Amos, The Prophet
Those who critically examine the Bible unanimously agree that Amos wrote the book that bears his name. Some researchers feel that some minor material may have been inserted later by an editor, but few doubt that a Jewish man named Amos was the author.
The prophet hailed from Tekoa, a small town about thirteen miles south of Jerusalem in the Wilderness of Judah. Since he was not from a large cosmopolitan city like Jerusalem or Samaria, Amos, shaped by his rural experiences, had a clearer perspective of the evils that he saw as he walked through the cities of Israel. While the Israelites accepted their lifestyle as normal, the prophet recognized it as a perversion and an abomination to God. Amos means “burden-bearer,” and his message to Israel, one of continuous judgment and denunciation, was indeed a heavy burden.
Because of the distrust between the two peoples, it is ironic that God sent a Jew to warn the Israelites of their impending judgment. God obviously sent the best man available to do the job, though he was not a formally trained prophet. “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet,” he explains, “but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel'” (Amos 7:14-15).
Amos was more than “just a shepherd.” In Amos 1:1 the Hebrew word noqed indicates a keeper or raiser of sheep or goats (see II Kings 3:4), though it is often rendered as “shepherd.” In Amos 7:14 “herdsman” (bowker) refers to large cattle. God inspired two different words to show that he was a breeder of sheep (and maybe of cattle), supplying others with stock, and possibly developing and refining the breeds. Some of Amos’ land may have also been set aside as a sycamore-fig orchard. His ranch seems to have been small enough that he was personally involved in its operation, though he also seems to have been successful enough to take time off to preach in Israel.
Judging from the book’s language and style, Amos was also well educated. Scholars judge his use of language as particularly expressive, vivid, and forceful. Far from being an illiterate shepherd, the prophet was a man of refinement and substance, aware of past events and current conditions in Israel and Judah, as well as in the surrounding nations.
Amos wrote at a very significant time in Israel’s history (Amos 1:1). Both kings Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 BC) and Uzziah of Judah (791-739 BC) enjoyed long and prosperous reigns. His prophecy can be dated before 750 BC, since Uzziah’s son, Jotham (750-731 BC), who reigned as co-regent with his father for eleven years, is not mentioned.
The phrase “two years before the earthquake” helps to narrow the book’s date. Archeological findings unearthed at Hazor in northern Palestine show that an unusually strong earthquake occurred about 760 BC. If so, Amos prophesied in about 762 BC. The phrase seems to limit his prophesying to this particular year, suggesting that his prophetic activity was very short.
Many historians have concluded that 722 BC—forty years later—was when Assyria marched on Israel. Beginning with Amos’ warning message, God in His mercy provided His people with a forty-year period of trial and testing during which they could repent. History records, however, that Samaria fell and her survivors were dragged into captivity in 718 BC.
Tradition holds that Amos died a violent death at the hands of Jeroboam II, but no historical records have confirmed this claim. However, the prophet left a powerful message of warning and urgency that still rings with truth and fervor.
Amos, a small-town Jewish herdsman, faced certain rejection and persecution for his message, yet he denounced the Israelites from the beginning to the end of his book. Prudent people were afraid to speak up for fear of retribution (Amos 5:13), but Amos feared no one but God. When the people shouted, “Who are you to come into Bethel and Samaria and preach against us?” he boldly replied, “The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8). He had good reason to expose their corruption and complacency, and God had given him the authority to censure them.
The roaring lion (verse 8) had stimulated the voice of prophecy in Amos because repentance for the people of Israel was still possible. Thus, the prophet’s responsibility is to stand in the gap—to deliver a clear warning message to reconcile the people to God. In like manner, a pastor has the same responsibility to his congregation. He must, “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up [his] voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression,” so they can be reconciled to God (Isaiah 58:1).
The prophet must address the present while considering the future. As God says in Deuteronomy 32:29, “Oh, that [My people] were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” God holds the prophet accountable for speaking out and providing His people with a witness of what the consequences of their actions are.
