Summary: Amos was a compassionate shepherd who cared enough to confront.
"The Shepherd-Prophet" (Amos)
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Before I tell you about Amos the prophet, let me tell you about the people he was sent to. The time was around 760 years before the birth of Christ, around the time of the founding of Rome, during the reign of King Jeroboam II. Israel was at the height of its material power and prosperity. In spite of being a time of plenty, there was social injustice in the land, moral decay, and a general disregard for God. It was a time of great self-indulgence, corruption, complacency, and religious indifference. Those who were well-off ignored the needs of those less fortunate. To make things worse, the idolatrous worship of neighboring pagan nations had infiltrated the land. Last week I mentioned that one of the functions of the prophets was to tell Israel what it meant to be Israel. The people Amos was sent to didn’t feel a sense of accountability to God. They were God’s elect—chosen to be a holy people, part of God’s family, but they were acting like orphans. God’s covenant with Israel stipulated loyalty to Him and the Law.
Does this sound like our day? When the Dow is up, when inflation is down, when we’re not at war, when we have job security, we can neglect our spiritual growth (or if we’re too busy trying to get material things). Comfort may well be the devil’s greatest weapon, resulting in self-reliance and keeping people from making God top priority in life.
To a people embracing the idolatry of materialism came the prophet Amos. He warned the comfortable in chapter 6, “Woe to those who are complacent in Zion!” He went on to say, “you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” I.e. rather than be shocked by moral decay, the people were celebrating licentiousness, reveling in immorality. Amos’ words are marked by anguish, agitation, and non-acceptance. Amos understood his calling, and the function of the prophetic office. He states in chapter 3, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants and prophets” (vs. 7).
Amos was not a priest or religious scholar. He was not the son of a prophet. He was a shepherd and farmer. His name means “burden-bearer”; he was burdened by the sins of his people. Amos lived in Tekoa, a town six miles south of Bethlehem. He lived during the time of Jonah and Hosea. Amos’ character and ideals were shaped by the desert; his simple life led him to see the evils of city life. When we live in the midst of sin we can take sin for granted; when we’re exposed to immorality, after a while we no longer feel outraged—the unthinkable becomes commonplace. Amos transitioned from one who cares for sheep to one who cares for the welfare of the nation. We can do extraordinary things for God regardless of our occupation. Amos fearlessly proclaimed God’s word to shake his people from their apathy. To the Hebrew nation life appeared serene, but in the prophet’s eye the world reeled in confusion.
Over the years people have intentionally moved to the desert to get in touch with God. The absence of distractions seems to help them focus on what is truly important. Surrounded by nothing but God, they appear open to how God may impress them. I felt this during my time in the deserts of west Texas and Saudi Arabia. A group of monks, the Desert Fathers, found the desert a place of contemplation. In the stark desert of Israel, a place of sharp contrast to nearby Jerusalem, Amos heard the Voice of the Lord.
Silence can speak loudly. Some people attend "Quiet retreats," in which they reflect on Scripture in silence. These times of breaking away from fast-paced world around us are becoming increasingly popular. We can seek out silence at a retreat or in quiet places in our homes. When Jesus said, “Come away with Me to a quiet place,” He gave an invitation to silence and solitude," . It’s sort of like being detoxified.
I love travel books—-even though I’ve done a fair amount of traveling myself, I enjoy reading about the journeys of others. Most writers visiting Israel in the days of Amos would have written about all the beautiful buildings and monuments. Amos was not blind to beauty, but he was deeply disturbed by how these “things” had taken the place of God. In 6:8 he cries out, “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses.”
This reminds me of when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem with His disciples. They were awe-struck by the beauty of the buildings (Mt 24:1), and they expressed this to their Teacher. Jesus responded, prophesying about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which later occurred in 70 AD. Jesus stated, “Not one stone here will be left on another”, which came to pass.