Amos came from Tekoa, a town situated 12 miles south-east of Jerusalem. He was a man of humble origins, being a herdsman and a ‘dresser of sycamore trees’. He was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea, Amos 1:1; 7:14, 15; Zech. 14:5.
Under Jeroboam II, the nation of Israel had reached a peak of prosperity, but this was followed by a period of corruption and idolatry. At this time Amos proclaimed his message of repentance.
We cannot be sure when Amos prophesied. According to NBC, ‘Uzziah of Judah reigned from 767-740 BC and Jeroboam II of Israel from 782-753 BC and, within these limits, a date around 760 BC is suitable for Amos.’
‘Jeroboam was an energetic king, ready to take every opportunity for his country’s expansion. The time favoured him: in 805 BC Adad-nirari of Assyria had conquered Syria, thus disposing of a long-standing enemy of Israel. Assyria itself then entered into a period of decline and so the way was open for Jeroboam to restore his kingdom to the boundaries it had enjoyed under Solomon. This in turn gave him control of trade routes and therefore commercial prosperity which was reflected in a dominant wealthy class living in great luxury. As often happens this went hand-in-hand with exploitation of the poor (Amos 5:11; 6:6). Amos’s prophecy against the excesses of Israel, the northern kingdom, were even more unwelcome in that he came from Judah in the south (7:10-17).’ (NBC)
Amos uses sparkling picture-language, drawn from his experiences as a shepherd and farmer: a load cart, 2:13; a roaring lion, 3:8; a mutilated sheep, 3:12; pampered cows, 4:1; and a basket of ripe fruit, 8:1f.
Israel had become a wealthy nation. But her prosperity was accompanied by neglect of God’s law, and oppression of vulnerable people. Soon, they would be conquered by Assyria, and the rich people would themselves become slaves.
God is sovereign over all of creation and over all peoples. His judgement falls againt those who offend against the light of conscience (the surrounding nations) as well as those who offend against the light of revelation (Israel). The latter, however, will be the more severely punished. The book condemns crimes against humanity and treats them as sins against God.
‘It was never an easy life being a lonely goatherd and nurseryman ending a fig orchard. But it must have been a lot easier than laying down the milking bucket and pruning shears to go off as a missionary in a hostile nation (although with a shared language and common heritage) to preach a message no one wanted to hear.
But that was life for Amos. Like the tongue-tied Moses before him and the timid Jeremiah who would follow a century later, Amos was plucked by God from obscurity and sent on a seemingly impossible mission.
He had grown up in Judah (the southern kingdom) during the eighth century BC and was sent to call the northern kingdom of Israel to account. Being an outsider no doubt helped give him a clear vision of the state of the nation, but it did not endear its people to him. (They didn’t take any notice of home-bred prophets such as Amos’s near-contemporary Hosea either.)
What makes Amos especially notable for today’s readers is that he singled out a number of social evils for which we can find many parallels in any society and culture which has sidelined God ro left him out of its reckoning altogether.
Amos reminds us that private faith and public conduct can never be divorced. God is far more interested in a just and righteous society than he is in a church offerig orthodox worship while letting social evil go unchallenged. Worship is important, but only if it is backed by social harmony and justice.
In personal terms, this means that we cannot sing God’s praises on Sunday and curse our fellow humans on Monday. We cannot pray to the Father in church and then ignore the cries of the needy outside. And above all, we cannot say that God is all we need, when we follow the crowd to amass every gadget, toy and comfort which it deems indispensible in order to get a life, whatever the cost to the environment and to the developing nations which contribute to or supply it.’ (The Bible Application Handbook)