Book of Amos


Authorship, date, and background Amos, the author of this book, was one of the twelve minor prophets. No identification is given concerning his parentage. His name means "burden" or "burden bearer." He was from Tekoa, which was approximately five miles south of Bethlehem. Amos was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. He prophesied around the middle of the eighth century and was a contemporary of Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea. Although he came from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, God called him from his pastoral duties to speak to the Northern Kingdom of Samaria. At that time, during the reign of Jeroboam II, a large and financial successful mercantile class had come into being in Samaria. They were prosperous and corrupt. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Luxury and ease was a contemporary phenomenon among the wealthy who then oppressed the poorer people by seizing their lands (it was God's intention that the people of Israel should be small independent landowners), by making serfs of these people, and selling them into bondage.

At the same time, the Canaanite religion had overtaken the Northern Kingdom, with all of its wicked features such as ritual prostitution, orgies, its fertility cult with four annual feasts, accompanied by drunkenness, idolatrous worship, and debilitating violence. Two years before the earthquake, about which we know little, God called Amos to be his prophet, and a strange prophet he was: he had no priestly background nor was he a learned scholar; his parents, unnamed, were among the common people. God's ways are not man's ways.

Characteristics and content Amos comes to Samaria with a message of divine judgment against the surrounding nations. It is a delight to the people of Samaria who remembered their suffering under Damascus, the Philistines, Tyre, Moab, Ammon, and Edom. He pronounces God's judgment on his own nation of Judah for their disobedience and their rejection of the Law of God. Samaria is delighted with this message since they traditionally resented their southern relatives. Then Amos speaks the word of judgment against Samaria. He says they have sinned, and God is about to judge them by sending divine retribution upon them. He catalogs their sins of sumptuous living, bribery, neglect of the poor, drunkenness, and even their ritual sacrifices which have no internal significance since their hearts are far removed from God. He announces the divine judgment which will follow their impenitence, a judgment which will be fulfilled not too many years after Amos completes his short ministry for God among this people. His visions of a vast swarm of locusts, a great fire, a plumbline, a basket full of ripe fruit, and the destruction which will be their lot because of their transgressions.

Amos, like so many of other prophets, paints a brighter and more hopeful picture toward the end of his diatribe (see 9:11 - 15). Amos' first prophecy of judgment was fulfilled shortly and thereafter Samaria disappeared from history. And to this day Amos' glorious promise of Israel's return to the land has not yet taken place. But it will - in the latter days.