|9th Century Prophets||8th Century Prophets||7th Century Prophets||Exilic Prophets||Post-exilic Prophets|
The book is named after its author, Amos, whose name means “burden-bearer.” God certainly laid a heavy burden upon him, the burden of declaring God’s judgment to rebellious Israel.
The Lion has roared.[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 277.[/footnote]
To reveal the severity of divine judgment for covenant infidelity in Israel and Judah and to declare the hope of a great restoration after the approaching destruction and exile.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1435.[/footnote]
4. Key verses
You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities (Amos 3:2)
Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel (Amos 4:12)
For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live (Amos 5:4)
5. Key truths
• Just as the Gentile nations would be judged for their wickedness, so Israel and Judah would be judged by Assyrian aggression because of their sins.
• God’s case against Israel was irrefutable and the cause of much trouble for Israel both in nature and in war.
• Amos’s visions of the future confirmed that Samaria would be destroyed by Assyrian aggression.
• Although Israel and Judah would be judged along with the other nations, after the exile they would be exalted above their Gentile neighbours.[footnote]Ibid.,1435.[/footnote]
Amos was from Tekoa, 6 miles south of Bethlehem. By profession Amos was both a herdsman and a cultivator of sycamore figs.
Although he had not studied to be a prophet (Amos 7:14), the Lord called him to this office. While he spoke mainly to the north (Amos 7:15), he also addressed Judah (Amos 2:4-5; Amos 9:11).
At the call of God he left his home in Judea to proclaim a hostile message in the proud capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He has been called “the prophet of justice,” “the prophet of righteousness,” or “conscience incarnate.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]
He ministered during the reigns of Jeroboam II (c. 786-746 BC) in the north and Uzziah in the South (sole rule c. 783-750 BC). Since Amos does not list other kings of Judah following Uzziah, as Hosea does, his ministry apparently did not last nearly as long as that of his contemporary. The prophecy of Amos 7:9–11 seems to indicate a time late in the reign of Jeroboam and a probable date of writing is 760-750 BC.
A tradition in Josephus (Ant. 9:10.4) relates that this earthquake occurred on the day that Uzziah attempted to usurp the office of the priests and was smitten with leprosy (2 Chr. 26:16ff). If that tradition is true, the earthquake occurred in 750 B.C. Two years before the earthquake would date Amos’ ministry to the north (or perhaps the conclusion thereof) to 752 B.C.[footnote]Ibid., Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
III. Historical Analysis
|Date (BC)||Event||Scripture reference|
|786-746||Reign of Jeroboam II in the North||2 Ki. 14:23-29|
|783-750||Sole monarchy of Uzziah in the South||2 Ki. 15:1-7|
|722||Assyrian captivity||2 Ki. 17:3-6|
2. Historical Background
Amos’ preaching took place against the backdrop of the great success and prosperity that attended the reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah. Just as Jonah had prophesied (2 Ki. 14:25), the territory of Israel and Judah had expanded to encompass almost all the land held during the empire of David and Solomon. But along with the increase in wealth and power, there came materialism, greed, oppression of the poor, immorality, etc. With this background, no amount of outward observance of religious forms could appease God.
The book of Amos addresses the excessive pursuit of luxury, self-indulgence, and oppression of the poor which characterized the period of prosperity and success in the Northern Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam II. Amos’s message of doom seemed incongruent with the elaborate trappings of that era. But with divinely given insight, he saw the corruption beneath the brilliantly coloured exterior and announced that the nation was rotten to the core. The book stands as an eloquent witness against those who subordinate human need and dignity to the pursuit of wealth and pleasure.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
The Assyrians were already building their empire to the north, and both Israel and Judah would soon suffer at their hands. Amos’s preaching occurs under the ominous shadow of a threatened invasion (Amos 3:11; Amos 5:3,27; Amos 6:7-14; Amos 7:9,17; Amos 9:4), though Assyria is not mentioned by name. Within a short space of time Assyria began an expansionist policy under Tiglath-Pileser III. Despite Amos’ call to repentance in the face of this mounting threat, the people did not listen, and within 30 years of his ministry, Israel was in Assyrian captivity and Judah was a vassal state.
