Amos (meaning “burden” or “burden-bearer”) was an inhabitant of the rugged region of Tekoa, located in the territory of Judah about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. He was a shepherd and tended to sycamore fig trees.
Despite the fact that he lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, God sent him as His prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. Amos probably traveled to Bethel to give these prophecies around 760-754 B.C., a few years before Jeroboam II’s death.
Juliana Claassens, Professor of Old Testament, University of Stellenbosch, Stellen-bosch, South Africa offers some key insights into this week’s text: it was a time of economic prosperity for the wealthy in both nations, which unfortunately led to their becoming morally and spiritually godless and corrupt. In Amos 1:2, one finds the image of God roaring like an angry lion from Zion – an image that powerfully captures the underlying emphasis on judgment accompanying the call to justice in this text.
A second text that further equates doing good with acting in justice is Amos 5:14-15 when the exhortation to “seek good and not evil, that you may live” is repeated once more in verse 14. In this text, one finds a close connection between God’s presence and the people’s ability to live justice-filled lives. In addition, in Amos 5:15, the prophet provides a concrete example of what it means to “hate evil and love good” by equating loving good with doing justice in the gate where court cases were heard. The gate also is the place where those most vulnerable without someone to represent them were particularly susceptible to injustice.
Many commentators on Amos label him a prophet for our time and that is where this weekend’s exploration of the text will go.