Study of the prophets #2: Amos

There were five prophets in the 8th century including Amos. Amos states his work occurred during the reigns of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and Uzziah king of Judah. These two kings were also mentioned in Hosea. This makes it possible for us to pin down the time of his ministry at about the same time as Hosea’s, between 767BCE, the beginning of Uzziah’s sole reign, and 753 BCE, the end of Jeroboam’s reign. This is consistent with Amos 6:2 which implies that the region of Hamath was under the control of Jeroboam at the time. Amos also dates his work as having been “two years before the earthquake” (1:1). This is not a very informative statement because we do not know exactly when the earthquake occurred. We can deduce that is was very severe because it is mentioned in Zechariah 12:5-7, who lived after the Babylonian exile more than 200 years later. Since Amos mentioned this earthquake, he necessarily wrote the book after the quake occurred. This would infer that his oral ministry took place at least two years prior to the recording of the information.
Amos performed his ministry in the northern nation of Israel although he lived in Judah, which was in the south. He was called by G-d while living in Judah at which time he was told to go to Israel and prophecy for the L-rd. When Amos ministered in Israel, it was a very prosperous time which not unlike America’s history, led to a life of indulgence and sin.
Concerning Judah, where Amos lived, Uzziah was king of this southern kingdom. Uzziah was also known as Azariah (II Kings 14:21); 15:1, 6, 8). He followed G-d’s ways and G-d blessed him during his reign so that Judah’s high status in the world was restored. This change in Judah’s status occurred at about the same time as Israel’s growth under Jeroboam II. Between the two leaders, the total area rivaled that of King David and Solomon. Therefore, we can see that during Amos’ ministry, Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) were enjoying a time of great power and wealth. Both countries were at the panicle in the world. This would have made it difficult at best for Amos to get through to anyone as we see in America today. People do not want to listen to anything that might indicate a need to restrain indulgence and self-gratification. Amos had his work cut out for him.
Amos provides more information concerning his personal life than do most of the other prophets. He provides his hometown of Tekoa (1:1) that is located about 5 miles north of Bethlehem. Translating from the Hebrew, we learn that he was a herdsman of cattle and sheep. He also cultivated wild figs (sycamore). The terms he uses also indicate that he may have actually owned sheep and was not merely a shepherd. These descriptions indicate he may have been affluent.
His ministry was different than most of the other prophets because he did it part-time. This is significant as it show us that G-d may call us to serve in many capacities. The call may be to leave everything behind like Avraham; to go to the house of the opposition for a time, such as Moshe; or to tend herds, flocks, and agricultural endeavors as did Amos. We know he was not a full-time prophet based on his statement to Amaziah,” I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son… And the L-rd took me as I followed the flock, and the L-rd said unto me, ‘G-, prophesy unto my people Israel” (7:14, 15). It is interesting that G-d chose a man from the southern kingdom to prophecy to those in the northern kingdom who strayed away from “base camp” so to speak. Another interesting point is that this statement appears in the same context where he speaks of himself as being “an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit.” This statement in itself is prophetic in that he followed after those who left Judah and went north, and his prophecy would be fruitful according to G-d’s purpose even though Amos might not see the results. Therefore, we can know with confidence, that G-d can call us out at any time in our lives and use us in any number of ways for His glory.
We do not know how long Amos served in the role of a prophet. We do know that G-d called on him to go to the northern kingdom of Israel and give a warning concerning the sin of the northern people. He was at Bethel when he said “The words of Amos…” which he saw concerning Israel. Note these words applied to the northern kingdom and not the southern kingdom from which the 10 northern tribes migrated. He stayed long enough to proclaim all that G-d told him to speak. This would have been at the designated time, “two years before the earthquake.” It appears that he returned home after his ministry, and wrote his book. It is not known whether he continued his ministry after returning home.
As a person engaged in his profession before his call, he can be safely described as a dedicated man. He was also spiritually mature in G-d’s ways. This is important. G-d expects us to study, pray, learn, and live what we learn from G-d’s Torah. We cannot expect to be used of G-d if we do not invest a heartfelt and earnest interest in His Word. Knowledge and wisdom of G-d does not come by osmosis. There were other prophets G-d could have used, but He chose Amo; a layman for this particular task. G-d saw him as a choice vessel to share the Light and perform the task of prophesying to the northern kingdom in a way that no one else could.