IV. Literary Analysis
1. Comparative Outlines
The Lion’s Roar
Indictment of Israel
God’s people judged along with the nations
Announcements against God’s people
Visions Against God’s people
God’s people exalted above the nations
The Lord roars
The Lord Restores
a. The Lord roars (Amos 1:1-9:10)
Oracles against God’s people (Amos 3:9-6:14)
Case (Amos 3:9-4:13), lament (Amos 5:1-17), woes (Amos 5:18-6:7), oath of destruction (Amos 6:8-14)
Visions against God’s people (Amos 7:1-9:10)
Judgments averted by prayer (Amos 7:1-6), Unavoidable judgments (Amos 7:7-9:10)
b. The Lord restores (Amos 9:11-15)
Restoration of David’s victorious dynasty (Amos 9:11-12)
Blessings of security and of abundance in nature (Amos 9:13-15)
2. Oracles against the nations (Amos 1:3-2:3)
This oracular form has five parts (with minor variations):
a. The introductory formula: “Thus saith the LORD.”
b. A terse formulaic statement of Yahweh’s irrevocable judgment: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof”
c. The indictment: “Because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron”
d. A statement of the punishment introduced by the formula: “But I will send a fire…”
e. The concluding formula: “Saith the Lord.”
3. Oracles against God’s People (Amos 3:9-6:14)
The prophetic lawsuit form is prominent in these chapters. The prophet acts as the lawsuit messenger from God to Israel. The setting is judicial. The parts of this form (with minor variations) are as follows:
a. The plaintiff-judge is introduced
b. The past relations of the contracting parties are reviewed, specifically the recent history of disobedience on the part of the vassal.
c. Witnesses are summoned
d. Indictments are delivered
e. Rhetorical cross-examination is common
f. Repentance is offered (possibilities for repair of the covenant-treaty are announced)
g. The threatened punishment is specified.
Amos delivered oracles from God that justified Israel’s judgment, revealing how terrible it would be and how determined God was to carry it out.
There is a crescendo of judgment: case (Amos 3:9-4:13), then lament (Amos 5:1-17), then woe (Amos 5:18-6:7), then oath (Amos 6:8-14), then destruction of Israel. The divine oath is rare because it means that judgment cannot be averted. It means that the judgment is sealed.
V. Thematic Analysis
1. The Lion/Lord roars
a. The roar against the nations (Amos 1:1-2:3)
The lion roars (Amos 1:2) judgment on Israel’s neighbours: Syria (Amos 1:3-5), Philistia (Amos 1:6-8), Tyre (Amos 1:9-10), Edom (Amos 1:11-12), Ammon (Amos 1:13-15), Moab (Amos 2:1-3).
“For three sins and for four…” simply means “for many sins.” By using this expression, Amos was indicating that God’s mercy had endured long enough. The time to pay for their sins had come. This is a figurative way of demonstrating that God does not act immediately in judgment, but that he waits in order to give every nation time for repentance. After this phrase an account is given of their sins, followed by the punishment to be administered by the Lord.
Each foreign nation is to be punished for specific offences either against Israel or some other nation. This judgment on the nations teaches that God is a universal monarch and all nations must answer to Him for their mistreatment of other nations and peoples.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
b. The roar against Israel and Judah (Amos 2:4-3:8)
The first three nations mentioned were not blood-relatives of Israel. The last three were. Amos is moving closer to home until the lion roars on Judah and Israel (Amos 2:4-3:2). The section is summed up with, “The Lord has roared” (Amos 3:3-8).
As a shepherd Amos would be familiar with the dangers of a roaring lion. Amos declared that God had determined to judge Israel and Judah, along with the Gentile Nations, through Assyrian aggression.
While the Israelites would have gladly listened to God’s judgments on the foreign nations for their sins (Amos 1:3-2:3), they would not have been so happy to hear that Judah and Israel also will be judged in the same way for specific covenant breaches (Amos 2:4-3:2).
The preaching of Amos stresses the righteousness and justice of God and His requirement that the human relationships of His people be characterized by righteousness and justice as well. The rich are condemned because of their oppression of the poor and for their religious hypocrisy. Religion is more than observing feast days and holding sacred assemblies; true religion demands righteous living, and the way people treat their neighbours reveals their relationship with God.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
2. Covenant Emissary
Amos’ status as a covenant-lawsuit messenger (see Literary Analysis) presupposes the existence of that covenant.
