Who was Amos?
Amos is the prophet whose book stands third among the "Twelve" in the Hebrew canon. No other person bearing the same name is mentioned in the Old Testament, the name of the father of the prophet Isaiah being written differently (ס , 'amots ). There is an Amos mentioned in the genealogical series Luke 3:25 , but he is otherwise unknown, and we do not know how his name would have been written in Hebrew. Of the signification of the prophet's name all that can be said is that a verb with the same root letters, in the sense of to load or to carry a load, is not uncommon in the language.
2. Native Place
Tekoa, the native place of Amos, was situated at a distance of 5 miles South from Bethlehem, from which it is visible, and 10 miles from Jerusalem, on a hill 2,700 ft. high, overlooking the wilderness of Judah. It was made a "city for defense" by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:6 ), and may have in fact received its name from its remote and exposed position, for the stem of which the word is a derivative is of frequent occurrence in the sense of sounding an alarm with the trumpet: e.g. "Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem" (Jeremiah 6:1 the King James Version). The same word is also used to signify the setting up of a tent by striking in the tent-pegs; and Jerome states that there was no village beyond Tekoa in his time.
The name has survived, and the neighborhood is at the present day the pasture-ground for large flocks of sheep and goats. From the high ground on which the modern village stands one looks down on the bare undulating hills of one of the bleakest districts of Palestine, "the waste howling wilderness," which must have suggested some of the startling imagery of the prophet's addresses. The place may have had - as is not seldom the case with towns or villages - a reputation for a special quality of its inhabitants; for it was from Tekoa that Joab fetched the "wise woman" who by a feigned story effected the reconciliation of David with his banished son Absalom (2 Sam 14). There are traces in the Book of Am of a shrewdness and mother-wit which are not so conspicuous in other prophetical books.
3. Personal History
The particulars of a personal kind which are noted in the book are few but suggestive. Amos was not a prophet or the son of a prophet, he tells us (Amos 7:14 ), i.e. he did not belong to the professional class which frequented the so-called schools of the prophets. He was "among the herdsmen of Tekoa" (Amos 1:1 ), the word here used being found only once in another place (2 Kings 3:4 ) and applied to Mesha, king of Moab. It seems to refer to a special breed of sheep, somewhat ungainly in appearance but producing, an abundant fleece.
In Amos 7:14 the word rendered "herdman" is different, and denotes an owner of cattle, though some, from the Septuagint rendering, think that the word should be the same as in Amos 1:1 . He was also "a dresser of sycomore-trees" (Amos 7:14 ). The word rendered "dresser" (Revised Version) or "gatherer" (the King James Version) occurs only here, and from the rendering of the Septuagint (κνίζων ) it is conjectured that there is reference to a squeezing or nipping of the sycamore fig to make it more palatable or to accelerate its ripening, though such a usage is not known in Palestine at the present day.
4. His Preparation
Nothing is said as to any special preparation of the prophet for his work: The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel" (Amos 7:15 , the English Revised Version). In these words he puts himself in line with all the prophets who, in various modes of expression, claim a direct revelation from God. But the mention of the prophetic call in association with the mention of his worldly calling is significant.
There was no period interposed between the one and the other, no cessation of husbandry to prepare for the work of prophesying. The husbandman was prepared for this task, and when God's time came he took it up. What was that preparation? Even if we suppose that the call was a momentary event, the man must have been ready to receive it, equipped for its performance. And, looking at the way in which he accomplished it, as exhibited in his book, we can see that there was a preparation, both internal and external, of a very thorough and effective character.
(1) Knowledge of God
First of all, he has no doubt or uncertainty as to the character of the God in whose name he is called to speak. The God of Amos is one whose sway is boundless (Amos 9:2 ), whose power is infinite (Amos 8:9 f), not only controlling the forces of Nature ( Amos 4:1-13 ; Amos 5:8 f) but guiding the movements and destinies of nations ( Amos 6:1 ,Amos 6:14 ; Amos 9:7 ).
