Voices for Revival – Study of Minor Prophets (Pre-Exilic Period)
Book of Amos
Amos, the author, was from Tekoa (1:1), a small village town about 6 miles south of Bethlehem and 11 miles from Jerusalem. He was not a man of the court like Isaiah, or a priest like Jeremiah. He earned his living from the flock (a sheepherder) and a grower of the sycamore-fig grove (1:1, 7:14 – 15). Whether he owned the flocks and groves or only worked as a hired hand is not known. His skill with words and the strikingly broad range of his general knowledge of history and the world preclude his being an ignorant peasant.
Background and Place:
During this period, the North kingdom and Southern kingdom were in prosperity and peace. Though his home was in Judah, Amos was sent to announce God’s judgment on the northern kingdom (Israel). He probably ministered for the most part in Bethel (7:10 – 13), Israel’s main religious sanctuary, where the upper echelons of the northern kingdom worshipped. While this book brings prophesied about the northern kingdom, it was also addressed to the southern kingdom with many repeated occasions to reach everyone who came to worship (hence the references to Judah and Jerusalem).
Kings and Contemporaries:
Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah over Judah (792-740 BC.) and Jeroboam II over the Israel (793 – 753 BC), two years before a memorable earthquake. The main part of his ministry was probably carried out in 760 – 750 BC. His contemporaries should be Hosea, Isaiah and Jonah.
Conditions of People:
Both kingdoms were enjoying great prosperity and had reached new political and military heights (2 Kin 14:23 – 15:7; 2 Chr 26). Israel at the time was politically secure but spiritually smug. Prosperity increased Israel’s religious and moral corruption. It, thus, was also a time of idolatry, extravagant indulgence in luxurious living, immorality, corruption of judicial procedures and oppression of the poor. Without commitment to God’s law, they had no basis for standards of conduct.
Additional notes to teachers:
About 40 years earlier, Elisha had prophesied the resurgence of Israel’s power (2Kin 13:17 – 19), and more recently Jonah had prophesied her restoration to a glory not known since the days of Solomon (2Kin 14:25). The nation felt sure, therefore, that she was in God’s good graces. But the people had forgotten God’s past punishment for unfaithfulness.
Places of worship were often paganised and Israel had a worldly view of even the ritual that the Lord himself had prescribed. They thought performance of the rites was all God required, and, with that done, they could do whatever they pleased – an essentially pagan notion. Without commitment to God’s law, they had no basis for standards of conduct. Despite His special choice of Israel and his kindnesses throughout history, his people continually failed to honour and obey him.
The fulfillment of the prophesy was experienced by the people in 722 – 721 BC, when the Assyrians took control of the northern kingdom.
There other controversial point is in 9:11. The Lord promised that He “will raise up the fallen booth of David.” At the Jerusalem Council, convened to discuss whether Gentiles should be allowed into the church without requiring circumcision, James quoted this passage (Act 15;15 – 16) to support Peter’s report of how God had taken “from among the Gentiles a people for His name” (Act 15:14). Some have thus concluded that the passage was fulfilled in Jesus, the greater Son of David, through whom the dynasty of David was reestablished. According to John Macarthur, the Acts reference, however, is best seen as an illustration of Amos’ words and not the fulfillment. The temporal allusions to a future time – “In that day,” in 9:11 – when Israel will “possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations” (9:12), when the Lord will “plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them” (9:15), all make it clear that the prophet is speaking of Messiah’s return at the Second Advent to sit upon the throne of David (Isa 9:7), not the establishment of the church by the apostles.
The Key Themes:
Amos addresses Israel’s two primary sins:
- An absence of true worship,
- A lack of justice
In the midst of their ritualistic performance of worship, they were not pursuing the Lord with their hearts (4:4 – 5; 5:4 – 6) nor following His standard of justice with their neighbours (5:10 – 13; 6:12). Amos condemns all who make themselves powerful or rich at the expense of others.
So it speaks of God’s justice and righteousness. Amos declared that God was going to judge his unfaithful, disobedient, covenant-breaking people. God’s imminent judgment on Israel would not be a mere punitive blow to warn, but an almost total destruction. Because they had not faithfully consecrated themselves to his lordship, God would uproot this chosen people by the hands of a pagan nation.
Because of His covenant, however, the Lord will not abandon Israel altogether, but will bring future restoration to the righteous remnant (9:7 – 15).
If they would repent, there was hope that “the Lord God Almighty (would) have mercy on the remnant” (5:4 – 6:14). The God of Israel, the Lord of history, would not abandon his chosen people or his chosen program of redemption.
This book is about God’s justice and righteousness and thus the key verse is in Amos 5:24 – “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Additional notes for teachers:
God’s judgment included those who had acquired two splendid houses (3:15), expensive furniture and richly furnished tables by cheating, perverting justice and crushing the poor would lose everything they had. Because of the oppression of the poor, it called for social justice as the indispensible expression of true piety. However, the Lord had a glorious future for his people, beyond the impending judgment. The house of David would again rule over Israel – even extend its rule over many nations – and Israel would once more be secure in the promised land, feasting on wine and fruit (9:11 – 15).
The God for whom Amos speaks is God of more than merely Israel. He also uses one against another to carry out his purposes (6:14). He is the Great King who rules the whole universe (4:13, 5:8; 9:5 – 6). Because He is all-sovereign, the God of Israel holds the history and destiny of all peoples and of the world in His hands. Israel must know not only that He is the Lord of her future, but also that He is Lord over all, and that He has purposes and concerns that reach far beyond her borders. Israel had a unique, but not an exclusive, claim on God. She needed to remember not only His covenant commitments to her but also her covenant obligations to Him.