Bible Overview is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Bible study. Each month we feature a book of the Bible (in order) by Bible scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chaignot.
This month has two entries, Joel and Amos, whose writings are found among the Minor Prophets. The books are quite different. One author is virtually anonymous, while the other is well known. One writes in a historical vacuum; the other is well rooted in history. Joel announces the Day of Yahweh and offers a unique interpretation of Yahweh acting through natural disasters. Amos focuses on social issues and has been instrumental in shaping modern notions of human rights. Though each preached a message specific to the circumstances of his times, these spokesmen for God bring messages of hope and restoration that resonate with relevance to today’s world. If you want to read some of the history previous to this selection, you can find the earlier books in our archives.
The Bible Time-Line is another quick reference for locating individuals or specific books. We encourage readers to share their Bible Study success stories on this site. Email us at email@example.com to be included on next month's site.
Bible scholars have many different views on the same subject and it is sometimes difficult to gather a consensus on any given topic. We've used a compilation of sources, cited at the end of each section, so that you have access to different sides of the research. Enjoy using these resources and others as you discover new views about the prophet Amos, shared by Mary Jane Chaignot.
Most of what we know about Amos comes from the book that bears his name. He is credited with being one of the first “classical” or writing prophets, yet he does not identify himself as a prophet. He claims to be “one found among the shepherds.” It suggests that he might have been a humble herdsman or a common laborer. But scholars are quick to point out that his oracles and poetry are quite profound, indicating he must have been a man of some standing and, at the very least, well informed on the subjects of kings and nations. He is thought to have preached to both the northern and southern kingdoms.
Scholars are quite confident they can locate Amos in history. They agree that he began preaching 770-760BCE. He was the first to do so. True, there had been other “prophets” – Elijah, Elisha, and the like. But they were non-writing prophets, who earned their daily bread by prophesying and who were members of a professional guild. Amos had no guilds or bands. He was alone, happy with his sheep – until the day God called to him and commissioned him to proclaim God’s judgment against the evil nations. Unlike other prophets who spoke “in the Spirit of the Lord,” Amos was given the words to speak. And when the words came to him, he was compelled to speak them. In addition to being the first writing prophet, Amos was the first to speak to an expanded audience. Previously, prophets spoke to individuals (mostly rulers), but Amos addressed the nation. His speeches were mostly judgment oracles against Israel, filled with specific details of their sins. To Amos fell the task of announcing the end of Israel’s life. God’s patience had run out. The time for repentance had passed; God would wipe them out. (Indeed, Assyria conquered and annihilated Israel in 722BCE.) This is a message we’ve heard before among the Major Prophets, but Amos predated them all. One can only imagine how foreign those words must have sounded to Israelite ears that were enjoying a good life.
Historically, Amos began preaching during the latter years of King Jeroboam’s reign (793-753BCE). It was a time of unparalleled prosperity. The Assyrians had just crushed the Syrians, who had previously subjugated Israel to them. Egypt and Babylon were too weak to be of concern to anyone. While the international powers were sorting things out, the kings of Judah and Israel were able to restore their borders to a level commensurate with what had been achieved during the time of David and Solomon – known as the “Golden Age.” Both Jeroboam in the north and Uzziah in Judah enjoyed long reigns, which provided peace and stability and years of growth.
But not all people benefited equally from these prosperous times. Gradually the gap between the rich and poor grew larger. The rich soon distanced themselves from their less fortunate neighbors, ignoring their needs and spending most of their time trying to increase their own wealth. Amos was told this was a breach of their covenantal agreement with Yahweh. Not only had they turned to idol worship over the years and followed pagan customs, but they had also rejected God’s calling in caring for each other. That was evidenced in the injustices being heaped upon the poor, the corruption of the courts, and unthinking, mechanical worship. Needless to say, Amos’ message was rather unpopular, but that in no way deterred him from speaking the words he was told to say.
His oracles follow a covenant-lawsuit model, comparable to those found in the annals of Hittite kings (ca. 1325BCE). Amos was called to “bring a lawsuit” against Israel for breaking the covenant. Comprised of four parts, these lawsuits introduced the plaintiff and judge, as well as the defendant, presented the indictment, and rendered the judgment. As the messenger, he commonly used the prophetic formula, “Thus says the Lord,” as though he and God were one. Yet God wanted a relationship with all of his people, so he pleaded with them through his prophet. Hence, Amos’ oracles are carefully reasoned arguments. He has been described as an artist, who painted pictures with words.
His book has three main divisions: chapters 1-2 are comprised of an introduction and a long poem against Israel and her neighboring nations; chapters 3-6 consist mainly of covenant lawsuits with a few additional oracles of judgment; chapters 7-9 describe a series of visions with their interpretation and a story about Amos’ meeting with the high priest, Amaziah, at Bethel.