This is the first of several posts as we dig into the Biblical book of Amos. There are two passages in the Book of Amos that help us understand the prophet. The first is the opening passage of chapter 1, the second is in chapter 3, and the other is in chapter 7. These passages, even though small, help us understand this prophet of God.
Amos 1:1 (ESV): “The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.”
Amos 3:7-8 (ESV): “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”
Amos 7:14-15 (ESV): “Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”
Amos (“burden bearer”) was a shepherd and farmer (arboriculturist) by trade, but was called by God to be a prophet. Amos 1:1 tells us he was a shepherd [‘noqdim’] who lived in the wilderness of Judah south of Jerusalem (ten miles) but was sent to prophesy in the north to the Kingdom of Israel. He did not come from a Levitical family or a prophetic family and was not a prophet for hire which is often seen in the Scriptures. He shared the word of the Lord as it was given to him and did not tell kings and queens what they wanted to hear (this is the meaning of 7:14). He felt the need to share the Word of God.
Amos’ ministry happened during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah (783-742 BC) and Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746 BC) and the writing of the book itself is dated to two years before an earthquake rocked the region (possibly June 15, 763 BC putting the writing in 765 BC). Amos’ ministry would have overlapped Jonah and Hosea.
Amos was a man of faith with a great sense of calling. His ‘day job’ was shepherd and sycamore tree tender [‘balac’], but his passion and purpose was prophet of YHWH. We may also consider him courageous and faithful in that he gave the messages to Israel and other nations as he was directed and did not change or vary what he was told from God. He was given the Word of the Lord and he felt compelled to prophesy.
James E. Smith in his introduction of ‘Eighth Century Prophets’ in his Old Testament Survey Series notes:
#1 Amos was well acquainted with the world of his day as he mentions 38 towns
#2 Amos understood Judah/Israel history as well as other countries
#3 He was objective and stern
#4 He was forthright in his presentation of God’s messages
#5 He was a literary master and an incomparable preacher
Amos speaks to God’s character in his prophecies. God is compassionate, just, merciful, and life-giving even while He holds the nations accountable for their actions. God’s character is loud in these passages. The reasons ‘why’ God will bring judgment speak to His just nature. God’s actions don’t come from nowhere, but He communicates such things through Amos and at a point at which the people groups are utterly rotten below layers of sinfulness. God is fighting for their lives. He wants them to repent. Judgment is life-giving (and centered on love) for He does not just leave these people to their sinful life-ending ways. God does not cut Himself off to anyone who bows down to Him, He wants to save and give life.
As we go through the Book of Amos, we want you to see God more clearly. To do this, we will focus on three basic questions in each chapter or section:
#1 What is described?
#2 What literally happened?
#3 What is revealed about God’s character?
TMB & BMD