Amos was a shepherd who lived in the region of Tekoa, not many miles from the city of Jerusalem. He earned his living by raising sheep and taking care of sycamore trees. He was not a prophet, son of a prophet or priest. He was an ordinary man chosen by God for a specific purpose: to prophesy to Israel. God called him, shepherd's staff in hand, and sent him forth to warn his straying people.
Amos' message was to an age of unprecedented post-war prosperity in the middle of the 18th century. Materialism had become the order of the day. Politically, the kingdom was secure. Samaria, its capital, was considered impregnable. Under Jeroboam II, Israel enjoyed a remarkable cultural, social, and economic revival. It was the last glorious period in the history of the kingdom of Israel. The hopes and expectations of the people were lifted to the highest heights. They looked forward with great anticipation to even greater success and declared a great "Day of the Lord" when God Himself would take the battlefield against their antagonists.
It was also a time of fervent patriotism. Everyone seemed unanimous in the conviction that God had at long last begun to fulfill His ancient promises to the nation (Genesis 9:25-27). Such was the climate into which, without warning, was catapulted the dynamic personality of Amos.
The prosperity enjoyed by the Northern Kingdom was accompanied by an almost unparalleled degree of social corruption which was caused primarily by the demoralizing influence of Canaanite Baal-worship which Jeroboam II developed at the local shrines.
The effect of this degenerating influence upon Hebrew society began to be felt in the corruption of justice, in willful and luxurious living of the upper classes, and in the general decay of social unity. The wealthy exhibited no responsibility towards the poor, and instead of relieving their economic distress, the rich seemed hell-bent upon depriving their less fortunate counterparts of all their property. Within a short period of time, the nation whose strength had subsisted in the mass of its independent citizens was divided into the dissolute rich and the oppressed poor. In just a few short years the poor had been reduced further to the level of serfs, and when circumstances dictated, they were frequently sold into bondage by their masters for trivial considerations. The virtual disappearance of the middle class marked a turning point in the stability of Israel's life.
The impending downfall and utter collapse of the Northern Kingdom is the predominant theme of the book of Amos. The basis for his prophecy is the injustice and immorality expressed in the political, economic, and religious life of the nation. It was Amos' conviction that Yahweh is a God of justice and His power over the nations of the earth is evidenced by the fact that transgression of the principles of justice and social righteousness will inevitably be followed by utter ruin and decay. (continued in part 2).
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries http://www.clergyservices4u.org She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow, Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances, Homilies that Teach.