Moreover, He is righteous in all His ways, dealing with nations on moral principles (Amos 1:3 ; Amos 2:1 ); and, though particularly favorable to Israel, yet making that very choice of them as a people a ground for visiting them with sterner retribution for their sins (Amos 3:2 ). In common with all the prophets, Amos gives no explanation of how he came to know God and to form this conception of His character. It was not by searching that they found out God. It is assumed that God is and that He is such a Being; and this knowledge, as it could come only from God, is regarded as undisputed and undisputable. The call to speak in God's name may have come suddenly, but the prophet's conception of the character of the God who called him is no new or sudden revelation but a firm and well-established conviction.
(2) Acquaintance with History of His People
Then his book shows not only that he was well acquainted with the history and traditions of his nation, which he takes for granted as well known to his hearers, but that he had reflected upon these things and realized their significance. We infer that he had breathed an atmosphere of religion, as there is nothing to indicate that, in his acquaintance with the religious facts of his nation, he differed from those among whom he dwelt, although the call to go forth and enforce them came to him in a special way.
(3) Personal Travel
It has been conjectured that Amos had acquired by personal travel the accurate acquaintance which he shows in his graphic delineations of contemporary life and conditions; and it may have been the case that, as a wool-merchant or flock-master, he had visited the towns mentioned and frequented the various markets to which the people were attracted.
(4) Scenery of His Home
Nor must we overlook another factor in his preparation: the scenery in which he had his home and the occupations of his daily life. The landscape was one to make a solemn impression on a reflective mind: the extensive desert, the shimmering waters of the Dead Sea, the high wall of the distant hills of Moab, over all which were thrown the varying light and shade. The silent life of the desert, as with such scenes ever before him, he tended his flock or defended them from the ravages of wild beasts, would to one whose thoughts were full of God nourish that exalted view of the Divine Majesty which we find in his book, and furnish the imagery in which his thoughts are set (Amos 1:2 ; Amos 3:4 f; Amos 4:13 ; Amos 5:8 ; Amos 9:5 f).
As he is taken from following the flock, he comes before us using the language and figures of his daily life ( Amos 3:12 ), but there runs through all the note of one who has seen God's working in all Nature and His presence in every phenomenon. Rustic he may be, but there is no rudeness or rusticity in his style, which is one of natural and impassioned eloquence, ordered and regular as coming from a mind which was responsive to the orderly working of God in Nature around him. There is an aroma of the free air of the desert about his words; but the prophet lives in an ampler ether and breathes a purer air; all things in Nature and on the field of history are seen in a Divine light and measured by a Divine standard.
5. His Mission
Thus, prepared in the solitudes of the extreme south of Judah, he was called to go and prophesy unto the people of Israel, and appears at Bethel the capital of the Northern Kingdom. It may be that, in the prosecution of his worldly calling, he had seen and been impressed by the conditions of life and religion in those parts. No reason is given for his mission to the northern capital, but the reason is not far to seek. It is the manner of the prophets to appear where they are most needed; and the Northern Kingdom about that time had come victorious out of war, and had reached its culmination of wealth and power, with the attendant results of luxury and excess, while the Southern Kingdom had been enjoying a period of outward tranquillity and domestic content.
The date of the prophet Amos can approximately be fixed from the statement in the first verse that his activity fell "in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake." Both these monarchs had long reigns, that of Uzziah extending from 779 to 740 bc and that of Jeroboam II from 783 to 743 bc.
If we look at the years when they were concurrently reigning, and bear in mind that, toward the end of Uzziah's reign, Jotham acted as co-regent, we may safely place the date of Amos at about the year 760 bc. In a country in which earthquakes are not uncommon the one here mentioned must have been of unusual severity, for the memory of it was long preserved (Zechariah 14:5 ). How long he exercised his ministry we are not told. In all probability the book is the deposit of a series of addresses delivered from time to time till his plain speaking drew upon him the resentment of the authorities, and he was ordered to leave the country (Amos 7:10 ). We can only conjecture that, some time afterward, he withdrew to his native place and put down in writing a condensed record of the discourses he had delivered.
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