Amos :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Amos of Tekoa, shepherd and cultivator of sycamore trees

Date Written: 750 BC


Amos is sent by God from the southern kingdom of Judah to the northern kingdom of Israel.  The kingdoms had been divided during the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon's son (see 1 Kgs 12).  Amos brings a harsh message to the rulers and people of Israel: God's judgment is coming because of their infidelity to him.


The book begins with a short prologue giving historical context and a thematic introduction.  Then the Oracles, or prophetic sayings, Against the Nations begin (1:3-2:16).  Next Amos launches into judgment oracles against the nation of Israel (3:1-6:14).  Then we read of Amos' visions (7:1-9:10).  Finally Amos presents an idyllic picture of a reunited kingdom of peace in which the people possess the land in all its fruitfulness (9:11-15).


There are few key pieces of information to keep in mind while reading Amos.  First, Amos is sent to the northern kingdom of Israel.  At this point in biblical history, the twelve tribes had split into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel.  Judah's capital was Jerusalem and could claim the authentic line of David for its royalty.  Israel had been established by Jeroboam I with its capital in Samaria.  Second, Jeroboam I had set up golden calf idols and appointed people to be priests who were not Levites or sons of Aaron (1 Kgs 12).  It is especially important to remember this fact when considering harsh texts like 5:21-27 ("I despise your feasts...").  God is rejecting a pagan cult which worshiped other gods (5:26, 8:14).  The Israelites mixed their worship of the true God with the worship of many false gods.  Third, Amos is prophesying in the time leading up to the Exile.  Assyria conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC, so Amos warns about the probability of exile because of Israel's disobedience about 30 years before it happened (5:5; 5:27; 6:7; 7:11).  Amos' career is during the reign of Jeroboam II. 


In the Oracles Against the Nations, Amos lists the sins of surrounding nations and declares God's punishment on them.  Amos calls for a destruction of Israelite worship and the reuniting of the kingdom.  He denounces unjust social practices and calls for a return to true worship of the Lord.  He announces the end of the Jeroboamite dynasty (7:9).  He prophesies of a day when the "booth of David" will be repaired and rebuilt, when all the people will dwell in peace and harmony under a true king who is a descendant of David.  Amos' harsh message eventually gets him banished from the northern kingdom (7:12-14). 


A few theological themes for meditation in this book are God's love for the poor and his desire for a just society.  Also, the holiness of God's law is so great that it demands a great punishment on those who break it.  In our times, as in Amos' there is a famine "of hearing the word of the Lord" (8:11).  God does not desire to punish his people, but in many cases suffering is a necessary precursor to restoration.


By Mark Giszczak

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