Covenant, in Amos, is everywhere presupposed as the relationship binding Yahweh and Israel, for the mere fact that a prophet raised the issues of social abuses, class distinctions, judicial partiality, and oppression of the poor meant that he acknowledged a covenant ethic, which did not permit such offences. The new focus of the prophets was the judgment message directed against Israel (e.g., about a holy war organized against the nation), but they were not theological innovators. Prophetic theology came from the history of Yahweh’s dealings with Israel, and on that basis, the prophets called Israel to account.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 192.[/footnote]
The book itself is replete with many allusions to pentateuchal language and also shows familiarity with covenantal ideology. For example, Amos makes explicit use of earlier pentateuchal materials in Amos 2:8 (Ex. 22:26; Deut. 24:12-13); Amos 2:12 (Num. 6:2-21); Amos 4:4 (Deut. 14:28); Amos 4:11 (Gen. 19).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 383.[/footnote]
a. Covenant relationship
One of the key verses in Amos is Amos 3:2: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” God had chosen Israel to be in covenant relationship with Him, which, instead of securing them from His judgments, increased their responsibility to God and God’s obligation to punish breaches of that covenant relationship.
b. Covenant disobedience
The people clearly thought that as long as they went along with the religious rituals prescribed in the Mosaic covenant, then all was well. Amos, however tells them that their sacrifices and rituals were unacceptable because of their sins against Mosaic covenant laws (Amos 4:4-5; Amos 5:21-22)
In Amos 4:4-6, the inner reason for this public collapse is given, namely, the mechanical approach by Israel to the cult, the heart of the nation. The devotion to the cult in the north is actually rebellion against God. Notably in Amos, the cult is referred to disparagingly as “your cult” (“your sacrifices,” “your tithes,” etc).[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 194.[/footnote]
What made their religion hypocritical and worthless was the social injustice that characterized their society. There were gross abuses of power and wealth (Amos 3:12,15; Amos 6:4-6). Alcoholism was common (Amos 4:1; cf. Amos 2:8). Justice could be bought (Amos 5:12). The poor and needy were crushed by the powerful (Amos 2:7; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:11; Amos 8:4). A just God demands justice among his covenant people (Amos 5:15), obedience rather than sacrifice (Amos 5:18-24).
c. Covenant curses
In Amos 4:6-11, Amos details the covenant curses God had sent without having any effect upon their spiritual lives. The identical conclusion (used five times in Amos 4) “yet you did not return to me,” conveys the comprehensive character of the judgment. The divine judgments proclaimed against Israel are drawn from the lists of curses in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26.
d. Covenant obedience
No prophet before Amos, with the exception of Moses, had so linked the welfare and survival of the nation to the moral obedience of the people. Moses had in fact warned the fledgling nation that national welfare and moral or covenantal faithfulness were vitally linked (Deut. 28). Amos applied that theological principle to the Northern Kingdom and set a standard for his successors.
e. Covenant mercy
In the midst of severe judgment Amos urges the people to return to the Lord in the hope that “perhaps” even now God would be gracious to them.
Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph (Am. 5:14-15).
3. The Day of the Lord
The phrase “the Day of the Lord” was used in the ancient Near East to describe a day when a good king would deliver his people and defeat all his enemies in a single day.
a. A Day of Judgment (Amos 5:18-20)
As in Joel’s time, the people imagined the coming “Day of the Lord” as a time when God would defeat all their enemies. Amos makes clear that instead of a day of peace and light for Israel and Judah it would be a day of war and darkness (see also Amos 2:16; Amos 8:3,9-10,13). Amos teaches that Israel/Judah’s sins had turned them into God’s enemies and so the Day of the Lord would be a day they should dread rather than look forward to.
b. A Day of Blessing (Amos 9:11-15)
The day/days of the Lord in Amos 9:11–15 in contrast to the previous references, is a day of restoration and renewal. After the people had served their sentence, the dynasty of David would be restored (Amos 9:11), the kingdom of God would be widened (Amos 9:12), the earth would be extremely fruitful (Amos 9:13), the people would be returned from captivity (Amos 9:14), and be securely planted in the land of Israel again (Amos 9:15).
