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encouragement theology

The Book of Amos

Amos 1:1
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

The kingdom years of ancient Israel covered over 500 years of tumult. The events covered by Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in the Bible often read like they could have happened during medieval times. We learn about some of history’s greatest heroes and worst villains. There are accounts of power and foolishness, intrigue and betrayal, and wisdom and faithfulness. Through all of these accounts, the world revolves around the kings and queens. The good and wise leaders lead their people through peace and prosperity, while the foolish and wicked rulers lead the people into wickedness and chaos. 

The people of Israel had existed as a confederacy of twelve tribes until uniting in their wish for a king. God directed the prophet Samuel to their first king, Saul, in about 1100 B.C. Saul failed to obey God, and so the kingdom passed to David, a young shepherd from Bethlehem. David’s reign brought a golden age to Israel’s history, giving the nation expanded borders, peace from war, and, through David’s son Solomon, unequaled prosperity. At the height of Solomon’s kingdom, the nation of Israel stretched from the Mt. Hermon in the north to Sinai in the south, from the Mediterranean in the west, to the Ammonite and Syrian territory in the east. All neighboring nations were either allied or subdued by Israel during David’s and Solomon’s reigns.

From https://bibleatlas.org/full/israel.htm

Despite all of David and Solomon’s success, it took only one foolish act by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, to shatter the united kingdom. As Rehoboam came to power in about 950 B.C., the northern tribes sent a delegation asking him to ease their pressure. Instead of granting their request, Rehoboam chose instead to stamp his authority and force them to submit. Jeroboam, who had led the northern delegates, now led them in breaking away from David’s dynasty, forming a separate kingdom. From that time on, the people of Israel were divided into two nations: the kingdom of Judah in the South, consisting of the two faithful tribes to David’s family (Judah and Benjamin), and the kingdom of Israel in the North, consisting of the remaining ten tribes.

One of Jeroboam’s first acts as king of Israel was to move the center of worship. The temple of God was in Jerusalem, where the people would regularly go to celebrate and offer sacrifices. But Jerusalem was also the capital city of Judah, Jeroboam’s rival nation. Therefore, he built two worship centers in the northern city of Dan and in the southern city of Bethel. Instead of directing the people to worship The Lord, he had two golden idols (of calves) built for worship. Jeroboam’s decision may have been politically astute, but he directly violated God’s laws by building idols and moving the people from true worship. These golden idols would be a stumbling block throughout the entire history of the northern kingdom.

The books of Kings and Chronicles tell about the succession of rulers over these two kingdoms. The descendants of David ruled over Judah in the South, with a (roughly) even split between good and wicked kings.a b The northern kingdom of Israel was much less stable. None of the kings followed God, and there was only one dynasty that lasted for more than three generations.

A detailed chart showing the timeline of the kings and the prophets is available here: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2017/07/updated-chart-of-israels-and-judahs-kings-and-prophets/

The Lord sent prophets to His disobedient people in order to bring them back to Him. He sent “speaking prophets”, such as Elijah and Elisha, to boldly preach His word with power and authority. But then, starting in the 8th century B.C., came the “writing prophets”. Not only did these men preach to the people, but they wrote down God’s message. Through the next 400 years, these men were faithful to write down God’s Word and to record their warnings to the people. Tradition has divided their messages into two groups: the four major prophets, containing the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the twelve minor prophets, containing the writings of Hosea through Malachi.c The prophets were not divided based on their importance or their stature, but by the size and scope of their message. The major prophets contained much larger writings and tended to cover a very broad scope of prophecy, while the minor prophets tended to have much shorter works, covering (usually) a much smaller scope. For example, contrast the 66 chapters of Isaiah to the single chapter of Obadiah!

It is my goal during the next few studies to look into the message of Amos, one of the lesser-known prophets.

