The 3rd of the so-called Minor Prophets. Amos bore his message while Jeroboam II was king of Israel and Uzziah was king of Judah (ch 1:1). The fact that these two monarchs reigned concurrently, each as sole ruler of his realm, only between c. 767 and 753 b.c. probably limits Amos' prophetic ministry to this brief period, and 760 may therefore be taken as an approximate date for his book. During the 2 centuries that had intervened since the splendour of Solomon's reign, Israel and Judah had fallen on evil times, both morally and politically. But Jeroboam II and Uzziah had been successful in restoring their respective domains until combined they reached approximately the extent of the empire under David and Solomon. As a result a deceptive wave of prosperity filled the land. At the same time, idolatry flourished and the moral state of society sank to a new low, with the rich oppressing the poor and officialdom dispensing justice to the highest bidder (see chs 2:6, 7; 3:10, 15; 4:1; 5:7 13; 6:4 6; 8:4 6). Neither rulers nor people of the northern kingdom realised that their nation was actually tottering on the brink of catastrophe, and that in about 40 years the nation would cease to exist and its people be led away into Assyrian captivity. It was under these circumstances that the Lord commissioned Amos, and a little later Hosea, as prophets to warn the northern kingdom of its impending doom and offer them a final opportunity to amend their evil ways. When Amos said, "'I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son'" (ch 7:14, RSV), he meant that he had not been formally trained for the prophetic office in the schools of the prophets, nor was he the son of one so trained. Yet he measures up in every respect to the qualifications of a prophet. He carried his message into the very centre of apostate worship, to Bethel, the religious capital of the northern kingdom. Here Amaziah, the high priest of Bethel, sought to intimidate him and make him leave the country (vs. 10 17).
The theme of the book is divine judgement (ch 1:2), and its aim is to effect repentance and reformation in view of the inevitability of impending judgements unless the people amended their ways (ch 5:4). The message of the book logically divides into four major parts: (1) a denunciation of evil coupled with a warning of judgement (chs 1:1 to 2:16); (2) an appeal to return to the Lord (chs 3:1 to 6:14); (3) an emphatic warning of the finality of this appeal (chs 7:1 to 9:10); (4) a promise of national blessing and restoration in the event of repentance and reformation (ch 9:11 15). The 1st of these 4 parts consists of an enumeration of the sins of 6 neighbouring nations, and Judah, with the purpose of highlighting the enormity of the sins of Israel. The 2nd part consists of a series of 3 sermons, each beginning with the proclamation, "Hear [ye] this word" The 3rd is composed of 5 symbolic visions, with a short historical interlude inserted between visions 3 and 4 in which the official reaction of the northern kingdom becomes apparent. In a few deft strokes, part 4 paints a glowing picture of the bright future in store for Israel if the nation returns to the Lord in wholehearted repentance and reformation, and accepts her divinely appointed role.
In part 1 the prophet, with consummate skill, seeks to lead his hearers at Bethel to acknowledge that national sin deserves, and is certain to encounter, divine punishment. He accomplishes this, his first objective, by enumerating the crimes of Israel's neighbour nations, which are well known to his hearers. Israel has suffered at their hands, and by declaring the judgements of the Lord upon those nations because of their criminal conduct, Amos is certain to elicit the response "Amen" Damascus (Syria) has invaded Gilead and laid it desolate (ch 1:3), Gaza (Philistia) has taken Israelites captive and turned them over to Edom (v 6), Tyrus (Phoenicia) has done the same (v 9), Edom has treated Israel with unwonted cruelty (v 11), Ammon has done likewise (v 13), and Moab also (ch 2:1). In order to leave his Israelite hearers without any avenue of self-justification when he finally takes up their evil course of action, and also in order to preclude any accusation that, as a prophet from the land of Judah, he is prompted by national pride, Amos first excoriates his own nation of Judah for rejecting the revealed will of God (v 4). Thus, when he mentions what God has done for Israel and enumerates some of the grosser forms of injustice rampant in the land, his hearers are left speechless and must admit, to themselves at least, that if the 7 neighbouring nations are deserving of the judgements of God, they themselves cannot expect to escape (vs. 6 16). They cannot deny the prophet's evaluation of conditions in Israel or his declaration that they deserve punishment.
Having anchored these two solemn facts in the minds of his audience, Amos proceeds in part 2 to make clear to the people that they have, indeed, forsaken the God whom they still profess to worship, that they will soon have to reckon accounts with Him, and that they will do well to seek reconciliation with Him before He hales them into court. The theme of the 1st sermon is, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Ch. 3:3). Obviously not. But Israel, as evidenced by her conduct, has come to be in utter disagreement with God, and unless a change takes place God must abandon her people forever to their evil course of action. The theme of the 2nd sermon is, "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (ch 4:12). God has suffered long with them and sought by many lesser judgements to bring them to their senses, but to no avail. As a last resort He must bring them to judgement and sentence them as a nation to death, and they should ponder the matter now before they meet their Judge face to face. The 3rd sermon comes to a focus in the tender appeal, "Seek ye me, and ye shall live" (ch 5:4). And how shall they seek the Lord? The question is answered in the admonition: "Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live" (v 14).
Lest the people think they can deceive or bribe God, as if He were one of their own venal judges, Amos in part 3 relates a series of 5 symbolic visions from the Lord that emphasise the finality of His appeal to the men of that generation. The first 2 visions look to the past, when God has repeatedly relented when asked to pass by their transgressions, but in the 3rd vision God announces that He will no longer "pass by" (ch 7:8), or continue to deal leniently with them. An attempt at this point on the part of Amaziah, priest of Bethel, to frighten the prophet into silence elicits the bold declaration, "Now therefore hear thou the word of the Lord: Israel shall surely go into captivity" (vs. 16, 17). The theme of the 4th vision, which follows immediately, is, "The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more" (ch 8:2). In the 5th vision the Lord appears in person, to "slay the last of them with the sword" (ch 9:1).
However bleak the prospect in case Israel chooses to persist in her impenitent course, the prophet Amos, in part 4 of his message, holds up once more before the nation that is soon to meet its fate a picture of the glorious purpose of God for His people if they will but repent and turn again to Him. He will "build" the nation as "in the days of old" (ch 9:11)--He will restore it to the glory of its golden age under David and Solomon. One noteworthy characteristic of the OT prophets is that practically every warning of doom is accompanied by an offer of hope, and it is on such a note that Amos concludes his impassioned message.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.