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AMOS (ā'mŏs, Heb. ‘āmôs, Gr. amos, burden-bearer). One of the colorful personalities in an era that saw the rise of several towering prophetic figures. His ministry occurred in the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 786-746 b.c.), son of King Jehoash of the Jehu dynasty of Israel. Due to the removal of Benhadad III of Syria as a military threat, the northern kingdom had been able to consolidate its hold on Damascus and extend its borders northward to the pass of Hamath. To the south and east, its territorial acquisitions equaled those of the early kingdom period under David and Solomon. While Assyria was becoming an increasingly serious political threat, its military might under Tiglath-Pileser III was still a distant prospect when Jeroboam II began to rule Israel.

Jeroboam’s forty-year reign was one of great prosperity for the northern kingdom, approaching in character the “golden age” of David and Solomon. With the threat of war removed, a cultural, social, and economic revival took place. The expansion of trade and commerce resulted in a steady drift from country to city, and the small towns in the northern kingdom gradually became overcrowded. But prosperity was accompanied by an almost unprecedented degree of social corruption (Amos.2.6-Amos.2.8; Amos.5.11-Amos.5.12), caused principally by the demoralizing influence of Canaanite Baal worship, which had been fostered at the local shrines from the time when the northern kingdom had assumed a separate existence.

Archaeological discoveries in Palestine have furnished a dramatic picture of the extent to which this depraved, immoral religion exerted its corrupting influences over the Israelites. Characteristic of the ritual observances were drunkenness, violence, gross sensuality, and idolatrous worship. The effect was seen in the corruption of justice, in wanton and luxurious living, and in the decay of social unity in Hebrew society. The rich manifested no sense of responsibility toward the poor, and instead of relieving their economic distress seemed bent on devising new means of depriving them of their property.

To this perilous situation Amos brought a message of stern denunciation. Although he was not an inhabitant of the northern kingdom, he was painfully aware of its moral, social, and religious shortcomings. Amos lived in the small mountain village of Tekoa, which lay to the south of Jerusalem on the borders of the extensive upland pastures of Judah. By trade he was a herdsman of sheep and goats (Amos.7.14) and was also engaged in dressing the sycamore-fig tree, whose fruit needs to be incised about four days before the harvest to hasten the ripening process. His background was of a strictly agricultural nature, and his work afforded him ample time for meditating on God’s laws and their meaning for wayward Israel.

The style of his book, though simple, is picturesque, marked by striking illustrations taken from his rural surroundings. His work as a herdsman was clearly not incompatible either with a knowledge of history (Amos.9.7) or with an ability to assess the significance of contemporary political and religious trends. The integrity of his book has suffered little at the hands of modern critical scholars.


Amos.9.1-Amos.9.2. The indictment of foreign nations, including Judah and Israel.

Amos.3.1-Amos.5.17. The condemnation of wicked Samaria.

Amos.5.18-Amos.6.14. False security exposed; judgment foretold.

Amos.7.1-Amos.9.10. Five visions illustrate divine forbearance and justice; Amos’s reception at Bethel (Amos.7.10-Amos.7.17).

Amos.9.11-Amos.9.15. Epilogue promising restoration and prosperity.

Bibliography: J. K. Howard, Amos Among the Prophets, 1968; J. L. Mays, Amos: A Commentary, 1969; J. A. Motyer, The Day of the Lion, 1974.——RKH

AMOS ā’ məs (עָמֹ֔וס amos, LXX ̓Αμώς, G322, burden-bearer). An 8th-cent. b.c. literary prophet of Judah who uttered denunciations against Israel and other nations as contained in the canonical book attributed to him.

1. Background

2. Authorship and unity

3. Date

4. Place of origin and destination

5. Occasion and purpose

6. Canonicity and text

7. Content

8. Theology


The concurrent reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel were marked by a period of peace and prosperity in the N and S which approached in character the “golden age” of David and Solomon. This situation resulted from a number of factors, one of the most important being the removal of Benhadad III of Syria (c. 796-776 b.c.) as a military threat to the northern kingdom. This ruler, son of Hazael (2 Kings 13:3), had brought pressure to bear on Jehoash and, according to the Zakir stele, had led a powerful coalition against Zakir of Hamath, a usurper from Lu’ash who had seized control of the entire kingdom of Hamath-Lu’ash. The stele narrated the way in which Zakir and his allies defeated the coalition of Benhadad, thus ending the Aramean dominance of Syria.

Shortly afterward, Damascus came under the sovereignty of Jeroboam II (14:28), and the territory of the northern kingdom was ultimately extended to Hamath. The extent of Israel and Judah to the S and E approximated the limits of the kingdom in the days of David and Solomon. While Assyria was becoming an increasing political threat, its military might under Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 b.c.) was still a distant prospect when Jeroboam II succeeded to sole rule in Israel.

Once the menace of war had been removed, a remarkable cultural, social, and economic revival took place in Israel and was reflected to a lesser extent in Judah. The northern kingdom was now free to control the trading caravan routes of the E which passed through its newly acquired territory. One consequence of this was the rise of a rich mercantile class which shared with the nobility the wealth of the nation and created new demands for an increasingly wide variety of luxury items. The expansion of trade and commerce fostered a steady drift of the populace from the country to the city, and for the first time in their history the small towns in the northern kingdom gradually became overcrowded.

Prosperity was accompanied by an almost unprecedented degree of social corruption (Amos 2:6-8; 5:11, 12), caused mainly by the demoralizing influence of Canaanite Baal-worship which had been taken over from the Phoenicians and developed at the local shrines from the time when the northern kingdom had assumed a separate existence under Jeroboam I (931/30-910/09). Archeological discoveries have provided a dramatic picture of the nature of contemporary Canaanite religion, showing without question that it was the most corrupt of any in the ancient Near E in its descent to the lowest depths of moral depravity.

