In Amos 7:14-15 Amos explains that he was not a prophet and nor was he a part of the establishment prophets known as “the sons of the prophets” (a well-defined group of prophets known to have existed from Samuel’s time forward and had become well organized by the time of Elisha – see 2 Kings 2:15-18; 4:1; 4:38-44; 6:1-3; etc.). He identifies his occupation as a herdsman (shepherd) and a dresser of sycamore trees. Although he was not part of the religious prophet establishment of his day, he was firm in conviction that he was called by Jehovah to prophesy to Israel.
From his book, one gets the picture of a man who was close to nature and had a good understanding of it. His comments about animals leaves one with the feeling he was talking about things he was very familiar with. He mentions several kinds of animals (3:4-8) and speaks in a matter-of-fact way about wrestling the remains of a sheep from a lion’s mouth (cf. David in 1 Samuel 17:34-35). He talks of livestock and farming (6:12). He was observant and knowledgeable of the creation including the constellations and affirms his faith that God made and is in control of them (5:8-9). He speaks of danger as though he is familiar with it (5:19).
Amos was from the village of Tekoa (1:1), which was located about twelve miles south of Jerusalem and eighteen miles west of the Dead Sea. He lived during the reigns of King Uzziah (or Azariah; see 2 Kings 15:1 and 13) of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel. He specifies that he prophesied “two years before the earthquake” (1:1). The exact time of this earthquake is not known but it must have been powerful and devastating because Zechariah refers to it several centuries later (Zech. 14:5). Most scholars place Amos’ prophecy in the decade of 760-750 B.C.
Amos prophesied during an ambivalent time. It was a time of prosperity in Israel. The people had winter and summer homes decked out in ivory (3:15). They are described as living lives of luxury stretching themselves out on couches, with nice furniture, plenty of excellent food, music and entertainment, wine flowing freely and fine oils for their bodies (6:1-6). However, he declared that their destruction was coming (6:1, 7-11). They were pampered in every way. However, Amos’ warning was clear: “prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (4:12). The reason was their lack of justice (5:11-12; 8:4-6) while claiming to be a religious people, attending assemblies, offering sacrifices and singing praises (5:21-23). What God wanted was “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24). History allows us to look back and see Amos’ warning ignored and the prophecy fulfilled as the nation of Israel went into Assyrian captivity in 722-721 B.C.
I. The sins and punishments of the nations including Judah – 1:1 – 2:3
II. The sins and punishments of Israel – 2:4 – 6:14
III. The five visions of Amos – 7:1 – 9:10
IV. The promise of future hope – 9:11–15
Amos’ message was a clear warning. In a formula repeated seven times he points out that God will punish sin. Each time Amos begins with the words, “Thus says the Lord.” The formula begins with the words, “For three transgressions of _____ and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (1:3a, 1:6a, 1:9a, 1:11a, 1:13a, 2:1a, 2:4a). Our expression would probably be “Because of the many sins of _____.” The formula continues with the word “because” and specifically points out their sins (e.g. war atrocities, cruelty for the nations and Judah’s leaving God’s ways). The final part begins with the word “so” and describes the consequences of their actions. Each time, he uses the word “fire” to describe his actions, followed by, “it shall devour the strongholds.” The nations described were Syria, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, the Ammonites, Moab and Judah.
The strongest condemnation was reserved for Israel because after God had favored them in so many ways (2:9-11; 3:2) they had sinned grievously (2:6b-8; 2:12; 3:10; 4:1; 5:10, 12, 21-24; 8:4-6). The result would be their destruction (2:13-16; 3:11; 5:2-3, 11; 18-20; 6:1, 7; 9:1-4; 9-10). God was not doing this flippantly. He had given them chances to mend their ways. Five times he had attempted to get them to repent (4:6-11). Each time ended in the same way, “yet you did not return to me declares the Lord.” Their warning was, “prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (4:12). Their last and only hope was to repent (5:4, 6, 14-15, 24).
Amos is quoted at least three times in the New Testament. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, quotes from Amos 5:25-27 in his testimony (Acts 7:42-43). Probably Amos 6:1 was on Jesus’ mind when he made the statement in Luke 6:24. In Acts 15:16-18 James quotes Amos 9:11-12 as proof that the gentiles should be accepted.
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