Amos – His Times

Amos was one of the earliest of the writing prophets. He starts out his message giving a very specific timeline: 

Amos 1:1
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Uzziah reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah from about 792-740 B.C. Jeroboam the son of Joash (also known as Jeroboam II) reigned over the northern kingdom of Israel from about 793-753 B.C. Amos identifies a specific time for his ministry (i.e. “two years before the earthquake”), so it must have been a short duration.4 d 

Uzziah and Jeroboam II both presided over a time of great prosperity. Judah and Israel had established a temporary peace and Israel’s warlike neighbors had stopped troubling them. The kingdom of Syria (also known as Aram), to the north of Israel, had been a constant trouble for the nation of Israel. Syria traditionally set its sights on Gilead, the region of Israel east of the Jordan River, and this region had become a place of bitter conflict and horrible atrocities (see Amos 1:13). But then the kingdom of Assyria (located in modern Iraq) began to conquer the Middle East during the 9th century B.C. Assyria subdued Syria and then went into its own decline shortly before Uzziah and Jeroboam II began their reigns.4 The ensuing peace brought in the greatest time of prosperity since the kingdoms had divided.e f

Amos was a contemporary of Jonah (2 Kings 14:25), and preached shortly before Hosea (Hosea 1:1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1).

Amos – His Profession

Amos 1:1 says that Amos “was among the shepherds of Tekoa”. Tekoa was a small town in Judah, south of Jerusalem. Amos was an obscure farmer from a small town, but he was given a message to the northern kingdom.g Later in the book, we read about Amos’ confrontation with the priest of Bethel. Amos’ reply was that he was not a professional prophet but was rather a simple farmer who was willing to follow the Lord’s commands:

Amos 7:14-15
Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

The words of Amos’ reply indicate that he wasn’t a wealthy farmer either. Sycamore figs are lower grade and were mostly used for helping the poor. Amos’ words about “following the flock” indicates his direct involvement with the sheep.4 He wasn’t a foreman but one of the workers.

Amos – His Message

The prosperity of Amos’ times only served to show the people’s lack of devotion to The Lord God. The people kept their regular worship of God, but it had become merely lip service. They had developed a form of syncretism, including idol worship as part of their religious devotions. They professed allegiance to God, but they didn’t let it change their lives. They were self-centered, persecuting the poor, afflicting the righteous, and despising correction. Their material prosperity had given them the false illusion that God was content with them and had left them complacent.

Like much Old Testament prophecy, the book of Amos focuses on a few facets of God’s character. The focus of this book is God’s justice and majesty. It starts out with an extended prologue, showing that Israel’s pagan neighbors are not exempt from God’s justice. Amos focused on the northern kingdom of Israel, yet Judah herself sits in judgment for ignoring God’s laws. Amos’ message is direct — you cannot spite God without consequences! 

Amos’ prophecy contains a lot of poetic language, including refrains and repeated themes. Throughout this book are some of the most majestic words to describe God. He is so much greater than us, that we are foolish to disobey Him! He will come in power and judgment!

As mentioned above, one of the main themes of this book is God’s coming judgment. The people knew the right answer, but their view of God was too small to allow Him to interrupt their convenient worlds. 

Sadly, Israel’s peace and prosperity did not last. Only a few decades after Amos’ message, the Assyrian army came with renewed power, crushing all nations in its path. They captured the Israelite capital of Samaria in 722 B.C., destroying the nation and deporting the entire population into exile. 2 Kings 17 recounts this tragic demise of the northern kingdom.

Conclusion 

What can we learn from the book of Amos?

One of the first messages from the book of Amos is the example of the prophet himself. Amos was an obscure farmer who was willing to obey God. You don’t need to be a professional preacher or a missionary to be used by Him. The most important factor is not our skills nor our background, but whether we are available to God.

The second message, throughout the book of Amos, is for us to address The Lord God with awe and respect. As is quoted in Hebrews, “Our God is a consuming fire!” (Hebrews 12:29, from Deuteronomy 4:24) He is not our “big buddy upstairs”, and we need to remember to give Him the respect that He is due!

