In this article, we will explore what a plumb line in the Bible is, what it represents, and what we can learn from it. So, grab your Bible, and let’s dig in…
The Bible is full of metaphors and statements that some of us may find confusing for a few reasons.
Sometimes the metaphors refer to ancient practices or habits that we no longer know and recognize, while others belong to a particular industry that some of us don’t know. Like construction!
One such metaphor is the plumb line. It is mentioned several times in the Bible but can cause some confusion. I know for me it did, as I have no idea about construction tools.
So, what is the plumb line, and what is its purpose?
More importantly, what does it mean when the Bible mentions it, and what can we learn from it? We will answer these questions and learn some more!
What Is A Plumb Line?
I thought it would be good to start with a simple question… What is a plumb line?
Sometimes, this device is even spelled plumbline or called a plummet; either way it is the same device!
A plumb line is a tool builders used since ancient times to determine if a structure is vertically straight or to ensure a wall would be straight after it was built.
A simple plumb line is a piece of string or rope with a heavy weight at the end called a plumb bob.
The gravity pulls the weight straight down, creating a vertical line that serves as a reference point for building. This is similar to modern-day spirit levels.
In other words, it was (and still is) used as a standard, and anything that did not conform to it had to be torn down and rebuilt.
It’s a pretty crucial little device!
In most scriptures, we can see a plumb line used this way.
- Zechariah 4:10 – tells how Zerubbabel was standing with the plumb line, causing great joy because it ensured the temple would be restored correctly.
- Amos 7:7-9 – tells how God would use a plumb line to eradicate everything that wasn’t in line with the standard He set.
- Isaiah 34:11 – explains that God’s plumb line would be the standard by which everything that did not conform would be swept away.
- 2 Kings 21:13 – talks about the plumb line of the house of Ahab. This means that God would deal with the rulers of Israel by the same standard He used during Ahab’s rule, which was evil to its core, to clean Jerusalem.
So, we can see that a plumb line isn’t a gentle, peaceful tool.
When a builder measures a wall with a plumb line and finds it isn’t on standard, the entire wall gets destroyed, and the building has to start over with the plumb line as a guide and a standard.
By using the example of the plumb line, God said that the same would happen to those who did not fit His standard.
Now, let’s take a deeper look into what the Bible says about plumb lines.
Plumb Line In The Bible
The King James Version of the Bible uses the “plumbline” twice in Amos, and in other verses, it uses the word “plummet.” In other translations, we see “plumb line” being used.
According to Strong’s Concordance, there are two Hebrew words used for plumb line:
אֲנָךְ ʼănâk, an-awk’; probably from an unused root meaning to be narrow; according to most a plumb-line, and to others a hook:—plumb-line
מִשְׁקֶלֶת mishqeleth, mish-keh’-leth; or מִשְׁקֹלֶת mishqôleth; feminine of H4948 or H4947; a weight, i.e. a plummet (with line attached):—plummet.
As I stated earlier, the Bible mentions the plumb line several times, all of them in the Old Testament. Let’s take a deeper look…
2 Kings 21:13
The first reference to a plumb line in the Bible occurs in 2 Kings 21:13, which says,
“And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.”
These words were God speaking through the prophets because of the evil king Manasseh of Judah. At this point in history, Israel was split into two separate kingdoms: Israel and Judah. Judah had many good kings, while most of Israel’s kings were evil.
But under Manasseh, even Judah fell into idolatry and evil, and God used the example of the plumb line to warn the people of His judgment.
In this verse, God says,
“And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
This verse tells how God would set a standard of justice and righteousness in Jerusalem and that everything that did not conform to that standard would be swept away.
This verse says,
“But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness.”
This verse is a judgment from God over the nations that rebelled against Him and fought against His people. He says that emptiness would become the standard in these regions.
“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. 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; 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.”
Again, we see God standing with a plumb line, but this time, He is standing in Israel and stating that He would destroy it and make it desolate.
“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”
This scripture talks about when the people of Judah returned from their captivity in Babylon. The temple was being rebuilt, but the work was going slowly.
Zerubbabel was the heir to the throne, being a direct descendent of David, and people were cajoling the Jews for their slow progress.
Yet God says that the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand would be a source of joy because he would complete the work he started.
The Plumb Line For Modern Believers
The one scripture we didn’t look at was Isaiah 28:17, but let’s take the verse in context…
In verses 16 and 17, God says,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
Today, we know that these verses refer to Jesus. He is the cornerstone, the tested stone, the precious stone, the sure foundation. He is God’s justice and our righteousness. This means that Jesus is the plumb line God established to set the standard for righteousness.
This brings two things into sharp focus:
- God uses Jesus to determine our level of righteousness.
Jesus is the standard by which God measures people. It’s no longer about comparing ourselves to the law but to Jesus. The law no longer shows our shortcomings, but Jesus does. Anything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus is imperfect and unrighteous.
However, we also know that we, as believers, are hidden in Christ Jesus. Colossians 3:3 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
When God looks at us as believers, He sees Christ because righteousness is impossible for us to obtain without Him.
- We should also use Jesus as our plumb line.
Knowing that we have righteousness in Christ should never be “good enough” for a believer since we know we should still pursue His holiness and become more like Christ (Romans 8:29, 1 John 2:6).
We can do this by comparing ourselves with the plumb line, Jesus. And, just like a builder, we should look for imperfections and eradicate them to rebuild them in the image of Christ.
Matthew 18:9 also talks about this. Whatever it is that’s causing us to stumble, we should get rid of it in the most violent way possible so that God can rebuild us in the perfect image of His Son.
The Bible uses plumb lines to set a standard, and anything that does not conform to that standard must be eradicated or broken down.
God used plumb lines as examples of the destruction of unrighteousness in Jerusalem, Israel, and the nations around it.
However, God also established a new plumb line and a solid foundation: Jesus Christ. When we model ourselves around the image of God’s Son, using Him as the plumb line or standard, we will become more and more like Him.
We don’t do this to become righteous; He already did that for us. We do this to honor God and to show His love to the world around us.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…