Intro Notes for Amos
There’s one quote in Amos that best describes him and his hot-headed message.
It’s a line he delivers to rich women in the Washington DC of his day, Samaria—capital of the northern Jewish nation of Israel:
Listen to me, you pampered cows,
Women grazing on Samaria’s hills,
Cheating the poor
And stealing from people
Who struggle to survive.
Yeah, it’s you women who say
To the man of the house,
“I could use another drink about now” (Amos 4:1).
No polish on Amos
Amos wasn’t a polished public speaker delivering a hard message in a mild manner. He was a dirty-fingernailed fig farmer and a shepherd with flock to get back to.
He didn’t beat around the bush. He set it on fire. Then he fed it on flaming words—until a priest in town told him to shut up and go back where he came from.
God’s message received.
Amos lived in the town of Tekoa, about a day’s walk south of Jerusalem—which was the capital of the southern Jewish nation of Judah. The original Israel split over taxes after King Solomon died.
Oddly, as Amos tells it, God gave this comparatively poor southern farmer a message to deliver to Northern aristocrats who were living at a time of high prosperity for the rich and famous, if no one else.
Northerners and Southerners weren’t on good terms. So, Amos didn’t have a lot to lose by skipping pleasantries and giving them what for.
Idolatry was the big complaint for many prophets. And Amos covered that a bit, especially condemning Israel for worshiping and sacrificing outside of Jerusalem. God’s command through Moses was that Jews were to worship and sacrifice only at Jerusalem’s Temple (Deuteronomy 12:5).
But idolatry wasn’t the headliner for this a fig famer.
God told Amos to deliver a message that most any farmer in his day could get passionate about: greed, exploitation, and cheating the most vulnerable people in the world. Back then, it was widows, orphans, and immigrants—like it is today.
Prophet behind these quotes is Amos. He came from Tekoa, a city in Judah.
“I’m not a prophet. I’m not even related to one. I’m a herder and a farmer. I tend an orchard of sycamore fig trees. The LORD told me to leave my flock. He said, ‘I have some messages for my people in Israel. And I want you to deliver them.’ So here I am” (Amos 7:15-16).
Whoever wrote this was well educated. The writing is eloquent.
Perhaps Amos wrote it himself. But some scholars say the upbeat ending suggests someone else wrote it to preserve the message, but then added the only bright light in the book. It’s a promise that God will resurrect Israel.
Yet it comes just three verses after God says “I’ll wipe this nation off the earth” (9:8). That’s a threat that other prophets said God carried out, with a little help from Assyrian invaders based out of what is now northern Iraq.
Amos likely delivered his message somewhere in a stretch of 25 years, between 767-742 BC.
“He received messages of prophecy about Israel two years before the big earthquake. He got those messages when Uzziah was king of Judah. Joash’s son Jeroboam was king of Israel at the time” (Amos 1:1).
So, the earliest possible date of Amos’ prophecy is 767 BC, the year Uzziah became king. The latest date is about 742 BC, two years before the end of Uzziah’s reign.
Ruins in the region suggest there was a major earthquake in the mid-700s BC, archaeologists report. This may have been the same earthquake in the days of King Uzziah that’s reported in Zechariah 14:5.
Uzziah reigned from 767-740 BC as full king, and as coregent with his aging father Amaziah from 791-767 BC.
Amos promised that God would turn the daylight into darkness, perhaps a reference to a solar eclipse in 763 BC.
Amos the one-year prophet?
Amos may have received all his messages in one year. But what year? It’s unknown when the earthquake took place. One guess is 760 BC. But the quake could have happened anywhere within a stretch of about 25 years: from 767-742 BC.
If Amos delivered his message around 760 BC, as some scholars guess, many northern Jews probably lived to see it. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC, erased from the political map.
Invaders led many Israelite survivors to exile into what is now Iraq. They became known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. And they’re still lost. They never came back.
The southern Jewish nation of Judah survived for another 136 years, until Babylon erased it, too, in 586 BC. But afterward, they did what the northerners couldn’t or wouldn’t do. They came home and rebuilt part of their nation. Judeans started in Jerusalem and resettled into a smaller Judah—administered by a Persian governor.
Amos came from Tekoa, a village about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, capital of Judah. That’s about a half day’s walk.
He delivered his messages to Samaria, capital of the northern Jewish nation of Israel, and in Bethel, a worship center up north. Samaria was about a three-day walk from his home, roughly 50 miles (80 km) as the raven flies.
Imagine someone in America during the prosperous Roaring 20’s of the 1900s telling Americans that the Great Depression was coming (1929-1939).
Amos did that to Israel. But worse.
In their Golden Age of prosperity, when the rich slept on ivory-studded beds, he told them that God was going to wipe them off the map for their sins.
“You poison justice,
Knocking good people off their feet” (Amos 5:7).
Amos added that God was giving them a chance to save themselves:
“Come back to the LORD.
So he doesn’t have to rain fire on Joseph’s family,
And burn Bethel in flames no one can put out” (Amos 5:6).
As it turns out, Amos didn’t seem to have a prayer. He may have seen it coming, especially after a top priest tells him,
“Vision guy, get out of here. Take your visions back to Judah…But don’t ever prophesy here in Bethel again. The king worships at this temple. It’s a sacred place of worship for the entire nation” (Amos 7:12-13).
Amos apparently left, but not before telling the priest that his wife would become the town hooker (Amos 7:17).