Amos: The Herdman of Tekoa
Key Text: Chapter 4:12
“Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this
unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”
The name Amos, according to the Jewish expert, John Gill, means “burdened”. A most suitable name for one called to present God’s truth to a sinful people, his was a great burden to carry. Amos was taken from the farm to be a messenger of truth. 1:1 informs us that he served among the “herdmen”. The Hebrew word signifies that he was a shepherd or more literally a “sheep-raiser”. According to 7:14 Amos was also a “gatherer of sycamore fruit”. The Hebrew word in this place would indicate that Amos was a dresser of sycamore trees. He was a tree surgeon or husband man who cared for the tree in such a way as to maximise their potential for fruit. This would indicate that rather than being one who owned his own land Amos was a labourer who sold his skills for hire. At times he tended to the flocks but could employ his husbandry skills in the pruning season. 1:1 and especially 7:15 would indicate that Amos was taken from his labouring position to be a prophet of God. While he was working on the land the call of God came and like the disciples of a future generation he had to leave his occupation behind for a higher calling. Indeed 7:14 indicates that Amos was a somewhat surprising choice to be a prophet. When challenged by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, the man of God replied, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son…”. It seems that there was no one more surprised by the call of God than Amos himself because he was only a herdman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. The key point, however, was “And the Lord
took me” and “the Lord said unto me, Go, prophecy unto my people Israel” (7:15). Despite his humble background God had called His servant and he therefore represented the truth of God. Amos is a reminder that we should never prejudge whom the Lord calls into service. All that is required is a willing mind and ready heart. Often He calls the most surprising individuals and equips them for great work that no flesh should
glory in His presence.
Amos was a resident of Judah, the southern Kingdom in Israel. Tekoa, his home district, was situated close to Bethlehem. His ministry, however, was to the northern Kingdom. He served during the reign of Uzziah, King of Judah and Jeroboam 2nd King of Israel. He was therefore contemporary with Hosea and also with Isaiah.
His prophecy is the record of his sermons which were delivered some two years before the earthquake (1:1). It appears that having delivered these messages he was prompted by the Holy Ghost to record them in a written form after the earthquake occurred. Of this earthquake we know little except that it must have been devastating in a most extraordinary sense. At a much later time, however, Zechariah makes mention of this event:
“And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the
mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from
before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD
my God shall come, and all the saints with thee” (14:5).
Obviously the magnitude of the disaster lived on in the consciousness.
Doubtless this natural disaster was regarded as a judgement from heaven,
therefore Amos was prompted to record his writings.
The interaction between Amos and Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, in 7:10, would indicate
that he was a public figure who challenged false worship in a demonstrative fashion. Indeed his words appear to have shaken the entire nation and he was a considered a threat to the establishment (7:10). The tradition among the Jews is that Amos’ boldness hastened his death. It is claimed that he was pierced through the temples at the behest of
Amaziah, the Priest of Bethel, and buried in his home town of Tekoa.
Characteristics of Amos’ Preaching
Amos did not preach as a cultured theologian. There was something of the farmer in him that persisted throughout his times of ministry. He described God as the one who “formed the mountains and created the wind” (4:13), as the one who made “the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning and maketh the day dark with night, and calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth” (5:8). These are passages of poetic beauty inspired by one who had spent much time alone with the grandeur of nature. When Amos emphasised the importance of walking in agreement with God he used metaphors of nature. He talked about the lion being joined to the prey and the bird falling into the snare, teaching that God’s people must be joined with the Lord (3:3-5). Often had he witnessed the bird being caught and had heard the mighty lion roar as he cared for his flock. The stately trees (2:9), the laden cart (2:13), the sifting of corn (9:9) were all images with which Amos was familiar and they found a place in his homely yet powerful sermons.
Amos’ particular burden, however, was to relay a message of judgement. The most potent rural metaphor he employed when revealing the wrath of God was the “basket of summer fruit” (8:1). The summer of opportunity was over, winter was approaching and with it God was saying “The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more” (8:1-3). Amos teaches every preacher to not only expound the truth
faithfully but simply, drawing from personal experiences.
The Religious Condition of Israel
Remarkably the Northern Kingdom maintained all the outward trappings of traditional Hebrew Worship. They had rules about leaven (4:5), they had an altar on which blood was sprinkled (3:14), they had Nazarites and prophets (2:12), and they had priests (7:10). Yet all of this was of no value because they had transformed Jehovah into a calf to prevent the people travelling to Jerusalem for worship. It is clear that the people of Israel, despite their descent into paganism, recognised the authority of the Law
of Moses. Amos used this to good effect holding the nation to account for its disobedience. He chastened them for their treatment of the poor (5:11), for their dishonesty in business (8:5), and for profaning God’s name (2:7). He goes further, however, and employs pictures from Deuteronomy to enforce the message that judgement was on the horizon (Compare 5:11 with Deuteronomy 28:30, 39). Amos was a preacher familiar with the Scriptures and engaged them as his text as he applied truth.
Prophecies against the nations; Damascus, Philistines,
Phoenecia, Edom, Ammon and Moab.
Prophecy against Judah
Prophecy against Israel.
God’s quarrel with Israel
God’s lament over Israel.
Woe upon Judah
Five Visions of coming Judgement
7:1-3 Plague of Locusts
7:4-6 Destroying fire
7:7-17 The Plumbline
8:1-14 The Basket of Summer Fruit 9:1-10 The Destruction of the Sanctuary
The New Testament Church
James teaches us in Acts 15:16-18 that the temple Amos saw being rebuilt
was not literal but spiritual. The spiritual house made without stone where
all of God’s people are both Kings and Priests. These prophets foresaw the
passing away of the old economy and with prophetic