Rescued from the Rubble
Amos 1:1 locates the prophet concretely in history, tying him to the reigns of two eighth-century BC kings—Uzziah of Judah (792–740 BC) and Jeroboam ben Joash of Israel (793–753 BC). The mention of “the earthquake” at the end of Amos 1:1 sets the primary theme for the book: Yahweh’s earthquake-like judgment will shake Israel, Judah, and the nations until everything comes crashing down. Only then will Yahweh re-create a new era of Davidic rule, abundant life, and permanence in the land (Amos 9:11–15). Amos 1:1 further provides key information about the prophet: where he is from and what he did for a living.
In Amos 1:2 the undoing of the natural order is introduced. When Yahweh roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem, creation is adversely affected. The interconnectedness between Yahweh, Israel’s ethics, and the natural order is an ongoing theme in the book. The land experiences numerous ecological disasters (e.g., 4:6–11; 7:1–6) because of the absence of justice and righteousness (5:7; 24; 6:12). Yet because “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13) the book ends with Edenic abundance (Amos 9:11–15).
Questions and Answers
(Note: Questions only are found in the student section.)
Q1. In Amos 1:1 the prophet is described as one of the “sheep breeders” (or “shepherds”), which comes from the Hebrew word noqedim and appears only one more time in the Old Testament to describe Mesha, the King of Moab (2 Kings 3:4). See 2 Kings 3:4 as well as Amos 7:14–15. What, then, may we conclude regarding Amos’s vocation before Yahweh called him to be a prophet?
A1. Amos belonged to a higher socioeconomic status than that of a menial shepherd. He was not a lonely rustic, wandering from pasture to pasture with a few sheep under his care. A noqed was a person of substance and influence. This means that at some point in his life Amos observed the lifestyles of the rich with their expensive homes (Amos 3:15) and luxurious tastes (4:1; 6:4–6). He saw that the rising tide of Israel’s economy was only lifting the big boats (e.g., 3:10). The prophet knew that income and wealth were becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a privileged few (e.g., 4:1–3; 8:4–6). Amos was a major herdsman and a dealer in all kinds of cattle who worked in distant pastures like the Shephelah where sycamore trees were found. Amos 1:1 indicates that the prophet is “from Tekoa,” which is a better description than “in Tekoa.” Tekoaite herdsmen spent most of their time “on the road” because the town and its surrounding fields did not have enough pasturage. This explains the prophet’s words in Amos 7:14, namely, that he was a “tender of sycamore trees” because these trees provided both the necessary food and shade for cattle. The tree’s dependence on large amounts of water would assure that there would always be plenty of water for the cattle to drink.
Q2. What do Amos and Jesus have in common? See Deuteronomy 18:15–20; Matthew 25:31–32; Luke 15:3–7; John 7:40; 10:1–18; Acts 3:22–26.
A2. Both are shepherds and prophets. Additional commonalities include the following: (1) siding with small and insignificant people (e.g., Amos 7:1–6; Matthew 19:14), (2) confronting the corrupt priests of their days (Amos 7:10–17; Matthew 26:57–68), and (3) coming from the “outside” to challenge “insiders.” Amos is from Tekoa and confronts leaders in the Northern Kingdom capital of Bethel, while Jesus is from Nazareth (John 1:46) and challenges the powerful elite and repressive leaders in Jerusalem.
Q3 Read 1 Chronicles 11:5–6; 2 Samuel 14:2; 2 Chronicles 19. How do these verses describe Tekoa?
A3. The town of Tekoa (modern Hirbet Tequ’a) is about 12 miles south of Jerusalem and 5 miles south of Bethlehem on the border of the cultivated land to the west and the wilderness to the east. In 1 Chronicles 11:5–6 Tekoa appears in a list of fortresses, and according to 2 Samuel 14:2 the village had a reputation for wisdom teachers and sayings; the woman from there is described using the adjective “wise.” 2 Chronicles 19 helps us understand that Amos’s associations with Tekoa influenced his understanding of justice.The reforms of the Judahite king Jehoshaphat (873–849 BC), as noted in this chapter, indicate that the king appointed judges throughout his empire and also appointed Levites, priests, and heads of families to render judgments in Jerusalem. Amos was able to observe the administration of justice in his hometown.
Q4. In light of these descriptions of Tekoa, see Amos 1:3–2:3; 3:3–6; 4:10; 6:12. What else can we say about Tekoa’s influence upon Amos?
A4. Amos 1:3–2:3; 4:10 describe warfare. Since Tekoa was a military fortress, Amos would have grown up hearing about warfare tactics and various atrocities connected with battle (e.g., 1:13; 2:1). For example, he writes about the sight of fires set by invading armies (e.g., 1:4, 7), and the stench of death rising from a military camp (4:10). Amos 3:3–6; 6:12 reflects the town’s love of folk wisdom.
Q5. Amos 1:1 describes the prophet as a visionary, employing the words “which he saw.” See Amos 7:1–9; 8:1–3; 9:1–4 and describe the prophet’s visions.
