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Who Was Amos?
The Background of Amos
Amos the Burden Bearer
Amos' Style
Outline of Amos
The Message of Amos

Who Was Amos?

Though we consider Amos a prophet, he considered himself a "layman" with a message (7:14, 15). His trade was that of a sheepherder, a rancher, and a worker with sycamore figs. We are told in the introduction to his book that he is one of the sheepherders from Tekoa, and only later do we learn of his work with other animals (probably cattle) and in the orchards.

From the terms used for these trades, Amos might have been a manager either of his own herds and orchards or else managed these farming operations for someone else1. Keil and Delitzsch argue to the contrary, however, and claim that Amos was a simple shepherd in the company of the other shepherds from Tekoa2.

We won’t worry about Amos’ socio-economic status, because the point he makes about himself in chapter 7 is the crucial fact: he was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. We read of "sons of" the prophets as early as Samuel (1 Sam. 10:5), though they probably existed long before then3.

There were at least three semi-institutions that existed probably as far back as the time of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt: the Nazirites, the Rechabites, and the prophets (who were most likely similar to our seminary students and ministerial students)4. These bands of prophets were organized and "were raised up of God in these periods of spiritual crisis to stem the tide of religious and moral declension and to call the nation to repentance"5.

Amos was neither a member of one of these three institutions nor one called by God to the office of prophet (as was Jeremiah, Joel, Elijah, etc.). He was a "layman" whom God called to deliver His message. He lived in Tekoa, a town about 10 miles south of Jerusalem in the hill country of Judah. From there he traveled north about 25 miles to Bethel, a religious center on the southern border of the northern kingdom of Israel.

The Background for Amos

Amos gives us very specific historical data: he prophesied during the overlapping reigns of King Jeroboam II of Israel and King Uzziah (also called Azariah) of Judah. Jeroboam reigned from 793 - 753 BC, and Uzziah reigned from 790 - 739 BC6. That gives a range of 790 - 753 BC for the particular messages in the book of Amos, minus a two-year period relating to the reference he gives to the earthquake (Amos 1:1).

The date of the earthquake can’t be placed and isn’t mentioned in the historical books, although Zechariah makes reference to it in 14:5:

And you will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Amos was a contemporary of Jonah, Hosea, and Isaiah. As mentioned in the notes for Jonah, the northern kingdom of Israel experienced a time of expansion under Jeroboam’s rule. 2 Kings 14:22 gives us a hint that Judah also had a bit of recovery under Uzziah with the restoration of the city of Elath, but 2 Chronicles 26 details many of Uzziah’s accomplishments. Just as Jeroboam in the north brought prosperity and success to Israel, Uzziah enjoyed great victories over the Philistines, Arabians, Meunites, and Ammonites. In Israel,

[p]rosperity had produced its inevitable fruits — pride, luxury, selfishness, greed, oppression and moral decay. These sins were accentuated in Israel by the idolatrous calf worship which centered at Bethel. ... Israel, however, at the height of its power and material prosperity, was so sunken in the depths of corruption, and was so complacent in its newly won security, that the words of the simple shepherd from Tekoa were fruitless.7

It is interesting to think of how God worked with His people during the days of Jonah, Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. He used the powerful preaching of Isaiah to reach the royal court of Uzziah in the south, sent Jonah to Nineveh, spoke to the king of Israel through the voice of a southern shepherd, and dramatized the spiritual adultery of Israel through the life of Hosea. It was a peak time of prosperity, and yet the land echoed with the call of God for His people not to forsake Him and His blessings, to choose life rather than death.

Amos used a unique style to get the attention of Israel by first declaring God’s judgment against all the nations surrounding them. Beginning with Damascus to the north of Israel (see the map, below), Amos preached all around Israel: northeast to southwest, northwest to southeast, and then across to the closer nations bordering Israel from east to south. Finally, Amos preaches against Israel itself and points out specific sins of greed, social injustice, blasphemy, drunkenness, and complacency.

A ringing theme throughout Amos is that Israel has forgotten Who the God of Israel is. Amos reminds them: He is Yahweh Who brought them from Egypt and destroyed a multitude of nations before them; He is the creator; He is the only God. Amos tells Israel that this mighty God Who has been for them will now bring destruction to them for their sins. He warns Israel, "Prepare to meet thy God!"

Israel had long abandoned the worship of Yahweh in favor of the centers of worship established by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:25-33). God was now going to show them again Who He is.

Amos the Burden Bearer

We have not mentioned much about the meaning of the prophets’ names to this point. This is primarily because far too much can be made of "hidden meanings" and such things. So, with a measure of care, let us mention two things of significance about Amos’ name.

First, and most obvious, Amos is bringing a burdensome message to Israel, "lugging around God’s weighty message", as Swindoll puts it8. Up to this point the prophets have delivered a pretty balanced message of warning and promise, rebuke and blessing, judgment and glory. Amos, however, is the first of these men to focus so much of his message on the sins of Israel, the anger and wrath of God, and the coming disastrous judgment. It is, indeed, a burden of a message. Amos 2:13 compares the weight of God’s judgment to that of a cart overloaded with grain which collapses in a heap.

The second aspect of this heavy burden is that Amos himself is burdened down as a result of the sins of God’s people. It is a touch of dramatic irony that a small-town shepherd brings this message as one of those who must endure the consequences of God’s judgment. This is probably the point of 7:14, 15. Surrounded by coming disaster, he is about to lose his land and his people as so many will go into exile and so many others perish. It is not just God’s heavy message that Amos brings, it is the motivating cause of his message that casts a shadow across his own future.

