Introduction to Amos



At the time when Amos prophesied both Israel and Judah stood high in

prosperity and wealth. The warlike Jeroboam II. had overcome the Syrians,

and recovered the original territory of his kingdom from Hamath in the

extreme north to the Dead Sea (II Kings 14:25,28). Uzziah King of Judah

had subdued the restless Edomltes and Philistines, reduced the Ammonites

to subjection; and, while largely encouraging agriculture and the arts of

peace, he raised a powerful army, and strongly fortified Jerusalem

(II Chronicles 26.). Israel, secure from outward enemies and strong in inward

resources, was very far from expecting ruin and destruction. Prosperity in

Both kingdoms had produced its too common fruits — pride, luxury,

selfishness, oppression. In Zion and Samaria alike such sins were rife; but

in the northern kingdom they were accentuated and increased by the calf-

worship which was still practiced there. To Bethel, the central seat of this

idolatry, Amos was sent from Jerusalem. His mission was to rebuke this

iniquity, and to announce to these careless sinners the approach of Divine

judgment. It was probable that, in a kingdom where impostors abounded, a

seer, coming from a foreign district and claiming to be commissioned by

the Lord, might command respect; though the issue proved very different.

Never since the man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord in

the days of the first Jeroboam (1 Kings 13.) had any southern prophet gone

on such an errand. Now a second message was sent; and in this book the

utterances of the prophet on this great occasion are gathered together and

arranged in due order. Though his special mission was directed to Israel,

Amos does not confine himself altogether to denunciations of this

kingdom. His cry extended to Judah and to the hostile nations which

surrounded the covenant people.


The book naturally divides itself into four parts:


·        An introduction, chapters 1-2, consists of denunciations of the heathen

kingdoms bordering on Israel, foretelling the destruction that shall befall

them, viz. Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Edom, Ammon, Moab.

Judah, too, is placed in the same category, because it also was alienated

from God. The judgment on Israel is proclaimed here in general terms;

the remainder of the book particularizes the denounced sins and confirms

the awful sentence.


·        The addresses, chapters 3-6, contain three prophetic addresses, divided

by the recurrence of the solemn refrain, “Hear ye.” The first address

convicts Israel of ingratitude for God’s past mercies; shows that the

Lord must needs punish the nation, and that He has commissioned the

prophet to announce the judgment, Israel has sinned by injustice and

violence; its palaces and holy places shall be destroyed, and its people

carried into captivity. The second address depicts the sins of oppression

and idolatry; tells how God had visited the people with various

chastisements, but they were still incorrigible; therefore He will inflict

further punishment, to see if perchance they will repent. In his third

address Amos laments the fate of Israel, exhorts earnestly to amendment,

and then, with a double “Woe!” he shows how hopeless is their trust in

their covenant relation to Jehovah, and how baseless their fancied security

from danger; for ere long their land should be invaded, their cities should

be destroyed, and they themselves should be carried into captivity. This

last “woe” is to affect Judah also, even “them that are at ease in Zion

(ch. 6:1).


·        The visions 7-9:10) are closely connected with the preceding

addresses, and carry on the warnings there enunciated, giving, as it were,

the stages or gradations of punishment. The first two visions, of locusts

and fire, correspond to the visitations mentioned in ch. 4:6-11. These

chastisements stop short of utter destruction, being alleviated at the

intercession of the prophet. The third and fourth visions confirm the

irrevocable character of the judgments threatened in the previous

addresses. The plumb line intimates that forgiveness is now not to be

expected. Here Amos introduces an historical episode, detailing Amaziah’s

opposition to his prophecy and God’s sentence upon him. He then

proceeds to the fourth vision, which, under the figure of a basket of

summer fruit, exhibits Israel as ripe for judgment; and he enforces this

lesson by foretelling that their feasts should be turned to mourning, and

that those who now despise the Word of God shall some day suffer a

FAMINE OF THE WORD!   The last vision displays the Lord destroying

the temple and its worshippers, yea, the whole sinful nation. Yet it should

not be utterly annihilated. “Sifted” shall the people be among the nations,

yet shall not one good grain perish.


·        The prophecy ends with one promise — the only one in the book — that

the fallen kingdom should be raised again, should be extended by the

incoming of the heathen, should be glorified and enriched with Divine

graces, and that its duration should be eternal — a promise which has its

fulfillment, not in any temporary restoration of Israel to its own land, but in

the foundation of the Christian Church and its final conquest of the world

(see the reference to this prophecy by St. James in Acts 15:16). Amos

nowhere mentions the person of the Messiah, but his reference to the house

of David includes and leads up to Christ.


The Author


Amos is the third of the minor prophets. His name is usually taken to

signify “Carrier,” but is better interpreted “Heavy” or “Burden,” in allusion

to the grievous message which he had to deliver. Jewish commentators

suggest that he was so called because he stammered or was slow of speech,

as Paul says of himself that his speech was considered contemptible. In

old time he was by some confounded with Amoz, the father of Isaiah; but

the final letter of the two names is different, being samec in the case of the

prophet, and tzadi in that of the other. The name does not occur elsewhere

in the Old Testament; but in Luke’s genealogy of our Lord (Luke 3:25),

we meet with an Amos, son of Naum and father of Mattathias.

