Lutheran seminary here. The hosts focus on the readings from Revised Common Lectionary.

Today's RCL readings included a verse that we as Masons are very well acquainted with.

Amos 7:7-8(9)

Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. 

And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? 

And I said, A plumbline. 

Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. 

That last bit gets left off in Masonry but I think it's important. There is a commentary on the website, written by Professor Tyler Mayfield, which points to this:

The plumb line functions to keep the wall vertically straight during construction. The plumb line uses lead (Latin for lead is plumbum) at the end of a string to judge how the wall is measuring up. It helps maintain the integrity of the building by providing a vertical reference point.

I'll admit, when I first heard this particular verse, I assumed that "[t]hen said the Lord, 'Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more'" was a call to calm, like God's use of the rainbow to seal the Noahic covenant. But I, and I'm sure many Masons, are quite incorrect in this understanding.

When we say that He will not pass by this way anymore, we are describing a time when God sought to measure rectitude and was left wanting. The high places and the sanctuaries, having been polluted, are now fair game to war and desolation. Israel stopped measuring itself against the working tool shown to Amos and is left without help. The meaning is very different and we should understand it as such.

I think this is an important lesson for us, especially as Fellowcrafts. We are in constant need to measure ourselves against what we are doing in our life. The Fellowcraft, being the day laborer, is actively setting the stones and measuring his life according to his set of working tools. The Fellowcraft stage is our active life, our time to put in the most work. We should never turn away from the plumb, like to and about those that Amos is prophesying. It is our constant care.

In lodge, our Junior Warden stands, symbolically, as the representation of morality, of rectitude of life. It is his duty to submit Masonic charges when needed and ensures that the brothers act within the bounds of proper action when not in lodge. He is the first officer elected yet remains on the same level as his brethren, at least in lodges that use risers to differentiate. We all carry the plumb with us no matter where we go because it is always at our level.

I think the closing charge, something not often read in lodges here in Minnesota, should be given by the Junior Warden. It defines our purpose and is probably the greatest lecture ever written to describe why we don our aprons every month. And since the Junior Warden is placed symbolically at the same level as the rest of his brethren, it makes sense that he, like all the brethren on the sidelines, carries the tool with which all Masons should look to use first. Let's use the plumb often to ensure that He will continue to pass by us and remain with us in this great work called Freemasonry.

I'd like to leave all of you with the end of the closing charge:

Finally, brethren, be ye all of one mind; live in peace, and may the God of love and peace delight to dwell with and bless you!

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


I've added two really great additions from some Reddit users.

From /u/ZealousClay:

The Plumb Line

from The Builder magazine, Vol. 1, No. 12, December 1915

The Plumb-Line
by Bro. Wm. F. Kuhn, P.G.M., Missouri

"Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand.  And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou?  And I said, a plumb-line.  Then said the Lord, behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more." (Amos, VII: 7-8)

The Degree of Fellow Craft deals with material interests of life and man's intellectual nature.  Its object is to stimulate every incentive to pursue and attain those things that go to make up man's welfare and comfort in material things and in his mental development and satisfaction.  The Degree addresses itself to the workman in the clay grounds, to the man who is engaged in the realms of the intricate sciences, to the liberal arts, and to the practical application of all scientific knowledge to a useful end.

The Scriptural Reading to this Degree is, often, an enigma; and the only relation that this Reading bears to the Degree to the average Mason, is the occurrence of the word "Plumb-Line" which somehow has something to do with the erection of walls and buildings.  To understand this Scriptural Reading and its relations to the Degree of Fellow Craft, it is necessary to know the history and the application of this vision to Amos.

Amos lived and taught in the year 787 B.C. during the reign of Jeroboam II of the Kingdom of Israel.  The reign of Jereboam was chiefly characterized by mere formal religion, the arrogant assumption of power, cruel oppression for the accumulation of wealth for himself and Nobles.  The poor could not attain justice in the Courts, and justice became rank injustice.  It was a reign of a typical, practical politician who feasted and fattened off the poor and oppressed.  In this reign of wealth, and degradation of the poor, Amos, the Reformer, arose and with fiery eloquence denounced the social conditions existing.  He speaks of himself as, "I was no prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore."  One of the ablest Commentators speaks of him as follows: - "Amos was the first great social reformer in history; he was the tribune of the poor and oppressed.  The rich and the rulers and those in authority were the special objects of his attacks.  By them he was silenced as a dangerous agitator and banished from the Kingdom."

