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Amos’ prophetic ministry took place during the reigns of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and Uzziah, king of Judah. He was contemporary with Jonah and Hosea who were prophets in the northern kingdom of Israel and with Isaiah and Micah who were prophets in the southern kingdom of Judah.
Amos presents God as the ruler of this world and declares that all nations are responsible to Him. The measure of a nation’s responsibility is the light which a nation has. The final test for any nation (or individual) is found in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” In a day of prosperity, Amos pronounced punishment. The judgment of God awaited nations which were living in luxury and lolling in immorality.
Amos is, in my words, “The Country Preacher Who Came to Town.” I want us to get acquainted with him personally, because to get acquainted with Amos is to love him and to understand his prophecy better. We will find that he was born in Judah, the southern kingdom, but he was a prophet to the northern kingdom. His message was delivered in Bethel at the king’s chapel. It was most unusual for a man to have come from such a country, out–of–the–way place with a message of judgment against all of the surrounding nations. Amos had a global view of life and of God’s program for the entire world—not only for the present but also for the future. All this makes this man a most remarkable prophet.
In Amos 1:1 we read, “The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” Tekoa was Amos’ birthplace and his hometown. Six miles south of Jerusalem there is the familiar little place of Bethlehem of which the prophet Micah said, “But thou, Beth–lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). Bethlehem has become famous, but there was another little place that was another six miles southeast of Bethlehem called Tekoa which is not so well known. In fact, Amos himself is not even mentioned anywhere else in the Old Testament. There is an Amos in Mary’s genealogy given in the Gospel of Luke, but he is no relation to the prophet Amos. And the little town of Tekoa from which he came is practically an unknown place. It is the place where a prophetess came and gave David a message (see 2 Sam. 14); David was familiar with this area because it was the area to which he fled to hide from King Saul.
Tekoa is located on a hilly ridge which overlooks a frightful desert wilderness that continues down to the very edge of the Dead Sea. Wild animals howl by night, and by day the only thing you can see are spots here and there which indicate the remains of the camps of the Bedouins. There is nothing but the blackened ground left by these nomads and vagabonds of the desert who moved through that area. Dr. Adam Smith said, “The men of Tekoa look out upon a desolate and haggard world.”
Today the nation Israel has constructed a modern highway along the Dead Sea that leads to Masada. The highway comes back through Arad and up through Hebron and Bethlehem, but it never gets near Tekoa because Tekoa is over in that wilderness. I’m sure most of you have never heard of it for, even in its heyday, Tekoa was never more than a wide place in the road. It was a whistle–stop, a jumping–off place. The name Tekoa means “a camping ground.” It was really only a country crossroads out on the frontier. Years ago I heard a man say that to reach the place where he was born, you go as far as possible by buggy and then you get off and walk two miles! Tekoa was that sort of place, and it was the birthplace of Amos—that is its only claim to greatness.
We need to turn to chapter 7 to get a little personal insight into this man and his ministry in Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel. There we read: “Then Amaziah the priest of Beth–el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, 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. Also Amaziah said 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. Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:10–15).
Amos tells us he was a “herdman.” An unusual word is used here which means that he was the herdsman of a peculiar breed of desert sheep. They were a scrub stock, but they grew long wool because of the cold in the wintertime. He also says that he was a “gatherer of sycomore fruit”; the literal is a “pincher of sycamores.” This was a fruit like a small fig which grew on scrub trees down in the desert. These trees grew at a lower level than the sycamore that we know today.
We can see, then, that Amos had to travel to his job. He was a migrant worker, if you please. His sheep and his sycamores pushed Amos far out into that desert. He was truly a farmer. He was a country rube. He was a rustic. He was a yokel and a hayseed. He was a country preacher. He was a clumsy bumpkin who was “all thumbs” among the ecumenical preachers up yonder in Bethel.
But before you laugh at Amos, may I say this? He was one of God’s greatest men, and he was a remarkable individual. Listen to what Amos says: “And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:15). God sent Amos all the way from down there in the desert and the wilderness up to Bethel, one of the capital cities of the northern kingdom where he found city folk living. God called him to preach, God gave him a message, and God sent him to Bethel.
Beth–el was, at first, the capital of the northern kingdom, and it was the place where Jeroboam I had erected one of his golden calves. It was the center of culture and also of cults. The people worshiped that golden calf and had turned their backs upon almighty God. Bethel was where the sophisticated and the suave folk moved; the jet set lived there. It was a place that was blase and brazen. It was also the intellectual center. They had a School of Prophets there. The seminaries taught liberalism. They would have taught the Graf–Wellhausen hypothesis which denies the inspiration of the Pentateuch and gone in for all the latest theories of a theologian like Rudolf Bultmann.
