Date of Prophet’s Activity: 760-750 BC
Audience: Northern Kingdom of Israel
The Assyrian threat resulted in a period of political insecurity and crises for Israel, especially following the Israelite golden era of the Solomonic Empire. In order to address the Assyrian threat, Israelite prophecy arose through the prophets Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, and Micah. The rise of the Assyrian Empire resulted in problems for Israel and Judah with respect to foreign policy which in turn affected domestic and internal affairs within Israel and Judah. Within this context, Israelite prophecy formed a response to the need for both political and spiritual guidance. These prophets were contemporaries of each other, and each uniquely addressed the moral and spiritual condition of Israel and Judah in the middle of the 8th century BC.
Amos has been suggested to be the earliest of the prophets, and was active during a period of ten years from 760-750 BC. He was also active through the reigns of Uzziah over Judah (792-740 BC) and Jeroboam II over Israel (793–753 BC). Amos was from the town Tekoa (1:1) in Judah, and was a shepherd who looked after sycamore-fig trees and flocks (1:1, 7:14-15). However, prior to his activity other prophets had prophesied a positive future for Israel, and the nation therefore felt it was in good standing with Yahweh. For instance, Elisha had previously prophesied the re-emergence of Israel’s power (2 Kings 13:17-19), and Jonah had prophesied Israel’s restoration to a glory not known since the days of Solomon (2 Kings 14:15). However, despite their feeling of security, the people of Israel engaged in idolatry, extravagant indulgence, immorality, corruption of judicial procedures, and oppression of the poor. In judgement, Yahweh would bring about the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom (722-721 BC). According to Amos, Yahweh’s patience with his people had run out and Yahweh sent him forth to announce the impending judgment on the northern kingdom.
Although the book of Amos appears to be a random collection of sayings there is a grouping of materials (1): Chapters 1-2 comprise similar material, as oracles against other nations; Chapters 3-6 form a collection of Amos’ sayings characterized with an opening phrase, “Hear this word…”; Chapters 7-9 form vision reports. The literary development of the book has been progressive which includes early stages attributed to the words of Amos himself, and final stages attributed to editorial additions in the post-exilic period.
Amos condemned numerous nations (Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, Israel), and spoke for Yahweh in the first person when condemning these nations. Here Israel is also condemned because “they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6). Amos also condemned Syria for treating Israelites who lived in Syria cruelly,
“So says Jehovah: For three transgressions of Damascus, yea for four, I will not turn away from it; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron. But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Ben-hadad. I will also break the bar of Damascus, and cut off the dweller from the Valley of Aven, and from him who holds the scepter from the house of Eden. And the people of Syria shall go into captivity to Kir, says Jehovah” (1:3-5).
Amos addressed the corruption within Israel itself. In context of the social setting of Israel, and especially its wealthy aristocracy, Amos is particularly known for his social concerns. He speaks out against the way in which the wealthy abuse their power and their wealth against the poor. The tone of Amos in this unit is especially is accusatory and condemning against the Israelite ruling elite and their wives, which appear to enjoy an indulgent lifestyle at the expense of poor peasants. According to the prophet, the Israelites failed to honour Yahweh, and Yahweh would judge his people through a pagan nation. However, Amos held hope that if the people repented they would repent “the Lord God Almighty (would) have mercy on the remnant” (5:15). Amos rebuked the people in no uncertain terms:
“Hear this Word, cows of Bashan who are in the mountain of Samaria; who press down the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their masters, Bring in, that we may drink. The Lord Jehovah has sworn by His holiness that the days shall come on you that He will lift you up with meat hooks, and your sons with fishhooks. And you shall go out at the breaches, each woman straight before her. And you shall cast down the high place, says Jehovah” (4:1-3).
He was also against the impure and false worship of Yahweh at the religious centers of Bethel and Gilgal:
“Come to Bethel and transgress; to Gilgal and multiply transgressing at Gilgal. And bring your sacrifices for the morning, your tithes for three years; and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving from that which is leavened, and cry out; call out the voluntary offerings! For so you love to do, O sons of Israel, says the Lord Jehovah” (4:4-5).
“For so says Jehovah to the house of Israel: Seek Me, and you shall live. But do not seek Bethel nor enter into Gilgal, and do not pass to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing” (5:4-5).
“I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your food offerings, I will not be pleased. Nor will I regard the peace offerings of your fat animals. Take the noise of your songs away from Me; for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let judgment roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Have you offered sacrifices and offerings to Me forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? But you have carried the booth of your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. So I will cause you to go into exile beyond Damascus, says Jehovah, the God of Hosts is His name” (5:21-27).
The prophet tried to show that just going through the motions of worshipping Yahweh, even with the proper rituals, was not enough, and not the kind of worship Yahweh required. Rather, Yahweh values personal responsibility and community caring, over and above formal worship. Amos desired for the nation to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).
Chapters 7 to 9 include Amos’ five visions, and one final prophecy of restoration. The first four have a similar structure, each beginning with the opening phrase, “This is what my Lord Yahweh showed me…” and they concern the destruction of Israel. Amos received visions of locusts devouring the produce of the land of Israel (7:1-3) fire consuming the land (7:4-6), and of Yahweh by the altar, indicating that either the temple would collapse on the people or the leaders of Israel would collapse (9:1-4). This section ends with a salvation oracle (9:11-15) where Yahweh will “restore David’s fallen shelter” (9:11), symbolising the rebuilding of the Davidic dynasty. This portion of the text has been attributed to another writer other than Amos, based upon the difference in style and tone. It is also suggested that it was a later attachment, in which judgement is followed by salvation.
1. Old Testament Prophets Module (Cornerstone Institute, 2018)