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The Book of Amos: Written by the "Prophet of Justice"
The Book of Amos-One of the Books of the Minor Prophets in the Bible
Amos Was A Shepherd From Tekoa
Amos the Bible Prophet
Amos lived and prophesied during the rule of Uzziah, King of the Kingdom of Judah, and Jeroboam, the son of Joash and King of Israel.
This means the Book of Amos was written around 750 BCE, roughly three decades before the Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire. It also makes Amos contemporaries with Isaiah and Hosea, both of whose prophecies are also recorded in the Old Testament.
Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa, a small city about 6 miles south of Bethlehem. He was called to preach to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
His name means “bearer” or “burden” and refers to the message he was called to take to the people of the Kingdom of Israel.
Outline of the Book of Amos
The book of Amos begins by describing the judgments coming upon the Israel and her neighbors. It then describes the prophet’s compulsion for prophesying and the forthcoming destruction of Israel. Next it condemns wealthy Israelite women who participate in less than sincere religious rituals and do nothing to relieve the suffering of the poor.
The center of the book is a call to repentance and a lament about Israel’s status.
The first three thoughts are then repeated in reverse order. The Wealthy Israelite men are condemned for their empty religious activity, the prophet’s compulsion to prophesy (the destruction of Bethel’s cult center) is discussed and finally, the judgments coming upon Israel are explained in detail.
This structure, where the thoughts are organized to draw the reader’s attention to the center thought and the thoughts in the first half of the piece are re-addressed in reverse order during the second half of the piece, is known as chiasmus.
Important Places in the Book of Amos
The Book of Amos Uses Clear Vibrant Imagery to Communicate It's Message
Lion Imagery in Amos Chapter 1
“…The Lord will roar from Zion…” –Amos 1:2
The Book of Amos has wonderful symbolism and imagery. Verse 2 of Amos Chapter 1 describes the voice of the Lord roaring force from Zion and Jerusalem. As a herdsman, Amos would have been personally aware with the roar of the lion. He would know the intense terror caused by this sound. His audience, the Israelites, would have been familiar with this sound as well. Thus, verse two of Amos Chapter 1, would have held powerful imagery of the great and terrible voice of the Lord’s judgments for the primary audience of the Book of Amos.
The Order of Amos' Judgments Creates a Bulls-eye Effect
Bullseye! Destruction Imagery in Amos Chapter 1 and Amos Chapter 2
Throughout the rest of the first chapter and in the first half of the second chapter, the Lord says that He will destroy various cities as punishment for their various sins. The Lord describes the sins of and punishments coming to all the cities and countries that surround the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah and then describes the destruction coming to the covenant people. This produces a bullseye effect, as if the Lord were a large cat circling its prey before pouncing.
Each of the cities named are given specific signs and fitting punishments. The sin of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah is that they have broken their covenants and turned away from the Lord. No specific situation is named.
Throughout this passage, the phrase “For three transgressions, and for four” is used. It is an idiom similar to 70*7, more than enough, or that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Lord is describing that He has been more than sufficiently patient with them in their continual sinning, but enough is enough and the punishment is now coming.
“And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? Saith the Lord. But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.”-Amos 2:11-12
The rest of chapter 2 explains how the Israelites have lost their savor and how if the Lord is punishing non-covenant people for their sins, He must punish the covenant people for sinning after receiving such great blessings. Verse 11 and 12 use Nazarites, people who were given special blessings on condition of not drinking wine or cutting his hair, to demonstrate that just as a Nazarite loses his savor and blessing by drinking wine or cutting his hair, the children of Israel have lost their covenant relationship with the Lord through their sins.
Amos' Declarations on Prophets
“Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?”
Chapter 3 begins by teaching about the importance of prophets. It begins by reminding Israel that they are the Lord’s chosen people. It then asks how two people can walk together if they don’t see eye to eye. Next, it asks if lions rawr without prey or if a bird will fall into a trap without bait. The Lord then says, that just as the lions only rawr when they have prey and birds only fall into traps when lured, He only acts after telling His prophets what He’s going to do. He continues by asking, who doesn’t fear after the lion has rawred? The answer and message, though unwritten is clear: Just as a lion rawring at his prey strikes fear into the prey’s heart, so the words and warnings of the prophet should strike the hearts of the people to action. The lion was also symbolic of the Kingdom of Assyria. So this passage could also be taken as comparing the fear that pending attacks by the Assyrians produces with the fear and importance that comes with the prophecies that occur when God speaks to his prophet.
Amos Predicts Complete Judgement, Justice and Destruction
“Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof. For they know not to do right, saith the Lord, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.” –Amos 3:9-11
This passage is telling Israel that their neighbors, who they viewed as wicked, should be told to gather in peace to watch Israel’s destruction. Ashdod is mentioned in this passage because it was a Phoenician capital and known for its wickedness and uncircumcision by the Israelites. Egypt was mentioned because the Israelites had tried to use the worldly Egyptian ways to fulfill their satiety in the past. This passage clearly identifies the importance the Lord puts on keeping one’s covenants with Him.
“…As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.”-Amos 3:12
This verse explains how complete the destruction of the Israelites will be with vivid imagery. Just as a shepherd only recovers small pieces of a sheep after it has been attacked by a wolf, only a small piece of Israel would remain.
