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Amos was the first biblical prophet whose words were recorded in a book, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah. He was active c 750 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II. He lived in the kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes of social justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy.
Amos was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam ben Joash (Jeroboam II), ruler of Israel from 793 BC to 753 BC, and the reign of Uzziah, King of Judah, at a time when both kingdoms (Israel in the North and Judah in the South) were peaking in prosperity. He was a contemporary of the prophet Hosea, but likely preceded him. Many of the earlier accounts of prophets found in the Old Testament are found within the context of other accounts of Israel's history. Amos, however, is the first prophet whose name also serves as the title of the corresponding biblical book in which his story is found.
Time when writtenEdit
Most scholars believe that Amos gave his message in the autumn of 750 BC or 749 BC. It is generally understood that his preaching at Bethel lasted only a single day at the least and a few days at the most. Leading up to this time, Assyrian armies battled against Damascus for a number of years, which greatly diminished Syria's threat to Israel. As a result of the fighting amongst its neighbors, Israel had the benefit of increasing its borders almost to those of the time of David and Solomon.
It should also be noted that Amos preached about two years before a very large earthquake, and made reference to it twice in his book. Zechariah remembers this earthquake over 200 years later, Zechariah 14:5
Place where writtenEdit
Some scholars believe that Amos' message was recorded after he delivered it to the Northern Kingdom, upon returning to his southern homeland of Tekoa, a town eight kilometres south of Bethlehem. It is mentioned many times in the Old Testament (Joshua 15:39, 2 Samuel 14:9 and 23:26, 1 Chronicles 11:28). Rehoboam is reported to have fortified Tekoa along with other cities in Judah in 2 Chronicles 11:5-6.
There are some differing opinions as to the location of the Tekoa Amos was presumably from. It is believed by most that Amos was a southern farmer, called by God to deliver his prophetic message in the North. However, some believe that Amos was actually from a Tekoa in the North, near Galilee. They believe that it is more probable that Amos was from the North because it has conditions more suitable for the cultivation of sycamore figs than the Tekoa of the South. Sycamore figs grow at a low elevation, lower than the Tekoa of Judah, which is at a relatively high elevation of 850 metres (overlooking both Jerusalem and Bethlehem). Others have discredited the theory about the Galilean Tekoa, citing that the difference in elevation between the two locations is not significant. Scholars in support of the idea of Amos being from the North also say it makes more sense because of Amaziah's accusation of conspiracy found in chapter seven, verse 10. A conspirator, they argue, is more likely to be a national.
Two other opinions of where Amos' writings were recorded deserve mention. They are that 1) disciples of Amos followed him and recorded his message and 2) that someone in his audience in the North recorded his message.
The Book of Amos is set in a time when the people of Israel have reached a low point in their devotion to YHWH - the people have become greedy and have stopped following and adhering to their values. The wealthy elite are becoming rich at the expense of others. Peasant farmers who once practiced subsistence farming are being forced to farm what is best for foreign trade, mostly wine and oil.
YHWH speaks to Amos, a farmer and herder, and tells him to go to Samaria, the capital of the Northern kingdom. Through Amos, YHWH tells the people that he is going to judge Israel for its sins, and it will be a foreign nation that will enact his judgment.
The people understand judgment as the coming of "the Day of the Lord." "The Day of the Lord" was widely celebrated and highly anticipated by the followers of YHWH. However, Amos came to tell the people that "the Day of the Lord" was coming soon and that it meant divine judgment and justice for their own iniquity.
Many scholars break the book of Amos up into three sections. Chapters one and two look at the nations surrounding Israel and then Israel itself through an ethical lens. Chapters three to six are a collection of verses that look more specifically at Israel's transgressions. Chapters seven to nine include visions that Yahweh gave Amos as well as Amaziah's rebuke of the prophet. The last section of the book (7:1 to 9:8), commonly referred to as the Book of Visions, contains the only narrative section. In the first two visions, Amos is able to convince Yahweh not to act out the scenes of discipline presented to him. The ideas of discipline and justice, although not enacted here, correspond to the central message in what some refer to as the Book of Woes (5:1 to 6:14). This message can be seen most clearly in verse 24 of chapter five. The plagues in the preceding chapter, chapter four, were supposed to be seen as acts of discipline that turned Israel back to Yahweh. However, the people did not interpret the acts this way, and the discipline turned into judgment for the people's disobedience. In the second set of visions (7:7-9) there is no intercession by Amos, and Yahweh says that he "will never pass by them again." The plight of Israel has become hopeless. God will not hold back judgment because Israel refuses to listen to the prophets and even goes so far as to try to silence them (2:12, 3:8, 7:10-17).
The central idea of the book of Amos, according to most scholars, is that Yahweh puts his people on the same level as the nations that surround it -- Yahweh expects the same sinlessness of them all. As it is with all nations that rise up against the kingdom of Yahweh, even Israel and Judah will not be exempt from the judgment of Yahweh because of their idolatry and unjust ways. The nation that represents Yahweh must be made pure of anything or anyone that profanes the name of Yahweh. Yahweh's name must be exalted.
Other major themes in the book of Amos include: social justice and concern for the disadvantaged; the idea that Israel's covenant with Yahweh did not exempt them from his position on sin; Yahweh is God of all nations; Yahweh is judge of all nations; Yahweh is God of moral righteousness; Yahweh made all people; Yahweh elected Israel and then redeemed Israel so that he would be known throughout the world; election by Yahweh means that those elected are responsible to live according to the purposes clearly outlined to them in the law; Yahweh will only destroy the unjust and a remnant will remain and; Yahweh is free to judge, redeem and act as savior to Israel.
- Bulkeley, Tim Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary. Auckland: Hypertext Bible, 2005. Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary
- Carroll R., M. Daniel Amos: The Prophet and His Oracles. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
- Coote, Robert B. Amos Among the Prophets: Composition and Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.
- Doorly, William J. Prophet of Justice: Understanding the Book of Amos. New York: Paulist Press 1989.
- Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
- Hasel, Gerhard F. Understanding the Book of Amos: Basic Issues in Current Interpretations. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991.
- Haynes, John H. Amos the Eighth Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988.
- Keil, C.F. et al. Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1986.
- LaSor, William Sanford et al. Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
- Metzger, Bruce M. et al. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
- Möller, Karl. A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in the Book of Amos. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.
Online translations of Book of Amos:
- Christian translations:
- Nicholas Whyte on Amos
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