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Introduction to Amos

I. NAME OF BOOK

 

A. It is named after the prophet.

 

B. The name "Amos" could mean:

1. "to be a burden" (BDB 770, KB 846)

2. "to carry a burden" (BDB 770, KB 846)

3. "to sustain" (possibly "YHWH has carried" [KB 847]. It may be a shortened form of Amasiah, which means "YHWH hears," cf. II Chr. 17:16).

4. One rabbinical tradition asserts that it was a title given to him by those who opposed his message, implying he did not speak clearly or he stuttered.

 

C. This is the only occurrence of this name in the Old Testament. Isaiah's father, "Amoz" (cf. Isa. 1:1) is spelled differently. There is an Amos mentioned in the genealogy of Luke 3:25, but nothing is known of him.

 

II. CANONIZATION

 

A. This book is part of the division of the Hebrew canon called "the latter prophets."

 

B. It is one of "the Twelve" Minor Prophets (i.e., shorter prophetic books).

 

C. The order of "the Twelve" or Minor Prophets has been linked by many scholars to a chronological sequence. However, there are problems with this view:

1. The first six books are different between the MT and LXX

 

MT LXX
Hosea Hosea
Joel Amos
Amos Micah
Obadiah Joel
Jonah Obadiah
Micah Jonah

2. Internal evidence puts Amos chronologically before Hosea.

3. The date for Joel is highly debated. I list him as an early post-exilic prophet along with Obadiah.

 

III. GENRE

 

A. This is the first of the writing prophets and sets the genre for all that follow.

 

B. This is classical Hebrew propheticism. This is a good example of Hebrew poetry and imagery. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HEBREW POETRY at 1:2.

 

C. Amos' writings, collected into a separate book, begin a wonderful literary form known as the "latter prophets" (Isaiah - Malachi).

Amos used the funeral dirge meter to emotionally communicate God's coming judgment. Form, meter, and content powerfully drive home the message of judgment. 

D.  Here are some good quotes.

1. A good summary of the prophets of this period is found in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 7, "Amos."

"At the same time, however, the eighth century witnessed the rise of one of the most potent moral forces the world has ever known—the writing prophets. These men, from widely separated backgrounds, shared an overwhelming conviction that God had called them. They had various styles of writing, but all wrote with the authority of the Almighty. They denounced the sins of their contemporaries and also looked far into the future as they spoke of deliverance for both Jew and Gentile" (p. 269).

2. Kyle M. Yates, Studies in Amos.

"Amos was a person who could never be taken for granted. Whether one agreed with his views or not, the impact of the prophet's message was lasting. The past twenty-seven centuries have not blunted this impact. Any person who looks deeply into the character of this man of God, and studies seriously the message of the prophet, will never be the same. He cannot accept casually the injustices of present-day society nor overlook God's concern for all of his children" (p. 1).

3. Theo Laetsch, The Minor Prophets.

"Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, four great stars in the galaxy of Old Testament prophets, truly noble men of God, trying—alas, vainly—to stem the flood of iniquity engulfing God's people, and their inevitable ruin. Never has the holy Law of God been preached with greater earnestness and intensity than it was proclaimed by these men, who spared neither rich nor poor, neither young nor old, neither vociferous rebel nor unctuous hypocrite. And in no other period of the Old Testament era has the Gospel been heralded in language clearer and sweeter than these men spoke by inspiration of God. Yet all their faithful efforts, all their fervent appeals to their countrymen, could not hold back the overwhelming floodwaters of God's judgment sweeping away a people highly favored but unspeakably wicked and ungrateful. Still they continued in their call to repentance and salvation to a hardened generation, seeing but little success, yet faithful to their high calling. Their message is as timely today as it was more than 2,500 years ago. It is God's Word, enduring forever!" (p. 136) 

IV.  AUTHORSHIP

 

A. Jewish tradition has always asserted the author to be Amos of Tekoa.

 

B. The man:

1. He was a Judean from Tekoa (known for its "wise" people, cf. II Sam. 14), which is about five miles southeast of Bethlehem, located on the highest hill (2,700') in the region (cf. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia vol. 1, p. 120).

2. He was not a prophet nor part of the prophetic family or guild (cf. 7:14). Originally prophets lived together in communities. Later some became identified with the palace.

3. He was apparently a "small sheep" (Arabic) herder (BDB 667, KB 719-720, cf. 1:1, possibly "sheep herder," "sheep seller," or "sheep owner" [cf. II Kgs. 3:4]). A different and common term for "shepherd" (BDB 133) is used for him in 7:14.