“That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Beth-el: and the horns of the altars shall be cut off, and fall to the ground. And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end saith the Lord.”-Amos 3:14-15
This passage explains how complete the destruction of the kingdom of Israel will be. Beth-el was one of the holiest places in all of Israel. Jacob, one of the great patriarchs, had had a great vision and built an altar here. When the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah split, about 930 BCE, King Jeroboam, King of Israel, built two shrines. He hoped that he could get his subjects to worship at these shrines instead of going to the temple which was in the Kingdom of Judah, thereby bringing stability to his kingdom and reign. Jeroboam put one shrine in the north of the kingdom, in Dan, and the other in the south of the kingdom, in Bethel. Here the Lord mentions that he will destroy the altar that’s polluting the Holy ground.
In this day, common Israelites had summer and winter homes, which allowed them to fulfill their agricultural duties. Ivory was one of the extravagances enjoyed by the rich. Therefore, this passage is not only saying that the religious capitals won’t be spared, but it’s saying the destruction will include the palaces, the rich and the poor. In other words, the pending destruction will be all-encompassing.
Amos Compared the Women of His Day to Cows
The Women in Amos' Day
“Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the Lord.” –Amos 4:1-3
The beginning of the 4th chapter compares the women of Samaria, a city of religious importance to Israel, to cows. This is effectively saying that the best of the Israelites are like cows who care about nothing besides eating and drinking. To make matters worse, they’re doing it at the expense of the poor. When the women of a civilization become vile and base, their children and the whole community usually follow them. This passage effectively explains that all the Israelites are in this situation. The chapter continues by explaining that their religious rituals are not acceptable unto the Lord because their hearts are not in them, and there is no real intent.
The Central Theme of the Book of Amos: Repent!
The remainder of the fourth chapter lists what the Lord has done to try to encourage the Israelites to return to him. The Lord has sent famine, withheld rain and destroyed crops, sent plant diseases, sent plagues, sent battles that claimed the lives of their young men, and overthrown some of the more wicked people and they still won’t return to him. The Lord then warns that He will take them captive and destroy many of them if they don’t repent.
Chapter 5 opens with Amos comparing the Israelites to a young bride falling hopelessly into wickedness and losing her savor. The rest of the chapter tries to convince Israel to repent. Verse 19-21 goes so far to say that not repenting would put the Israelites into a situation as dire as that of a man who runs into a bear while running from a lion, at the last day. The end of the chapter re-iterates that their religious rituals were doing them no good. Verse 26 chastises them for adopting the heathen Gods of Moloch and Chium. They were so infatuated with these idols that the women would carry statues of them around with them. Verse 27 promises captivity “beyond Damascus” as a result of this sin.
Amos' Judgments on Those Who Say "All is Well"
The theme of Chapter 6 is “Wo unto those who say all is well in Israel.” Specifically, verse 4 says wo unto those who live lives of luxury and ignore the poor. The remainder of the chapter invites Israel to observe other wicked lands that are suffering the consequences of their sins and then prophesies that the same will happen to the Israelites if they don’t repent. Verse 12 continues by saying that just as a horse can’t run on rocks and fields can’t be plowed with one oxen, Israel can’t escape the consequences foretold them. Verse 13 and 14 finish the chapter by saying that Israel will be afflicted by a nation that God will raise up because the Israelites believe they are self-sufficient. This prophesy was fulfilled within 30 years of its utterance.
The last three chapters of Amos discuss five visions Amos had. The first four begin with “Thus hath the Lord God showed me” and the fifth begins with “I saw the Lord. The first vision is of the mowing of grass, which denotes judgements which have already come to pass, and the growing of a second crop, which represents the time when the time for another cutting had arisen for Israel. The second vision is of devouring fire, another judgment coming upon Israel, which was so strong that it devoured part of the ocean’s depths. The third vision is of the Lord putting a plumbline in the midst of the Israelites. A plumbline is a tool used to ensure exactness and accuracy in construction. This vision symbolizes that God’s justice will be triumphant in judging Israel and all wickedness will be found and destroyed. The fourth vision, the vision about a basket of summer fruit, is symbolic of Israel being ripe for destruction by her enemies because of her wickedness. It continues by discussing the sun going down at noon, which is symbolic of a man dying during the prime of his life or a nation being destroyed in the midst of her prosperity. This prophesy is dualistic and will be fulfilled again before the Second Coming of Christ when the sun refuses to shine. The darkness will be a sign to the wicked that the sun is about to go down at noon in their lives. The last vision is of a sanctuary being smitten and is symbolic of no one being able to escape the judgments God has in store for wicked Israel.
An Incorrect Translation in the Book of Amos
Chapter 7, Verse 3 reads: “The Lord repented for this.” The Lord is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes, which means the correct text was lost in translation. A better translation would be, “And the Lord said, concerning Jacob, Jacob shall repent for this, therefore I will not utterly destroy them, saith the Lord.” The same problem occurs in verse 6. It should read, “And the Lord said, concerning Jacob, Jacob shall repent of his wickedness; therefore I will not utterly destroy him, saith the Lord.”
Amaziah Conspires Against Amos
Verse 10-17 explain that Amaziah the priest wrote to King Jeroboam saying that Amos was conspiring against him and prophesying that Jeroboam would die by the sword. Amaziah also told Amos to go back home to Judah. Amos responded by explaining that he wasn't there on his errand, he was there on the Lord's errand and he would finish his errand. He then admonished Amaziah to repent.
Amos on the Gathering of Israel and the Covenant People
The last 8 verses of Amos explains that Israel cannot expect to be delivered simply because they are the chose people. The Lord says that He will save a remnant of the House of Israel, because of His mercy, and that when they are gathered at the last days, not one worthy soul will be left out of the gathering. During the gathering, the Lord will establish His kingdom even to rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and no righteous soul will be forgotten or lost.