Plumb Line (Isaiah 28)
“So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line . . .’”
— Isaiah 28:16 NIV
Both Isaiah and Amos use this strong metaphor of the plumb line. What is a plumb line or as we refer to it, plumb bob? What does the plumb bob mean when applied to the ways of God?
A plumb bob is a finely honed weight with a point on one end and a place to tie a string on the other end. When you are setting up a wall in a home or remodel, you can measure two from the top of one stud (support 2 x 4). Hammer a nail at the two inch mark. Hang the string on the stud. When the weight of the plumb bob is allowed to swing freely, you measure the same distance on the ground from the stud at floor level. When the stud is two inches from the mark where the plumb bob is hanging, the wall is plumb.
Plumb bobs were used in the ancient world to establish a reference point for building as sophisticated as the pyramids. They used the perfect vertical as reference point for all other construction. Bob Vila explains how to use a plumb bob for establishing a vertical stud wall in this video.
Now that we know what a plumb is, read the context of Isaiah 28, and look at the heading in some Bibles. It says, "Woe to Ephraim." Ephraim is another name of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Most of Isaiah is directed to kings in Judah and Judah's citizens, but there are other oracles for Moab, Egypt, Assyria, and Ephraim. So this chapter is an oracle for the Northern kingdom, but it can apply to what God does in Judah as well, and certain can show how Yahweh deals with his people, what his standards are.
The plumb line in an ancient context established the verticality of earth's center gravity to ensure that something was perfectly vertical. The illustration of the plumb line, then, was about Israel and Judah being, as we say today, “out of plumb,” or crooked.
What were they doing to be “out of plumb”? They cheated people in the marketplaces with "dishonest scales." They lied in courts against the innocent. They set up a loan shark system for the poor to borrow money, but then took collateral that the poor needed, such as coats, and as Isaiah's contemporary prophet to the North, Amos, graphically points out in Amos 2:8, they took those coats the poor needed, and used them to lie down and have sex on. They sinned economically against their neighbors, lied, cheated, stole, and rapaciously sinned sexually, immorally with prostitutes of temples of foreign and false gods.
So, is there any doubt God needed to set up a plumb line of justice, a standard for them to keep. You might ask, what about the ten commandments? The 618 laws around the ten commandments? Those still applied to the Israelites and Judahites, but the people had gone so far, a straight shooter had to become the standard.
What is out of plumb in our world today? In your church? In your family? God established justice and righteousness, Isaiah says (28:16), as the plumb line standard for aligning everything in our lives. Isaiah knew Israel and Judah were not the plumb lines, nor was he. God established not a king to be the plumb line, so politics are not the plumb. When we see something that is wrong, the plumb bob line is not our own views or political views. Unearthing scripture’s ancient plumb lines, coming to know what righteous and justice mean, and conforming our lives to the plumb line of God’s ways is still our foundation. Further, Isaiah is pointing to the One who would be a human plumb line for all to see and imitate, the person of Jesus Christ.
Father, in Christ you came as the ultimate standard or plumb line, walking the earth. You became the plumb line of all humans to walk straight, upright, just, honestly, sexually immoral, morally sound and wisely thinking. The prophets, however imperfectly pointed to this standard, did their level best to be a standard like this, even laying their own lives on the line to be the standard. Ultimately though they pointed to the Messiah who would be this plumbline for all humanity to see and imitate: Jesus Christ the Plumb line.
Take time this week to "straighten" things around your house to get ready for a visitor. Imagine a visitor is coming who will check to see how straight things are. What if Jesus visited your house. What would he find there? Would he find media that de-humanize with violence or "casual sex"? Would he find pornography? Would he find a dusty Bible you've not read? Would he find junk food and a sloppy life or would he find order as a means to centering your life on God? Would he find healthy food, a place you pray, a Bible you read, books that feed your mind? A spirit of joy?
Give up anything in your home that you wouldn't want Jesus to find upon his visit.
This article on Plumb line (Isaiah 28) was first run in 2016. What follows are two responses from Journey leaders when we were reading Isaiah and going through Lent (a forty day time of fasting and prayer before Easter) in 2016.
Jeff McIlroy in 2016
Congratulations Cory! You have stuck with your lent commitment to fast against inaction, and your home and family are now enjoying the rewards.
Cory Legg in 2016
I really like the fasting section. It's a great plumbline test to run through my mind. I must say it is kind of scary to think about in some ways, yet Jesus already sees and knows all of those things. I want my home to be a place that He is always welcome to dwell in.
My overall goal for lent has been to fast from laziness. I've gotten slack over the last couple of years with a lot of things. This includes not snoozing my alarm, and just getting up earlier, exercising regularly, reading scripture (on my own) daily, doing a devotional (these have been wonderful!), doing house work instead of vegging out on Netflix or something. So far I've done really well, not perfectly, but I'm very proud of myself for this. Compared to a few weeks ago before I started all of this, I think the Legg household is much more prepared for our guest of honor, Jesus.
Funny enough I can really relate to preparing the home for a "guest" in several different way right now. Lord willing Hannah and I will be welcoming home our new baby in Aug/Sep and there are so many things to get done around the house before that. We are also in the process of being certified as foster parents/home. We will have our home study next Friday. So yesterday I spent the entire day doing yard work and making our home more presentable to our case worker. The of course when we do start taking in foster children we have several things that have to be in place for that, many regulations to be met - fire extinguisher in the kitchen, outlet covers, cabinet locks, so on and so forth. Soooo yeah all of that to say we are preparing our home big time in several different ways. Most of all though I want our hearts and souls to be prepared for all of these things. We can spiffy up the outside and look like a "beautiful whitewashed tomb" but be "full of dead men's bones inside." (Jesus in Mt. 23:27).
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.