Amos, an 8th century prophet is pinpointed to be one of the older prophets during the period the nation had split into two rival kingdoms - Israel and Judah. Certainly, predates the likes of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Amos whose name means ‘burden or burden bearer’ is catalogued as one of the twelve minor prophets.
Amos is said to have lived between 793 and 753BC. He lived among a group of shepherds in Tekoa, a small town approximately ten miles south of Jerusalem on the edge of the Judean desert.
Amos made clear in his writings that he did not come from a family of prophets, nor did he even consider himself one. Rather, he was “a grower of sycamore figs” as well as a shepherd.
The calling / God’s manifestation to Amos
With the people of Israel in the north enjoying an almost unparalleled time of success, the moral decay that also occurred at that time counteracted any positives from the material growth. They were selling off needy people for goods, taking advantage of the helpless, oppressing the poor, and the men were using women immorally (Amos 2v6–8; 3v10; 4v1; 5v11–12; 8v4–6). Drunk on their own economic success and intent on strengthening their financial position, the people had lost the concept of caring for one another.
God decided to call a quiet shepherd and farmer to travel from his home in the less sinful south of Judah where Uzziah was king at the time, and carry a message of judgment to the people in the northern kingdom - Israel where Jeroboam was king and had erected a calf image for the people to worship.
Amos confirms his call from God to prophesy when confronted by the King’s chaplain Amaziah for his prophecy of judgement over Israel;
Amaziah, 'I am" no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, "Go, prophesy to my people Israel."
Jeroboam’s reign had been quite profitable for the northern kingdom, at least in a material sense. God’s word through Amos was directed against the privileged people of Israel, a people who had no love for their neighbour, who took advantage of others, and who only looked out for their own concerns. He rebuked them because he saw in that lifestyle, evidence that Israel had forgotten God. They had grown hard and callous in their dealings with each other.
The central theme of Amos’ prophecies was God holding the kingdom of Israel accountable for their ill-treatment of others and to warn them of God’s impending judgement. It repeatedly points out the failure of the people to fully embrace God’s idea of justice.
Though he came from the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos delivered his prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel and the surrounding nations, leading to some resistance from the prideful Israelites.
Amos communicated God’s utter disdain for the hypocritical lives of His people (Amos 5:21–24).
The people in the north used Amos’s status as a foreigner as an excuse to ignore his message of judgment for a multiplicity of sins.
In fact, Amaziah the king’s chaplain rebuked Amos:
“O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there but never again prophecy at Bethel for it is the king’s sanctuary and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
This confrontation between Amos and Amaziah sees the wrath of God manifest on Amaziah through prophecy for trying to silence Amos that is, Amaziah will die in exile. The invading army will abuse his wife, kill his children and seize his land.
Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, "Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac." Therefore, thus says the “Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parcelled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.
Judgement on Israel
Israel, the people who had enjoyed unfettered love and care from God since their exodus from Egypt, had broken their covenant with him. Rather than seeking out opportunities to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, they embraced their arrogance, idolatry, self-righteousness, and materialism. As a result, they must in turn, suffer punishment.
Through Amos, God warns of his judgement. Amos sees five visions of doom locust and fire; the plumb-line (God’s total separation from Israel) and the basket of fruits; and finally, total destruction - an earthquake (2 years before it occurred) and exile to Babylon.
Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? (Amos 8:8)
For the first two, Amos pleads for mercy on behalf of Israel. Again, God in his compassion and love for his people mercifully changed his mind. He gives them the opportunity to save their lives by seeking him through reformed living - all to no avail.
Amos is fed up. The latter visions of Amos were to be executed against the people of Israel - the judgement is necessary and certain that is:
The exile of the northern kingdom - and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land” (Amos 7:17). Also, “the time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. Through breaches in the wall you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon, says the Lord.” (Amos 4:2)
Finally, total destruction - I saw the LORD standing beside the altar, and he said: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape. (Amos 9:1)
Amos’s writings can be dated to 762 B.C. and just as he prophesied, the downfall of Israel occurred years later.
While most of the prophets interspersed redemption and restoration in their prophecies against Israel and Judah, Amos devoted only the final five verses of his prophecy for such consolation. His prophecy concludes with only a brief glimpse of restoration, and even that is directed to Judah, rather than the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 9:11–15).
Modern culture has seen a tremendous rise in consumerism but amid plenty, our culture hungers for more, more of everything but God. The notion of the supernatural is being relegated to the dusty shelves and the world is faced with the real threat of the abnegation of God. This abnegation damages the human heart and breeds the many gruesome crimes within our culture – child slavery, human trafficking.
Today, one could almost see Amos with a megaphone in the public square proclaiming “Seek God and Live” (Amos 5v6), in order words change from your evil ways and return to love. Love for neighbour and love for God.
As we approach the season of Lent, may we be alert to the injustices of our culture and name them as Amos did, perhaps this might be the beginning of new era.