The book ends with an abrupt shift to an oracle of salvation. The out-of-plumb nation once ruined (Amos 7:7-9) is rebuilt (Amos 9:11-12); the overripe people (Amos 8:1-3) will once again enjoy restoration to a fruitful land. Israel becomes Eden restored (Amos 9:13-15); agricultural plenty is a common motif in the prophets for describing the blessings of the eschatological future (e. g., Ezek. 47; Joel 3:17-2; Zech. 3:10). Although many have associated this oracle with a later redactor (see above), the prophet here appears to hold out hopes for the reinstitution of a united monarchy involving both North and South, united under David’s tent (Amos 9:11).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 381.[/footnote]
4. The Remnant Restored
An unavoidable tension arose in Israel between God’s gracious commitment to his people and the nation’s failure to keep his commandments. This tension is addressed in the prophets primarily through the remnant motif. God’s holiness required that he respond in judgment to the sins of the nation, but His commitment to Israel meant that there would always be a remnant, those who had undergone divine judgment and survived to become the nucleus for the continuation of the people of God. These survivors, the remnant, would inherit afresh God’s promises to his people.
The Book of Amos moves from the Lord “roaring” from Zion, to the restoration of Zion. It is thoroughly Jerusalem- and temple-oriented. Its major plea is for right worship that reflects a right doctrine of God. The north had developed a syncretistic Yahwism, reflected at its shrines and in its feasts. The cult of the people thus had become theirs and theirs alone, since it failed to put Yah-weh at the centre. Amos calls on them to remember Yahweh, to hallow his name (see Amos 5:8), to offer right worship, and thus to reject the mechanistic approach to the cult, which has sapped the strength of the north. To heed that call would rebuild the kingdom of God (Amos 9:11-15). But we know that, received without honour, the sombre predictions of Amos were fulfilled within thirty years in the final destruction of the north.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 199.[/footnote]
VI. New Testament Analysis
The dominant theme of Amos is judgment: against the nations and the disobedient of Israel and Judah. This is fulfilled in Christ’s second coming to judge unbelievers, beginning at the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
2. Concern for social justice
The New Testament continues Amos’ theme of social justice. The church must not differentiate in how it treats the rich and the poor (1 Cor. 11:22; James 2:1-10). True religion requires caring for those in need, not oppressing them (James 1:27, James 5:1-6). Those who are poor are the particular objects of God’s care (James 2:5).
3. A burning stick snatched from the fire (Amos 4:11)
The Israelite remnant after the disaster of the Syrian-Ephraimite coalition in 734 BC were like a burning stick snatched from fire (Am. 4:11). Rescuing doubters is like snatching burning sticks from fire.
And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23).
4. Hate evil and love God (Amos 5:25-27)
Paul quotes from Amos in teaching Christians that they should hate evil and love good.
Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good (Rom. 12:9).
5. The apostasy of Israel (Am. 5:25-27)
Stephen describes the character of rebellious Israel by quoting Amos.
Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon (Acts 7:42-43).
6. Restoration (Amos 9:11-12)
Restoration will include Gentile nations in the Davidic kingdom (Am. 9:11-12). This is confirmed by the New Testament use of these verses in Amos to verify the place of Gentiles in the kingdom of Christ, the final Davidic King.
After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things (Acts 15:16-17).
Amos spoke of the restoration of David’s fallen tent, meaning David’s royal dynasty (Amos 9:11). This prediction indicated that sometime after the exile a son of David would lead the people of God to victory over the nations (Amos 9:12) and secure for them eternal safety (Amos 9:15). This prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus, the final, royal son of David (Mt 1:1; Lk 1:32-33; Rev 22:16). Jesus rose to the throne of the house of David in his resurrection and ascension (Ac 2:25-36). He reigns now and engages in holy war against the nations through the gospel (Ac 15:13-19; 1 Co 15:23-25). Ultimately, he will defeat all of his enemies and establish a worldwide kingdom when he returns in glory (Ac 2:34-36; Rev 19:11-21; Rev 21:1-22:5).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1436.[/footnote]
VII. The Message of Amos
Original Message: Israel’s covenant relationship demands stricter accountability and divine punishment but also secures greater divine blessings of victory and bounty for the repentant remnant in the restoration.
Present Message: The Church’s covenant relationship implies stricter accountability and divine punishment but also secures greater divine blessings of victory and bounty for the repentant remnant in the restoration