The name “Amos” literally means “burden bearer” and it speaks to how he felt about his message and its content. Typically, all the prophets carried a burdensome message of punishment; a message of doom and gloom. It was never easy for the prophets to know and speak for God, but for Amos, it was especially burdensome since he was not a prophet by trade. He was not a prophet and was not trained in one of the schools for prophets. He was just a poor sheep herder with a sensitive heart, called by God to do an extraordinary work.
Amos lived in Tekoa (Amos 1:1; 7:12) in the southern kingdom of Judah. It is generally believed to be about 12 miles south of Jerusalem and was a wild and rugged mountainous place. For all intensive purposes, Amos was a mountain man who worked as a sheepherder (Amos 1:1) and a tender of sycamore fruit (Amos 7:14-15). He was an average joe, and this is what equipped him to preach a message of repentance or else.
He worked during the time of Jeroboam and Uzziah (790-740 B.C.) and that means that he would have been contemporary with Isaiah and Jonah. During this time both kingdoms enjoyed great prosperity but with that prosperity came idolatry, extravagance, and corruption. It was a time when they quickly slipped away from God and His expectations for their life. Amos makes specific mention of a time 2 years before “the earthquake.” While we don’t know a lot about this “earthquake” (Zechariah 14:5) we know it must have been a traumatic event that everyone would have remembered. One last thing is noteworthy about Amos. Most people believe that Luke 3:25 names him as a descendant of Jesus.
The book addresses many different issues, but the central theme seems to be sin and judgment. Whether it was other nations, Israel, or Judah, he condemns their sins against others (Amos 1:1-2:3), their rejection of God’s law (Amos 2:4-5), and the oppression of the righteous (Amos 2:6-16). Amos challenged people to live by the standards of God and to allow God’s law and love to affect their way of life. Because of social injustice and failures to be authentic people of God, Amos claimed that the nation was dead already (Amos 5:2), never to rise again. To those who refused to repent and return to living for God, he said that only judgment and punishment remained. He then pens the most fearful and challenging words of any prophet, “prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (Amos 4:2).
Amos teaches us that being God’s people brings a high degree of accountability to our God. He expects that we will place Him first, loving and treating each other with respect. God has always expected his people to be different from the world, to take care of each other, and to be just in how we treat each other.
Another important lesson is that simply going through the motions of religion doesn’t save us (Amos 4:4-5; 5:21-23; 8:10) or make us better. God wants our hearts, not just religion for religion sake. Knowing and following the rules doesn’t touch the heart nor can it. The people of Judah and Israel were religious, but it was meant to appease not worship Him. They didn’t allow God’s words to touch their hearts. A religion that is not heartfelt and genuine is odious to the Lord and provokes him to anger (Amos 5:21-27).
Let me encourage you to read the book of Amos and as you do, allow his message to inspire you to new heights of authentic New Testament Christianity. God wants people that will take seriously His call to faith and love.