Ritual prostitution was a perennial feature of Canaanite religion, and characterizations of Anat, an eminent female member of the pantheon, depicted her as a divine courtesan. One cuneiform text from Ugarit portrayed her as a butcher, brutally slaying both young and old in a fiendish orgy. The lily and the serpent, commonly found in association with this fertility goddess, were venerated as symbols of fecundity. Canaanite religion recognized four principal annual feasts, and for the most part the worship was carried on at outdoor altars or near the tops of hills. Certain types of sacrifice were indulged in, and from cuneiform sources appear to have been more diversified than Israelite sacrifices. Drunkenness, violence, idolatrous worship, and gross sensuality were inevitable concomitants of Canaanite festal observances, and were extremely common in Israelite religion also. On every side in the northern kingdom there was an avowed interest in cultic worship at the shrines (4:4, 5; 5:5), but the perverted character of the observances had nothing in common with the traditions of the Mosaic Torah.

The effect of this degenerating influence upon Heb. 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 rich manifested no sense of responsibility toward the poor, and instead of relieving their economic distress, they seemed bent upon depriving them of all their property. Small farmers were dispossessed by the rapacious wealthy class in order to make possible the accumulation of vast estates, and where this could not be done legally, it was achieved by means of bribing the judiciary to render judgment in favor of the rich contestant. In a very short time the nation, whose strength had subsisted in the mass of its independent citizens, was divided into the dissolute rich and the oppressed poor. Within a few short years the latter had been reduced to the level of serfs, and when circumstances made it necessary, they were sold into bondage by their masters, frequently for trivial considerations (2:6). The virtual disappearance of the middle class marked a turning point in the stability of Israelite life and portended an ominous future for the nation.

This situation has been amply illustrated archeologically by the famous Samaritan ostraca, which have been assigned to the reign of Jeroboam II. Some sixty-three potsherds inscribed in ink were recovered in 1910 by the Harvard expedition to Samaria in some ruins just W of the site of the royal palace. When the fragments were deciphered, they were found to comprise administrative documents recording shipments of wine and oil to Samaria. One potsherd contained the name of the treasury official in receipt of the wine, the district from which it had been sent, and the names of the peasants who had paid their taxes in this manner. Of the twenty or more place names in the ostraca, six appear as clan-designations in the OT. The references in the sherds to “pure clarified wine” and “refined oil” typified the exaggerated demands of the luxury loving Samaritan elite, and demonstrated the extent to which the northern kingdom had moved away from the ancient Heb. ideal of the small independent landowner.

Some idea of the way in which cultural interests were coming to the forefront can be obtained from the jasper seal of “Shema, servant of Jeroboam,” discovered by Schumacher at Megiddo in 1904. On epigraphic grounds it prob. should be assigned to the period of Jeroboam II, and the magnificently executed lion which it depicted is a striking testimony to the artistic standards of the 8th cent. b.c. A great many ivory inlays, the earliest of which belonged to the time of Ahab (874/3-853 b.c.), have been recovered from the hill of Samaria (modern Sebastiyeh), mostly in the form of small panels in relief depicting such things as palmettos, lilies, lions, deer, sphinxes, and winged human figures. The remains of a bed decorated with ivory inlays were also recovered (cf. Amos 6:4). The workmanship of the ivories is distinctly Phoen., although by contrast many of the subjects executed are Egyp. in nature. In any event they amply justify the prophetic censures (3:15; 1 Kings 22:39, et al.) of wanton luxury on the part of the Israelite upper classes.

Authorship and unity.

Questions relating to the authorship and composition of the prophecy have been widely discussed in recent years. While the Heb. text furnishes no indication as to whether or not Amos actually put his oracles into written form during his lifetime, or at his death left behind written sources containing some or all of his utterances, the freshness and vitality of much of the material would suggest the direct authorship of Amos himself. Adherents of the Scandinavian tradition historical theories have maintained that the oracles of Amos, like those of all other prophets, were transmitted orally over a long period of time before being put into their extant form. However, the remarkably sound condition of the Heb. text seems to favor the view that either Amos or an amanuensis set down the utterances in writing within a short time of their promulgation.

Certain scholars have suggested that the visions (7:1-9; 8:1-3; 9:1-4) belonged to a period preceding the mission to Israel and that they were compiled as a separate document at the time of the earthquake (which served coincidentally to stress their message of doom), to which Amos 8:4-14 was added later. By contrast, the oracles in chs. 1-6 were collected at the end of the ministry in Israel and may have concluded originally with the biographical section. According to this theory, both documents were subsequently united in exilic or postexilic days to form the extant work along with a few editorial additions. This theory was based in part upon the supposed presence in the superscription (1:1) of parallel vv. held to imply the presence of two collections of material, namely, “The words of Amos” and “The visions of Amos which he saw.” According to certain scholars, these two had been combined in the extant title by a redactor in order to furnish a proper sense of unity for the final composition.

A modification of this view suggested that apart from certain minor additions, the prophecy was in fact the accredited work of Amos, but entertained the idea of a twofold division, the first part of which comprised Amos 1:2-7:9, recording the speeches and events occurring prior to the summary ejection of Amos from Bethel, while the second section (8:1-9:15) contained the speeches and visions of the prophet which had taken place subsequent to that time. Amos 7:10-17 was thought to have been added to the first of these divisions just prior to the unification of the prophecy.

Great caution must be urged in advancing any theory which would make for a hard and fast division between oracles and visions in the extant prophecy. When the Book of Amos is compared with other clearly attestable prophecies compiled in bipartite form, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, it is evident that the grouping of the Amos material into oracles and visions is incidental to the process of compilation and was never meant to depict a true bipartite structure. That the visions ought to be integrated with the oracular utterances in the ministry of the prophet is apparent in the first vision (7:1-3). Amos was already functioning in a characteristic intercessory capacity, begging God to be merciful toward delinquent Israel. To insist on anything approaching a rigid distinction between the visions and the oracles, as some critics have done, is an extremely precarious procedure, for when the contents of both sections are compared, it is readily apparent that there is no fundamental difference between them either in content or nature. Again, it seems improbable that the visions themselves can be dated in a period occurring much before the oracular utterances, since there is a close connection between them in certain significant areas. This can be illustrated by the relationship of the vision in Amos 7:7-9, in which the prophet foresaw the overthrow of the Israelite royal house, and the consecutive narrative passage which recounted his summary dismissal from the northern kingdom for treasonable utterances against the regime of Jeroboam II.