Amos was, as he himself tells, a native of Tekoah, a small town of Judah,

situate on a hill about five miles south of Bethlehem, lying in a pastoral

district. “A road,” says Dr. Thomson, “leads from Hebron, through a rough

and mostly deserted region, to Tekus, the ancient Tekoah ....The ruins of

that city are some three miles south of the Pools of Solomon, and cover a

broad swell of the mountain, which runs up to a great height towards the

southwest” (‘The Land and the Book,’ pp. 304, 330). “Tekoa,” says Mr.

Porter, “is now, and has been for ages, an uninhabited waste. So complete

has been the overthrow that I could not find oven a fragment of a wall

sufficient to shade me from the scorching sun. The ruins are scattered over

the broad summit of one of the highest hills in the Judaean range. The view

is magnificent and full of interest. On the west is seen the sweep of the

range from Mizpah to Hebron; on the east, ‘the wilderness of Judah’ sinks

down, white, rugged, bare, to the Dead Sea. In that wilderness David kept

his sheep, and afterwards wandered a refugee from the court of Saul. On

the north, a few miles off, I saw Bethlehem. To the right, in the bottom of

a wild ravine, is the cave of Adullam. Further down, on the shores of the

Dead Sea, are ‘the cliffs of the wild goats,’ from whose side springs the

fountain of Engedi. And beyond the sea is the wall-like ridge of Moab, and

to the south the ruddy-tinted mountains of Edom. A mournful and solitary

silence broods over that wonderful panorama. In the touching words of the

old Hebrew prophet, ‘the earth mourneth and languisheth’”- (Isaiah

33:9 - Travels in Palestine,’ p. 20). From Tekoah came the wise woman who,

suborned by Joab, made use of a parable to incline David’s heart to his banished

son Absalom (II Samuel 14.). It was also one of the places fortified by

Rehoboam as a defense against invasion from the south (II Chronicles

11:6). Thither Jonathan and Simon, the Maccabeans, fled to escape the

attack of Bacchides (see I Macc. 9:33, etc.). At this place Amos was born.

At first a herdsman and a poor cultivator of sycamore trees (ch.7:14), he received

the Divine call, and, untrained in the schools, no prophet nor prophet’s son,

was sent to prophesy against Israel. So, like an apostle, leaving all at His

Master’s word, travelling from Judah he came to Bethel,

the temple and summer palace of the king, in order to raise his voice

against the worship of the calf which prevailed there in profane union with

the service of Jehovah. Here he was opposed by Amaziah, the idolatrous

high priest, who complained of him to the king as a dangerous conspirator.

He was accordingly banished from the northern kingdom, and compelled to

return to Judah, where probably he composed the book in the form in which

it has reached our hands. But he seems to have found opportunity to

deliver his stern message in Samaria (ch.3:9; 4:1) before his final

expulsion at Bethel; for Amaziah complains that he had “conspired in the

midst of the house of Israel,” and that “the land was not able to bear his

words(ch. 7:10).


Though of such humble extraction, Amos had an eye to the geographical

peculiarities of his native land, so as to use with effect his knowledge of

various localities; nor was he unacquainted with the history of his own and

other countries. Tradition (ap. Pseudo-Eplph., c. 12., ‘De Vit. Proph.’)

asserts that he was cruelly maltreated at Bethel, and returned to Tekoah

only to die. His tomb there was still shown in St. Jerome’s time.





Amos is said (ch.1:1) to have prophesied “in the days of Uzziah

King of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash King of

Israel.” Uzziah’s reign (according to data corrected by Assyrian

monuments) lasted from B.C. 792 to 740, and Jeroboam’s from B.C. 790

to 749. The time specified above probably refers to the period during

which the two monarchs were contemporaneous, viz. from B.C. 790 to

749, a period of forty-one years. Another computation assigns Jeroboam’s

reign to B.C. 816-775; but there is still some uncertainty about the exact

date. Hence we cannot determine the time of our prophecy with perfect

satisfaction. It could not have been the commencement of Jeroboam’s

reign, as Amos intimates that this king had already overcome his enemies

and regained his lost territory (ch.6:2, 13, compared with II Kings 14:25);

nor could it have been the end, because he makes no mention of the Assyrians

who about that time were beginning to threaten Palestine. The further s

pecification in the text, “two years before the earthquake,” is not determinate,

as that event is not mentioned in the historical books. One that happened in

Uzziah’s day, as Jewish tradition said, in consequence of or coincident with

his usurpation of the priest’s office (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 9:10), was well

remembered some centuries afterwards (Zechariah 14:5), and is perhaps alluded

to elsewhere (e.g. Joel 3:16; Isaiah 2:19); but we are unable to fix the date of the

occurrence. Every detail in the prophecy confirms the authenticity of the

statement in the introduction. Jeroboam is mentioned (ch.7:10), and

the circumstances of his time, as we noted above, are accurately alluded to.

The taking of Gath by Uzziah is inferred (ch.6:2 compared with II Chronicles 26:6).


The prophet uttered his warnings, not at intervals during all the period

named, but at some definite time therein, and probably during a very short

space. He must have been contemporaneous with, if not a little earlier than

Hosea, and later than Joel, as he takes up this prophet’s words in the

commencement of his own prediction (compare ch.1:2 with Joel 3:16),

and quotes him in ch.9:13.



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