What was done in Bethel was the thing to do. When filter–tipped cigarettes were introduced, Bethel was the first place they were advertised and used, and from there they spread everywhere. It was the place where you could see the styles which would be popular the next year. Are we going to wear the wider lapel next year? Will there be two or three buttons on the suit coat? Should you leave the last button unbuttoned to be in style? Well, you would go to Bethel to find out all that.
Then here comes to town this country preacher, this prophet of God with a message—a most unusual message, different from any other prophet. Amos’ suit of clothes was not cut to the style of Bethel and neither was his message. He did not give the type of messages they were used to hearing. In the king’s chapel there was always a mild–mannered preacher, very sophisticated and well–educated, but a rank unbeliever who stood in the pulpit giving comforting little words to the people. He gave them pabulum; saccharine sweetness was in his message. But now here’s a different kind of man. When Amos first arrived, people stared at him. But they were very indulgent, of course (they were broad–minded, you know), so they smiled at him. I think he had on high–buttoned yellow shoes which were not in style that year, and his suit probably didn’t fit him and was buttoned improperly. He had on his first necktie, and it looked like it had been tied by a whirlwind. Everyone was embarrassed except Amos. Amos was not embarrassed at all. He must have created quite a stir. He had left the backwoods and had arrived on the boulevard. He had left the desert; now he entered the drawing room. He had been with the long–haired sheep out on the desert all of his life; now he was with the well–groomed “goats” up yonder in Bethel. He had left the place of agriculture and had come to the place of culture.
I think almost everyone came to hear him at first. They said, “We don’t believe he can preach.” They came out of curiosity, saying, “We don’t think this man has any message.” They came in amusement, but they left in anger. He was a sensational preacher, for his sermons weren’t cut to the style of Bethel. However, today we do not have any record of the liberal sermons of that day, but we certainly have the sermons and the prophecy of Amos.
Amos preached the Word of God. Many people were moved, and some turned to God; but he disturbed the liberal element. Organized religion in Bethel, the worship of Baal and of the golden calf, got together. They had the ecumenical movement going there, so they had the same program. If you don’t believe anything, my friend, there is nothing to keep you apart. If I don’t believe anything and you don’t believe anything, we can get together. That is the ecumenical movement, and it was going great guns even in that day.
Amos was in the midst of all this organized religion which was plotting against him to silence him and to run him out of town. Some of the leading ecumenical leaders called a meeting. They wanted to remove Amos; they wanted to withdraw support from him; they told him he’d lose his pension if he didn’t change his message. There were also some fundamental leaders called evangelicals in Bethel who began to criticize him because he was drawing the crowds. They tried to undermine his ministry. But God blessed him, and Amos would not compromise but continued to preach the Word of God.
They had a mass meeting of all the religions in Bethel—it was really the first meeting of the World Council of Churches—and the motto of this first meeting was, “Away with Amos, away with Amos.” And the inevitable happened at this meeting: they appointed a committee chairman, Amaziah, to go and confront Amos. Amaziah was a priest who had gone into idolatry. (Does all of this sound modern to you? It’s the same old story; we think it’s modern, but this sort of thing has been happening ever since man got out of the Garden of Eden.) Amaziah was the hired hand of religion. He was polished, he was educated, he was proud, he was scholarly, he was pious, and he was a classic example of a pseudosaint.
Cleverly and subtly, Amaziah worked a master stroke. He went to Jeroboam II and poisoned his mind against Amos. Amaziah got the king to support him because he believed that the church and state, religion and politics, should be combined. This is what happened: “Then Amaziah the priest of Beth–el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, 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” (Amos 7:10–11). Let me ask you, friend, is that what Amos said? No, he had not said that. His actual words were that God had said, “I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (Amos 7:9). If you follow the record, you will find that Amos’ pronouncement was accurate. It is too bad that Jeroboam II did not believe Amos because his grandson was later slain with the sword, thus ending his kingly line. It was true that Amos had said something about the sword and about Jeroboam, but he had not said that Jeroboam personally would die by the sword. Amaziah was an ecclesiastical politician who was twisting the truth, and that is the worst kind of lying.
I think Amaziah had two other men on his committee when he went to see Amos. There was Dr. Sounding Brass, president of the School of Prophets—false prophets, by the way. Proud and pompous, he was a politician par excellence. There was also Rev. Tinkling Cymbal. He was the pastor of the wealthiest and most influential church in town. He was the yes–man to the rich. He couldn’t preach, but he was a great little mixer. It is amazing the things he could mix, by the way. He didn’t pound the pulpit because he didn’t want to wake up his congregation, but he could sure slap their backs during the week. This is the committee which waited upon Amos.