A careful reading of the text leaves little doubt that the visions comprise a literary as well as a spiritual homogeneous unit. This is apparent from the construction of the material as a whole, which rises rhetorically to a climax, and also by the general consonance of the form and subject matter. There seems little reason for doubting that they comprised a unified group from the time of oral proclamation, and the fact that the first person sing. was used for the visions suggests that Amos himself was the author. While it is possible that the material in Amos 8:4-14 may have been placed in its present position in order to supplement the account of the visions, it obviously belongs in nature to earlier oracular utterances of the prophet.

The collection of oracles in chs. 1-6 exhibits certain stereotyped features including the climactic use of numbers in the phrase “for three transgressions...and for four.” Quite possibly the way in which the denunciation of the nations was arranged, beginning with pagan peoples, then the blood relatives of Israel, followed by oracles against the southern and northern kingdoms is a device original with Amos, though somewhat similar examples have been noted in Egyp. lit. Against the view that this section of material was concluded with the biographical statement, one need only observe that its presence in the visionary passages was necessary in order to demonstrate that they constituted an essential part of the northern ministry of Amos.

Some scholars have detected what are thought to have been annotations to the original prophecy, i.e., the fact that in the superscription the king of Judah was placed before the king of Israel. While this could have been the work of a Judaean scribe, the juxtaposition of the two names need imply nothing more than that, in the mind of Amos, only the Davidic line, represented by Uzziah, was legitimate, a situation which may also be in evidence in Hosea 1:1. Some questions have been directed at the originality of Amos 2:4, 5, which involved a pronouncement of doom upon Judah. It has been argued accordingly that whereas other oracles condemned the inhumanity of the nations concerned, this particular utterance related only to moral and spiritual transgressions in Judah and was thus out of character with previous statements. On the other hand, it would have been strange had Amos mentioned all the neighbors of Israel except Judah, since she too was apostate, and as such equally deserving of decisive punishment. In any event, acts of inhumanity were by no means as common a feature of life in the southern kingdom as was the case in the N.

In general the great majority of liberal scholars are prepared to accept the prophecy as being the authentic product of Amos, although the work of editorial hands is frequently posited. Attempts to distinguish between individual editors seem pointless in view of a complete lack of supporting evidence. Some minor insertions have been argued for, mostly in connection with material relating to Judah, along with the concluding vv. of the prophecy dealing with the future prospects of the nation.

The extent to which the prophet may have attracted disciples depends largely upon whether or not he exercised a later ministry in the southern kingdom, as Amaziah had advised (7:12). There are, however, no indications that anyone other than Isaiah had a following of disciples, and if the ministry of Amos was of short duration, it seems unlikely that anyone would perpetuate his particular message in Israel in view of the prevailing national temper. Quite possibly his prophecy may have undergone slight redactional procedures in Judah, since in antiquity the scribes regularly revised material in different generations. However, it is extremely difficult to pronounce either on the nature or the scope of such activities in the extant work because of the remarkable uniformity of standpoint which it demonstrates. On the basis of the available evidence there is little doubt that Amos, with or without scribal help, was responsible for the written form of the oracles and visions attributed to him in the superscription.

The literary style of the prophecy exhibits freshness, simplicity, and originality, all of which must have made an immediate claim upon the attention of his hearers. His poetic utterances are among the finest in Heb. lit., and the dirge-like rhythms which he utilized are powerful agents in the task of building up an ominous sense of expectation of calamity. Yet his diction is never so compounded with figures of speech that its meaning is not immediately apparent, nor his lyricism so exalted as to obscure his theological teachings.

Some scholars have suggested that Amos included fragments of a cultic hymn in his prophecy, such sections represented by Amos 4:13; 5:8; and 9:5, 6, on the ground that the doctrines contained therein were too advanced for the thought of Amos. It is questionable whether the cultic prophets of the northern kingdom were more than casually interested in true morality and religion, and if so, it would be improbable that the material originated in such circles. That they appear to be genuine words of Amos seems borne out by the fact that their teachings were already firmly rooted in Mosaic law and were merely being recapitulated by the prophet in a way which would meet contemporary needs. The “fragments” in question are so closely integrated into the surrounding material as to make their removal impossible without causing a basic disruption of the text, which would again appear to indicate that they are genuine utterances of Amos.


From the superscription to the prophecy (1:1), it is known that Amos lived during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah (767-740/39 b.c.), and Jeroboam II of Israel (782/81-753 b.c.). Uzziah had been co-regent with Amaziah of Judah from 791/90 b.c., while Jeroboam II was co-regent with Jehoash of Israel from 793/92 b.c. The date at which Amos began his ministry has been a matter of dispute. Some scholars have thought that the confident mood of the nation reflected in the prophecy points to a date c. 760 b.c. or shortly afterward, while others have suggested that Amos was aware of the westward advance of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria and predicted destruction accordingly. It seems evident that the prophetic denunciations were based on the conviction that Israelite apostasy and idolatry could not fail to be punished by God and that political developments in Assyria had no place in the thought of Amos. Significantly enough, he never once mentioned the quarter from which the doom might be expected to come, though he spoke of captivity “beyond Damascus” (5:27).

The mention in the superscription of an earthquake which occurred two years after the appearance of the prophet is unfortunately of no help in dating his ministry, even though the phenomenon was still remembered in the days of Zechariah (Zech 14:5) as having occurred in the reign of Uzziah. Since the leprosy of the latter occasioned a co-regency during the latter years of his reign (2 Kings 16:1-7), the ministry of Amos could perhaps be placed about halfway through the concurrent reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II, possibly about 760 b.c.

