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5 Lessons We Can Learn from Amos in the Bible

5 Lessons We Can Learn from Amos in the Bible

In the Bible, Amos was a shepherd and farmer turned prophet, who ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. Like many prophets of the Old Testament, Amos warned of coming judgment for the idolatry, false worship, and corruption of the nation but also prophesied that the restoration of the Davidic line of kings would come through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Who Is Amos and What Do We Know About Him?

If you were asked to describe a biblical prophet, I’m sure there are several images that come to mind? You might picture a young man standing in the throne room of a corrupt king, an astute older man writing intently by candlelight, or an outspoken preacher shouting on a street corner to a distracted crowd that simply has no time for his rantings.

However, when we consider the role of the Old Testament prophet, I’m willing to bet not many would look to the farmer or shepherd as a basis for our description. And yet, that is exactly who Amos was when he was called by God to be a prophet to the nation. A man of common vocation, untrained, and ordinary in every way, Amos was nonetheless commissioned by God to deliver a message of warning to the people of Israel for their false worship, hardened hearts, and injustices.

However, despite his mission to the northern kingdom, Amos, whose name means “burden” or “burden bearer, was actually from Judah in the south. Born in Tekoa, a small village about ten miles south of Jerusalem, Amos spent most of his life as a herdsman and “grower of sycamore figs.” (Amos 7:14) In fact, Amos is the only prophet of the Old Testament to describe his occupation before his divine calling.

When challenged by Amaziah, a priest and servant of King Jeroboam II, Amos admitted that he did not possess the outward qualification of a prophet, nor was he a descendent of any noble family or priestly lineage. He was as common as they come. Therefore, any authority he had to speak or prophesy came from above (Amos 7:15).

Of course, everything we know about Amos comes from the book of the Old Testament named after him. In it, we find little evidence that Amos doubted his calling or questioned God’s ability to use a shepherd and orchardist to speak to the nation. Instead, Amos faithfully shared the message Yahweh entrusted him to deliver. And, as we read in the book of Amos, Yahweh, the lion who roars from Zion, had a lot to say to His people (Amos 1:2).

For nearly ten years, during the reign of King Jeroboam II (793 – 753 B.C.) in the north and King Uzziah (792 – 739 B.C.) in the south, Amos prophesied. This would have also made Amos a contemporary of Jonah, Hosea, and Isaiah.

What Was the Focus of Amos’ Ministry?

At the time Amos traveled north to Bethel, the northern kingdom was living in relative prosperity, on the surface at least. The economy was booming, the borders were secure, religious holidays were celebrated, and the nation was at peace with its sibling in the south. Furthermore, Israel did not have to contend with immediate threats from rival nations in Assyria, Babylon, Syria, or Egypt, who were weak at the time.

Of course, the Assyrian Empire would play a major role in the eventual downfall, destruction, and captivity of the northern kingdom. At the time of Amos’ ministry, however, it is quite possible that the Assyrians had been subdued as a result of Nineveh’s repentance from the preaching of the prophet Jonah only years prior (Jonah 3:10). Despite Israel’s outward prosperity, on the inside, the nation was in need of serious moral realignment (Amos 7:8).

False worship at Bethel had proliferated under the leadership of Jeroboam II (Amos 4:4-5; 5:5-6), corruption was rampant, and the people had become greedy, materialistic, and self-righteous. Outwardly religious but inwardly calloused and closed off to the word of God, the people had demonstrated their hardened hearts through their persecution of the Nazarites, rejection of the prophets (Amos 5:10), and oppression of the poor by imposing high rent, unfair taxes (Amos 5:11), and the implementation of false weights and measures (Amos 8:5).

For these reasons, God sent Amos to denounce the northern kingdom and warn the people to turn from their sinful ways, return to God, and restore justice (Amos 5:14-15). The people thought that they were living in the golden age of Israel’s history. Amos, however, warned that the Day of the Lord would soon come, and it would not be a day of prosperity, but rather, judgment and darkness.

But, as was often the case with the prophets of the Old Testament, there is little evidence or indication that the people changed their ways after hearing Amos’ message. Their affluence and comfortable lives had given them a false sense of security, rendering any warning on Amos’ part as nothing more than false alarmism and hysteria. Amos’ prophetic warnings, however, would come to pass in the years that followed (Amos 7:11). In fact, in 722 B.C., a little more than thirty years after Amos returned to Tekoa, the Assyrian Empire invaded the northern kingdom, destroyed its cities, and took its people captive (2 Kings 17:6).

