The September Free Book of the Month is here! Download Mentor Commentary: Amos, absolutely free!
When commentaries meet inductive study
The book of Amos is full of unfamiliar references, beginning in the very first verse. The inductive method of Bible study—the one that focuses on simply asking questions of the text—is an incredibly valuable and rewarding way of understanding what Amos is saying. Download this month’s free book, open it up in Logos, and follow along with today’s study by clicking the red links.
Let’s take a look at verse 1 of Amos:
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds 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. (Amos 1:1)
Immediately, from this one verse, I come up with 6 questions:
- Who is Amos?
- What was his occupation? (The ESV notes that “shepherd” here can also mean “sheep breeders.” Is there significance behind that?)
- Where is Tekoa?
- When did Uzziah king of Judah reign?
- When did Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel reign?
- When did the earthquake happen?
Let’s answer these six questions one by one.
Who is Amos?
First, who is Amos? Here’s what Smith’s commentary has to say.
Biographical information concerning Amos is limited to the portrait revealed within this book. His name is not mentioned elsewhere (he is not the Amoz of Isa. 1:1 or the Amasiah of 2 Chron. 17:16), and the attempts to identify him with the ‘man of God’ from Judah who condemned Jeroboam I and the altar at Bethel in 1 Kings 13 are historically impossible. Like Obadiah, Habakkuk, Nahum and Haggai, the age of the prophet and his family tree are omitted. A synthesis of the prophet’s character and personality is provided in the introduction.
As Smith’s commentary notes, the introduction of Amos is similar to those of several other prophetic books. It is unusual in the sense that it does not include וַיְהִי דְּבַר יְהוָה (wayĕhiy dĕbar-yĕhwâ), “The word of the LORD” introduction that begins many of the Old Testament prophets. This phrase is included in the following prophetic introductions:
- Jeremiah 1:4 (and following)
- Jonah 1:1 (and again in Jonah 3:1)
- Haggai 1:3
I discovered these occurrences with a quick search from the Hebrew. To do a phrase search, follow these steps:
- Open your BHS or preferred Hebrew Bible
- Highlight the desired search phrase.
- Right click to open the Context Menu
- Select “Search this resource”
For this search, I prefer opening it in a second window instead of doing an inline search so that I can see the results aligned. However, Amos 1:3 does include an alternate phrase: כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה (kō ʾāmar yĕhwâ), or “Thus says the LORD.” Sure enough, another search shows me that this phrasing is included in the introduction to the following prophetic books:
- Obadiah 1
- Nahum 1:12
- Haggai 1:2
- Zechariah 1:3
- Malachi 1:4
My conclusion: Amos’ introduction is not out of place among the prophets. But when you search the entire book of Amos for the same introductory phrase, you discover that he uses this terminology an astounding number of times compared to other, longer prophetic books. And that sets this book apart.
What was his occupation?
Another unique feature of Amos’ introduction is that it specifies the prophet’s occupation: he is a “shepherd.” But various translations note that he may not have been a “shepherd” in the traditional sense. The ESV notes that the word may mean instead “sheep breeders.” This tells me there is more to be discovered. I return to the commentary by Gary V. Smith:
The superscription states that Amos was one of the ‘herdsmen’ from Tekoa, while 7:14 describes him as a shepherd and one who worked with sycamore figs.
Amos was employed as a ‘herdsman, sheep breeder’ in Tekoa. This term is used one other time in the Old Testament (2 Kings 3:4) to describe the King of Moab, who was required to pay Ahab, the King of Israel, 100,000 lambs and wool from 100,000 rams. Some connect the root for herdsman with the Arabic naqad (used of a sheep); thus, one who cares for this type of sheep would be called a nōqēd (‘a herdsman’).