4. He was (1) an owner of fruit trees or (2) a "dresser of sycamore trees" (cf. 7:14). This may have involved an annual move to other locations. These trees are called "fig-mulberry." The fruit is much like a fig. Each fig had to be pierced individually in order to ripen properly. This was a very important crop to the Near Eastern people. David even appointed a special supervisor (cf. I Chr. 27:28) to oversee these crops. Amos' agricultural background is the source of several of his prophecies.

a. 1:2

(1) wild animals, 3:3-8; 5:19

(2) poor pasture land

(3) drought

b. 2:13, weighted wagon

c. 4:6-9

(1) lack of bread, v. 6

(2) no rain for crops, v. 7

(3) no water to drink, v. 8

(4) dry wind, v. 9

(5) mildew, v. 9

(6) insects, v. 9

d. 5:16-17

(1) mourning farmers, v. 16

(2) failing vineyards, v. 17

e. 7:1-6

(1) locusts, vv. 1-2

(2) fire, v. 4

f. 8:1-2, summer fruit

g. 9:13-15, days of agricultural prosperity, which denoted YHWH's presence and blessing (cf. Deut. 27-29).

5. Jewish tradition says he was a well-to-do businessman. This is quite different from the common view today that he was a poor country peasant. Because of the excellency of his poetry and literary expertise the Jewish tradition is probably correct. From II Sam. 14:2ff we know that Tekoa was apparently known for its wise citizens. He was the first prophet to have his messages recorded in a separate book. Notice the first person, singular pronouns in 5:1; 7:1-9; 8:1, and 9:1.

6. He preached to the northern kingdom of Israel. We know for certain that Bethel (i.e., golden calf) was a preaching site, but probably there were many other preaching locations.

 

C. The problem of authorship is problematic because:

1. The book implies he was a poor farm worker.

2. The style and poetry are excellent, implying a well educated person.

3. His sermons are said to have been given orally, but they are very structured and balanced, which implies written literature.

4. Many scholars assume Amos had editorial or scribal help. One possible evidence of a scribe is that 7:10-17 are in the third person, while 7:1-9; 8:1-2; 9:1 are in the first person (cf. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 271).

5. As with much of the OT, we moderns do not know how these biblical books were structured or formed. However, the ultimate author is the Spirit of God. It is their content that is crucial. They are a word from God to every age and culture, especially ones of prosperity and power!

 

V. DATE

 

A. It is relatively easy to date this prophecy about 750 b.c., plus or minus ten years.

 

B. The first verse of Amos is the longest and most precise dating attempt of any OT book.

1. Uzziah reigned from about 783-742 b.c. (Bright)

2. Jeroboam II reigned from about 786-746 b.c. (Bright)

3. The earthquake is also an attempt to date the book (cf. 1:1; 8:8; 9:1,5; Zech. 14:5). Josephus related it to II Chr. 26:16-21 when Uzziah offered a sacrifice. Archaeological studies at Hazor suggest about 760 b.c. (Yadin, 1964).

 

C. In 5:8 and 8:9 an eclipse is mentioned. This may be the same one mentioned in Assyrian documents as occurring on June 15, 763 b.c. (Assyrian records), however, there was another complete eclipse on February 9, 784 b.c.

 

D. Amos' encounter with Amaziah, the ruling priest at Bethel under the authority of Jeroboam II, also dates this book (cf. 7:10-17).

 

VI. HISTORICAL SETTING

 

A. The parallel biblical material is found in

1. II Kgs. 14:3-17:6

2. II Chr. 25-28

3. Hosea

4. Isaiah

5. Micah

 

B. The simplest summary of the state of idolatry among God's people can be seen in Hosea.

1. 2:16, "will no longer call me Baali"

2. 4:12-13, ". . .daughters play the harlot. . ."

3. 4:17, "Ephraim is joined to idols; Let him alone"

4. 13:2, "men kiss calves!" (ritual)

 

C. Social setting

1. It was a time of economic prosperity and military expansion for both Israel and Judah. However, this prosperity was beneficial only to the wealthy class. The poor and middle classes were exploited and abused. It almost seems that "the buck and the gun" became additional idols!

2. The social stability and property of both Israel and Judah are related to several causes:

a. the long and prosperous reigns of Jeroboam II (786-746 b.c.) in the north and Uzziah (783-742 b.c.) in the south

b. the temporary decline of Egypt and Mesopotamia

c. Assyrians' defeat of Syria by Adad-Nirari III in 805 b.c.

d. the lack of conflict between Israel and Judah

e. the taxation and exploitation of the trade routes from north to south through the land bridge of Palestine caused rapid economic growth, even extravagance for the wealthy class

3. The "Ostraca of Samaria," which are dated during the reign of Jeroboam II seem to indicate an administrative organization much like Solomon's. This seems to confirm the widening gap between the haves and have nots.

