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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Amos

- Amos

by Thomas Constable

TITLE AND WRITER

The title of the book comes from its writer. The prophet’s name means "burden-bearer" or "load-carrier."

Places Mentioned in Amos

Amos was a sheepherder (Heb. noqed; cf. 2Ki_3:4) or sheep breeder, and he described himself as a herdsman (Heb. boqer; Amo_7:14). He was more than a shepherd (Heb. ro’ah). He evidently owned or managed large herds of sheep and or goats and was probably in charge of shepherds. Amos also described himself as a grower of sycamore figs (Amo_7:14). Sycamore fig trees are not true fig trees but a variety of the mulberry family, which produces fig-like fruit. Each fruit had to be scratched or pierced to let the juice flow out so the "fig" could ripen. These trees grew in the tropical Jordan Valley and around the Dead Sea to a height of 25 to 50 feet and bore fruit three or four times a year. They did not grow as well in the higher elevations such as Tekoa, Amos’ hometown, so the prophet appears to have farmed at a distance from his home as well as ranching. Tekoa stood 10 miles south of Jerusalem in Judah. Thus Amos seems to have been a prosperous and influential Judahite, but there is no indication that he was a priest or had any connection with the royal family or the ruling classes in his land. Amos’ natural surroundings had a profound effect on him and his writing (cf. Amo_1:2; Amo_2:9; Amo_3:4-5; Amo_5:19-20; Amo_5:24; Amo_6:12; Amo_7:1-6; Amo_8:1; Amo_9:3-15).

DATE

Amos ministered during the reigns of King Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 B.C.) and King Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah (792-740 B.C.), specifically two years before "the earthquake" (Amo_1:1). Zechariah also referred to a notable earthquake during the reign of Uzziah (Zec_14:5). Josephus wrote that an earthquake occurred when Uzziah entered the temple and was struck with leprosy (2Ch_26:16-20). [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 9:10:4.] However this may be simply Jewish tradition. Archaeological excavations at Hazor and Samaria point to evidence of a violent earthquake in Israel about 760 B.C. [Note: Y. Yadin, et al., Hazor II: An Account of the Second Season of Excavations, 1956, pp. 24, 26, 36-37; and Philip J. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah-An Archaeological Commentary, p. 21.] So perhaps Amos ministered about 760 B.C. This date may account for the omission of the name of King Jotham who ruled as coregent with Uzziah from 750-740 B.C. Thus Amos was a contemporary of the other eighth-century prophets: Jonah, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah.

"A flurry of prophetic activity was divinely inaugurated in the eighth century B.C., mainly to warn the northern kingdom of an impending destruction if she did not repent and reverse her way of life." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 192.]

PLACE OF COMPOSITION

Since Amos lived in the Judean town of Tekoa, he was a prophet from the Southern Kingdom.

AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE

Amos prophesied against the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Amo_1:1). Yahweh raised him up to announce judgment on Israel because of her covenant unfaithfulness and rebellion against His authority. Amos announced the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, but he also predicted that the Lord would preserve a remnant that was repentant. He would restore this remnant to political prominence and covenant blessing and, through them, draw all nations to Himself. Amos announced a warning to the residents of the Northern Kingdom, but he also held out hope.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

These were times of political stability, material prosperity, and geographical expansion for both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms (cf. Amo_1:6; Amo_6:2; Amo_6:13; 2Ki_14:23-29; 2Ch_26:1-15). Jeroboam II and Uzziah were two of the most competent and effective kings that their respective kingdoms enjoyed. They brought their nations to heights of success second only to those in Solomon’s golden age. Archaeologists have found hundreds of ivory inlays in the excavations of Samaria proving the Northern Kingdom’s prosperity. [Note: See the Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4:1044-46; and D. W. Thomas, ed., Archaeology and Old Testament Study, pp. 69-70.] The Northern Kingdom was at the height of its power during Jeroboam II’s reign. Aramea had not recovered from its defeat by Adad-Nirari III of Assyria in 802 B.C., and Assyria had not yet developed into the superpower that it became under Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.).

"Commerce thrived (Amo_8:5), an upper class emerged (Amo_4:1-3), and expensive homes were built (Amo_3:15; Amo_5:11; Amo_6:4; Amo_6:11). The rich enjoyed an indolent, indulgent lifestyle (Amo_6:1-6), while the poor became targets for legal and economic exploitation (Amo_2:6-7; Amo_5:7; Amo_5:10-13; Amo_6:12; Amo_8:4-6). Slavery for debt was easily accepted (Amo_2:6; Amo_8:6). Standards of morality had sunk to a low ebb (Amo_2:7)." [Note: Donald R. Sunukjian, "Amos," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1425.]

"In other words the prosperity of Israel was merely a thin veneer over a mass of poverty and misery." [Note: H. L. Ellison, The Prophets of Israel, p. 64.]