It is difficult to say precisely how long the ministry of the prophet continued, and it may have lasted only a few months at the most. It appears to have terminated in Bethel (Amos 7:10-17), where his announcement of the coming invasion of the land and the fall of the house of Jeroboam II was, not unnaturally, taken as treason. There is no need to suppose that Amos did all his preaching at either Samaria or Bethel, and although Amos could be interpreted as speaking to an audience in Samaria itself (2:9; 4:1; 6:1), it may well be that his hearers were the people of Samaria worshiping at Bethel, the site of the Israelite royal sanctuary from the days of Jeroboam I. From the discussion of the authorship above it will be evident that his prophecy was almost certainly complete during his lifetime.

Place of origin and destination.

Although Amos was one of the more colorful personalities in an era of several towering prophetic figures, comparatively little is known about his origin. He was a native of Tekoa (1:1), a town in the southern kingdom about ten m. S of Jerusalem, now represented by the ruined five-acre site of Khirbet Taqu’a. The extensive upland countryside of Judah provided pasture for the flocks which he tended in addition to his work as a dresser of sycamore trees. The latter involved incising of the fruit of the sycamore fig some four days before it was due to be harvested, so as to hasten the ripening process. The importance of this information about the background of Amos lies in its proof that he was not brought up in the class from which prophets usually came and that he had not been trained for his mission in life in the prophetic schools or guilds (7:14, 15). He was a man of agricultural pursuits, and until his call was a layman with no professional preparation for religious office. The life of the Judaean shepherd was reflected in the imagery of his prophetic oracles, illustrated by the reference to the seven stars and Orion as witnesses to the creative power of God, to the devastating plague of locusts which denuded the pasture lands, and to the nocturnal sounds of the lion roaring over its prey.

Upon receiving his call, Amos proceeded resolutely to the center of pagan worship in the northern kingdom and protested vigorously against the luxurious and careless living so typical of Samaria. He pointed to the unmistakable symptoms of a morally sick society and castigated the perversion of religion which was being allowed at the cultic shrines of Gilgal and Beersheba, stating flatly that ritual could never constitute an acceptable substitute for righteousness. His denunciation of idolatry included the firm assertion that God exercised a moral jurisdiction over all nations (1:3, 6, 9, 11; 2:1, 4, 6) and that Israel would be severely punished if it failed to repent and renew covenantal fellowship with God.

Occasion and purpose.

Amos had been greatly exercised by the license, apostasy, and corruption of life in the northern kingdom, a situation which furnished the occasion and reason for the prophecy. To these circumstances Amos came with a message of stern denunciation. Although he was not an inhabitant of the northern kingdom, he was well aware of its moral, social, and religious shortcomings. The fact that Amos forsook Judah to deliver his oracles at Bethel and perhaps Samaria has led some scholars to make him a northerner by origin, on the supposition that he moved to Tekoa only when expelled by the authorities of the northern kingdom because of his prophecies of doom. While the absence of sycamores near Tekoa in modern times might seem to support such a view, it is refuted by the fact that Amaziah clearly regarded Amos as a native Judaean and bade him return home with all speed (7:12).

Canonicity and text.

This prophecy stood third in the list of the canonical twelve Minor Prophets, but Amos was one of the first of the so-called “writing prophets,” and as such initiated a new period in the growth of the prophetic office in Israel. The Heb. text of Amos is in good condition, although some scholars have seen fit to suggest emendations for certain passages such as 2:7; 3:12; 5:6, 26; 7:2; 8:1, to mention the more important vv. The LXX and other ancient VSS appear to have been made from a text related to that of the Massoretes; as for the Qumran fragments of Amos, they too present no important variations from the traditional text.


1:1-2:16. Superscription and the announcing of judgment upon neighboring peoples (1:3-2:3), upon Judah and Samaria (2:4-16) for their repeated transgression of the moral law.

3:1-6:14. A series of addresses introduced by a formula (3:1; 4:1; 5:1; 6:1) in which the moral responsibility of Samaria was enunciated and the “day of the Lord” proclaimed.

7:1-9:10. Five visions of judgment, depicted by the symbols of locusts (7:1-3), fire (7:4-6), a plumb line (7:7-9), summer fruit (8:1-14), and a devastated sanctuary (9:1-7). Amos 7:10-17 comprises an extended autobiographical note.

9:8-15. An epilogue describing the restoration of the Davidic kingdom.


Any interpretation of the prophetic message which sees the Judaean shepherd as the harbinger of unrelieved doom is incorrect, particularly since it requires the rejection of Amos 9:8-15 as authentic prophetic material. In proclaiming blessing, Amos was in fact demonstrating the fidelity of God to His covenant, a faithfulness which would be exhibited in the return from captivity of a faithful remnant (9:14). Not unnaturally, an understanding of his concept of God is a prerequisite to a proper interpretation of his teachings. In common with other prophets of his cent. such as Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah, Amos believed that the Lord was the creator and sustainer of the world (4:13) and as such could dictate the occurrence of plenty (9:13) or famine and pestilence (4:6-10). This kind of sovereignty was also extended to created humanity, where God exercised control over the fortunes of nations, exalting one and deposing another (6:14; 2:9). This restraining influence was supplemented by the functions of a judge (1:3-2:3) when various peoples offended against the moral precepts of God as expressed in the law.

While Amos did not mention the covenant directly, it was clearly fundamental to his estimate of the relationship between God and Israel. The creator of the cosmos had entered into a special association with Israel (3:2), which, although privileged in nature, involved high moral and spiritual responsibilities. Failure to recognize the latter factor, and to be governed accordingly, could only bring judgment upon the nation. In adopting this position, Amos rejected the popular idea that the covenant relationship automatically placed Israel in a privileged position which could not be violated or repudiated even by God Himself. In Amos 9:7 the nation was told bluntly that it had no more claim upon God than the Ethiopians, the Philistines, or the Syrians, a statement which showed how greatly Amos was concerned to rescue the covenant concept from a perverted interpretation. The fact that God had entered into such an association with Israel demanded that the nation should reciprocate by exhibiting in her national character those high moral and ethical qualities typical of the God of Sinai. That such attributes were patently lacking in the life of the people was proof that the bond with God had been repudiated, and for this apostasy the nation could expect only to incur due retribution from Him who was the Lord of history. The animosity which Amos manifested toward the cultic religion of the northern kingdom was directed at the abuses of traditional Heb. morality which the rituals enshrined, rather than at the fact of a ritualistic kind of worship. Canaanite religion, with which the cultic procedures of the Israelites was heavily overlaid, was of the most depraved moral character, degrading and debasing its enthusiastic participants rather than uplifting and enriching them. The prophecy shows that, rather than exemplifying the stern morality of the Sinai covenant, the Israelite priests had been condoning the most flagrant vi olations of the ethical principles revealed in the Torah. By encouraging the nation in the belief that proper payment of dues at the sanctuaries and an appropriate degree of participation in the rituals of the cultus was all that was required by God, the priests had contributed materially to that state of apostasy which had overtaken the nation.

