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Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Amos
Amos, the third of the minor prophets, was, it is said, of the little town of Tekoa, in the tribe of Judah, about four leagues southward of Jerusalem. There is no good proof, however, that he was a native of this place; but only that he retired thither when he was driven from Beth-el, which was in the kingdom of the ten tribes. It is very probable that he was born within the territories of Israel, and that his mission was directed principally to this kingdom.
As he was prophesying in Beth-el, where the golden calves were, in the reign of Jeroboam the second, about the year of the world 3217; before the birth of Jesus Christ, 783; before the vulgar era, 787; Amaziah, the high priest of Beth-el, accused him before King Jeroboam, saying, “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.” Amaziah said therefore unto Amos, “O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Beth-el; for it is the king‘s chapel, and it is the king‘s court.”
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet‘s son; but I was a herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. And the Lord took me as I followed the flock; and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. Now, therefore, hear thou the word of the Lord; Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Thy wife shall be a harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land, and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.”
After this the prophet retired into the kingdom of Judah, and dwelt in the town of Tekoa, where he continued to prophesy. He complains in many places of the violence offered him by endeavoring to oblige him to silence, and bitterly exclaims against the disorders of Israel.
He began to prophesy the second year before the earthquake, which happened in the reign of King Uzziah; and which Josephus, with most of the ancient and modern commentators, refers to this prince‘s usurpation of the priest‘s office, when he attempted to offer incense to the Lord.
The first of his prophecies, in order of time, are those of the seventh chapter. The others he pronounced in the town of Tekoa, whither he retired. His two first chapters are against Damascus, the Philistines, Tyrians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, the kingdom of Judah, and that of the ten tribes. The evils with which he threatens them refer to the times of Shalmaneser, Tiglath-pileser, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar, who did so much mischief to these provinces, and at last led the Israelites into captivity.
He foretold the misfortunes into which the kingdom of Israel should fall after the death of Jeroboam the Second, who was then living. He foretold the death of King Zechariah; the invasion of the lands belonging to Israel by Pul and Tiglath-pileser, kings of Assyria; and speaks of the captivity of the ten tribes, and of their return into their own country. He makes sharp invectives against the sins of Israel; against their effeminacy and avarice, their harshness to the poor, the splendor of their buildings, and the delicacy of their tables. He reproves the people of Israel for going to Beth-el, Dan, Gilgal, and Beer-sheba, which were the most famous pilgrimages of the country; and for swearing by the gods of these places.
The time and manner of his death are not known. Some old authors relate that Amaziah, priest of Beth-el, whom we have spoken of, provoked by the discourses of the prophet, had his teeth broken in order to silence him. Others say that Hosea, or Uzziah, the son of Amaziah, struck him with a stake upon the temples, and knocked him down, and almost killed him; that in this condition he was carried to Tekoa, where he died, and was buried with his fathers. This is the account these authors give us. On the contrary, it is the opinion of others, that he prophesied a long time at Tekoa after the adventure he had with Amaziah: and the prophet taking no notice of the ill treatment which he is said to have received from Uzziah, his silence is no argument that he suffered nothing from him.
St. Jerome observes, that there is nothing great and sublime in the style of Amos. He applies these words of St. Paul to him, rude in speech, though not in knowledge. He says farther, that as every one chooses to speak of his own art, Amos generally makes use of comparisons taken from the country life wherein he had been brought up. St. Austin shows that there was a certain kind of eloquence in the sacred writers, directed by the spirit of wisdom, and so proportioned to the nature of the things they treated of, that even they who accuse them of rusticity and unpoliteness in their way of writing, could not choose a style more suitable, were they to have spoken on the same subject, to the same persons, and in the same circumstances.
Bishop Lowth is not satisfied with the judgment of St. Jerome. His authority, says the learned prelate, has occasioned many commentators to represent this prophet as entirely rude, void of eloquence, and wanting in all the embellishments of style; whereas any one who reads him with due attention will find him, though a herdsman, not a whit behind the very chiefest prophets; almost equal to the greatest in the loftiness of his sentiments; and not inferior to any in the splendor of his diction, and the elegance of his composition. And it, is well observed, that the same heavenly Spirit which inspired Isaiah and Daniel in the palace, inspired David and Amos in their shepherds‘ tents; always choosing proper interpreters of his will, and sometimes perfecting praise even out of the mouths of babes: at one time using the eloquence of some; at another, making others eloquent to subserve his great purposes. See Calmet and Dodd.
Archbishop Newcome speaks also justly of this prophet: “Amos borrows many images from the scenes in which he was engaged; but he introduces them with skill, and gives them tone and dignity by the eloquence and grandeur of his manner. We shall find in him many affecting and pathetic, many elegant and sublime, passages. No prophet has more magnificently described the Deity; or more gravely rebuked the luxurious: or reproved injustice and oppression with greater warmth, and a more generous indignation. He is a prophet on whose model a preacher may safely form his style and manner in luxurious and profligate times.”