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, Am 1:1 7:14,15 Zec 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. (Am 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 (Am 7:10-17).’ (NBC)
Amos uses sparkling picture-language, drawn from his experiences as a shepherd and farmer: a load cart, Am 2:13; a roaring lion, Am 3:8; a mutilated sheep, Am 3:12; pampered cows, Am 4:1; and a basket of ripe fruit, Am 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.