The book of Amos is the third in a row of the twelve minor prophets whose books in the Dutch Bibles are at the end of the Old Testament. In the nine chapters of this book, the mighty voice of God to His people is heard through the mouth of Amos. Amos exposes the sin of the people. With razor-sharp precision and without fear of opposition he wields the sword of the Spirit. The knife goes to the bone.
Amos will appeal to us in a special way. We will be impressed by an encounter with someone to whom, at first sight, nothing is impressive. He has a meaningless lineage, has an insignificant profession and has no special theological training. But, as so often, appearances are deceiving. If we connect to this impression of meaninglessness his powerful, fearless action, his unaffected language, devoid of any woolliness, his standing for the rights of God and his love for God’s people, we see in Amos a man after God’s heart.
Amos is not only a preacher of judgment. He also speaks God’s words about the future He has for His people once they have converted to Him.
We are invited to listen to the message of this man of God. Let us pray that we are touched and affected by what he speaks with authority in the name of God.
Amos and Hosea
Amos is a contemporary of Hosea. They both prophesy in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam, king of Israel (Hos 1:1; Amos 1:1). They both speak mainly in and to the ten tribal realm.
Hosea emphasizes the love of God. Through the judgments he announces, this love can be seen again and again. Amos represents the majesty and uncompromising righteousness of God towards sinners. God has His special purpose with every instrument. There is never a useless repetition with Him. Amos says more to and about the heathen nations that surround Israel than Hosea.
Amos appears in Bethel, the center of idolatry, a few years before Hosea begins to testify against the apostasy of the ten tribes. His appearance can be placed around the year 760 BC. His voice shouts over the market square of Bethel and he uses robust, unambiguous language. He is straightforward.
When he speaks there, there may also be representatives of the surrounding nations in his audience. That can be deduced from his messages in Amos 1, in which he addresses those surrounding nations.
Origin and preaching
Amos must have come to Bethel quite often because of the trade. After all, he is a sheepherder, a herdsman (Amos 1:2; 7:14). He is a bit more than a shepherd, but not a manager of a large company. He is an ordinary boy, someone from the countryside, without any attitude. Not a career hunter. His origins are not something he can be proud of either. He cannot point to an ancestry that is spoken about with respect in Israel (Amos 7:14).
There is no reason to suppose that Amos has given up his profession to become a ‘full-time’ prophet in the work of the LORD. It does not seem that he is ‘theologically educated’. Still, he does not leave spiritual work to qualified people, people who have made their profession of spiritual work, as happens in Christianity. Amos does not suffer from the passivity that often encourages such a situation. You sometimes hear it: ‘They have studied for it, they are paid for it, they are allowed to do it.’
When Amos is in Bethel, he cannot keep his mouth shut about God. Woolly, meaningless language is foreign to him. That kind of language always does well in politics and in many cases on the pulpit, but not in the service of God. Maybe he is someone with whom you can hear in his accent that he comes from the countryside. In his voice you do not hear the affected city language, but that does not bother him. He brings God’s message, artlessly, straight from his God-motivated heart.
Amos is among the minor prophets the most socially moved. Perhaps he answers most to what we imagine of a prophet. Because then we think of someone who raises his voice against all social wrongs. Amos denounces the beds of ivory, the eating of lamb, the prodigious riches, the crimes against humanity committed by all peoples without exception. He also denounces atrocities, the disgusting fashions, and the exploitation of the poor, without sparing religion.
It is precisely in the latter that the heart of his protest lies, rather than in the social. The social has to do with the relationships between people. That too is important. But the social wrongs against which Amos is raging are the result of the wrong relationship people have with God, and against that he raises his voice.
Origin and time of his prophecy
He is not a resident of the ten tribes realm, but comes from Tekoa. This town is located in Judah, about sixteen kilometers southwest of Jerusalem and twelve kilometers from Bethlehem. Rehoboam has transformed this city into a fortified city (2Chr 11:6).
It is exceptional that God allows a prophet to come from Judah to prophesy against Israel. It has happened once before. We read about it in 1 Kings 13. In the history described there, a man of God comes from Judah and prophesies against the altar in Bethel. Despite the fact that Amos was sent to the ten tribes, occasionally he also has a word for Judah (Amos 2:4) or involves them in it (Amos 3:1; 6:1).
The appearance of this southerner must have been strange and noticed. The fact that he is a ‘foreigner’ must have given an extra accent to his preaching. What is certain is that it gave extra enmity (Amos 7:10-12).
It seems that he prophesied only for a short time. The time indication ‘two years before the earthquake’ (Amos 1:1) suggests this. Amos is such a messenger who appears on stage for a moment, preaches powerfully and then disappears again. He leaves the working out of his message to his Sender.