By the nature of his occupation, we know that he was hard-working and energetic. He was the kind of person G-d could use most effectively. G-d wants us to serve him in whatever capacity He chooses for us with zeal and undistracted dedication. Amos also had to be courageous. He was called to go to the strong, affluent, indulgent country of Israel where Jeroboam II was ruling, and proclaim a message that would not be popular; just as we are called to set an example for the world in our own society. Amos could have refused, but he accepted the call willingly. Would we be strong enough in our faith to accept such a call if G-d asked us to prophecy in America? It is something to think about.
Amos was also knowledgeable about the world situation during his time. One might think that as a layman who tended sheep, cows, and harvested figs might be ignorant of world affair. Not so Amos. The lesson for us is that we must be aware of our surroundings, reading the news, watching politically important programs, and becoming more aware of our political, religious, and philosophical stance taken by our society today. How else can we expect to know what we are up against? How can we know our enemy, spiritual and physical, if we don’t know their philosophy, goals, beliefs, and values? In the book of Amos we can easily see that he is fully aware of his surroundings. He has appropriate and pungent things to say regarding the countries that surrounded Judah and Israel. These include Damascus (1:3-5), Philistia (1:6-8), Tyre (1:9, 10), Edom (1:11, 12), Ammon (1:13-15), and Moab (2:1-3). More than this, he was well acquainted with the Old Testament as it existed at that time, as evidenced by his numerous references in his book, especially to the Pentateuch. The combination of energetic, hard-working work ethic, dedication to and willingness to serve G-d, and knowledge of the political situation around him, made him a perfect person for the job G-d had planned.
The fact that G-d called Amos to go to Israel perhaps implies that there were few prophets living there at the time. Hosea and Jonah did, but G-d had other places for them to carry out His will. The distance was not far from Tekoa to Bethel, about 25 miles. Keep in mind that Avraham placed his first altar at Beth’el. Nevertheless, Israel was a foreign country and G-d chose someone from Judah to do His bidding.
One of many wonderful things about the book of Amos is that it provides us with a wealth of information about the conditions of the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II reign. Again, it was a time of great national strength, affluence, indulgence coupled with moral and religious decay; just as we see in America today. Bribery of the political officials was common, and it became very difficult for the common people to receive justice and attempt to live by any of G-d’s instructions such as working to earn a living, and living honestly. Liberty and justice for all as a concept was no longer a valid statement. The result was that a large gap developed between the rich and poor, just as we are seeing in America today. The similarities are profoundly similar, and we can easily see that we have learned nothing from the past. In the time of Amos, the poor were often sold into bondage by their masters for trivial matters (2:6). I the 21st century, people are encouraged to apply for all sorts of government subsidies, placing them in bondage to the government in more ways than one.
In this situation, the message of Amos was that people should restrain their animalistic selfish desires, and return to seeking G-d and His will. This is the message taught at Beth Elohim today. Furthermore, Amos tells the people that they should heed the regulations laid down in the Law of Moshe just as Yahshua includes in His definition of a true believer in the seven-fold witness in the book of Revelation. If they refused, there would be a day of punishment from G-d. Take heed, we will see G-d’s wrath and judgment against America and any other peoples that continue to defy His Torah. This time as Amos describes it would be a time of darkness and not light, one of sorrow and punishment versus reward and joy.
An outline of the book of Amos follows:
I. Judgment against the nations (1:1-2:16).
A. Prelude: day of wrath (1:1-2)
B. Judgment upon six neighboring nations (1:3-2:3)
C. Judgment of Judah and Israel (2:4-16)
II. Sin and punishment of Israel ( 3:1-6:14)
A. The certainty of G-d’s punishment (3:1-15)
B. Past punishments unavailing (4:1-13)
C. Lamentation for fallen Israel (5:1-27)
D. Destruction and captivity imminent (6:1-14)
III. Five visions of the coming judgment (7:1-9:10)
A. First vision: the plague of locusts (7:1-3)
B. Second vision: unrestrained fire ( 7:4-6)
C. Third vision: the plumbline ( 7:7-9)
D. Historical interlude: encounter with Amaziah (7:10-17)
E. Fourth vision: the basket of summer fruit ( 8:1-14)
F. Fifth vision: destruction of the temple (9:1-10).
IV. Messianic blessing promised (9:11-15).

The fact that Amos uses “the words of…” is uncommon and use by only three prophets: Amos, Jeremiah, and Kohelet. This indicates that the prophets discuss events that happened to him personally. This is important because these prophets included themselves in a communal way with the rest of the people. That is, even though Amos and those of the southern kingdom did not commit the same sins as those of the northern kingdom, these prophets included themselves in their prophecies, acknowledging their humanity and imperfect state.