Like other Heb. prophets, Amos made it a matter of prime importance to stress that no form of rite, ceremony, liturgical procedure, or festal celebration could form an acceptable substitute for sustained and deliberate violation of the revealed moral law. The elaborate rituals which had been devised were an abomination to a Deity who demanded first and foremost that His people should manifest holiness of life. If the nation persisted in showing that it had no serious intentions of measuring up to the ethical standards laid down in the law, its implicit divorce of religion from morality could only result in drastic punishment (5:27). God was already standing beside the altar (9:1), poised and prepared to shatter it into pieces as an expression of His anger against a false and apostate religion. This general attitude should be sufficient to refute the view held by some scholars that, since Amos nowhere directly condemned calf worship in Israel, he was favorable to the cultus to some extent. In addition, it should be noted that the mention of cultic procedures at Gilgal, Carmel, and elsewhere was invariably in terms of condemnation, since Amos was well aware of the abuses which characterized worship at these locations.

The primary call of the prophet was for national repentance and a return to God, but this was not just a matter of reforming cultic practices and observing traditional forms of Heb. worship. The corruptions of Canaanite religion had spread to all levels of society, and the appalling violations of justice and equity in Israel demanded immediate redress in the spirit of the Torah, which exhibited an advanced doctrine of social responsibility among the covenant people. Judgment and righteousness (5:24) must henceforward replace the oppression of the poor (5:11), bribery, injustice (5:15), apostasy, and immorality if the nation was to have any relief from the threat of destruction. For Amos, a people in covenant relationship with God were under an obligation to pursue equitable social as well as spiritual behavior, and if Israel persisted in divorcing herself from God by failing to remove the many serious blemishes upon national life, she would quickly go into oblivion.

So convinced was Amos of impending doom that he never wavered in his pronouncements of future destruction. While God naturally desired the nation to choose repentance and life rather than continued sin and consequent destruction, it was clear to Amos that the covenant of grace existing between Israel and God demanded that Deity should be more severe in His dealings with delinquent Israel than with any of the pagan nations. While Amos did not present the doctrine of the remnant in as developed a form as did his younger contemporary, Isaiah, there is no doubt that it was present in essence in his prophecy (5:4, 15).

The message of judgment for the nation, based upon the concept of a divine righteousness, involved a repudiation of the widely-held notion of the “day of the Lord” as an occasion of prosperity and material blessing for Israel (5:18-20). Precisely how this eschatology gained currency is difficult to say, but it may have resulted in part from the contemporary prosperity of the nation and perhaps also from a form of cultic celebration at the shrines, though the latter is by no means certain. Without question it was radically different from comparable notions enshrined in the Torah, where future blessings for the nation were always contingent upon the honoring of covenant obligations and general obedience to the divine will.

Much scholarly discussion has taken place regarding the possibility that such eschatological ideas were in existence in the 8th cent. b.c. Precisely what form the “day of the Lord” was supposed to have taken has also been debated, with a resultant wide diversity of opinion. The popular expectation appears to have envisioned a time when Israel would triumph gloriously over all her foes and exact tribute from them while living in luxury herself. Abetting this view was the fact that the contemporary state of material prosperity was taken as a sign of divine blessing and a token of the greater riches to follow when the successes of the nation occurred.


W. R. Harper, Amos and Hosea in ICC (1910); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (1953), 250-252; R. S. Cripps, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos (1955); J. D. W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos (1958); R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`amoc, "burdensome" or "burden-bearer"; Amos):


2. Native Place

3. Personal History

4. His Preparation

(1) Knowledge of God

(2) Acquaintance with History of His People

(3) Personal Travel

(4) Scenery of His Home

5. His Mission

6. Date

II. THE BOOK 1. Its Divisions

2. Its Outlook

3. Value of the Book

(1) As a Picture of the Social Condition

(2) As Picture of the Religious Condition

(3) Testimony to History

(4) Testimony to the Law

(a) The Ritual

(b) Ethical Teaching

(5) The Prophetic Order

(6) The Prophetic Religion


I. The Prophet. 1. Name:

Amos is the prophet whose book stands third among the "Twelve" in the Hebrew canon. No other person bearing the same name is mentioned in the Old Testament, the name of the father of the prophet Isaiah being written differently (’amots). There is an Amos mentioned in the genealogical series Lu 3:25, but he is otherwise unknown, and we do not know how his name would have been written in Hebrew. Of the signification of the prophet’s name all that can be said is that a verb with the same root letters, in the sense of to load or to carry a load, is not uncommon in the language.

2. Native Place:

Tekoa, the native place of Amos, was situated at a distance of 5 miles South from Bethlehem, from which it is visible, and 10 miles from Jerusalem, on a hill 2,700 ft. high, overlooking the wilderness of Judah. It was made a "city for defense" by Rehoboam (2Ch 11:6), and may have in fact received its name from its remote and exposed position, for the stem of which the word is a derivative is of frequent occurrence in the sense of sounding an alarm with the trumpet: e. g. "Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem" (Jer 6:1 the King James Version). The same word is also used to signify the setting up of a tent by striking in the tent- pegs; and Jerome states that there was no village beyond Tekoa in his time. The name has survived, and the neighborhood is at the present day the pasture-ground for large flocks of sheep and goats. From the high ground on which the modern village stands one looks down on the bare undulating hills of one of the bleakest districts of Palestine, "the waste howling wilderness," which must have suggested some of the startling imagery of the prophet’s addresses. The place may have had--as is not seldom the case with towns or villages--a reputation for a special quality of its inhabitants; for it was from Tekoa that Joab fetched the "wise woman" who by a feigned story effected the reconciliation of David with his banished son Absalom (2Sa 14). There are traces in the Book of Am of a shrewdness and mother-wit which are not so conspicuous in other prophetical books.

