Date: 760-750 B.C.
Theme: GOD's judgment is about to fall on Israel
Key Words: Judgment, uprightness; righteousness
Author: Amos, whose name means, "he who carries the load", was a native of the sinful people of Tekoa in the hills of Judah, some 16 km. (9.6 mi.) southeast of Jerusalem. He was the first of those called "prophetic writers" of the 8th century B.C., a group which included Hosea in Israel, and Micah and Isaiah in Judah. Amos denied having received preparation as a professional prophet, admitted he was a shepherd and one who harvested wild figs, the fruits which the poorest of the people ate. In spite of his origin in Judah, GOD called him to proclaim his message in the northern kingdom of Israel.
Date: Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah (792-740 B.C.) and Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 B.C.). His ministry developed between the years 760 and 750 B.C., and seems to have lasted less than two years.
Background: The middle of the 8th century B.C., was a time of great prosperity, for Israel as well as Judah. Under Jeroboam, Israel had given back the control of the international trade routes: the highway through Transjordan, and the rod to the sea through the valley of Jezreel and through the coastal plain. According to II Kings 14:25, the frontiers of Israel had been reestablished from Lebo Hamat in the north, to the Arabian Sea (the Dead Sea), to the south. On its part, Judah, under Uzziah, recovered Elath (seaport on the Gulf of Aqaba), and southwest at the expense of the Philistines. Israel and Judah thus achieved a new political and military strength, but the religious situation was in a lamentable state: Idolatry was rampant; rich people lived luxuriously while the poor were oppressed; there was generalized immorality; the legal system was corrupt. The people believed that prosperity was a sign of GOD's blessings. Amos' job was to proclaim the message that GOD was disgusted with his people. His patience had worn out. Punishment was inevitable. The nation would be destroyed unless they changed their hearts and "judgment ran like water, and righteousness as a rushing stream" (5:24).
Content: The Book of Amos is basically a message of judgment; judgment over the nations, oracles and visions of judgment on Israel. Its central theme is that Israel has broken its covenant with GOD. Consequently, GOD will punish its sin severely. Amos begins with a series of predictions of judgment against Israel's neighboring nations, including Judah, and later also directs his prophecies against Israel (1:3-2:16). All these nations will be punished for specific offenses that they have committed against Israel or some other nation. Israel and Judah, however, will be punished for having broken their covenant with GOD. The following section (3:1-6:14) contains a series of three oracles or sermons against Israel. These include the threat of the exile. A third section (7:1-9:10) offers a series of five visions of judgment, in two of which GOD withdraws. Finally, Amos forecasts the restoration of Israel (9:11-15).
Literary Aspects:Although Amos minimizes his professional preparation, his style suggests that he was a very well educated person. He utilized word-play with great ability. For example, in 8:1,2 the Hebrew word for "summer fruit" sounds similar to that which designates "end". Just as the summer fruit, Israel was ready for the harvest. The geographical-psychological proximity to the judgment of the nations (1:3-2:16) is another proof of his literary ability. It began with the nations that surrounded Israel at the four cardinal points (see, for example, 1:3,6,9). This numerical system suggests that: "There are sufficient transgressions...more than sufficient". A utilization similar to numerical radiation can be found in Proverbs 6:16; 30:15,18,21,29; Micah 5:5.
In his discourse Amos employs the style of a messenger to indicate that he speaks in another's name: "Thus Jehovah has spoken" (1:3,6); or "Hear this word" (3:1; 4:1; 5:1). He sings a funeral lament for Israel in anticipation of its fall (5:1,2). He uses many popular metaphors that he learned when he was a shepherd and farmer (1:3; 2:13; 3:12; 4:1; 9:9). Amos has the ability to tack a series of proverbs together until reaching a climax; the oracles against the nations (1:3-2:10), the recitation of the calamities that lead to GOD's visitation (4:6-12), and the visions that came from the patience demonstrated by GOD until his judgment (7:1-19; 8:1-3).
Structure of the Book: (IBD) The nine chapters of the Book of Amos emphasize one central theme: The people of the nation of Israel have broken their covenant with GOD, and His judgment against their sin will be severe. After a brief introduction of Amos as the prophet (1:1-2), the book falls naturally into three major sections: (1) judgment against the nations, including Judah and Israel (1:3-2:16); (2) sermons of judgment against Israel (3:1-6:14); and (3) visions of GOD's judgment (7:1-9:10). The book concludes with a promise of Israel's restoration (9:11-15).
In the first major section of the book Amos begins with biting words of judgment against the six nations surrounding the lands of Judah and Israel. These nations are Damascus (1:3-5), Gaza (1:6-8), Tyre (1:9-10), Edom (1:11-12), Ammon (1:13-15), and Moab (2:1-3). Next he announces GOD's judgment against Judah, Israel's sister nation to the south (2:4-5). Because of Israel's bitterness toward Judah, Amos' listeners must have greeted this cry of doom with pleasant agreement.