How does the prophet know what kind of witness to provide to God’s people? “He reveals His secrets to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7), those with whom He has a special, close relationship. God walked and talked with Abraham, whom He called His friend. Moses’ fellowship with God was so close that He revealed His hind parts to him. He also revealed Himself to other prophets through this close fellowship, and they came to know the mind and will of God.
God did not dictate His relationship with His prophets so that their personalities disappeared from what they said or wrote. In Amos’ case, the book begins with “The words of Amos,” but he immediately writes, “The Lord roars from Zion” (verse 2) and “Thus says the Lord” (verse 3). God and the prophet cooperate.
God inspires but does not dictate, as if the prophet were simply a tool like a typewriter or loud speaker. He makes the prophet aware of Him and helps him observe his environment and reminds him of his own experiences in relation to His way. Thus, the prophet’s personality surfaces in what he speaks and writes.
Amos’ censuring approach brings up a few questions: Is it always a prophet’s (or preacher’s) duty to infuse people with faith, confidence, and positivity? No. Is there ever a time or a circumstance when it is right for him to fill people with doubt about their lives? Yes! What kind of circumstance? When people are doing wrong and do not realize it.
How, then, should he correct them? Normally, the best way is to be gentle and ask questions. He sows doubt by making them think that perhaps the future is not as rosy and secure as they imagine if they continue in the direction they are going. Then he gives them space to think it through.
Amos 4:4-5 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
Because of their connection to Israel’s past, Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba all bore significant religious meaning to the common Israelite. Jeroboam I set up a golden calf at Bethel (I Kings 12:25-31), since the city had religious associations from the days of Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22; 35:1-7). Gilgal’s significance sprang from Israel’s entrance into Canaan after her forty years in the wilderness and the circumcision of her men there (Joshua 5:1-12). Beersheba had strong connections with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the nation’s fathers (Genesis 21:22-34; 22:19; 26:32-33; 28:10).
Even so, Israelite religion displeased God on two counts. First, the Israelites of Amos’ day were guilty of following the sin of Jeroboam I, combining the worship of the true God with that of idols. God hates idolatry (Exodus 20:1-6). Apparently, the people were thronging to these pagan shrines and punctiliously offering sacrifices. In all their religious fervor, however, their eyes were not upon the God of heaven. Their religious practice was not done in obedience to God as they claimed, but had been conceived in the mind of a man. In His denunciations of their religion, God tells them that their worship would do them no good because its foundations were in a source other than Himself.
Second, their religion was self-pleasing. Because of their careful observance of their form of worship, Israelites felt good about themselves, but they forgot their social responsibility. They failed to love their neighbors (Amos 8:4). Ritual sexual indulgence was common practice (Amos 2:7). Despite their sincerity, they abandoned all godly standards and values and despised authority and law (Amos 3:10).
Amos 5:18-20 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you?” (Amos 5:18). It is always a prophet’s responsibility to remind the people that the future is inextricably bound to the present. What one does today affects the course of events as time marches on.
Malachi asks, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?” (Malachi 3:2). No such doubts assailed these people at all. They were confident that things would be all right. They felt they would march right through the day of their judgment because they were His chosen people.
But when Amos looked at his times, he became frightened. “It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him” (Amos 5:18-19).
There is no escape! People, living in their complacency, think that everything is fine. But the day of judgment will come upon them unexpectedly, and in utter hopelessness they will start running for their lives. They will escape one terror only to confront another! And just when they think they are finally safe, they will receive a mortal wound!
But, the prophet is not yet finished! “Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20). Wailing and inescapable judgment are followed by darkness. In their complacency, the people think it logical to conclude that, since everything is presently all right, they must have overcome those things which plagued them. With that behind them, they think their future is full of gladness and good times. Amos disagrees! He accuses them of feeding themselves false hopes. When God comes, he says, He will be their enemy!
Amos 5:21-23 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
Until his calling by God, Amos lived and worked in Judah. However, God elected him”apparently a Jew and thus from the rival Southern Kingdom”to bear His challenging indictment against the Northern Kingdom’s sins, as well as His call for Israel’s repentance. Amos prophesied several decades before Isaiah against a nation that was much farther “down the tubes” than was Judah. Israel was very prosperous but already in the moral gutter, wallowing in the filth of her sins. It could easily have been an intimidating assignment, but Amos resolutely fulfilled his responsibilities in denouncing, among other things, Israelite attitudes and the ways they observed God’s festivals.