The Penetrating Poetry of Amos’ Style

The literary style of Amos’ messages is amazingly consistent. In each of his first seven messages (the eighth is delivered against Israel), he includes mention of consuming fire and the destruction of citadels (fortresses). When he addresses Israel, he alternates these two judgments of God across several chapters, pointing out that Israel, too, will face the fire of God’s wrath:

Citadels destroyed: 3:11    Fire to come: 4:11

    Fire to come: 5:6     Citadels destroyed: 5:9

Citadels destroyed: 6:8     Fire to come: 7:4

In the same way, Amos speaks of the surrounding nations facing either exile or death when their disaster strikes. Amos takes these two themes and weaves them into his message against Israel:

Exile: 5:27

    Exile: 6:7

        Exile and death: 7:11

        Exile and death: 7:17

    Death: 8:3

        Exile and death: 9:1

        Exile and death: 9:4

Death: 9:10

For one who didn’t go to seminary, Amos was quite literary and masterfully artistic in his delivery.

Outline of Amos

Title: Re-Learning God

Theme: A Refresher Course on the Person of the Almighty

1. Meet Thy God (1:1-7:9)

He is a Roaring Lion (1-3)

He is Unrelenting in His pursuit of Us (4)

He is an Upholder of Justice (5)

He is a Resistor of the Proud (6)

He is a Merciful Judge (7:1-9)

2. A Typical Response (7:10-13)

"I Don’t Want to Hear It" (7:10-13)

3. Meet Thy Judgment (7:14-17, 8, 9)

                In the Wake of God’s Passing (7:14-17, 8)

                The Shaken Temple (9:1-6)

                The Shaken People (9:7-15)

The Message of Amos

A few of the themes in Amos have already been mentioned. Of particular interest here is his focus on declaring to Israel Who God is. Amos fills his message with descriptions of the awesome God of Israel, both of Who He is as well as what He does.

He is the God of the Exodus

At the beginning and the end of Amos, God reminds Israel that He is the One Who delivered them from Egypt (2:9, 10 and 9:7). This was always God’s claim to Israel as their God as well as a potent reminder of His faithfulness across all time. Long before Israel was a nation, God told Abraham He would make them His own by this great act of deliverance (Genesis 15:13, 14). He is Israel’s redeemer.

He is the God Who Speaks

Amos begins by declaring that Yahweh is roaring like a lion out of Zion (we noted earlier the activity of the prophets during this time; remember also the prophets sent to Judah during Joel’s ministry). God reminds Israel that He speaks through the prophets as well as others with special callings (2:11, 12; 3:7, 8). The fact that Yahweh speaks makes Him unique, and He reminds Israel that He is uniquely their God (3:2).

But the God of Israel doesn’t speak only through the prophets. He also uses circumstances to give His people the opportunity to discern the condition of their relationship with Him. In 4:6-11 God lists several events of discipline which were designed to make Israel repent, though they didn’t get the point. This is why Amos is re-introducing the Sovereign God Yahweh* to Israel.

He is Creator and Ruler of All

In Amos 4 and 5 God focuses on the fact that He created all the world and that He rules over all His creation. As Creator, He is the author of life and is sovereign over death. As we saw with other themes discussed earlier, Amos delivers his messages with poetic style:

God is Creator, 4:13

    God rules the earth, 4:13

        (His name is Yahweh, God of hosts, 4:13)

            He is the Giver of life, 5:4-7

He is Creator, 5:8

    (His name is Yahweh)

        He rules the earth, 5:9

            He is the Bringer of death, 5:9

After reminding Israel again that His name is Yahweh and that He is the God of hosts (armies, both of heaven and earth) in 5:27 and chapter 6, He shows that as awesome as He is as Creator, He is greater than His creation (9:5, 6).

He is a Merciful, Personal God

At the end of this devastating prophecy, God reminds Israel again that though His wrath will not be turned away, He will spare a portion of His people (9:8-15). His mercy is shown in a number of ways. In addition to being the God Who speaks to His people, He also listens to and answers prayer (7:1-6). In spite of deserving the utmost, immediate judgment, He remembers His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (9:8) and will not completely destroy Israel. The blessings of rich bounty will come even as He promised long ago (9:13).

As a wonderful, personal touch in Amos, God does not deny that He is Israel’s God and they are His people. In the fearful words "Prepare to meet your God" we find the fact that He is still their God (4:12). And at the very end of Amos God seals His promise of restoration with the words, "Says Yahweh your God" (9:15). He uses His personal name and acknowledges that He is Israel’s God. Though angry and wrathful at Israel, He is also faithfully their God and faithful to His promises.

It is a trustworthy statement: for if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.


2 Timothy 2:11-13


1 See Charles R. Swindoll, God’s Masterpiece: A Concerto in Sixty-Six Movements. Vol. 3: Hosea through Malachi. Insight For Living, 1997. (Also see the references quoted in Swindoll’s chapter on Amos.)

2 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 10: Minor Prophets. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 1989.

3 Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets. Chicago: Moody Press. 1977. See pages 28-34.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., page 34.

6 Swindoll, pages 24, 25. But see Freeman, page 187, and others, for other possible dates. All are fairly close and place the ministry of Amos around the years 760 BC.

7 Freeman, page 188.

8 Swindoll, page 24.



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