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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Amos

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AMOS

1. The man . Amos, the earliest of the prophets whose writings have come down to us, and the initiator of one of the greatest movements in spiritual history, was a herdsman, or small sheep-farmer, in Tekoa, a small town lying on the uplands some six miles south of Bethlehem. He combined two occupations. The sheep he reared produced a particularly fine kind of wool, the sale of which doubtless took him from one market to another. But he was also a ‘pincher of sycomores.’ The fruit of this tree was hastened in its ripening process by being bruised or pinched: and as the sycomore does not grow at so great a height as Tekoa, this subsidiary occupation would bring Amos into touch with other political and religious circles. The simple life of the uplands, the isolation from the dissipation of a wealthier civilization, the aloofness from all priestly or prophetic guilds, had doubtless much to do with the directness of his vision and speech, and with the spiritual independence which found in him so noble an utterance. While he was thus a native of the kingdom of Judah, his prophetic activity awoke in the kingdom of Israel. Of this awakening he gives a most vivid picture in the account of his interview with Amaziah, the priest of Bethel ( Amos 7:10-17 ). He had gone to Bethel to some great religious feast, which was also a business market. The direct call from God to testify against the unrighteousness of both kingdoms had probably come to him not long before; and amidst the throng at Bethel he proclaimed his vision of Jehovah standing with a plumb-line to measure the deflection of Israel, and prepared to punish the iniquity of the house of Jeroboam II. The northern kingdom had no pleasant memories of another prophet who had declared the judgment of God upon sin ( 2 Kings 9:25 ff.); and Amaziah, the priest, thinking that Amos was one of a prophetic and official guild, contemptuously bade him begone to Judah, where he could prophesy for hire, ( Amos 7:12 ). The answer came flashing back. Amos disclaimed all connexion with the hireling prophets whose ‘word’ was dictated by the immediate political and personal interest. He was something better and more honest no prophet, neither a prophet’s son, but a herdsman and a dresser of sycomores, called by God to prophesy to Israel. Herein lies much of his distinctiveness. The earlier prophetic impulse which had been embodied in the prophetic guilds had become professional and insincere. Amos brought prophecy back again into the line of direct inspiration.

2. The time in which he lived . Amos 1:1 may not be part of the original prophecy, but there is no reason to doubt its essential accuracy. Amos was prophesying in those years in which Uzziah and Jeroboam II. were reigning contemporaneously, b.c. 775 750. This date is of great importance, because few prophetic writings are so interpenetrated by the historical situation as those of Amos. For nearly 100 years prior to his time Israel had suffered severely from the attacks of Syria. She had lost the whole of her territory east of Jordan ( 2 Kings 10:32 f.); she had been made like ‘dust in threshing’ ( 2 Kings 13:7 ). But now Syria had more than enough to do to defend herself from the southward pressure of Assyria; and the result was that Israel once more began to be prosperous and to regain her lost territories. Under Jeroboam II. this prosperity reached its climax. The people revelled in it, giving no thought to any further danger. Even Assyria was not feared, because she was busy with the settlement of internal affairs, rebellion and pestilence. Amos, however, knew that the relaxation of pressure could be but temporary. He saw that the Assyrian would eventually push past Damascus down into Palestine, and bring in the day of account; and although he nowhere names Assyria as the agent of God’s anger, the references are unmistakable ( Amos 5:27 , Amos 6:7; Amos 6:14 , Amos 7:17 ).

It is this careless prosperity with its accompanying unrighteousness and forgetfulness of God that is never out of the prophet’s thoughts. The book is short, but the picture of a time of moral anarchy is complete. The outward religious observances are kept up, and the temples are thronged with worshippers (Amos 5:5 , Amos 9:1 ); tithes and voluntary offerings are duly paid ( Amos 4:4-5 , Amos 5:22 ). But religion has divorced itself from morality, the stated worship of God from reverence for the character of God ( Amos 2:8 ). The rich have their winter houses and their summer houses ( Amos 3:15 ), houses built of hewn stone ( Amos 5:11 ), and panelled with ivory ( Amos 3:15 ). They drink wine by the bowlful ( Amos 6:6 ), and the fines unjustly extorted from the defenceless are spent in the purchase of wine for the so-called religious feast ( Amos 2:8 ). Lazy, pampered women, ‘kine of Bashan,’ are foremost in this unholy oppression ( Amos 4:1 ). There is no such thing as justice; the very semblance of it is the oppression of the weak by the strong. The righteous are sold for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes ( Amos 2:6 ); the houses of the great are stored with the spoils of robbery ( Amos 3:10 ); bribery and corruption, the besetting sins of the East, are rampant ( Amos 5:12 ). Commerce shares in the prevailing evil; weights are falsified and food is adulterated ( Amos 8:5-6 ). Immorality is open and shameless ( Amos 2:7 ). Small wonder that the prophet declares as the word of the Lord, ‘I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies’ ( Amos 5:21 ). While the observances of religion are maintained, the soul of religion has fled. Those who are responsible for the evil condition of things ‘are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph’ ( Amos 6:6 ).

3. Contents of the book . The book is framed upon a definite plan, which is clearer in the opening section than in those which follow.