That being said, though the message of Amos is arguably one of judgment and doom, in the final verses of Amos, the prophet offers a glimmer of hope by prophesying that God would eventually restore the nation of Israel, rebuild its cities, and bring its people back to the land He had promised them (Amos 9:13-15). In this Day, the Davidic line of kings would also be restored through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would sit on the throne of Israel forever (Amos 9:11-12). This alone was reason to hope.

5 Lessons We Can Learn from Amos

Though Amos ministered to Israel and delivered a specific message for a specific time in its history, there are several things we can learn from his life, message, and ministry that are applicable even today.

1. God Calls and Commissions Ordinary Individuals

Nothing about Amos’ vocation as a shepherd and farmer would have marked him as one suited to carry the mantel of prophet. In fact, the resume of Amos leading up to his divine commission would have been remarkable only in how unremarkable it all looked on paper. And yet, in His sovereignty and grace, God chose a shepherd and farmer to be His prophet and mouthpiece to the nation. Amos is not the only example in Scripture where God used an ordinary individual and common laborer to do His work. What is important to remember, however, is that Amos was not called because of his qualifications. In His grace, God called Amos, Amos accepted the call, and God prepared Him for what was to come.

In doing so, the ministry of Amos demonstrates how, as the apostle Paul would later write, God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

2. The Burden of a Divine Calling Cannot Be Easily Ignored

In receiving the call to prophesy to the northern kingdom, Amos could have chosen to stay home to tend his fig trees and care for his sheep. A simple farmer’s life would have been, at the very least, a much easier life than that of a prophet called to deliver bad news and a stern warning to an obstinate king and unrepentant people. Heeding the call from God was not going to win Amos many friends in the north. In fact, there was a good chance his ministry could have gotten him thrown in jail or worse, killed.

Amos could have fallen back on his lack of qualifications as a reason why he was not the right man for the job. Instead, he strapped on his sandals, picked up his staff, and ventured north, trusting that God would provide for his needs and give him the words to say when it mattered most. As Amos writes, “the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘go prophesy to My people Israel” (Amos 7:15). Accordingly, Amos saw any assignment that came from God as the highest of callings, not because of what it entailed, but because of who it came from. It was not a calling Amos could easily ignore, and he wisely chose not to.

3. Worship Must Be on God’s Terms, Not Ours

Years before Amos arrived on the scene in Bethel, Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern kingdom after the split, feared that the northern tribes might grow nostalgic and seek to return to the house of David. Knowing that the Temple of Solomon was located in Jerusalem (in the south), Jeroboam worried that frequent trips to the Temple might foster this desire (1 Kings 12:26-27). Therefore, the Bible tells us that Jeroboam, “made two golden calves, and he said to them, ‘it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the lands of Egypt.’” (1 Kings 12:28) He placed one calf in Bethel, the other in Dan, destroying unified worship, as was God’s intention when He established the Temple in Jerusalem (not Bethel) as the center of worship for the nation.

From then on, Jeroboam’s alternate sites of worship would be referred to as the “high places”, which no subsequent king had the spiritual sense to eliminate, to their peril. In the days of Amos, these alternate high places had encouraged false worship and even idolatry which God sought to eliminate (Amos 7:9). This is why Amos opens his book with the reminder that “the Lord roars from Zion, and from Jerusalem He utters His voice.” (Amos 1:2)

The people of Israel, like their siblings to the south, were called to return to God and that meant true (and correct) worship, which had not been done for quite some time. True worshippers, therein, will worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:23) and always on His terms, never their own. Anything else amounts to idolatry.

4. God Is Sovereign Over the Nations

Though the focus of Amos’ ministry is understandably directed at the nation of Israel, the first two chapters of Amos include charges against surrounding nations and the enemies of Israel. Why does this matter?

Although these nations had not entered into a covenant relationship with Yahweh, they would still be held responsible for their crimes against humanity and mistreatment of God’s people. Evil does not go unnoticed by the King of Kings. Furthermore, God will always hold His people to the highest standard since they have been given the truth and called to be a blessing to the nations. However, as we are reminded in the prophecies of Amos, God is sovereign over ALL nations.

5. Our Hope Is Found in Christ Alone

Many will note that the writings of Amos are focused far more on judgment than hope. It is true that most of the prophets came with warnings of judgment for the disobedience of Israel and their rejection of God as their king. The future was not always bright for the people of Israel or Judah, as they would soon discover in the days to come. However, it is appropriate that Amos, the shepherd prophet, ends his ministry with a prophetic vision of the coming Messiah and good shepherd who would win His people back and sit on the throne of Israel forever.

Therefore, in good times and bad, as the people of Israel had reason to hope in the Messiah who was to come, we too have reason to hope and rejoice in the same Christ who was, who is, and who is to come again. 

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/aradaphotography

Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.

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