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Studies in the Prophets

                Earliest of the minor prophets  - dated around 760 -740 BCE
                He probably lived during the reigns of Jeroboam II of N. Israel  786-746
                and Uzziah of Judah 783-742

He was a resident of Tekoa in Judah roughly which is 16k south of Jerusalem
He would have been a southerner whose prophecy was given entirely in the northern kingdom.
Although we cannot be sure of this but it may be he said all that he had to say in a single speech at the sanctuary at Bethel.

We are unsure if all that is written in this book actually came from Amos but this breakdown may be helpful.

Amos’ first oracles including much of chapters 3 – 6

The first collection of these into cycles (the vision reports in 7:1-8; 8:1-2, 9:1-4 and the oracles against the nations were collected and added to the sayings in chapters 3-6.

The work of a “school” of his disciples responsible for some of the third person references to Amos as in 1:1a – 7:10-17.

A reinterpretation of the Bethel sayings in Josiah’s time (3:14b; 5:6)

A Deuteronomic reaction – also in the time of Josiah stressing that Judah and Jerusalem are under Yahweh’s judgement (2:4-5) and showing an interest in prophecy (2:11-12)

A post-exilic eschatological addition in (9:11-15)

1:1 – 2:6               Amos accuses foreign nations , and Israel
3:1 – 6:14             Judgement speeches and woe oracles against elect Israel.
7:1 – 9:15             Visions

Who was Amos?
Very little is known about him. The heading of the book which was added by a later editor tells us that Amos came from among the shepherds of Tekoa, a village a few miles south of Jerusalem and that he was active during the reigns of two contemporary kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel.

If we could work out another of the chronological features of the book it might enable us to date Amos more closely “two years before the earthquake” (1:1) I think this is likely to be the same earthquake that is mentioned in Zechariah 14:5
“And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.”
In any case Amos was active in the Northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II king, some time before Jeroboam’s death in 746 BCE. A date of about 750 fits the conditions reflected in the book.

The clearest picture we have of the man himself seems to be in Amos 7:10-15 which records a dramatic encounter between Amos and Amaziah the chief priest of the temple at Bethel – the royal sanctuary and one which had been erected at the command of Jeroboam I to be a shrine for the people of Northern kingdom. Here we are told that Amos was a native of Judah where he had been a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.
The fact that Amos could easily frequent a town in the northern kingdom indicates to us tradition
This incident is crucial in our attempt to understand who Amos was and what he was trying to do.

Amaziah, assuming that Amos was just a visionary (hozeh)who earned his living by his religious trade warned him to return to Judah and there eat bread – that is seek his fees for his prophetic oracles.
Amos though replied

                I am not a prophet (nabi)
                                Nor one of the sons of the prophets;
                Rather I am a herdsman
                                And a dress of sycamore trees
                However Yahweh took me from behind the flock.
                And Yaweh said to me
                Go!  Prophesy to my people Israel.

Sadly the meaning is not at all clear. Amaziah uses the word visionary (hozeh)a term used for the prophetic oracles in southern circles, and tells his to go back to Judah where this type of prophet belongs
Amos answers by using the term (nabi) for a prophet – a current term in northern circles to designate a Moses type prophet who found support in a prophetic community (sons of the prophets)

What was Amos saying?

Was Amos denying that he was a northern style prophet like Moses   or:-

Was he saying that he was not a prophet in any sense northern or southern?      

The latter seems likely to be the case. Amos was only a lay-person whose work have been interrupted by a divine commission that came to him

Amos is chronologically the first in a series of prophets whose oracles have been left to us in written form. The prophets who preceded him, like Elijah and Elisha are known only through the oral tradition and recorded by later authors.     


Amos’ Message
One needs to bear in mind the political situation at the time of Amos. Syria had entered a period of political weakness and as yet the Assyrian empire that was about to break out under Tiglath-pileser II had not yet materialised. Amos clearly understood that trouble was brewing and certainly pulls no punches about the future state of affairs
God is at work among the nations – there was divine judgement on the small surrounding nations. A divine fire will break out against the rivals of Israel. However the bad news is that the same fire would consume the people of Yahweh’s choice because of the atrocities committed in peace and prosperity (2:6-8)

Amos’ position on this matter was that he stood clearly in the covenant tradition of Israel which looked towards the events of the Exodus and the escape from Egypt and remembered how God had delivered and preserved the nation. He stands very clearly in the tradition of Moses, which was greatly treasured in the northern kingdom.

Reasoning from Yahweh’s special calling, the people felt they could go on to say – therefore Yahweh will give us prosperity, victory and peace among the nations. Flushed with the national revival and economic boom in the age of Jeroboam II they anticipated the Day of the Lord.
We tend to think that the expectation surrounding this Day of the Lord was renewed each year by a great festival, probably at the turn of the year. In popular belief this new year’s day was an anticipation and foretaste of the great Day of the Lord which was thought to be the consummation of everything when God himself would rule the people

Amos accepts the imagery of the Day of the Lord – when God would visit his people – but the nuance placed on this visitation serves as a warning to the people. The language about the Day of the Lord in Amos is harsh.

Amos 5:18-20
Woe to you who desire the Day of the Lord
… It is darkness and not light and gloom with no brightness in it.
As if a man fled from  lion
And a bear met him.

One of the really interesting passages in the book comes at the end – 9:11-15
Suddenly the direction of the prophecy is turned round and promises a future salvation
Commentators seems to be universally agreed that this is a post exilic addition to the original prophecy of Amos. What makes them so sure is

The hopeful nature of the passage which is at variance with the usual mood of the prophet.

The phrase  v11 In that day I will raise up

The fallen booth of David

This is the first allusion to the Davidic hope in the book and seems to refer to the restoration of the Davidic monarchy, probably including both kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
I am not really prepared to challenge the assumption of so many scholars, but I would draw attention to the phrase in v14 “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel”
The phrase restoring the fortunes of my people is also found in Hosea 6:11, In Deuteronomy 30:3.
I have traced restoration of the fortunes …of sometimes Israel, sometimes Jacob, sometimes other nations 11 times in the book of Jeremiah as well as once in the Lamentations
Ezekiel has the phrase 3 times.

New Testament
Amos’ importance is well illustrated by the fact that it is almost always cited first when anyone wants to say that biblical religion has a strong social ethic. His insistence that the people of God have a responsibility for the poor finds echoes in the New Testament .

Galatians 2:10 “only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.”

Amos 2:6-7 “because they sell the righteous for silver,
                and the needy for a pair of shoes—
  they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and turn aside the way of the afflicted;”

Amos 4:1 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
    who are in the mountain of Samar′ia,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,”

Amos 5:11 “Therefore because you trample upon the poor
    and take from him exactions of wheat,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
    but you shall not dwell in them;”

Amos 8:5-6 “Therefore because you trample upon the poor
                                and take from him exactions of wheat,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
    but you shall not dwell in them;”


Amos 9:11-12 is quoted in Acts 15
                11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins,
    and rebuild it as in the days of old;
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”
    says the Lord who does this.

Paul speaking to the council in Jerusalem says

16 ‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will set it up,
17 that the rest of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
18 says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’        Translation from LXX


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