When exactly this earthquake took place is not told. That it was a terrible event is shown by the fact that Zechariah refers to it two centuries later (Zec 14:5).
The Hebrew word for Amos is amas and means ‘carry’ or ‘burden’. This word is also found in the name Amasiah (2Chr 17:16), which means ‘the LORD carries’. Amos is someone who carries a burden. His prophecy shows that he carries as a burden on his heart the people to whom he addresses. This is also understandable when we consider that the message must come to God’s people that they must seek the LORD to live (Amos 5:1,6). If such a message has become necessary, how deplorable it must be with that people. Then they must be far away from Him and dead.
But the same word comes to us: “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead” (Eph 5:14). Among God’s people, many have been depleted. They no longer have an eye for the time in which they live. No time to come to reflection, to come to themselves. Although we have to work less and less hours a week, we still have less time to be busy with God and His things. Our ancestors worked sixty hours a week, but still found the time to occupy themselves with God’s Word. They knew that Word and lived from it.
Judgment and intercession
Amos does not have as fiery a style as Hosea. Nor does his prophecy extend as far into the future as that of Hosea. He mainly confines himself to what will come over Israel and the nations in the near future, although one can also think of days far in the future. He does, however, speak if possible even more decisively against evil than the other prophets. With Hosea we see more the agony, worked by the Holy Spirit, of a man who cannot endure the evil in the people he loves. With Amos we see more the calmness of God’s own judgment.
But besides being a preacher of judgment, he is also a pleader with God for his people (Amos 7:2,5). Because of his plea God does not judge ‘Jacob’ (Amos 7:3,6). Amos does not like the judgment coming like Jonah. He intercedes. We can never be a good witness against evil if we do not also pray for those to whom we may or must pass God’s Word. Amos is not a doom preacher. He preaches to warn, because he loves God’s people. In this he is a type of the Lord Jesus.
Characteristics of the time in which Amos performs
Amos lives and preaches in a time of great prosperity. There is peace. The ten tribes realm and the two tribes realm are not at war with each other and there is no threat from surrounding nations. Trade flourishes. Religious ceremonies and obligations are fulfilled.
But all this abundance goes hand in hand with a decline in morality and religion that undermines the foundations of society. The people have lost the instructions given by God and religion has degenerated into a meaningless, hollow form. Amos appears in the midst of this decline and raises his voice.
He is a man of the countryside. This enables him to make regular use of examples from nature and rural life. Because of his outdoor life he has also remained free from the influence of life in the city with all its luxury and proud display. Because of this he is now able to see more clearly the corruption of city life than the wealthy ones who live within the city walls. The latter are completely seized by their heartless greed and see no evil in anything.
His separation from evil allows him to denounce evil. Seen in this way he is reminiscent of John the baptist. That too is a man of the wilderness, of the outdoors, who denounces evil within the city to the court of Herod. It costs him his head (Mt 3:1-4; 11:7-11,18; 14:1-12).
Amos in the New Testament
Amos is mentioned several times in the New Testament. The first quotation is in Acts 7:42-43. There Stephen quotes some verses from Amos 5 in his speech (Amos 5:25-27). He does this to prove that the people have surrendered themselves to idolatry from their earliest beginnings. He also points to the judgment of the exile to Babel.
Stephen ‘uses’ Amos because of the crisis in which the Jews find themselves at that time. It is their last chance to accept the Lord Jesus, Who was ready to come (Acts 7:56). Unfortunately, they did not seize this last chance.
But after the judgment, there is a blessing in the realm of peace for both the Jew and the Gentile. That is what the second quote refers to. This is done by James in Acts 15 (Acts 15:16-17). He quotes a few verses from Amos 9 (Amos 9:11-12) to make it clear that the Gentiles should not be forced to be circumcised, but that they have been accepted as sons by God independently of the Jews. In the realm of peace, the nations will be blessed, not by joining Israel, but by seeking the LORD the God of Israel. This will happen when the church is raptured and Israel is again accepted by God as His people.
So we see that on two major occasions in the history of the Christian church, in Acts 7 and Acts 15, the Spirit has made use of Amos has written, who occupies a somewhat inconspicuous place in the Bible.
A practical application of this is that the Holy Spirit can bring to our attention, in difficult moments, a portion of Scripture that we may have read a long time ago, in order to support us.
Division of the book
1. Judgment on the nations, Judah and Israel (Amos 1-2).
2. The prophetic message exposing the condition of the people (Amos 3-6).
3. Five visions (Amos 7-9:6).
4. The final restoration of Israel (Amos 9:7-15).