The author of the Book of Amos is identified as the prophet Amos. Amos was the first prophet in the Bible whose message was recorded at length. Although he came from a town in Judah, he preached to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, about the middle of the eighth century B.C. The Book was likely written between 760 and 753 B.C.
As a shepherd and a fruit picker from the Judean village of Tekoa, he was called by God, even though he lacks an education or a priestly background. His mission is directed to his neighbour to the north, Israel. It was a time of great prosperity, notable religious piety, and apparent security. But Amos saw that prosperity was limited to the wealthy, and that it fed on injustice and on oppression of the poor. Amos’ ministry takes place while Jeroboam II reign over Israel, and Uzziah reigns over Judah. Amos can see beneath Israel’s external prosperity and power; internally the nation is corrupt to the core. In short, they had forgotten what it meant to follow God. Amos took his uncompromising message straight to the religious authorities of his day, instead of listening to him, they threw him out. In the same way that Amos challenged the Israelites to reconsider their priorities, he challenges us in the climax to his book, and reminds us of what God wants (Amos 5:24).
In this essay, I wish to write an introduction on the Book of Amos.
Background and Meaning of Amos:
The Book of Amos is set in a time when the people of Israel have reached a low point in their devotion to God. The people have become greedy and have stopped following and adhering to their values. The people in Amos’ time expected the ‘day of the Lord’ to be a picnic; but Amos pointed a different picture of inescapable terror. Scholars have understood Amos’ image of Yahweh passing through the midst of the people of Israel as an allusion; to his passing through Egypt. They make reference in this regard to (Exodus 12:12). ‘For I will pass through the midst of you; says Yahweh.’
According to Amos, Israel is guilty of injustice toward the innocent, poor and young women. As punishment Yahweh’s vengeance would be directed against Israel, and the prophet warns his audience; ‘Is not the day of the Lord darkness in it'(Amos 5:20). The ‘day of the Lord’ was widely celebrated and highly anticipated by the followers of God. Amos came to tell the people that the ‘day of the Lord’ was coming soon and that it meant divine judgement and justice for their iniquities.
Structure and Theme:
The nine chapters of the Book of Amos emphasize one central theme. The people o the nation of Israel has broken their covenant with God, and his judgement against their sin will be severe.
In the first major section of the book, Amos begins with biting words of judgement against the six nations surrounding the lands of Judah and Israel.
These nations are Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab. Next he announces God’s judgement against Judah, Israel’s sister nation to the South; and because of Israel’s bitterness toward Judah; Amos’ listener must have greeted this cry of doom with pleasant agreement.
Further, the second major section of the book of Amos is the prophet’s three biting sermons of judgement against the nation of Israel (3:1 – 6:14). He referred to the wealthy, luxury-seeking women of Samaria – the capital city of Israel ‘as cows of Bashan’ (Amos 4:1). He also attacked the system of idol worship which king Jeroboam II had established in the cities of Bethel and Gilgal (Amos 4:4, 5:5). The situation clearly called for a courageous prophet who could call the nation back to authentic faith, as well as a policy of fairness and justice in their dealings with their fellow citizens.
In the third major section, the prophet Amos presents five visions of God’s approaching judgement. The prophet’s vision of a basket of fruit is particularly graphic. Amos described the nation of Israel as a basket of summer fruit, implying that it would soon spoil and rut in the blistering sun of God’s judgement (8:1 – 14).
Amos’ unquestioning obedience and his clear proclamation of God’s message show that he was committed to the Lord, and His principles of holiness and righteousness comes through clearly in the book. Amos made it plain that Israel would be judged severely unless the people turned from their sin and looked to the one true God for strength and guidance.
The Book of Amos ends on a positive, optimistic note. Amos predicted that the people of Israel would be restored to their special place in God’s service after their season of judgement had come to an end (Amos 9:11-15). This note of hope is characteristic of the Hebrew prophets; they pointed to a glorious future for God’s people, even in the midst of dark times.
The Book of Amos is one of the most eloquent cries for justice and righteousness to be found in the Bible. It came through a humble shepherd who dared to deliver God’s message to the wealthy and influential people of his day. Amos lived up to his name as he declared God’s message of judgement in dramatic fashion to a sinful and disobedient people. Amos’ message is just as timely for our world, since God still places a higher value on justice and righteousness. Amos spoke because the Lord had called him to deliver His message of judgement. This is one of the clearest statement of compulsion of the divine call to be found in the Bible.
Amos is known as the great ‘prophet of righteousness’ of the Old Testament. His book underlines the principle that religion demands righteous behaviour. True religion is not a matter of observing feast days, offering burnt offerings, and worshipping at sanctuary, but authentic worship results in changed behaviour, seeking God’s will, treating others with justice and following God’s command. A positive spirit, which issued from Amos’ deep faith in God sustained the prophet and gave him hope for the future. This great insight is summarized by these words from the prophet. ‘Let justice run like water and righteousness like a mighty stream’ (5:24).
Although Amos was a shepherd by occupation, his book gives evidence of careful literary craftsmanship. The technique which the prophet used was puns or plays on words to drive home his message. For example when the prophet talks about the summer fruit suggest the end of the kingdom of Israel; like ripe summer fruit, Israel was ripe for God’s judgement.