Back when I was young(er) and foolish(er), I agreed to teach through the book of Amos in five weeks. This was extremely difficult for me, since it was my first time teaching prophecy and I needed to blitz through it at about two chapters per week. A year ago, when I was a little older and just as foolish, I taught an overview of the whole book in a forty-five minute lecture. This was just as difficult, if not more so.
Interestingly, each time I’ve taught on Amos, I was not the one who chose the book. God providentially, through the decisions of those around me, put me in the position of studying and teaching it. In this case, like all other cases, God’s providence was kind to me. What I learned in Amos seemed only somewhat relevant to our current culture when I first taught it (five years ago), but it seemed a lot more relevant this last year. Over the past couple of months, the things I learned in Amos keep jumping out at me as messages that both the church and our nation need to heed.
Since Amos has been helpful to me, and since few people take the time to read and study it, I’ve decided to take some time and blog through it. Some posts will cover more ground than others and I’m not sure how long it will take me to get through the whole book, but hopefully some of the content will prove as helpful to you as it has been to me.
In this post, I’ll explain the context in which the book of Amos was written so that you can better understand my reasons for blogging through it.
The book of Amos was written around 770BC, which was a little before Hosea and Isaiah prophesied. For this reason, the three prophets cover many of the same issues and talk about a lot of the same forthcoming judgments.
770BC might not mean much to you, so I’ll set a little more context. Israel was a nation that was called out of Egypt by God around 1400BC. Jump ahead a few hundred years and you get to King David’s reign that happened around 1000BC. Under David’s reign the twelve tribes of Israel were united into one kingdom—and they were very wealthy. This nation of Israel continued to be united and wealthy through the time of David’s son, Solomon. Under Solomon’s son, however, the kingdom was split in two. It became two nations, Israel in the North (composed of the northern ten tribes) and Judah in the South (composed of the tribes Judah and Benjamin).
The northern kingdom, however, had a problem. The center of worship that God had established for His people was in Jerusalem, which was in Judah. That’s where people were to go to offer sacrifices and observe other rituals. The king of the northern kingdom was concerned that if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship, everyone would leave his kingdom and move to Judah. For this reason, the king of the northern kingdom established two centers of worship: one in Dan and one in Bethel.
This was an ingenious and very practical solution to the problem. The only thing wrong with it is that it was sinful. It violated God’s command in Deuteronomy 12, where He specified that His people were only to worship in the place He established, which was the Temple in Jerusalem. The false centers of worship were established in about 920BC and remained active even in Amos’ day—and by this time, there were golden calves in these worship centers (although if you asked any Israelite, he could probably explain away the calf as a decoration or as something that helped him focus on worship).
This brings us to Amos’ day, about 150 years later. At this time, things were going pretty well for Israel and Judah. They would have considered themselves quite wealthy and powerful. They weren’t what they had been under David and Solomon, but they weren’t dirt poor either. There wasn’t a lot of political upheaval and things were pretty stable. Overall, life was good.
Amos was speaking to the northern kingdom: Israel. Amos himself, though, was from the southern kingdom. This would be something like a Canadian coming to New York or Seattle to decry our immorality and foretell God’s judgment. He’s not a native, but he’s a close cousin. Amos is also a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore figs: not well known, not highly regarded, and not exactly refined.
Lurking in the background, Assyria was growing in power and becoming a big fat geopolitical deal. There may have been some degree of hubbub about this at the drinking fountain, but no one was panicking.
However, Assyria would soon be God’s axe for striking down nations—this would happen around 722BC, around 50 years after Amos. This means that When you hear Amos talk about coming destruction, you can generally figure that it’s going to come in the form of Assyria invading, or Babylon invading at a later date.
You might have noticed some common themes that relate well to where we are as American Christians today. Much of our worship in the church is simply idolatry. Also as a nation, we are quite wealthy—although our economy has certainly been stronger. There are more parallels that we’ll see as we begin walking through the book.
Now that the stage is set, the next post in this series will start in chapter 1.