Amos Introduction

Introduction to the Book of Amos

When Amos Lived

Amos came from Tekoa, about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. He was a shepherd and he looked after fig trees. His home was in Judah. But God sent him away to Israel, which was north of Judah. (At that time, Judah was a different country from Israel.)

We know very little about the life of Amos. We know nothing about his family. And we do not know how long he lived. We do not know where he gave most of his messages. However, he gave one message (perhaps more) at Bethel. This was an important place in the north where people worshipped. Amos lived when Jeroboam 2nd (782-753 BC) was king of Israel and Uzziah (767-740 BC) was king of Judah. Perhaps Amos gave most of his messages about 760 BC, but we cannot be certain about this.

During the time of Jeroboam 2nd the nation of Israel became rich. There were several reasons for this. In 805 BC, the Assyrians beat the Syrians in war. The Syrians became weak and so they were not able to fight against Israel's people. Also, the Assyrians did not try to take authority over Israel's people. Because of these things, Jeroboam took the chance to make his borders larger. The country became as big as it had been in the time of Solomon. Perhaps Amos 6:13 shows that the Israelites became proud of their success in war. Because of this success, they could control the trade routes. The nation became rich by this. The people thought that they would always be wealthy.

What Amos Taught

It is possible that Amos sometimes taught in Samaria. He mentions Samaria several times (3:9, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 8:14). But Amos certainly taught at Bethel. This was a place where people met together. They met to worship and to pray to God. Perhaps he saw many people from Samaria in Bethel. If this happened, he would not need to go to Samaria. Amos also mentions other nations. These nations are Damascus (5:27), Hamath (6:14), Calneh, Hamath and Gath (6:2), Crete (9:7), Kir (1:5; 9:7), Edom (9:12) and Egypt (2:10; 3:1; 3:9; 4:10; 8:8; 9:5, 7). God wants to involve himself with all nations. He rules and controls all nations and all people everywhere. No other god has this power.

Several ideas were important to Amos. One idea was that there is only one God. He is the God who rules the nations. Another idea was that God is the judge. The Israelites were responsible for their actions. They must expect God to decide what to do about their sins. But Amos says that there is hope. God gave two messages in pictures to Amos (7:1-6). Amos prayed against total judgement and God heard this prayer. God is the same God who brought Israel out of Egypt. He punishes nations but he also saves.

Israel's people thought that worship was important. But although they worshipped God, they did not obey his law. Because of this, their worship did not bring anything good from God. Amos compared their behaviour with the behaviour of their ancestors. Their ancestors wandered for many years in the desert. This was why Amos spoke about the sacrifices in the desert (5:25). Some people explain it like this. Amos meant that he wanted no sacrifices. Instead of sacrifices God wanted people to behave in a true way. But perhaps Amos actually wanted people to know what was important. Sacrifices were good. But to behave in a true way was more important.

Amos used parts of songs as a way to say things. 4:13 and 5:8 are examples of this. The songs emphasized the message. Also, God gave Amos five pictures, which begin in chapter 7. The first four of these (7:1-3; 7:4-6; 7:7-9 and 8:1-3) are similar. Amos puts these four pictures together in the same way. The fifth picture (9:1-6) is different. It is less of a picture than the other pictures. It is like Psalm 139:7-12. There will be no escape for the people in Israel. It is a picture of extreme situations.

Amos and the Covenant

The message of Amos was not new. His messages were the words of God. They were not the words of Amos himself. When the Israelites were in the desert, God made a covenant with them. He promised to be their God and to take care of them. But they had to obey his law. God wanted to be sure that the people in Israel remembered this covenant. Amos wanted to tell the people that they were not obeying God's law. (They were not looking after the poor people, they were not remembering the Sabbath, and other things.) God was going to punish Israel's people for these crimes. But he would not destroy them completely. Amos's job was to remind people about what they already knew.

There is not very much hope in the book of Amos. God is angry with Israel's people and he is going to punish them. He will use war, exile, and terrible things to do this. But at the end of the book Amos gives a message of hope.

The big sin of Israel's people was that they worshipped idols. The worship of idols was against God's covenant. This happened everywhere in Israel. Amos mentions idols in 5:26 and 8:14. Bethel and Dan were important places where there was idol worship. The people worshipped animals made from gold there. There was also false worship at Gilgal and Beersheba. Much of this worship became another religion. And Amos is clear that this was wrong (3:14; 4:4-5; 5:4-5). But there was also another kind of worship. This was like the true worship of God (5:21-28; 8:3). But the people did not follow the rules that God had given them. They used this worship to gain an advantage over other people. They also thought that their behaviour did not matter very much.

Amos does not say bad things about priests or other prophets. Hosea does say bad things about them (Hosea 4:4-9; 5:1-3). So, in one way, there is more hope in Amos.

Amos and Money

God cared about the poor people. God also had many things to say about the rich people. The rich people had too much. God did not like that. We can see these ideas in much of Amos's book. He also speaks about that fact that people sold other people as slaves (2:6). Some people became rich in this way. In Samaria, many people used money to get an advantage over other people. They wanted to make sure that other people stayed poor (3:9, 10). Some farmers had big debts. So the leaders took their property away. They gave it to the people who lent the farmers money (2:6, 8; 5:12). This was against the law of Moses. Often the laws in Israel did not protect the poor people. So the nation deserved the punishment of God.