Summary: Amos was an Amateur but Authentic Prophet who faithfully delivered God’s message to Israel, clashing with the culture and church of his day, with a vital message for the church of all ages.
AMOS - THE AMATEUR BUT AUTHENTIC PROPHET
Amos had no intention of becoming a prophet. He’d never attended "the schools of the prophets" that were the conventional launch of a prophetic ministry. In fact he was a sheep breeder and a fig-tree grower who lived about 2,800 years ago in the Judean hill country. He lived in the small town of Tekoa, to the south of Bethlehem. That’s all we know about him. He made a brief appearance in the northern kingdom of Israel that some years ago had broken away from Judah, then part of the united kingdom of Israel. It was his business interests that took him periodically to the north. So why, how and where did Amos become a prophet? We’ll find out as we think, first of all, of how Amos was:
CALLED TO BE A PROPHET
Israel and Judah were enjoying a period of economic prosperity. The super-powers of Assyria and Egypt were going through a quiet phase so there was no danger from foreign powers. Superficially, everything seemed fine. The two Hebrew kingdoms, although they didn’t particularly like each other, were at peace. As far as religion was concerned they both had priests and shrines to fulfill their obligations to Jehovah. Yes, the authorities of church and state were quite happy, thank you, with the present state of affairs. But that’s where Amos comes on the scene.
Amos was a true believer in the God of Israel and as such he knew it wasn’t possible to isolate the sacred and secular parts of life into separate compartments and to say that the two don’t mix. As Amos went about his trading activities he not only had his physical eyes open but his spiritual antennae were alert to see what was going on in the world. This is important for us living in the 21st century. Jesus was constantly telling his disciples to be aware of the "signs of the times", to recognise the significance of what was happening in the world around them. As Christians we have a duty to be both spiritually and socially conscious, to evaluate what’s going on in our community. We must always ask ourselves if our lifestyles and the practices of our community are in keeping with God’s revelation in Scripture. In John Stott’s book ‘The Contemporary Christian’ he calls this ‘double listening’ – hearing what God says to us through His Word and being alive to what is happening around us. If we don’t like what we see, it’s no good just closing our eyes and, like the proverbial ostrich, burying our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not there.
It was on one of his business trips to the north that the Spirit of God began to move in Amos’ life. He was passing through Bethel and became aware that what appeared fine on the surface was far from what it should have been. The landlord classes had accumulated wealth but their characters and morals had decayed. There were fortunes to be made and those who had the means available were none too fussy how they made them. If it meant exploiting the peasant classes, well so be it! What may have triggered the call of God was the sight of merchants chafing impatiently as they waited for the sun to go down over the hills on the Sabbath so that they could get on with their shady trading practices. Money, money, money - that’s all that mattered to them! Nothing has changed in the 21st Century! Our newspapers tell us of scandal, fraud and scams.
But it wasn’t only the secular that worried Amos, it was the so-called sacred as well. Years before the people of Bethel had become jealous of Jerusalem as the centre of the worship of Jehovah so they had developed their own rival shrine. A splendid statue of a bull in solid gold with a striking similarity to Baal, the Canaanite deity, was erected so there was a grave risk of the worshippers being confused as to what or whom they were worshipping. The visible replaced the invisible God, the creature was bowed down to instead of the Creator.
A former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, W R Inge, famously observed that any church which enters into a marriage with the spirit of the age "will soon find itself a widow in the next". And it all happened so easily and no one had raised a voice in protest. One thing was crystal clear to Amos: the people of Israel had drifted away from God and it could only end in tears. God couldn’t be God if He allowed this nation which bore the hallowed name of Israel and were His representatives on Earth to go on in their excesses of luxury and immorality and debauchery.