Introduction to Amos

By James M. Rochford

Amos’ name most likely means “burden-bearer.” Since his father is never mentioned, he could’ve come from humble backgrounds. He was a herdsman (Amos 7:14). Even though he was never formally trained as a prophet, he responded to God’s call to go speak to his people. Archer writes that there “is general agreement among Old Testament scholars that Amos’ ministry is to be dated between 760 and 757 b.c., toward the latter part of the reign of Jeroboam II (793–753).”[1]

The authenticity of Amos is not frequently challenged by critics of the Bible. Archer writes that “critics concede the authenticity of nearly all the text of Amos.”[2] Only a handful of verses have been questioned as later insertions, but this is based on the assumption that Israel’s history was compiled in the Documentary Hypothesis, which has been discredited (see “Authorship of the Pentateuch”).

Amos was speaking out against the wealth and opulence of the people in his day. He writes, “Those who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall” (Amos 6:4). Thomas McComiskey writes, “Archaeology has illuminated this period through a number of discoveries. Excavations at Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, have yielded hundreds of ivory inlays attesting to Amos’s description of the luxury enjoyed by these people.”[3]

Strategy of this Prophet

Amos preaches against Israel’s enemies first. God, the “lion” (1:2), is circling His prey, judging everyone around Israel. As a visitor to Israel, Amos is trying to draw in his audience. Imagine a rocker coming to Columbus, saying, “I love the Buckeyes!” He has the people agreeing with him, because the enemies of Israel are so evil.

But then he turns the tables, and says, “If God is truly just… what about YOUR evil practices?!” Then he preaches judgment on the people of Israel. He explains that God is going to judge them, and nothing can protect them besides repentance to God’s moral will. By the end of the book, the Temple is destroyed and all hope is lost… But then he predicts a time when the Temple and people will be restored.

Teaching for Amos

This entire book can be taught in one night.

Teach chapters 1 and 2. What is the strategy of the prophet in these chapters?

Teach chapter 7 and the refusal of the priest to repent. What is the significance of this chapter in light of the whole of the book?

Teach chapter 8 and the play on words in the Hebrew.

Teach chapter 9 and the promise to restore the Temple and people. What significance does this have in light of the whole of the book?

Amos 1

God goes after Damascus in his judgment (v.3). He goes after Gaza (v.6). He goes after Tyre (v.9). He goes after Edom (v.11). He goes after Ammon (v.13).

Amos 2

God brings judgment on Moab (v.1). Then he goes after Judah (v.4)—Israel’s enemy. Up until this point, the people of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) were probably thinking, “Yeah! Go get them!” Amos would be like a rock musician coming to New York City after 9/11 saying, “God bless the USA! Let’s pray that the soldiers go get Bin Laden’s head!” Everyone would’ve roared with excitement…

But then Amos turns on Israel! He lures them in, explaining God’s judgment for the nations, but what about them? He is going to judge them for the sins of immorality, idolatry, and slavery. Even the bravest warriors will be destroyed (v.16).

Amos 3

He gives a bunch of illustrations for animals that wouldn’t make any sense (e.g. a lion growling over no prey, a bird falling into a trap that doesn’t have bait). Then he ties this in with God’s plan. He is not capricious. If something happens, he is in control of it (vv.6-7). God is going to judge the people

Amos 4

God predicts that the people will be taken out by being hooked. He even taunts them to sin (v.4). The people refused to repent (vv.10-11).

Amos 5

90% of the people will be wiped out (vv.3-4). The goal is to seek God—not human efforts (v.4). He tells the people to do justice (vv.14-15). They will go from the frying pan and into the fire (v.19). Martin Luther King quoted this passage (v.24).

Amos 6

God will destroy Jerusalem, because they deplore justice (v.12).

Amos 7

In the first vision, Amos intercedes (v.2b-3). In the second vision, Amos intercedes (v.5-6). But the third vision? He doesn’t!! In the third vision, we need to remember that a mason would check the building to see if it is a good structure. Drop a plumb line to check it. Is this temple plumb (or right) in God’s eyes?

The leader (“the priest”) doesn’t accept this assessment of Israel, so Amos refuses to intercede. Amaziah (the priest of Bethel) told Jeroboam (the King in Israel) that Amos was guilty of treason, because he was speaking judgment against the nation (vv.10-11). He tries to scare Amos off (vv.12-13). Amos argues that he is God’s servant and was commissioned (v.15). He predicts that Amaziah’s wife will become a prostitute, his kids will be killed, and Amaziah will be killed during the Exile (v.17).

Amos 8

More judgment on Israel. When fruits are harvested, that’s the end of the agricultural year (vv.1-3). This is a play on words in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word Qayits is rendered “fruit” is similar to the word Qets, which means “end.”

The NASB translates this literally (“The end has come for My people Israel”). The NIV tries to capture the play on words (“The time is ripe for my people Israel”).

Is this a prophecy of the Cross (v.9)? It’s best to say that this was a symbol for God’s judgment, which also occurred at the Cross. God’s curse will be that the people won’t have God’s word.

Amos 9

Remember that the book opened with the chronological marker (“two years before the earthquake”). This must have been one heck of an earthquake, because Zechariah references it too (Zech. 14:2). The walls of Gath fell down at this time in the 8th century BC, which must have been an 8 point on the Richter scale. This final vision shows that God is shaking their Temple apart. The whole book has been pointing forward to this conclusion. They were trusting in their religious festivals (5:21-22), rather than God. So God takes this away from them.

But the book ends on a positive note: There is hope! God will not totally destroy Israel (v.8). He will rebuild the Temple (v.11), and regathering Israel (v.13).

 

[1] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3rd. ed.). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 353.

[2] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3rd. ed.). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 353.

[3] McComiskey, Thomas. Amos. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Vol. 7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 270.