4. The dishonesty of the wealthy is clearly depicted in Amos, who is called "the prophet of social justice." The bribery of the judiciary and the falsification of commercial weights are two clear examples of the abuse that was common, apparently in both Israel and Judah.

 

D. Religious setting

1. It was a time of much outward religious activity, but very little true faith. The fertility cults of Canaan had been amalgamated into Israel's religion. The people were idolaters, but they called it YHWHism. The trend of God's people toward political alliances had involved them in pagan worship and practices.

2. The idolatry of Israel is spelled out in II Kgs. 17:7-18.

a. v. 8, they followed the worship practices of the Canaanites

(1) fertility worship

(a) high places, vv. 9,10.11

(b) sacred pillars (Ba'al), vv. 10,16

(c) Asherim, v. 16, these were wooden symbols of the female consort of Ba'al. They were either curved stakes or live trees.

(2) divination, v. 17, this is discussed in detail in Lev. 19-20 and Deut. 18.

b. v. 16, they continued the worship of the two golden calves, symbolizing YHWH, set up at Dan and Bethel by Jeroboam I (I Kgs. 12:28-29).

c. v. 16, they worshiped the astral deities of Babylon: sun, moon, stars, and constellations.

d. v. 18, they worshiped the Phoenician fertility fire god, Molech (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5).

3. Ba'alism (cf. W. F. Albright's Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, p. 82ff).

a. Our best source is "Ba'al Epic of Ugarit."

(1) Depicts Ba'al as a seasonal dying and rising god. He was defeated by Mot and confined to the underworld. All life on earth ceased. But, helped by the female goddess, he rises and defeats Mot each spring. He is a fertility deity who was worshiped by imitation magic.

(2) He was also known as Hadad.

b. El is the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon, but Ba'al's popularity usurped his place.

c. Israel was most influenced by Tyrian Ba'alism through Jezebel, who was the daughter of the King of Tyre. She was chosen by Omri for his son Ahab.

d. In Israel Ba'al was worshiped at local high places. He was symbolized by an uplifted stone. His consort is Asherah, symbolized by a carved stake symbolizing the tree of life.

4. Several sources and types of idolatry are mentioned:

a. the golden calves at Bethel and Dan set up by Jeroboam I to worship YHWH

b. the worship of the Tyrian fertility god and goddess at local high places

c. the necessary idolatry involved in political alliances of that day

 

E. Political setting in the North

1. Jeroboam II was the last strong king in Israel. He was fourth in the line of Jehu and the last one predicted to reign (cf. II Kgs. 10:30). He had a long and politically successful reign (786-746 b.c.).

2. After the death of Jeroboam II there were six kings within a twenty-five year period.

a. Zechariah (II Kgs. 15:8-12). He was assassinated after only six months.

b. Shallum (II Kgs. 15:13-15). He was assassinated after only one month.

c. Menahem (II Kgs. 15:16-22). He reigned ten years, but paid heavy tribute to Iglath-Pileser III.

d. Pekahian (II Kgs. 15:23-26). He reigned two years and was assassinated.

e. Pekah (II Kgs. 15:27-31). He reigned five years and was assassinated. He lost several cities to Assyria.

f. Hoshea (II Kgs. 15:3; 17:1-6). He reigned nine years and was exiled by Assyria in 722, when Samaria fell.

3. Brief summary of the invasions of Assyria and Babylon during the eighth century which affected Palestine.

a. The four eighth century prophets were active during the rise of the Tigris-Euphrates empire of Assyria. God would use this cruel nation to judge His people, particularly Israel. The specific incident was the formation of a trans-jordan political and military alliance known as the "Syro-Ephramatic League" (735 b.c.). Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to join them against Assyria. Instead Ahaz, king of Judah, sent a letter to Assyria asking for help. The first powerful empire-minded Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 b.c.), responded to the military challenge and invaded Syria. Later, Assyria's puppet king, Hoshea (732-722 b.c.), in Israel, also rebelled, appealing to Egypt. Shalmaneser V (727-722 b.c.) invaded Israel again. He died before Israel was subdued, but his successor, Sargon II (722-705 b.c.), captured Israel's capital of Samaria in 722 b.c. Assyria deported over 27,000 Israelites on this occasion as Tiglath-pileser had exiled thousands earlier in 732 b.c.