Amaziah, with biting sarcasm, with a rapier of ridicule, and with a condescending manner, said to Amos, “O thou seer.” In other words, he’s calling him, “Parson.” “Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there” (Amos 7:12). In effect, Amaziah said to Amos, “Who told you that you were a preacher? Where is your degree? What school did you go to? Who ordained you? Where did you preach before you came here? Go, flee away.” In other words, he’s saying to him, “Get out of town. Get lost.” Then Amaziah adds, “And there eat bread.” He is insinuating to Amos, “You’re just in it for the money, and therefore we don’t want you here.”
Verse 13 is the crowning insult of all: “But prophesy not again any more at Beth–el: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court” (Amos 7:13). That is the height of Amaziah’s insolence and his arrogance. He uses here a satire that is not only biting but also poisonous. He says in effect, “Remember, you’ve been speaking in the leading church here in Bethel, the king’s chapel. You have been in the king’s sanctuary, and he’s dissatisfied with you. Your message disturbs him. In fact, there are a lot of people who do not like you. You don’t use a very diplomatic method. You don’t pat them on the back and tell them how wonderful they are. You do not patronize the rich and the affluent. And you’re not very reverent. You tell funny stories every now and then. You’re not dignified. You pound the pulpit, and you lack graceful gestures. You do not use a basso profundo voice as if you were thundering out of heaven. What you need is a course in homiletics. And you don’t seem to have read the latest books. By the way, have you read the latest, Baal Goes to Yale?” And, of course, poor Amos hadn’t read the latest book.
I want you to listen to the answer that this great prophet of God gave, this man who preached the righteousness of God and the judgment of God. There are those who like to call him a hell–fire prophet, but will you listen to his answer and notice how gracious it really is: “Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:14–15). And then Amos continued with his message in which he has some pretty harsh words to say to this man Amaziah.
Now I ask you a fair question: Does his answer sound like that of a fanatic? Frankly, I have one criticism of Amos. He is too naive. He’s rather artless; he’s rather simple. Down in the desert of Tekoa, he knew his way around. He could avoid the dangers in that howling wilderness which was filled with wild beasts, but in the asphalt jungle of Bethel, he was rather helpless.
By the way, there is a jungle today in this world. You will find that in church circles—in liberal churches and even in fundamental churches—it’s a little dangerous. You’re not really safe because there is often someone who will want to tear you to pieces. There will be the roar of some big lion, such as Mr. Gotrocks who is on the board of deacons. I tell you, you had better pat him on the back, you had better play up to him, or else he may give you real trouble. There is also the hiss of a serpent in the asphalt jungle today; Mrs. Joe Doaks who has a poison tongue. James, in his epistle, talked about those who have poison under their lips (see James 3:8). It is worse than a rattlesnake bite to have some of these folk criticize you.
This man Amos is very naive. He says, “You say that I’m no preacher. I know it—I’m no preacher. And you say I’m not a prophet. You’re right, I’m no prophet. I’m not even a prophet’s son. I’m a country boy, but God called me.” Listen to him: “And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:15, italics mine). Amos says, “You want my credentials? Here they are: God called me.”
May I say to you, if you give out the Word of God today, you are going to be challenged. I recently received a letter from a man in Salt Lake City, Utah, which presents a very devious argument. He concludes by saying, “I am interested in knowing how you got your authority.” I can answer that very easily. When I was in my teens, God called me, and I knew He called me. Maybe you think that was because I had great faith. No, as a poor boy, I didn’t even have enough faith to believe that the Lord would get me through school. I’ll be very frank with you, I had no faith at all. I just had a tremendous and overweening desire to continue. Now since I’m toward the end of the journey, I have no doubt that I was called of God—and that is my authority. Amos was naive, but he was called of God, and the Lord was leading him all the way.
Amos was God’s man giving God’s message. Simply because Israel was being religious on the surface did not guarantee that God would not judge their sin. Because of their rejection of His law—their deceit and robbery and violence and oppression of the poor—God said, “I hate, I despise your feast days…. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them…. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs…. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:21–24).
It was a day of false peace. In the north was Assyria hanging like the sword of Damocles ready to fall, and in the next half century it would destroy this little kingdom. Israel was trying to ignore it, and they kept talking about peace. But Amos said, “Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth” (Amos 9:8). His message was not a popular message. He warned that it was God’s intention to punish sin.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 28: Amos & Obadiah. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)