3. Personal History:

The particulars of a personal kind which are noted in the book are few but suggestive. Amos was not a prophet or the son of a prophet, he tells us (Am 7:14), i.e. he did not belong to the professional class which frequented the so-called schools of the prophets. He was "among the herdsmen of Tekoa" (1:1), the word here used being found only once in another place (2Ki 3:4) and applied to Mesha, king of Moab. It seems to refer to a special breed of sheep, somewhat ungainly in appearance but producing, an abundant fleece. In Am 7:14 the word rendered "herdman" is different, and denotes an owner of cattle, though some, from the Septuagint rendering, think that the word should be the same as in Am 1:1. He was also "a dresser of sycomore-trees" (Am 7:14). The word rendered "dresser" (Revised Version) or "gatherer" (the King James Version) occurs only here, and from the rendering of the Septuagint (knizon) it is conjectured that there is reference to a squeezing or nipping of the sycamore fig to make it more palatable or to accelerate its ripening, though such a usage is not known in Palestine at the present day.

4. His Preparation:

Nothing is said as to any special preparation of the prophet for his work: "The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel" (Am 7:15, the English Revised Version). In these words he puts himself in line with all the prophets who, in various modes of expression, claim a direct revelation from God. But the mention of the prophetic call in association with the mention of his worldly calling is significant. There was no period interposed between the one and the other, no cessation of husbandry to prepare for the work of prophesying. The husbandman was prepared for this task, and when God’s time came he took it up. What was that preparation? Even if we suppose that the call was a momentary event, the man must have been ready to receive it, equipped for its performance. And, looking at the way in which he accomplished it, as exhibited in his book, we can see that there was a preparation, both internal and external, of a very thorough and effective character.

(1) Knowledge of God.

(2) Acquaintance with History of His People.

Then his book shows not only that he was well acquainted with the history and traditions of his nation, which he takes for granted as well known to his hearers, but that he had reflected upon these things and realized their significance. We infer that he had breathed an atmosphere of religion, as there is nothing to indicate that, in his acquaintance with the religious facts of his nation, he differed from those among whom he dwelt, although the call to go forth and enforce them came to him in a special way.

(3) Personal Travel.

It has been conjectured that Amos had acquired by personal travel the accurate acquaintance which he shows in his graphic delineations of contemporary life and conditions; and it may have been the case that, as a wool-merchant or flock-master, he had visited the towns mentioned and frequented the various markets to which the people were attracted.

(4) Scenery of His Home.

Nor must we overlook another factor in his preparation: the scenery in which he had his home and the occupations of his daily life. The landscape was one to make a solemn impression on a reflective mind: the extensive desert, the shimmering waters of the Dead Sea, the high wall of the distant hills of Moab, over all which were thrown the varying light and shade. The silent life of the desert, as with such scenes ever before him, he tended his flock or defended them from the ravages of wild beasts, would to one whose thoughts were full of God nourish that exalted view of the Divine Majesty which we find in his book, and furnish the imagery in which his thoughts are set (Am 1:2; 3:4 f; 4:13; 5:8; 9:5 f). As he is taken from following the flock, he comes before us using the language and figures of his daily life (Am 3:12), but there runs through all the note of one who has seen God’s working in all Nature and His presence in every phenomenon. Rustic he may be, but there is no rudeness or rusticity in his style, which is one of natural and impassioned eloquence, ordered and regular as coming from a mind which was responsive to the orderly working of God in Nature around him. There is an aroma of the free air of the desert about his words; but the prophet lives in an ampler ether and breathes a purer air; all things in Nature and on the field of history are seen in a Divine light and measured by a Divine standard.

5. His Mission:

Thus, prepared in the solitudes of the extreme south of Judah, he was called to go and prophesy unto the people of Israel, and appears at Bethel the capital of the Northern Kingdom. It may be that, in the prosecution of his worldly calling, he had seen and been impressed by the conditions of life and religion in those parts. No reason is given for his mission to the northern capital, but the reason is not far to seek. It is the manner of the prophets to appear where they are most needed; and the Northern Kingdom about that time had come victorious out of war, and had reached its culmination of wealth and power, with the attendant results of luxury and excess, while the Southern Kingdom had been enjoying a period of outward tranquillity and domestic content.

6. Date:

The date of the prophet Amos can approximately be fixed from the statement in the first verse that his activity fell "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." Both these monarchs had long reigns, that of Uzziah extending from 779 to 740 BC and that of Jeroboam II from 783 to 743 BC. If we look at the years when they were concurrently reigning, and bear in mind that, toward the end of Uzziah’s reign, Jotham acted as co-regent, we may safely place the date of Amos at about the year 760 BC. In a country in which earthquakes are not uncommon the one here mentioned must have been of unusual severity, for the memory of it was long preserved (Zec 14:5). How long he exercised his ministry we are not told. In all probability the book is the deposit of a series of addresses delivered from time to time till his plain speaking drew upon him the resentment of the authorities, and he was ordered to leave the country (Am 7:10 ff). We can only conjecture that, some time afterward, he withdrew to his native place and put down in writing a condensed record of the discourses he had delivered.

II. The Book.

We can distinguish with more than ordinary certainty the outlines of the individual addresses, and the arrangement of the book is clear and simple. The text, also, has been on the whole faithfully preserved; and though in a few places critics profess to find the traces of later editorial hands, these conclusions rest mainly on subjective grounds, and will be estimated differently by different minds.

1. Its Divisions:

The book falls naturally into three parts, recognizable by certain recurring formulas and general literary features.