A5. The prophet’s visionary role is so central to the book that in Amos 7:12 the priest Amaziah calls him a “visionary” (or “seer” in some translations). Amos’s visions constitute not only a key part of the book but also a look into the prophet’s character and inner experience. When combined with narrative interlude in 7:10–17, these last three chapters in Amos provide details of the prophet’s personal and public life that assist in the interpretation of chapters 1–6. The first two visions (7:1–6) constitute Amos’s initial commissioning. The second two visions (7:7–9; 8:1–3) announce the end of Yahweh’s offer of forgiveness as well as the end of the Northern Kingdom. The fifth vision (9:1–4), though not entirely independent of the first four, stands alone because of its summary position. Vision one notes God’s punishment against the agricultural land by means of locusts. Amos intercedes, and Yahweh relents. In the second vision, the land and the underground water sources are judged by fire. Amos intercedes, and Yahweh relents. In the third vision of the plumb line, Yahweh indicates that He will no longer relent as He did in the first two visions, while in the fourth vision the entire nation is visited with devastation. The ripe fruit spells “the End.” In the fifth vision, no one escapes from Yahweh’s judgment; the sanctuary and leaders alike are destroyed.
Q6. In light of “the earthquake” mentioned in Amos 1:1, see the following texts: Exodus 19:18; Zechariah 14:5; Matthew 27:51; 28:2. What do they tell you about some earthquakes in the Bible?
A6. Yahweh comes down to Mount Sinai in Exodus 19; this chapter becomes the pattern for many subsequent texts where God comes to dwell with His people. Along with the cloud, fire, and smoke, violent trembling (Exodus 19:18) signals divine presence. The other verses attest to the fact that frequently an earthquake indicates God’s presence to judge and condemn His people. Zechariah 14:5 also references an earthquake during the reign of Uzziah, which is the same earthquake mentioned by Amos. Archaeologists have tentatively located this cataclysm in the first half of the eighth century circa 760 BC. This helps date Amos’s ministry to sometime between 760–750 BC. Earthquakes indicated God’s presence at Christ’s death (Matthew 27:51) and resurrection (28:2). They will also accompany our Savior when He returns (Hebrews 12:26–27; Revelation 6:12; 16:18).
Q7. Read the following texts: Hosea 5:14; 11:10–11; 13:7–8; Revelation 5:5. How do they help you understand the idea of a divine Lion?
A7. In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Mr. and Mrs. Beaver have this conversation with Lucy about Aslan:
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man?” said Mr. Beaver sternly. . . . “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s any who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Yahweh is not safe, but He is good—very good. There are biblical images of Yahweh as a caring Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), a nursing mother (Psalm 131), and a mighty redeemer (Job 19:25). But the Church dare not let these images remove from it the claws and fangs of the Lion who roars from Zion (Amos 1:2a). The Book of Amos has this as its singular goal: to restore the rightful roar from the Lion, Lord Yahweh, the God of Israel.
The temptation is to put our hands over our ears to drown out His roar. The world, the devil, and the old Adam continue to urge the baptized to clip the claws on the Lion and clean up the bloody Passion they are called to follow. But the Bride of Christ is called to holy reverence before Yahweh, the King of the universe. This Lion will never be safe, but He is very good—forever. As a Lion, Yahweh’s words have teeth in them. He is an undomesticated deity who is powerful enough to shatter all of Israel’s conventional categories and systems of control (e.g., Amos 7:9–17). Yahweh intrudes into Israel’s settled existence in unsettling ways. He comes to afflict the comfortable and hold them accountable because of their unloving action toward the poor and needy. To become mesmerized with the evils of this present age and with its prince of darkness is to become blind to a much greater destructive entity—Lion Yahweh.
Q8. As much as Amos 1:1 tells us about the life and times of Amos, “Yahweh” is the first word uttered by the prophet in the Hebrew of Amos 1:2. In the Book of Amos, ten different names and/or titles are used to refer to Israel’s God. The total number is 57, with “Yahweh” appearing 52 times in the book. Read each of the three doxological hymns: Amos 4:13; 5:8–9; 9:5–6. How do they end, and what does this tell you about Amos and his book? What does “Yahweh” mean? Read Exodus 34:6–7.
A8. The doxological hymns in Amos 4:13; 5:8–9; and 9:5–6 all invoke the name of Yahweh. Amos 1:2 indicates that Yahweh—not the prophet—is the book’s main focus. Exodus 34:6–7 is the best explication of Yahweh’s name in the Old Testament. His grace-filled qualities are mentioned first because they are from eternity and last into eternity. Yahweh’s judgment upon sin follows. It appears in time and will end on the Last Day.
The first two verses in the Book of Amos locate the prophet in space (Tekoa) and in time (the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam ben Joash). Amos heard the voice of Yahweh and compared his experience to hearing the roaring of a lion, a roaring that causes pastures to mourn and forests to wither. Everything that follows in the book needs to be heard with this roaring in the background. Amos will personally encounter Yahweh as a Lion (Amos 3:4, 8) and this in turn will lead to Israel’s encounter with Lion Yahweh (3:12; 5:19). Throughout the book, Yahweh appears as the roaring Lion looking to devour first the nations, then Judah, and finally Israel. Amos places the Judean king Uzziah before the Israelite king Jeroboam ben Joash; the roar issues forth from Zion and Jerusalem, not from Bethel and Samaria. The prophet’s preference for southern kings and places has messianic implications. Amos’s hope is for David’s fallen line to be resurrected (9:11), and this comes to fruition on Easter when David’s greatest Son, Jesus, conquered death and the grave for us.