Amos 5:21-23 sounds similar to Isaiah 1:10-17, but it is addressed to Israel. It is not certain if this involved God’s feast days since Jeroboam, Israel’s first king, changed a number of things in Israel’s worship after Solomon died. However, the context indicates that God may have accepted the days they kept and their offerings if everything else in their conduct had been righteous. They may well have been God’s feasts because, as in Isaiah, God is not against the days per se, but the attitude, character, and conduct of those keeping them. Whether they were actually God’s festivals is less important than the principles contained in the context. The entire chapter revolves around keeping the festivals in a way acceptable to God so that He might bless.
Amos 7:10-13 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
In Amaziah’s accusations against him, Amos was tested in several ways. The accusations were very pointed, designed to raise his anger and hatred so that he would respond in a way that would “show his true colors.” In reality, Amos’ true colors did surface—that he was a true man of God!
Amaziah misrepresented him as disloyal, often the first accusation made against a true servant of God. The Jews accused Christ of rebellion against the Roman government, a totally unfounded accusation. In Amos’ case the accusation was equally unfounded.
The priest accused Amos of saying that Jeroboam would die in battle (Amos 7:11). He was really tricky. To prove that Amos had said this, he quoted something the prophet really did say: “Israel shall surely be led away captive” (Amos 5:27; 6:7). In reality, the prophecy made no mention specifically of Jeroboam. Amaziah’s false accusation was supported with something that was true.
The Jews tried this with Christ too. They used, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), as proof that He would destroy the Temple (Mark 14:58). They misrepresented what He said because He did not refer to the physical Temple. This is one of Satan’s frequent ploys.
A second way that Amos was tested is in his motivation for serving God. Amaziah charges Amos with preaching for selfish reasons, for money, represented by, “Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread” (Amos 7:12). Amos, a Jew, was preaching in Israel. To paraphrase, Amaziah said, “If you go back to Judah and tell them what you have preached against Israel, they will love you. They like hearing bad things about Israel! They will fill your basket with big offerings, and you’ll be rich!” If Amos were not a true man of God, he might have swallowed this enticement.
Third, Amos was tested in his personal security. A threat implied that if he did not leave Israel, he would get hurt: “Never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the royal residence” (verse 13). This test evaluated Amos’ ability to confront authority. In referring to “the king’s sanctuary, and . . . the royal residence,” Amaziah warns him: “This is the national cathedral! What you say shouldn’t be uttered in a hallowed, sacred place like this. It is dedicated to the welfare of Israel. In saying such things, you are challenging the king’s authority.” His ploy failed, though, since Jeroboam seems to have taken no action against Amos.
Hebrews 11:5 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
The fact that Paul states Enoch walked with God suggests a relationship had been established between them. Enoch had thus already experienced what Abel’s example teaches. Enoch’s example takes us to the next logical step in a faithful person’s movement toward glorification. In his arrangement of examples of faith, Paul is emphasizing, not chronological, but experiential order, that is, faith as experienced in practical life. In a true life of faith, walking with God follows justification.
“Walk” and “walking” are the Bible’s most frequently used metaphors for two related concepts. Depending upon the translation, they are used almost three hundred times to indicate interaction with another and making progress toward a destination. Somewhat related but used to a lesser extent, “walk” or “walking” indicates the passage of time as a person continues in a chosen direction of life and lifestyle. For example:
» Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.”
» Proverbs 4:14: “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil.”
» Daniel 4:37: “And those who walk in pride He is able to abase.”
» Micah 6:8: “And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
» Psalm 119:45: “And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.”
Scores of similar descriptions are scattered throughout the Bible. They provide a composite picture of the wide variety of the facets of the godly person’s and the evil person’s manners of life. Since Amos 3:3 shows that two cannot walk together unless they agree, a person walking with God illustrates that the two are in agreement. This does not mean the person is perfect, but it does imply God’s acceptance of him at that stage of his life.