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Introduction to the Book of Amos

Julian Spriggs M.A.

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Amos the prophet

Amos’ name probably means 'burden bearer'. His home town was Tekoa, five miles south-east of Bethlehem, and twelve miles south of Jerusalem. He was a herdsman (1:1, 7:14), and a cultivator of sycamore trees, which were possibly fig trees (7:14). He never had a professional training in one of the schools of the prophets, nor was he a prophets son (7:14).

When called by God, he left his flocks to proclaim the word of the Lord (2:15-16). He had no formal training or official authorization, and was not recognised as a prophet, but faithfully fulfilled his calling in spite of prejudices of the people. He was a man of iron will and convictions, not to be deflected from his purpose.

Date of prophesying

Amos prophesied to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) during the reign of Jeroboam II (782 - 753 BC) (1:1, 7:10). This would make him a contemporary of Jonah, who went to Nineveh; and of Hosea, who also prophesied to the Northern Kingdom. Amos probably prophesied at the end of Jeroboam's reign, possibly between 760 and 755 BC. The book is dated two years before the earthquake, which is mentioned as the earthquake during the days of Uzziah (Zech 14:5). This earthquake must have been a significant one, as it was remembered two hundred years later.

The Jewish historian, Josephus described how Uzziah offered incense as a priest (as 2 Chr 26:16), and was struck down by leprosy, and that an earthquake happened at the same time. This caused damage to the temple, so the sun came in, and half a mountain collapsed (Ant 9:10:4).

Historical background

After Adad-Nirari of Assyria had destroyed Damascus in 805 BC, Syria was left weakened, removing one of the major enemies of Israel. During this time Assyria was quiet, until an army commander called Pul became king in 745 BC, and took the name Tiglath-pileser III, (the name of a earlier powerful king of Assyria) and began to expand the Assyrian empire to the west.

Jeroboam II of Israel ruled from 782 to 753 BC, and took advantage of the weakness of Syria to expand into new territory (Damascus & Hamath), pushing his boundaries back to those of the kingdom of Solomon before 930 BC (2 Kg 14:23-29). The result of this would be that Jeroboam controlled all the main trade routes and Samaria became the meeting place of merchants from Mesopotamia and Egypt. The caravans of the eastern world met and the city became a vast bazaar displaying every type of rich and exotic goods. This increased commercial activity brought Israel enormous gains and enable a powerful merchant nobility to grow, whose prosperity gave rise to the building of 'winter houses', 'summer houses' and 'houses of ivory' (3:15, 7:4a). There was a drift to the cities and demand for luxuries.

The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The poor were victimised, exploited and abused. Their basic rights were disregarded and their clothes were taken as pledges for debt, and there was no justice for them in the land. With the prosperity, immorality, oppression and injustice had increased. Judges were bribed, truth and integrity fled the land (8:6). Materialism and greed took over (8:4-5, 4:1). The shrines at Bethel and Gilgal were crowded with worshippers, but God was not there. Superstition and immorality had replaced godliness and sincerity. Consciences had become dulled. Israel had ceased to live for God.

Into this scene of materialism, irreligion and immorality came Amos with his prophetic word from God (2:6-12). Amos gave his prophecy during a visit to Bethel (7:10-14), the site of the main sanctuary in the northern kingdom, where the earlier King Jeroboam had first built altars and introduced the worship of golden calves. The high priest Amaziah opposed Amos, reported him to Jeroboam II, and told him to go away.

The sin of affluent ease

Amos speaks out against the luxurious living, and injustice against the poor: Inconsequential things are given a higher value than people (2:6, 8:6). There are unrighteous excesses at the expense of the poor (2:8), and unrighteous oppression (3:9). Getting ahead knows no limit (3:10, 6:3). The lust of the flesh is satisfied by the blood of the poor (4:1). There is a perversion of true justice and righteousness (5:8, 6:12), and unconcern over moral degradation (6:8, 8:7). All this is rooted in and develops pride (6:8, 8:7), and an attitude of self-sufficiency and forgetting God (6:13).

Sin of religious hypocrisy

Amos also addressed the religious hypocrisy. There was no commitment to a specific deity (2:8), a disrespect for institutions which didn't allow a self-centred lifestyle (2:12). The sacrifices were incorrect and unacceptable to God (5:4-5). The people fought against conviction of sin (2:12, 5:10, 7:10-13). He stated that the Lord cannot be sought in Bethel (5:4-5). The people were unable to hear exhortations to commitment (7:10-13). Their rituals were superficial, and they will come to an end with exposing judgement (8:10). The people have no heart for the special days, but are more interested in making money (8:5).

Structure of the book

1:3 - 2:16 Series of oracles against the nations, then Judah and finally Israel
3:1 - 6:14 Series of three sermons: Judgement on wicked Samaria
7:1 - 9:10 Series of five visions
9:11-15 Promise of restoration

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