Religion flourished too. The Hebrews participated in the yearly festivals (Amo_4:4; Amo_5:5; Amo_8:3; Amo_8:10) and offered their sacrifices enthusiastically (Amo_4:5; Amo_5:21-23). They believed God was with them and considered themselves immune to disaster (Amo_5:14; Amo_5:18-20; Amo_6:1-3; Amo_9:10). Yet they worshipped the native Canaanite deities along with Yahweh.

"If the Prophet Amos were to come to our world today, he would probably feel very much at home; for he lived at a time such as ours when society was changing radically." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Amos," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 344.]

UNITY

Almost all scholars agree that the Book of Amos was originally a single book that the prophet Amos wrote. Comparison with the writings of the other eighth-century prophets and the consistently vivid and forthright style of Amos make this conclusion virtually inescapable. [Note: For further discussion, see the commentaries, especially T. E. McComiskey, "Amos," in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 270-74.]

THEOLOGY

Amos’ descriptions of God remind the reader of the descriptions of Him in the first few chapters of Genesis. Amos stressed the sovereignty of Yahweh over history. He controls the movements of peoples (Amo_9:7) and the order of nature (Amo_4:13; Amo_5:8). The prophet also affirmed the ability of people to submit to or reject the Lord’s authority. He reminded his hearers of Yahweh’s election of Israel (Amo_3:2) but repudiated the popular idea of his day that God would not punish His people.

"Amos, more than any other prophet, urged the responsibility of elective privilege." [Note: Ibid., p. 276.]

"Whereas Hosea was crushed with a sense of the unfaithfulness of Israel to the love of God, Amos was outraged at the violence they had done to the justice and righteousness of God. The note he strikes in his prophecy is the counterpart and corollary to the message uttered by [his contemporary,] Hosea." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 932.]

Like many of the other prophets, Amos spoke of the day of the Lord. He saw it as a time when God would judge sin, even in His own people (Amo_5:18-20). Another day would come, however, when David’s kingdom would be restored and would include both Jews and Gentiles (Amo_9:13-15). [Note: For further discussion of Amos’ theological emphases, see Billy K. Smith, "Amos," in Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, pp. 31-33.]

Amos’ emphases on man and sin emphasize idolatry and social injustice, frequent themes in the other writing prophets, but especially prominent in this book.

STRUCTURE AND STYLE

Scholars have observed that Amos wrote in the covenant-lawsuit structure and style that was common in the ancient Near East in his day (the rib oracle). [Note: E.g., Jeffrey Niehaus, "Amos," in The Minor Prophets, pp. 317-26. See R. Campbell Thompson and Richard W. Hutchinson, "The Excavations on the Temple of Nabu at Nineveh," Archaeologia 79 (1929):103-48; R. Campbell Thompson and Max E. L. Mallowan, "The British Museum Excavations at Nineveh, 1931-32," University of Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 20 (1933):71-127; and Wilfred G. Lambert, "Three Unpublished Fragments of the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic," Archiv für Orientforschung 18 (1957-58):38-51.] His words are covenant-lawsuit addresses. [Note: See Herbert B. Huffmon, "The Covenant Lawsuit in the Prophets," Journal of Biblical Literature 78 (1959):285-95.] The great king is introduced in the third person and then begins to speak in the first person (Amo_1:2-3). Amos’ phraseology illustrates the covenant background against which it was written, namely, the Mosaic Covenant. [Note: See a chart of the phrases that appear both in Amos and in the Pentateuch in Niehaus, p. 322.] One writer called the genre of the entire book a covenant enforcement document. [Note: Stephen J. Bramer, "The Literary Genre of the Book of Amos," Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (January-March 1999):43-49.] Other stylistic features that Amos employed prominently include repetition (e.g., Amo_1:3-5), summary quotation (e.g., Amo_4:1; Amo_6:13; Amo_8:5-6; Amo_9:10), and irony (e.g., Amo_4:1).

"Amos makes use of a wide range of literary devices in presenting his oracles: metaphors, simile, epithets, proverbs, short narratives, sarcasm, direct vituperation, vision, taunt, dialogue, irony, satire, parody-’a virtual anthology of prophetic forms’ (Ryken 1993, 342)." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 430. Their quotation is from Leland Ryken, "Amos," in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible.]

OUTLINE

I.    Prologue Amo_1:1-2

II.    Prophetic messages that Amos delivered Amo_1:3 to Amo_6:14

B.    Messages of judgment against Israel chs. 3-6

1.    The first message on sins against God and man ch. 3

2.    The second message on women, worship, and willfulness ch. 4

5.    The fifth message on complacency and pride ch. 6

III.    Visions that Amos saw chs. 7-9

C.    Two more visions of impending judgment chs. 8-9

1.    The basket of summer fruit ch. 8

2.    The Lord standing by the altar ch. 9

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