It was to correct the abuses of the very things inculcated in the Degree of Fellow Craft, that he laid aside his shepherd's crook to preach righteousness and justice.  He might be called the prophet of the plumb-line.  Listen to his denunciations as he applies the plumb-line to the rulers.

Alas for those who turn judgment to wormwood,

And cast righteousness to the ground,

Who hate him that reproves in the gate,

And who abhor one who speaks uprightly.

Therefore, because ye trample upon the weak

And take from him exactions of grain,

Houses of hewn stone have ye built,

But ye shall not dwell therein;

Charming vineyards have you planted,

But ye shall not drink the wine.

They who lie on ivory couches,

And sprawl upon divans,

And eat lambs from the flocks

And calves from the stalls,

They drawl to the sound of the lyre,

Like David, they devise for themselves instruments of song,

And drink bowls full of wine,

And anoint themselves with the finest oil,

But they do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

It is not surprising that he was banished from the country; truth hurt just as much in the centuries of the past, as now.  In his final effort to arouse the people, he made use of intensely graphic word pictures in the form of visions.  In the Metric form they are as follows:-

Thus the Lord showed me,

And, behold, he was forming locusts,

When the late spring grass began to come up.

And when they were making an end

Of devouring the vegetation of the land,

I said, O Lord, Jehovah, forgive, I pray;

How can Jacob stand, for he is small?

Jehovah repented concerning this;

It shall not be, said Jehovah.

Thus the Lord showed me,

And, behold, he was giving commands to execute judgment

By fire - the Lord Jehovah.

And it devoured the great deep,

And had begun to devour the tilled land.

Then I said, O Lord, Jehovah, cease I pray;

How can Jacob stand, for he is small?

Jehovah repented concerning this;

Neither shall this be, said Jehovah.

Thus the Lord showed me,

And, behold, the Lord was standing

Beside a wall, with a plumb-line in his hand.

And Jehovah said to me,

What dost thou see, Amos?

And I answered, a plumb-line;

Then the Lord said, behold, I am setting a plumb-line

In the midst of my people Israel;

I will not again pass by them any more.

In placing the visions of the plague of locusts, of the drought, and of the plumb-line in their sequence, the meaning of the last line, "I will not again pass by them any more," is readily understood.  The Lord's hand was stayed in the first and second vision by the prayerful and faithful Amos, and the vengeance of the Lord "Passed by," but in the vision of the plumb-line, He set a standard of measurement that can never be changed.  The plumb-line, the symbol of national and individual rectitude and justice, will stand forever.  "He will not again pass by any more."  It will endure and can not be stayed.

The third vision contains the very essence of true worth and greatness.  The plumb-line is the test of values.  Twenty-four centuries before Speculative Freemasonry was born, this simple shepherd held aloft the plumb-line whose symbolic meaning was the same then, as it is today - the standard of rectitude, justice, uprightness, and true manhood.  As such it is one of the most impressive symbols in Freemasonry.  As such it stands preeminent in the Degree of Fellow Craft, the symbol by which the value of the material interests of life must be gauged and by which the use of man's intelligence must be tried.  The symbolism is so plain, that it does not need any profound philosophy to unfold it, neither is it necessary to search for it along "geometrical lines."  It stands clear, simple, and profound.

It matters not whether the Freemason toils, as a day laborer, in the clay grounds between Succoth and Zaredetha, or stands as the exponent of the liberal arts and sciences.  There is but one standard for King or subject, rich or poor, educated or ignorant.  The plumbline of moral rectitude must be applied to every walk in life.

And from /u/TheRedReverend

Brother, if you're interested in this sort of stuff, you might check out this resource, which will give some background on this passage. I actually think what's going on is more wordplay, but my Hebrew is a little rusty from seminary, and it's only been a couple years. I definitely remember in my Amos class having my professor (who we jokingly said wrote the Bible, since his name is on the front of an NRSV translation) make this selection far more ambiguous than I originally thoughts it was.
That doesn't mean that it doesn't have value to look at the plumb line in scripture as it relates to Freemasonry, but it can be neat to see that scholars have made some progress on figuring out what anak actually means. That being said, your interpretation is useful for masons/Christians to consider their actions.


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