But Amos was only warming up to the main part of his sermon. Suddenly he launched into a vivid description of GOD's judgment against the nation of Israel. With biting sarcasm, Amos condemned the citizens of Israel for their oppression of the poor (2:7), worship of idols (2:8), rejection of GOD's salvation (2:9,12), and defilement of the LORD's holy name (2:7). Hypocrisy, greed, and injustice prevailed throughout the land. True worship had been replaced by empty ritualism and dependence on pagan gods. And Amos made it plain that Israel would be judged severely unless the people turned from their sin and looked to the one true GOD for strength and guidance.
In the second major section of his book (3:1-6:14), Amos preached three biting sermons of judgment against the nation of Israel. He referred to the wealthy, luxury-seeking women of Samaria - the capital city of Israel - as "cows of Bashan" (4:1). He also attacked the system of idol worship which King Jeroboam had established in the cities of Bethel and Gilgal (4:4; 5:5).
Following these sermons of judgment, Amos moved on in the third major section of his book (7:1-9:10) to represent five visions of GOD's approaching judgment. The prophet's vision of a basket of fruit is particularly graphic. He described the nation of Israel as a basket of summer fruit, implying that it would soon spoil and rot in the blistering sun of GOD's judgment (8:1-14).
Following these messages of judgment, the Book of Amos ends on a positive, optimistic note. Amos predicted that the people of Israel would be restored to their special place in GOD's service after their season of judgment had come to an end (9:11-15). This note of hope is characteristic of the Hebrew prophets. They pointed to a glorious future for GOD's people, even in the midst of dark times. This positive spirit, which issued from Amos' deep faith in GOD, sustained the prophet and gave him hope for the future.
Theological Contribution: (IBD) Amos is known as the great "prophet of righteousness" of the Old Testament. His book underlines the principle that religion demands righteous behavior. True religion is not a matter of observing all the right feast days, offering burnt offerings, and worshiping at the sanctuary. Authentic worship results in changed behavior - seeking GOD's will, treating others with justice, and following GOD's commands. This great insight is summarized by these famous words from the prophet: "Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (5:24).
Special Considerations: (IBD) Although Amos was a shepherd by occupation, his book gives evidence of careful literary craftsmanship. One technique which he used was puns or plays on words to drive home his message. Unfortunately, they do not translate easily into English. In his vision of the summer fruit, for example, Amos spoke of the coming of GOD's judgment with a word that sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for fruit (8:1,2). The summer fruit (qayits) suggested the end (qets) of the kingdom of Israel (RSV). Like ripe summer fruit, Israel was ripe for GOD's judgment.
Another literary device which Amos used in his sermons of judgment against the nations is known as numerical parallelism: "For three transgressions...and for four..." (1:3). He repeated this phrase seven times as he covered the sins of the various nations around Israel (1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1,4). The reader can almost feel the suspense building until the prophet reaches the dramatic climax of his sermon: "For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals" (2:6).
The Book of Amos is one of the most eloquent cries for justice and righteousness to be found in the Bible. And it came through a humble shepherd who dared to deliver GOD's message to the wealthy and influential people of his day. His message is just as timely for our world, since GOD still places a higher value on justice and righteousness than on silver and gold and the things that money will buy.
Personal Application: Amos stresses that rectitude and righteousness are essential to a healthy society. Religion is something more than the observance of determined festivals and the celebration of sacred assemblies; true religion demands an upright life. The way that a human treats others, reveals how his relationship with GOD is. Jesus said that the greatest of all the commandments was to love GOD. The second was to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the message of Amos, and one which we need nowadays. We love in a modern and materialistic society. But we mustn't deceive ourselves that the modernness of our surroundings constitutes a blessing from GOD. The tendency to think that we can please GOD with material offerings hasn't abandoned us. Material prosperity often leads to moral and religious corruption. The external observance of Christian rites isn't sufficient. GOD demands our obedience; an agreeable disposition of the heart that leads to actions in favor of the human beings that surround us.
Christ Revealed: In Amos there are no direct references to Christ, nor typological parallelisms. However, Jesus' words in Matthew 11:21,22, seem to make an allusion to Amos 1:9,10. Amos speaks of the judgment that will come over Tyre. Jesus says that if "in Tyre and Sidon the miracles had been done that had been done" in Chorazin and Bethsaida, "they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes". Another concept appears, this time in the Revelation of John. Amos says that GOD would do nothing without revealing the secret beforehand "to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). John speaks about the sound of the seventh trumpet when "the mystery of GOD will be consummated, as He declared it to his servants the prophets" (Rev. 10:7).
The Holy Spirit in Action: The work of the Holy Spirit isn't mentioned specifically in Amos. The process through which GOD's message is revealed to the prophets is commonly attributed to the Holy Spirit by other prophets (see Is. 48:16; Ezek. 3:24; Micah 3:8). As in the case of the majority of the prophets, it's almost impossible to draw a distinction between the LORD and his Spirit. Amos doesn't come to mention the Spirit in his work, but those things that other prophets attribute to the activity of the Spirit are present in Amos.
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Amos, a Prophet of GOD's Righteous Demands ("Exploring the Old Testament" by C. E. Demaray, PhD, Donald S. Metz, D.R.E. and Maude A. Stuneck, PhD; edited by W. T. Purkiser, PhD; published 1967 by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City)
Character of Amos ("Exploring the Old Testament")
Background of His Prophecy ("Exploring the Old Testament")