The Life and Times of Amos

The Prophet Amos lived during the long reign of King Jeroboam II. Jeroboam the son of Joash (not to be confused with Jeroboam the son of Nevat, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes) reigned over the Ten Tribes of Israel for forty years (from the year 3114 till 3153 after Creation). Under his reign the Northern Kingdom of Israel enjoyed one of its most happy and prosperous periods. He recovered every piece of land which had been lost by his forerunners. He subdued the Kingdom of Moab and captured parts of Syria (Aram) which had long been like a thorn in the flesh of his people. Even Damascus, Syria's capital fell to him.

Relationship with the twin kingdom, the southern Kingdom of Judah, was still strained at first. Jeroboam maintained the stern control over it which his father had exerted; he also held members of the Royal family of Judah as hostages to ensure that the southern neighbor would make no trouble. later, however, he realized that friendship and mutual help between the two Jewish kingdoms would be better for both. He helped repair the damage which his father had done to Judah, and he gave part of the land which he had taken from Syria to the king of Judah, Amatziah.

Together with the good political situation came economic prosperity. Many people in the Northern Kingdom became very wealthy, and began to lead a luxurious life. Friendly relations with the Phoenicians, who were the greatest merchants and seafaring people of those days, brought things of rare beauty and luxury into the Jewish Kingdom. Unfortunately, the unusual prosperity brought a collapse of moral standards. Ignored were the great ideals and commandments of the Torah to help the poor, and to practice justice and loving kindness. The rich oppressed the poor; might was right; it was an age of corruption. Hand in hand with this degeneration of the morals of the people went increased idolatry. People built many altars on mountains to serve the Canaanite gods, the Baal and Ashtarte. The Golden Calves, which the first Jeroboam set up in the north and south of the country to turn the people away from the Beth Hamikdosh in Jerusalem, were worshipped more than before and the teachings of the Torah and the holy commandments were viewed with contempt.

Again and again, G‑d sent His messengers, the prophets, to admonish the people and to warn them that unless they mended their ways, they and the land would be doomed. Yet the admonitions were, for the most part, unheeded. The people went their own way.

One of the great prophets at this time was Hosea; another one was Amos.

Prophecies of Amos

Amos was a shepherd before the spirit of prophecy came over him. He was a herdsman from the village of Tekoa, and a dresser of sycamore trees. He began his prophecies "in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, the king of Israel, two years before the earthquake."

His fearless and outspoken words came thundering and stirred the people. Characteristic are his opening words: "G‑d will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither."

By "the shepherds" he must have meant the leaders of Israel, who failed their "flock;" and "the top of Carmel" were likewise those sitting at the top, who will be first to be stricken down.

But before admonishing the Jewish people, he had much to say about the transgressions of Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, Edom, Ammon and Moab - all the neighbors of the two Jewish kingdoms, who would suffer the consequences of their evil ways.

Then he addresses himself to Judah:

"Thus with G‑d, 'For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not withhold My punishment: because they have despised the Torah of G‑d, and have not kept His commandments...'"

In similar words he begins his prophecy against the Northern Kingdom:

Thus saith G‑d, 'For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not withhold My punishment: because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals...'"

Fearlessly, the prophet admonishes the "Kine (beasts) of Bashan, that are in the mountains of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy." He warned the rich who had amassed their fortunes by cheating and robbery, that they would not enjoy their riches, but would lose everything when the land went down in doom. Said he: "Thus hath said G‑d to the House of Israel: 'Seek for Me, and you shall live. Seek for the good, and not evil, in order that you may live; that G‑d the Lord of Hosts, be with you. Hate evil and love good; and establish justice firmly in the courts. Then, perhaps, G‑d the Lord of Hosts, will be gracious to the remnants of Joseph." By the "remnants of Joseph" the prophet meant the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes, for it was out of the Tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, that Jeroboam the First came to establish the new kingdom, in opposition to the Kingdom of Judah.

Amos was not afraid to appear in Bethel at the very time when crowds were gathered there to worship the Golden Calf which Jeroboam the First, had set up in a special temple. In the very midst of the celebration, Amos announced the terrible punishment that G‑d would bring upon the sinful people of Israel. The crowd became angry, and their leader, the false priest Amaziah, incited the people to do violence to Amos. However, King Jeroboam protected the prophet, and let no harm befall him. Amaziah ridiculed the prophet, warning him to flee to Judah, where people of his kind would be more welcome, and never return to Bethel. But Amos replied that he was no professional prophet, nor a prophet's disciple, but a simple man from the land, a breeder of sheep. Amos declared boldly and fearlessly that G‑d had sent him to Bethel to speak in His Name and warn the people of their impending doom.

The prophet reminded the people of the many kindnesses which G‑d had shown them since the beginning of their history as a people. "You only, have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your sins." the prophet said, telling them that because G‑d has chosen them as His people, He demands of them higher standards, and, like a loving father punishes his erring son just because he loves him, so G‑d would punish them for their sins.

The Book of Amos

The Book of Amos consists of nine chapters, but despite his severe admonitions in most of the book, he finishes his prophecies on a happy note, of the wonderful things that will happen to the Jewish people on "That Day," on the day of the true Redemption:

"In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old...

"Behold, the days come, saith G‑d, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring back the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith G‑d thy G‑d."