Amos (meaning in Hebrew |a burden|) was (Am 1:1) a shepherd of Tekoa, a small town of Judah, six miles southeast from Beth-lehem, and twelve from Jerusalem, on the borders of the great desert (2Ch 20:20; compare 2Ch 11:6). The region being sandy was more fit for pastoral than for agricultural purposes. Amos therefore owned and tended flocks, and collected sycamore figs; not that the former was a menial office, kings themselves, as Mesha of Moab (2Ki 3:4), exercising it. Amos, however (from Am 7:14, 15), seems to have been of humble rank.
Though belonging to Judah, he was commissioned by God to exercise his prophetical function in Israel; as the latter kingdom abounded in impostors, and the prophets of God generally fled to Judah through fear of the kings of Israel, a true prophet from Judah was the more needed in it. His name is not to be confounded with that of Isaiah's father, Amoz.
The time of his prophesying was in the reigns of Uzziah king of Judea, and Jeroboam II, son of Joash, king of Israel (Am 1:1), that is, in part of the time in which the two kings were contemporary; probably in Jeroboam's latter years, after that monarch had recovered from Syria |the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath to the sea of the plain| (2Ki 14:25-27); for Amos foretells that these same coasts, |from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness,| should be the scene of Israel's being afflicted (Am 6:14); also his references to the state of luxurious security then existing (Am 6:1, 4, 13), and to the speedy termination of it by the Assyrian foe (Am 1:5; 3:12, 15; 5:27; 8:2), point to the latter part of Jeroboam's reign, which terminated in 784 B.C., the twenty-seventh year of Uzziah's reign, which continued down to 759 B.C.
He was contemporary with Hosea, only that the latter continued to prophesy in reigns subsequent to Uzziah (Ho 1:1); whereas Amos ceased to prophesy in the reign of that monarch. The scene of his ministry was Beth-el, where the idol calves were set up (Am 7:10-13). There his prophecies roused Amaziah, the idol priest, to accuse him of conspiracy and to try to drive him back to Judah.
The first six chapters are without figure; the last three symbolical, but with the explanation subjoined. He first denounces the neighboring peoples, then the Jews, then Israel (from the third chapter to the end), closing with the promise or restoration under Messiah (Am 9:11-15). His style is thought by Jerome to betray his humble origin; but though not sublime, it is regular, perspicuous, and energetic; his images are taken from the scenes in nature with which he was familiar; his rhythms are flowing, his parallelisms exact, and his descriptions minute and graphic. Some peculiar expressions occur: |cleanness of teeth,| that is, want of bread (Am 4:6); |the excellency of Jacob| (Am 6:8; 8:7); |the high places of Isaac| (Am 7:9); |the house of Isaac| (Am 7:16); |he that createth the wind| (Am 4:13).
Hengstenberg draws an able argument for the genuineness of the Mosaic records from the evidence in Amos, that the existing institutions in Israel as well as Judah (excepting the calves of Jeroboam), were framed according to the Pentateuch rules.
Two quotations from Amos occur in the New Testament (compare Ac 7:42, 43, with Am 5:25, 26; and Ac 15:16, 17, with Am 9:11).
Philo, Josephus, Melito's catalogue, Jerome, Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, 22, quoting the fifth and six chapters of Amos as |one of the twelve minor prophets|), and the sixtieth canon of the Laodicean council support the canonicity of the book of Amos.