Now for some specifics:
The three transgressions of the six neighboring nations are not revealed to us. We may surmise that these are the three most well-known cardinal sins if idolatry, murder, and adultery. Because these countries are so close to Israel, the people would readily see how G-d deals with such sins, many of them committing the same sins although they are part of G-d’s Chosen people.
Chapter 1:11 “Thus said HaShem:’ For three transgressions of Edom [I have looked away]. But for four I will not pardon them- for their pursuing his brother with the sword and suppressing his mercy; his anger has slaughtered incessantly and he has kept his fury forever.”
For the relentless persecution the Jewish Nation by Edom whose ancestors are Ishmael and Esau, and evolved into the Roman Church. Recall how G-d described Ishmael and his descendants (Gen. 16:12) and that when the Jewish Nation tried to pass through the land of Edom on their way to the Land of Israel, the Edomites met them at the border, refusing them entry, and threatening them with war (Num. 20:18).
Chapter 2:1 ‘for their burning the bones of the king of Edom into lime…”
The bones of this king and used the ashes of his bones to color the walls of his house. The degradation of royalty would not go unpunished.
Chapter 2 verse 4 shows a shift from the non-Jewish nations to the Children of Israel, castigating them for their sins and describing the impending catastrophes that were brought upon themselves. Amos briefly addresses Judah, then attends to the primary focus of his mission, the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes of Israel. Note the significant future application not only to Judah, but to any peoples who commit the same transgressions.
2:4 “Thus said HaShem: ‘For three transgressions of Judah [I have looked away], but for four I will not pardon them- for their despising the Torah of HaShem and not observing His statues; their falsehood’s that their fathers followed have corrupted them. I will send fire into Judah and it will consume the palaces of Jerusalem.’”
2:6 Thus said HaShem:’ For three transgressions of Israel [I have looked away], but for four I will not pardon them- for their selling a righteous man for money, and a poor man for shoes. They aspire [as they walk on] the dust of the earth for the head of the poor and they twist the judgment of the humble; a man and his father go to a maiden in order to desecrate my Holy Name .’”
Israel’s involvement in the fourth sin sealed her fate: to be conquered and exiled by the Assyrians. This fourth sin is one of corruption, which was so rampant in their society that even the judges would sell their verdict to the highest bidder. A decision against a rich man who has the capacity to retaliate could be acquired with a bribe of silver, while a decision against a poor man who was helpless against the judges, could be acquired with a pair of shoes. This is considered to be the height of iniquity. Certainly, when the judges who are responsible for maintaining the rule of law can be so easily swayed, this sin cannot be tolerated. This practice caused the humble to veer from their path in order to avoid encountering these judges, whom they rightly feared. Verse 6 refers to the fact that there were fathers and sons who would go to have sexual relations with betrothed maidens without a second thought about G-d’s laws pertaining to intimate relationships.
2:8-11 “They recline on pawned garments beside every altar and they drank the wine of victims they penalized in the temple of their gods.”
They confiscated the clothing of the poor as security for the payments imposed on them for false judgments. They reclined on the garments in front of the altars of other gods in public. With the money from the fines unjustly imposed upon the people, they bought and drank wine in the temples of their gods. Bad enough it was for the nations surrounding Israel, but for G-d’s Chosen People to sink so morally low meant that they would be punished more severely than the nations.
We will continue from here next week.
R. Tamah Davis

Credit is given to the wonderful commentary on the Prophets provided by the Mesorah Heritage Foundation who make available the Milstein Edition of “the prophets” as part of the Artscroll Series, and many credible authors who have conducted studies on the prophets and contributed their findings in the Internet to share with the world. Thank you.