This discussion is important because it gives us insight into the imagery that will be carried throughout the book of Amos:
A ‘herdsman’ indicates a nonprophetic background (7:14–15) for the prophet. A shepherd would naturally choose metaphors concerning the roar of the lions (1:2; 3:4), traps (3:5), rescuing the remains of an animal attacked by a lion (3:12) and might well be astonished at the riches of the upper class (6:1–6). But being a shepherd is not identical to being a simple uneducated peasant. The literary style, method of argument, and knowledge of international political affairs clearly demonstrates that Amos is an educated and knowledgeable person.
In short, many of the metaphors employed by the author become clearer when connected to his occupation.
Where is Tekoa?
Here’s Smith again:
The village of Tekoa was probably the birth place of the prophet and the place where Amos lived when he was called to announce God’s message to Israel. This would place the prophet in the southern Judean hill country about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, with Bethlehem to the north, Hebron to the south and the Dead Sea to the east.
This description is apt and succint. However, I’m a visual learner. With the power of Logos, I can do in-depth background research on people, places, and things. Below, I’ve included a screenshot of Tekoa from the Atlas.
Further down in the commentary, Smith goes on to note:
Tekoa is perhaps best known because of the wise woman employed by Joab to convince David to be merciful to Absalom (2 Sam. 14:2–9). Tekoa also had a military fortress associated with it during the period of Rehoboam (ca. 920; 2 Chron. 11:5–7), Jehoshaphat (ca. 860; 2 Chron. 17:2; 20:20), and Uzziah (ca. 760; 2 Chron. 26:10). The presence of troops in town made Amos more aware of military matters within and outside of Judah.
David’s relationship to Absalom and the military fortress of Judah’s kings would both have been present in the minds of the original readers. With this insight, we get closer to the impact this would have had on Amos’ first readers.
When did Uzziah king of Judah reign?
The Atlas provides a concrete representation of the location, Tekoa. But what about people? Again, the commentary is direct and to the point.
Uzziah was the King of Judah, the homeland of Amos, for approximately fifty years (2 Kings 15:1–2; 2 Chron. 26:1–3). Uzziah’s reign is dated from 791 to 740 bc, 787 to 736 bc, and 783 to 742 bc.
But I want more on King Uzziah. Fortunately, Logos provides quick and powerful search opportunities from the context menu. I can quickly open a Factbook search with these simple steps:
- Right click on the name (in this case, Uzziah)
- Select the person reference, Uzziah (king) from the context menu.
- Select Factbook
This Factbook shows me Media, including family trees, events from the life of Uzziah, results from my dictionaries, and more.
When did Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel reign?
]Smiths commentary has given me a very specific date range for the reign of Jeroboam.
Jeroboam’s reign is dated around 787/6–747/6 or 793–753 bc.
That kind of specificity is perfect for using the Timeline. To use the Timeline tool, follow the instructions below:
- Go to Tools
- Select “Timeline”
- In the date box, type 787-753 BC
- Hit enter
Here I see at a glance the estimates for the prophetic career of Amos (760-754 BC), as well as key points in his life, such as the earthquake (which we’ll note in the answer to our next question). I also notice that Amos’ career overlapped with Hosea and Jonah. If I want to do additional research, these books might be a good place to go for contemporary studies.
When did the earthquake happen?
Does it seem strange to you that the author included an incident of an earthquake? If it does, consider that most people around that time period used events to mark the passing of time. As Smith’s commentary notes, this was probably seen as a regional event, as evidenced by the geological excavation:
‘Two years before the earthquake’ is an exact date, and many associate this event with the signs of a severe earthquake found during the excavation of Hazor, in area A, stratum VI; (a date of 760 bc is proposed by Yadin). There is still some disagreement concerning the association of this level with stratum V or IV in Samaria, but a date for the earthquake between 765 and 760 bc is probable.
* * *
With these six questions, we’ve set ourselves up for the study of the book of Amos. As we continue to read through the book, this background information will inform our study. Good commentaries are a great place to start when studying Scripture. To get the most out of the features I used in this post, pick up a base package. Not sure which one’s for you? Talk to a Resource Expert! Call 888-875-9491 or email Experts@logos.com