(i) Amos 1:2 to Amos 2:16 treats of the judgment upon the nations for their sins. Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel are all passed under review. The assumption is that each people is subject to the dominion of Jehovah. Punishment will be visited upon each for the violation of some broad and universally recognized principle of humanity.

(ii) Chs. 3, 4, 5, three threatening discourses, each introduced by ‘Hear ye this word.’

(iii) 7 9:10, a series of five visions, interrupted in Amos 7:10-17 by the account of Amaziah’s attempt to intimidate Amos. The visions are ( a ) the devouring locusts ( Amos 7:1-3 ); ( b ) the consuming fire ( Amos 7:4-6 ); ( c ) the plumb-line ( Amos 7:7-9 ); ( d ) the basket of summer fruit ( Amos 8:1-3 ); ( e ) the smitten sanctuary, and destruction of the worshippers ( Amos 9:1-10 ).

Amos 9:11-15 is in striking contrast to the tone of the rest of the book. Instead of threatenings there are now promises. The line of David will be restored to its former splendour; the waste cities shall be built up; the settled agricultural life shall be resumed. This Epilogue is generally acknowledged to be a late addition to the prophecy. It contains no moral feature, no repentance, no new righteousness. It tells only of a people satisfied with vineyards and gardens. ‘These are legitimate hopes; but they are hopes of a generation of other conditions and of other deserts than the generation of Amos’ (G. A. Smith, Twelve Prophets , i. 195).

4. Theology of Amos . In his religions outlook Amos had many successors, but he had no forerunner. His originality is complete.

(i) His view of Jehovah . Hitherto Jehovah had been thought of as a Deity whose power over His own people was absolute, but who ceased to have influence when removed from certain geographical surroundings ( 1 Kings 20:23 ). The existence of other gods had not been questioned even by the most pious of the Israelites; they denied only that these other gods had any claim over the life of the people of Jehovah. But Amos will not hear of the existence of other gods. Jehovah is the God of the whole earth. His supreme claim is righteousness, and where that is not conceded He will punish. He rules over Syria and Caphtor, Moab and Ammon, just as truly as over Israel or Judah (1, 2, Amos 6:14 , Amos 9:7 ). Nature too is under His rule. Every natural calamity and scourge are traced to the direct exercise of His will. Amos therefore lays down a great philosophy of history. God is all-righteous. All events and all peoples are in His hands. Political and natural catastrophes have religious significance ( Amos 6:14 ).

(ii) The relationship of Jehovah to Israel . Amos, in common with his countrymen, considered the relation of Jehovah to Israel to be a special one. But while they had regarded it as an indissoluble relationship of privilege, a bond that could not be broken provided the stated sacrifices were maintained, Amos declared not only that it could be broken, but that the very existence of such a bond would lay Israel under heavier moral responsibilities than if she had been one of the Gentile nations ( Amos 3:2 ). As her opportunities had been greater, so too would her punishment for wasting them be proportionately severe. Jehovah’s first demands were morality and justice and kindliness, and any sacrificial system that removed the emphasis from these things and placed it on the observance of ritual was an abomination ( Amos 5:21-25 ).

(iii) The inevitable judgment . It is his certainty of the moral character of God that makes Amos so sure of the coming catastrophe. For the first time in Hebrew literature he uses the expression ‘the day of the Lord’ a phrase that may already have been current in a more genial and privileged sense to indicate the day that will utterly destroy the nations ( Amos 2:14-16 , Amos 3:12-15 , Amos 4:2-3; Amos 4:13 ). With this broad view of history, a view from which the idea of special privilege is excluded, he sees in the northern power the instrument of Jehovah’s anger ( Amos 5:27 , Amos 6:14 ); a power that even in its self-aggrandisement is working out Jehovah’s purpose.

5. Style . It was the custom for many a century to accept the verdict of Jerome, that the prophet was rustic and unskilled in speech. That, however, is anything but the case. The arrangement of the book is clear; the Hebrew is pure; and the knowledge of the outside world is remarkable. The survey of the nations with which the prophecy opens is full of precise detail. Amos knows, too, that the Aramæans migrated from Kir, and the Philistines from Caphtor ( Amos 9:7 ); he has heard of the swellings of the Nile ( Amos 8:8 , Amos 9:5 ), and regards the fact with a curious dread. He has been a close observer of the social conditions in Israel. Much of his imagery is drawn from nature: earthquakes and the eclipse of the sun, the cedars and the oaks, the roaring of the lion, the snaring of birds, the bite of the viper; once only does he draw a comparison from shepherd life ( Amos 3:12 ).

6. Religious significance . Amos’ true significance in religious history is that with him prophecy breaks away on its true line, individual, direct, responsible to none save God. The word of the Lord had come to Amos and he could not but speak ( Amos 3:8 ). Such a cause produced an inevitable effect. In that direct vision of Jehovah, Amos learned the truths which he was the first to proclaim to the world: that Jehovah was the God of the whole earth; that the nations were in His keeping; that justice and righteousness were His great demands; that privilege, if it meant opportunity, meant likewise responsibility and liability to the doom of those who have seen and have not believed.

R. Bruce Taylor.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Amos'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/a/amos.html. 1909.

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