b. After Ahaz's death (735-715 b.c.) another military coalition was formed by the trans-jordan countries and Egypt against Assyria (714-711 b.c.). It is known as the "Ashdod Rebellion." Many Judean cities were destroyed when Assyria invaded again. Initially Hezekiah supported this coalition, but later withdrew his support.

c, However, again, another coalition tried to take advantage of the death of Assyria's powerful king, Sargon II, in 705 b.c., along with the many other rebellions which occurred throughout the Assyrian Empire. Hezekiah fully participated in this rebellion. In light of this challenge Sennacherib (705-681 b.c.) invaded (701 b.c.) Palestine and camped near the city of Jerusalem (II Kgs. 18-19; Isa. 36-39), but his army was miraculously destroyed by God. There is some question among scholars as to how many times Sennacherib invaded Palestine (e.g., John Bright has one invasion in 701 b.c. and another possible one in 688 b.c., cf. p. 270). Hezekiah was spared an Assyrian takeover, but because of his prideful exhibition of the treasures of Judah to the Babylonian delegation, Isaiah predicted Judah's fall to Babylon (39:1-8). Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 587-586 b.c.

d. Isaiah also predicted the restoration of God's people under Cyrus II, the Medo-Persian ruler (41:2-4; 44:28; 45:1; 56:11). Nineveh fell in 612 b.c. to Babylon, but the city of Babylon fell in 539 b.c. to Cyrus' army. In 538 b.c. Cyrus issued a decree that all exiled people, including the Jews, could return home. He even provided funds from his treasury for the rebuilding of the national temples.

 

VII. LITERARY UNITS 

 

A. Charges against the nations, 1:1-2:3 (possibly through 2:16)

1. Syria (Damascus), 1:3-5

2. Philistia (Gaza), 1:6-8

3. Phoenicia (Tyre), 1:9-10

4. Edom, 1:11-12

5. Ammon, 1:13-15

6. Moab, 2:1-3

 

B. Special charges against God's people, 2:4-6:14

1. Judah, 2:4-5

2. Israel, 2:6-6:14 (context of judgment on Israel through 6:14)

 

C. Visions of judgment, 7:1-9:10

1. Locusts, 7:1-3 3. Plumb line, 7:7-17

2. Fire, 7:4-6 4. Summer fruit, 8:1-14

3. Destruction of a sanctuary, 9:1-10

 

D. The Messianic hope, 9:11-15

Some scholars have suggested that this is not a "chronological structure," but a logical, literary structure (i.e., judgment - restoration). Amos preached over a short period of time. The contents are his, but the structure may be an editor preserving what was recorded of Amos' prophecies.

 

VIII. MAIN TRUTHS

 

A. Amos relates God's wrath to Israel's (and her neighbor's) violation of the Mosaic covenant. We need to realize the relationship between OT corporate responsibility and individual faith. We have a societal sin problem as Israel did, however, in our minds, two standards often exist.

1. our individual private lives and faith

2. our corporate social, public lives 

Israel must have rejoiced as Amos proclaimed YHWH's judgment on her surrounding neighbors (and traditional enemies). Their nations were a part of the kingdoms of David and Solomon and must have known something of the Mosaic covenant and the God of Israel.

The Israelites must have rejoiced indeed as Amos brought up God's judgment on her rival Judah! But, the emotional affirmations quickly stopped when Amos, in a climactic fashion, turned to the sins of these northern tribes! 

B. God's sovereignty over all the earth is the background for YHWH's dealing in judgment with the nations outside the Covenant of Israel. This is the basis of Israel's understanding of monotheism (cf. Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 2, p. 889).

There are several texts that relate to YHWH's creation and control of nature (cf. 4:13; 5:8-9; 8:8; 9:5-6). These form doxologies of praise! This book sees nature as a revelation of God (i.e., the earthquake, the eclipse, and the allusion to Deut. 27-29). 

C. Amos 2:9-12, God's judgment against Israel, must be seen in the light of His gracious acts in history. God's election and covenant with Israel sets the stage for His severe judgment. It must be remembered that "to whom much is given, much is required" (cf. Luke 12:48).

 

D. Chapter 5 links faith and life inseparably! Amos denounces the wealthy's exploitation of the poor.

 

E. Israel was falsely trusting in:

1. her religion, 4:4-5; 5:21-23

2. her economic prosperity, 6:1ff

3. her military power, 2:14-16; 6:1b, 13

 

F. Even amidst Israel's faithlessness there is hope in God's covenant, God's Messiah, 9:8b-15.

 

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Bible Study Methods