The book of Amos (Amos 1)

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The prophet Amos, the book’s author (Amos 1:1), described himself as a shepherd and farmer – specifically, a tender of sycamore-fig trees (7:14) – although his strong verbal skills and wide-ranging knowledge negate the suggestion that he was simply an ignorant peasant. His denial that he was a prophet did not signify that he lacked a prophetic calling but indicated that he was not a professional prophet who earned his living by providing kings with oracles they wanted to hear (7:14-15). Amos’ hometown, Tekoa, was located in the highlands of Judah approximately 7 km south of Jerusalem, although his message was directed primarily to the northern kingdom of Israel. Some scholars believe that parts of Amos are secondary (nor written by Amos), but that conclusion is unnecessary (see The unity of Amos under Amos 9).

Amos provided pointers that have assisted scholars with dating his message. He mentioned the names of the kings during whose reigns he preached (Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah), suggesting a date of approximately 760 B.C., as well as the fact that he preached two years prior to an earthquake (1:1). There is also the possible suggestion that an eclipse occurred during his ministry (8:9). Archaeological evidence from Hazor points to a severe earthquake in the mid-eighth century B.C., and an eclipse did take lace in 763 B.C. (as well as earlier, in 784 B.C.).

Amos most likely centred his ministry efforts around Bethel in the north (7:10-13), Israel’s primary religious sanctuary, where the upper echelons of the northern kingdom worshiped.

Although Amos was from Judah, his message was directed primarily to the northern kingdom, suggesting that the Israelites were conscious of their common identity as God’s people despite the political division that had split the nation. It is conceivable that he was specifically called to Jeroboam’s court because his status  as peasant would have been in such contrast to the wealth and professionalism of Samaria (see especially chapter 7).

Amos ministered during a period in which the dominant empires of the day (Egypt, Babylon and particularly Assyria) were relatively weak and both Israel and Judah were enjoying a period of prosperity and imperial expasion. Amos decried the wealth and arrogance of his time, symbolized by what he called “houses adorned with ivory” (3:15; see The Samaria Ivories under Amos 3). This prosperity was misleading, however: In little over a quarter of a century Samaria, Israel’s capital, would lie in ruins.

As you read, pay particular attention to the strong social emphasis of this book. In what specific ways are these social themes relevant to any society during a period of prosperity and comfort?

Did you know that “fortress” may refer not only to citadels but also to the fortress-like, palatial dwellings of the rich and powerful (1:4)? Did you know that in ancient times many people believed that burning the bones of the dead deprived the person’s spirit of thev rest that was widely believed to result from decent burial (2:1)? Fid you know that since Israel had extended its influence over Damascus by this time, the rich merchants of Samaria may have maintained luxurious houses in Damascus, along with market privileges in that city (3:12)? Did you know that the well-fed cattle raised in Bashan were considered the best breed in ancient Canaan (4:1)? Did you know that the reference to burning the dead bodies may actually refer to a memorial fire in honour of the dead, as cremation was not generally practiced (6:10)?


 

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