Introduction to Amos

INTRODUCTION TO

AMOS

Amos is the first of the four eighth-century BC prophets, which also included Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Along with Hosea, Amos’s ministry was to Israel even though he was from Judah. He was a layman who did not consider himself a professional prophet (7:14-15). Through words and visions, Amos spoke against the superficial religious institutions of his day.

“A lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who will not prophesy?”.

“A lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who will not prophesy?” (3:8).

CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING

AUTHOR: Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa, a village about ten miles south of Jerusalem. He received a call from God to go north and prophesy against Samaria and the kingdom of Israel around 760 BC. We do not know how long he actually was in the north; it appears to have been a fairly short time. He provoked a great deal of opposition and anger, as illustrated by his encounter with Amaziah, the priest of Bethel (7:10-17). He wrote his book, a summary of his prophecies, after his return to Judah. He probably wrote it with the aid of a scribe.

BACKGROUND: Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah (792-740 BC) and Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 BC). This was a time of great prosperity and military success for both nations, as all their traditional enemies were in a weakened condition. Samaria, the capital city of Israel, enjoyed enormous wealth, and luxuries flowed into the city.

At the same time, decades of struggle with Damascus had left the population exhausted. Many farmers were reduced to poverty. Their more affluent neighbors, and especially the aristocracy, swooped in with loans that the poor could not repay and then reduced the debtors to slavery and seized their lands. The leaders of society believed they had no reason to fear for the future. Their city had high walls and fortified citadels, and their army was everywhere victorious. They were the chosen people of God, and they considered themselves immune from judgment.

MESSAGE AND PURPOSE

Several key teachings make up the message of Amos.

1. God is impartial and fair, judging each nation appropriately. Neither Jew nor Gentile is exempted from divine judgment. The Gentiles are punished for moral outrages that we would now call “crimes against humanity,” while the Jews are judged by the demands of the Mosaic law (see 1:3-2:3; see 2:4-5).

2. God despises human pride, especially when it is demonstrated through confidence in military power, wealth, and indifference toward other people (6:1-8).

3. God is especially harsh against anyone who abuses or cheats the poor (8:4-6).

4. God is not impressed by worship services with music and celebration if the people have unrepentant hearts (4:4-5; 5:21-24).

5. Religious leaders who oppose a genuine work of God are subject to special judgment (7:10-17).

6. People who are blinded by their confidence in their special status before God assume they have no reason to fear divine judgment, but they are totally misguided (5:18-20).

7. When troubles begin to mount up against a nation, the people should see this as a warning from God and repent before it is too late (4:6-12).

8. Even after judgment, when it seems that all hope is lost (9:1-4), God is able to bring about redemption and salvation (9:13-15).

9. Israel’s hope (and humanity’s hope) is in the line of David, which God will raise up to establish his kingdom (9:11-12). We now know that this hope is fulfilled in David’s descendant, Jesus Christ.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE

Amos reminds us of the sovereignty of God in his involvement with his people. God will bring his judgment, a reality that certainly came to pass. Amos’s emphasis on the day of the Lord had implications for Amos’s contemporaries, but it also reminds the modern reader of a coming day referred to repeatedly in the NT—the day of Christ’s return.

STRUCTURE

After the superscript (1:1), the book of Amos is divided into seven parts. The first part, the introduction, is a single verse (1:2). This is followed by six major divisions: 1:3-2:16; 3:1-15; 4:1-13; 5:1-6:14; 7:1-8:3; 8:4-9:15. Remarkably, formulas of divine speech (statements such as, “the Lord says,” “the Lord has spoken,” and “the Lord’s declaration”) are evenly distributed in these sections. Amos 1:3-2:16 has fourteen such formulas, and each of the following sections has seven such, for a total of forty-nine. The basic structure and content of each section is described in the notes.

OUTLINE

I.Prophecies against the Nations (1:1-2:16)

A.Superscription and proclamation (1:1-2)

B.Indictment of neighboring nations (1:3-2:3)

C.Indictment of Judah (2:4-5)

D.Indictment of Israel (2:6-16)

II.Three Discourses against Israel (3:1-6:14)

A.A declaration of judgment (3:1-15)

B.The depravity of Israel (4:1-13)

C.A lamentation for Israel’s sin and doom (5:1-6:14)

III.Five Symbolic Visions of Israel’s Condition (7:1-9:10)

A.Devouring locusts (7:1-3)

B.A flaming fire (7:4-6)

C.A plumb line (7:7-17)

D.A basket of ripe fruit (8:1-14)

E.The Lord at the altar inflicting discipline (9:1-10)

IV.Promises of Israel’s Restoration (9:11-15)

800-760 BC

Adad-Nirari III led his Assyrian army to victory over Syria and the destruction of Damascus. 802

For half a century after the fall of Damascus, Assyrian expansion was thwarted by internal problems. 802-745

Jeroboam II, king of northern kingdom, enjoyed an era of peace, expansion, increased trade and affluence. 793-753

Uzziah, king of southern kingdom 792-740

Eclipse of the sun visible in Judah/Israel June 15, 763

Earthquake at Hazor between 765 and 755

760-750 BC

Amos is called to travel from Judah to Israel to prophesy in Samaria. 760

Zechariah, king of northern kingdom 753-752, assassinated by Shallum

Shallum, king of northern kingdom 752, assassinated by Menahem

Menahem, king of northern kingdom 752-742

Hosea’s prophetic ministry 750-722?

Micah called to be a prophet 750

750-740 BC

Assyrian aggression was thwarted by internal problems until 745 when Tiglath-pileser III came to power.

Pekahiah, king of northern kingdom 742-740, assassinated by Pekah

Death of King Uzziah of Judah 740

Isaiah’s call to be a prophet 740

Other states in the region pay tribute to the growing power of Assyria. 740

740-700 BC

Tiglath-pileser III’s invasions of Israel 734-732

Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus form a mutual defense alliance against Assyria and invite Ahaz of Judah to join them. 734

Ahaz refuses Isaiah’s counsel and seeks protection from Assyria by paying tribute to them, creating a heavy financial burden on Judah for years to come. 734

Alliance between Syria and Israel collapses with the fall of Damascus (732) and the fall of Samaria (722)

Pekah, king of northern kingdom 752-732, assassinated by Hoshea, last king of northern kingdom 732-722

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