(1) The first section, which is clearly recognizable, embraces Am 1 and 2. Here, after the title and designation of the prophet in Am 1:1, there is a solemn proclamation of Divine authority for the prophet’s words. "Yahweh will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem" (verse 2). This is notable in one who throughout the book recognizes God’s power as world-wide and His operation as extensive as creation; and it should be a caution in view, on the one hand, of the assertion that the temple at Jerusalem was not more sacred than any of the numerous "high places" throughout the land, and, on the other hand, the superficial manner in which some writers speak of the Hebrew notion of a Deity whose dwelling-place was restricted to one locality beyond which His influence was not felt. For this God, who has His dwelling-place in Zion, now through the mouth of the prophet denounces in succession the surrounding nations, and this mainly not for offenses committed against the chosen people but for moral offenses against one another and for breaches of a law binding on humanity. It will be observed that the nations denounced are not named in geographical order, and the prophet exhibits remarkable rhetorical skill in the order of selection. The interest and sympathy of the hearers is secured by the fixing of the attention on the enormities of guilt in their neighbors, and curiosity is kept awake by the uncertainty as to where the next stroke of the prophetic whip will fall. Beginning with the more distant and alien peoples of Damascus, Gaza and Tyre, he wheels round to the nearer and kindred peoples of Edom, Ammon and Moab, till he rests for a moment on the brother tribe of Judah, and thus, having relentlessly drawn the net around Israel by the enumeration of seven peoples, he swoops down upon the Northern Kingdom to which his message is to be particularly addressed.

(2) The second section embraces Am 3 to 6, and consists apparently of a series of discourses, each introduced by the formula: "Hear this word" (Am 3:1; 4:1; 5:1), and another introduced by a comprehensive: "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria" (Am 6:1). The divisions here are not so clearly marked. It will be observed e. g. that there is another "Woe" at Am 5:18; and in chapter 4, though the address at the outset is directed to the luxurious women of Samaria, from 4:4 onward the words have a wider reference. Accordingly some would divide this section into a larger number of subsections; and some, indeed, have described the whole book as a collection of ill-arranged fragments. But, while it is not necessary to suppose that the written book is an exact reproduction of the spoken addresses, and while the division into chapters has no authority, yet we must allow for some latitude in the details which an impassioned speaker would introduce into his discourses, and for transitions and connections of thought which may not be apparent on the surface.

(3) The third section has some well-marked characteristics, although it is even less uniform than the preceding. The outstanding feature is the phrase, "Thus the Lord Yahweh showed me" (Am 7:1,4,7; 8:1) varied at Am 9:1 by the words, "I saw the Lord standing beside the altar." We have thus a series of "visions" bearing upon, and interpreted as applying to, the condition of Israel. It is in the course of one of these, when the prophet comes to the words, "I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword" (Am 7:9) that the interposition of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, is recorded, with the prophet’s noble reply as to his Divine call, and his rebuke and denunciation of the priest, ending with a prophetic announcement of the downfall and captivity of Israel (Am 7:14-17).

2. Its Outlook:

If the discourses are put down in chronological order of their delivery, it would appear that Amos did not immediately take his departure, since more visions follow this episode, and there is a special appropriateness in the intervention of Amaziah just at the point where it is recorded. As to the closing passage of this section (Am 9:11-15) which gives a bright prospect of the future, there is a class of critics who are inclined to reject it just on this account as inconsistent with the severe denunciatory tone of the rest of the book. It is quite possible, however, that the prophet himself (and no succeeding later editor) may have added the passage when he came to write down his addresses. There is no reason to believe that any of the prophets--harsh though their words were-- believed that the God of Israel would make a full end of His people in captivity: on the contrary, their assurance of God’s faithfulness to His promise, and the deep-seated conviction that right would ultimately prevail, lead us to expect even in the sternest or earliest of the prophets the hope of a future glory--that hope which grew brighter and brighter as the nation’s outlook grew darker, and attained intensity and clearness in the Messianic hope which sustained them in the darkest days of exile. It is difficult to believe that any of the prophets were prophets of despair, or to conceive how they could have prophesied at all unless they had a firm faith in the ultimate triumph of the good.

3. Value of the Book:

The Book of Amos is particularly valuable from the fact that he is certainly one of the earliest prophets whose writings have come down to us. It is, like the Book of Hosea which belongs to about the same time, a contemporaneous document of a period of great significance in the history of Israel, and not only gives graphic sketches or illuminating hints of the life and religious condition of the people, but furnishes a trustworthy standard for estimating the value of some other books whose dates are not so precisely determined, a definite starting-point for tracing the course of Israel’s history.

(1) As a Picture of the Social Condition.

The book is valuable as embodying a contemporary picture of society and the condition of religion. From the abuses which the prophet denounces and the lifelike sketches he draws of the scenes amid which he moved, taken along with what we know otherwise of the historical movements of the period, we are able to form a fairly adequate estimate of the condition of the age and the country. During the reign of Jeroboam II the kingdom of Israel, after having been greatly reduced during preceding reigns, rose to a degree of extent and influence unexampled since the days of Solomon (2Ki 14:25); and we are not astonished to read in the Book of Am the haughty words which he puts into the mouth of the people of his time when they spoke of Israel as the "chief of the nations" a first-class power in modern language, and boasted of the "horns" by which they had attained that eminence (Am 6:1,13).

But success in war, if it encouraged this boastful spirit, brought also inevitable evils in its train. Victory, as we know from the Assyrian monuments, meant plunder; for king after king recounts how much spoil he had taken, how many prisoners he had carried away; and we must assume that wars among smaller states would be conducted on the same methods. In such wars, success meant an extension of territory and increase of wealth, while defeat entailed the reverse. But it is to be remembered that, in an agricultural country and in a society constituted as that of Israel was, the result of war to one class of the population was to a great extent disastrous, whatever was the issue, and success, when it was achieved, brought evils in its train which even aggravated their condition. The peasant, required to take up arms for offense or defense, was taken away from the labors of the field which, in the best event, were for a time neglected, and, in the worst, were wasted and rendered unproductive. And then, when victory was secured, the spoils were liable to fall into the hands of the nobles and leaders, those "called with a name" (Am 6:1), while the peasant returned to his wasted or neglected fields without much substantial resource with which to begin life again. The wealth secured by the men of strong hand led to the increase of luxury in its possessors, and became actually the means of still further adding to the embarrassment of the poor, who were dependent on the rich for the means of earning their livelihood. The situation would be aggravated under a feeble or corrupt government, such as was certainly that of Jeroboam’s successors. The condition prevails in modern eastern countries, even under comparatively wise and just administration; and that it was the state of matters prevailing in the time of Amos is abundantly clear from his book.

