The prophet Amos was a shepherd in Judah in the town of Tekoa. Amos was not trained in the school of the prophets. He was called by God to go to Bethel in Israel to present God’s message to the people and to the leaders of the northern kingdom. He followed God’s call to go to Bethel. There, he proclaimed the words God gave him, and when he had completed his mission, he returned to his farm in Judah.
When we read the book of Amos, we find it is more than history… it is God’s word which shows us how to live for God and to do God’s will.
Let’s look at Amos from the perspective of learning more about God, about His ways, His message, and what He would have us do and to be.
First, a little background about the times and the economic conditions during the time Amos served as a prophet.
The years were 750 BC to 760 BC. Uzziah was king of Judah, the southern kingdom, and Jeroboam was king of Israel, the northern kingdom. It was approximately 210 years after King Solomon had built the Temple in Jerusalem and 170 years since the split of Israel into 2 kingdoms, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom.
Also, it was approximately 28 to 38 year before the Assyrians invaded Israel and took the Israelites into captivity.
The economic times were prosperous, and the country was at peace with its neighbors. God showed Amos that prosperity was limited to the wealthy and that the wealthy were taken advantage of the poor by cheating them and enslaving them when the weak could not pay their debts.
But it was also a time of religious piety. Religious services had become meaningless, and the people were just doing it for show, even bragging about how much grain they brought to sacrifice. The people’s attitude was to get the Sabbath over with so they could get back to filling their pockets by cheating and oppressing the weak and the poor.
The prophet Amos lived the southern kingdom, Judah. God sends him to Bethel in the northern kingdom to proclaim His word.
Amos began his preaching by pointing out the sins of the nations which surrounded Israel. Amos pointed to 6 nations which had turned from God. Then, he pointed to Israel and to Judah. Even God's people had turned to idols and false gods.
The Israelites did not have a problem with Amos preaching about the sins of Damascus, Tyre, and Gaza because they were enemies of Israel. They even cheered when Amos pointing out the sins of Edom, Ammon, or Moab. They were happy for Amos to preach, as long as he did not step on their toes.
Amos then turned to Judah and pointed out their sins. “You have despised my teachings and have not kept my commands. You have been led astray by the same false gods that your ancestors served. For this I will punish you” (Amos 2:4).
Finally, the prophet Amos turns to the Israelites to deliver God's message to them. “The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and for this I will certainly punish them. They sell into slavery honest people who cannot pay their debts, the poor who cannot repay even the price of a pair of sandals. They trample down the weak and helpless and push the poor out of the way’’ (Amos 2:6).
This message infuriated the people of Bethel and Israel. They had been taught all their lives that they were God’s chosen people. To them, this meant that they could do whatever they wanted to do and God would overlook their sins.
And here was the prophet Amos telling them that this was not true. Yes, they were the chosen people, but God expected them to live faithful to Him and reject idols and false gods. If they did not, they would receive God’s punishment.
It isn’t enough to be God’s chosen people; even chosen people must love and worship God. Each of us must put God front and center in our lives. This is God’s way. He gave Moses the law for them to follow and they had turned their backs on God’s word. This was the prophet Amos’ message to the people of the Northern Kingdom.
In chapter 4, Amos tells the people of Israel that God has had enough. In a sarcastic way, God says, “People of Israel, go to the holy place in Bethel and sin, if you must. Go to Gilgal and sin with all your might! Go ahead and bring animals to be sacrificed morning after morning, and bring your tithes every third day. Go on and offer your bread in thanksgiving to God, and brag about the extra offering you bring! This is the kind of thing you love to do.”
God was relating their thoughts back to them; this was the way they thought and the way they lived. Going through the motion… going in body only for show and not going with the heart to show love for God. The Israelites were using the Sabbath for show and even bragged about the extra offering they brought to the holy place. Everything had become about self, not about God!
On the sabbath they put on a show and the rest of the week, they ignored God and took advantage of the poor and the weak. They were greedy. They cheated the people they traded with.
“Listen to this, you women of Samaria who grow fat like the well-fed cows of Bashan, who mistreat the weak, oppress the poor, and demand that your husbands keep you supplied with wine (Amos 4:1).
“You people hate anyone who challenges injustice and speaks the whole truth in court. You have oppressed the poor and robbed them of their grain. I know how terrible your sins are and how many crimes you have committed. You persecute good people, take bribes, and prevent the poor from getting justice in the courts” (Amos 5:10-12).
God knew what was in their hearts and minds, just as He knows our minds and hearts.
At times, God has gone to great lengths to get the attention of His people and to wake them up. The Israelites were hard-headed, just as we can be today.
The prophet Amos' message was that God had sent him to get their attention and to convince them to turn from their sinful ways.
“I was the one who brought famine to all your cities, yet you did not come back to me. I kept it from raining when your crops needed it most. I sent rain on one field, but another dried up…Still you did not come back to me” (Amos 4:6).
“I sent a scorching wind to dry up your crops. The locusts ate up all your gardens and vineyards, your fig trees and olive trees. Still, you did not come back to me” (Amos 4:9).
“I sent a plague on you like the one I sent on Egypt. I killed your young men in battle and took your horses away. I filled your nostrils with the stinks of dead bodies in your camps. Still you did not come back to me” (Amos 4:10).
“I destroyed some of you as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Those of you who survived were like a burning stick saved from a fire. Still you did not come back to me“(Amos 4:11).
“So then, people of Israel, I am going to punish you. And because I am going to do this, get ready to face my judgment” (Amos 4:12).
Even in this time of anger, God remembers the promise He made to David. He will punish the people of Israel but save a remnant to carry on the line of David. In 3:10, the Lord says, “As a shepherd recovers only two legs or an ear of a sheep that a lion has eaten, so only a few will survive of Samaria’s people.”
Amos further prophesied that because of their sins, the Israelites would be taken into exile in a land beyond Damascus because they had turned from God (Amos 5:27).
God is patient with us, but His patient wears thin. He hates the pride of people. The pride that says I don’t need God, I can do it myself. When we turn away from God, we accept idols into our lives which separates us from God.
God showed Amos the plumb line which He uses to judge the people. The plumb line showed how out of align the people had become. So out of line that they were about to fall. Nothing could save them.
“I am using it to show that my people are like a wall that is out of line. I will not change my mind again about punishing them. The places where Isaac’s descendants worship will be destroyed. The holy places of Israel will be left in ruins. I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to an end” (Amos 7:8, 9).
Amos' prophesy demonstrates that God is faithful. He is true to His word. He gave the people of Israel His law through Moses, which instructed the people how He wanted them to live their lives. He further warned them of the consequences if they did not.
God is patient, but He is faithful to his word. He is a God that can be counted on to do what He says He will do.
Let us all learn from the prophet Amos. We see that God knows what we are doing. He knows how we are living our lives. God wants us to treat people fairly and take care of the weak.
God knows our heart. He knows if we are religious for the sake of show. He knows when we are just going through the motions to impress Him and people. No, we cannot fool God.
Finally, God is true to his word, and He will accomplish His word.
“The day is coming when I will restore the kingdom of David, which is like a house fallen into ruins. I will repair its walls and restore it. I will rebuild it and make it as it was long ago” (Amos 9:11).
And this is the good news. Just as God warned the Israelites through the prophet Amos, He warns each of us and we must take His warning to heart…turn from our sins and make God Lord of our lives. When we do, peace and joy and happiness fill our lives.