The final reminder of this book is that God expects us to care for others. The people of Amos’ day were self-absorbed and stopped caring for their fellow man. How often do we get caught up in our own lives and forget others?

“If religion is to be acceptable to God, it must be a religion of the heart that begins with genuine repentance for sin and issues in a life that is transformed in ways that please him.” – James Montgomery Boice6

Amos 5:8-9
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the LORD is his name;
who makes destruction flash forth against the strong,
so that destruction comes upon the fortress.


References

[1] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries: The Minor Prophets, Part 3, NOTES ON THE PROPHECY OF AMOS

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries: The Minor Prophets, Amos 1-2, THE INDICTMENT OF THE NATIONS

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Amos 1:1, pages 1415-1416

[4] Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 7, Zondervan, 1985, Amos Introduction-1:1, pages 269-280

[5] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Amos Introduction-1:1, pages 992-993

[6] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, The Prophet from Tekoa, Amos 1:1-2; 7:10-17, pages 161-168

[7] Bob Fyall, Teaching Amos, Proclamation Trust Media, 2006, 1. Getting Our Bearings in Amos

[8] Bob Fyall, Teaching Amos, Proclamation Trust Media, 2006, 2. The Awesome God


Notes

[a] The books of 1 and 2 Kings evaluate each king regarding whether they did right or they did evil in the eyes of The Lord (e.g. 1 Kings 15:11, 15:26).

[b] The kings of Judah:

  • 8 good kings: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, Josiah. 
  • 12 evil kings: Rehoboam, Abijah, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah (queen), Ahaz, Manasseh, Amon, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah

[c] We traditionally include the book of Daniel as part of the Major prophets, although the Jewish Scriptures had originally categorized Daniel’s book separately. Daniel’s twelve chapters are actually shorter than the books of Hosea and Zechariah.

[d] We don’t know much about the earthquake referenced in Amos 1:1. This might have been the same earthquake mentioned by Zechariah 14:5.7

Jewish tradition connects the earthquake with Uzziah’s foolish attempt to install himself as priest (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21), but there is no proof of this tradition.2 Some excavations in the area show an earthquake at about 760 B.C., which would be consistent with the time of Amos’ ministry.4

[e] Assyria’s inaction during the early 9th century B.C., may have been political decline, or it may have also been a spiritual revival after Jonah’s preaching (Jonah 3).5

[f] “A decade or so before the accession of Jeroboam, the Assyrian king Adad-Nirari III defeated Syria, thus disposing of the power that more than any other had hindered Israel’s expansion, and then, having unwittingly served Israel’s interests, Assyria entered a decline from which it did not awaken until the accession of Tiglath-Pileser III in 745 B.C.

In 735 D.C., shortly after Amos prophesied, the weakened kingdom of Syria and the strengthened kingdom of Israel joined in an attack on Ahaz, king of Judah in the south, to try to force him into an alliance against Assyria, which was then rising again under the rigorous leadership of Tiglath-Pileser III. Instead of joining them, Ahaz appealed to Assyria against his two neighbors. By 733 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser had responded and overrun the northern and eastern parts of Israel. In this attack Damascus was totally destroyed and its population deported. A little more than ten years later, Tiglath-Pileser’s successor, Shalmaneser V, overran the central area of the country and besieged Samaria. In 721 B.C. the city fell to his successor, Sargon, and 27,000 of its inhabitants were deported.”6

[g] Most commentators agree that Amos’ message was to the northern kingdom of Israel.4 5 This is consistent with the geographic references (e.g. Amos 4:1) and the building prologue in Amos 1-2, and Amos 7:15. However, some have argued that the message against “Israel” is directed to the Israelite people (i.e. both kingdoms), and not just the northern kingdom of Israel. I have not supported this view since it is in the minority and does not seem to be as consistent with the text of Amos’ prophecy. However, Amos’ message is still valid, regardless of how well we understand its original audience.

3 replies on “The Book of Amos”

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