(2) As a Picture of the Religious Condition.

(3) Testimony to History.

The book is valuable for the confirmation it gives of the historical statements of other books, particularly for the references it contains to the earlier history contained in the Pentateuch. And here we must distinguish between references to, or quotations from, books, and statements or hints or indications of historical events which may or may not have been written in books or accessible to the prophet and his hearers. Opinions differ as to the date of composition of the books which record the earlier history, and the oldest Biblical writers are not in the habit of saying from what sources they drew their information or whether they are quoting from books. We can hardly believe that in the time of Amos copies of existing books or writings would be in the hands of the mass of the people, even if the power to read them was general. In such circumstances, if we find a prophet like Amos in the compass of a small book referring to outstanding events and stages of the past history as matters known to all his hearers and unquestionable, our confidence in the veracity of the books in which these facts are recorded is greatly increased, and it becomes a matter of comparatively less importance at what date these books were composed.

Now it is remarkable how many allusions, more or less precise, to antecedent history are found in the compass of this small book; and the significance of them lies not in the actual number of references, but in the kind of reference and the implications involved in the individual references. That is to say, each reference is not to be taken as an isolated testimony to some single event in question, but involves a great deal more than is expressed, and is intelligible only when other facts or incidents are taken into consideration. Thus e. g. the reference to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Am 4:11) is only intelligible on the supposition that the story of that catastrophe was a matter of common knowledge; and it would be a carping criticism to argue that the destruction of other cities of the plain at the same time and the whole story of Lot were unknown in the days of Amos because they are not mentioned here in detail. So, when we have in one passage a reference to the house of Isaac (Am 7:16), in another to the house of Jacob (Am 3:13), in another to the house of Joseph (Am 5:6) and in another to the enmity between Jacob and Esau (Am 1:11), we cannot take these as detached notices, but must supply the links which the prophet’s words would suggest to his hearers. In other words, such slight notices, just because they are incidental and brief, imply a familiarity with a connected patriarchal history such as is found in the Book of Gen. Again, the prophet’s references to the "whole family" of the "children of Israel" whom the Lord "brought up out of the land of Egypt" (Am 3:1), to the Divine leading of the people "forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite" (Am 2:10) are not odds and ends of popular story but links in a chain of national history. It seems to be on the strength of these and similar references in the books of Am and Hos, whose dates are known, that critics have agreed to fix the date of the earliest historical portions of the Pentateuch as they understand them, namely, the parts designated as Jahwist and Elohist, in the 8th and 9th centuries BC, i.e. at or shortly before the time of these prophets. It may be left to the unbiased judgment of the reader to say whether the references look like references to a newly composed document, or whether it is not more probable that, in an age when written documents were necessarily few and not accessible to the multitude, these references are appeals to things well fixed in the national memory, a memory extending back to the things themselves. Or, if the prophet’s words are to be taken as sufficient proof of the existence of written sources, the fact that the matters are assumed as well known would rather encourage the conclusion that the written sources in question go back to a much earlier period, since the matters contained in them had by this time become matters of universal knowledge.

(4) Testimony to the Law.

(a) The Ritual.

(b) Ethical Teaching.

As a preacher of righteousness, Amos affirms and resists upon those ethical parts of the law which are its vital elements, and which lie at the foundation of all prophecy; and it is remarkable how even in phraseology he agrees with the most ethical book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy. He does not, indeed, like his contemporary Hosea, dwell on the love of God as De does; but, of sterner mould, in almost the very words of Deuteronomy, emphasizes the keeping of God’s commandments, and denounces those who despise the law (compare Am 2:4 with De 17:19). Among verbal coincidences have been noticed the combinations "oppress" "crush" (Am 4:1; De 28:33), "blasting" and "mildew" (Am 4:9; De 28:22), and "gall" and "wormwood" (Am 6:12; De 29:18).

Compare also Am 9:8 with De 6:15, and note the predilection for the same word to "destroy" common to both books (compare Am 2:9 with De 2:22). In view of all of which it seems an extraordinary statement to make that "the silence of Amos with reference to the centralization of worship, on which De is so explicit, alone seems sufficient to outweigh any linguistic similarity that can be discovered" (H. G. Mitchell, Amos, an Essay in Exegesis, 185).

(5) The Prophetic Order.

As Amos is without doubt one of the earliest writing prophets, his book is invaluable as an example of what prophecy was in ancient Israel. And one thing cannot fail to impress the reader at the very outset: namely, that he makes no claim to be the first or among the first of the line, or that he is exercising some new and hitherto unheard- of function. He begins by boldly speaking in God’s name, assuming that even the people of the Northern Kingdom were familiar with that kind of address. Nay, he goes farther and states in unequivocal terms that "the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Am 3:7, the King James Version).

(6) The Prophetic Religion.


W. R. Harper, "Amos and Hosea," in the ICC; S. R. Driver, "Joe and Amos" in Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; H. G. Mitchell, Amos, an Essay in Exegesis (Boston); A. B. Davidson, two articles in The Expositor, 3rd ser, V, VI (1887); W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel; G. A. Smith, "The Book of the Twelve Prophets," in Expositor’s Bible; J. J. P. Valeton, Amos und Hosea (1894); C. von Orelli, Die zwolf kleinen Propheten, 3. Aufl. (1908) and ET; Nowack, "Die kleinen Propheten," in Hand-commentar zum Altes Testament; Marti, "Das Dodekapropheton erklart," in Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Altes Testament.

An ancestor of Jesus in Luke’s genealogy, the eighth before Joseph, the husband of Mary (Lu 3:25).