Amos, the prophet, was a shepherd from the hills of Judea, a village called Tekoa, about six miles south of Bethlehem. However, although Amos calls himself a simple shepherd, he was no simpleton. He was aware of the dealings of the nations, and was a keen observer of the peoples around him. His message was for all the tribes of Israel, but most especially the northern kingdom, a message of impending judgment to be poured out upon the wicked. This included the wicked nations surrounding, and often fighting against, Israel and Judah. Amos’ message can help us find peace in our own lives, and lead us on to eternal life.
It may be that Amos lived at the same time as Isaiah and Hosea, around 750 B.C. Uzziah ruled in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel. Right at the beginning of Amos, an earthquake is mentioned. An earthquake occurred also upon the death of Christ, and a huge earthquake will split the Mount of Olives in two when Christ intervenes to end the War of Armageddon. A dangerous fault runs north and south through the Jordan Valley, essentially along the Jordan river. The movement of this fault was accompanied by volcanism when the five cities of the plain were destroyed in Abraham’s time (including the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah). Another fault runs west from the Jordan Rift, through the Mount of Olives, all the way west through Israel into the Mediterranean.
Amos first predicted calamities that would soon befall the heathen nations that surrounded Israel, and he gave examples of the wicked behavior that would bring this destruction. He then predicted God’s punishments that would befall Israel. When enumerating the nations’ transgressions, Amos uses the Hebrew idiom, “For three transgressions…, and for four.” It means there had been many transgressions.
As an example of the wickedness of Syria (especially under king Hazael), Amos cites the way Syria treated its captives from the eastern tribes of Israel, crushing them under threshing sleds ( Amos 1:3 ). The Philistines sold their Israelite captives into Edom. The Phoenicians traded their Israelite captives to Edom (perhaps having first purchased them from others). The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau, and were some of Israel’s worst enemies. The Ammonites were so brutal that they murdered pregnant women. The Moabites desecrated the dead. And Israel forsook the Lord.
Israelites oppressed the poor, showed no respect to their religious leaders and servants (such as the Nazarites), and refused to hear the words of the prophets.
Amos 3 contains the wedding imagery used so often by the Lord. The Lord is the husband, forever faithful, and Israel is the wayward wife, so often forgiven. The Lord counsels Israel to walk in the covenant. Calamities only come when Israel plays the harlot.
Amos 3:7 is a clear statement concerning the role of prophets. President N. Eldon Tanner said: “There are many scriptures which assure us that God is as interested in us today as he has been in all his children from the beginning, and thus we believe in continuous revelation from God through his prophets to guide us in these latter days. The Prophet Amos said, ‘Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.’” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, p. 52.)
Amos then uses startling imagery to predict the fall of Israel to the Assyrians. Even the greatest cities and most beautiful palaces would be trodden under, and there would be no mercy shown to the people, no matter what their station.
Amos 4:1–3 speaks of the evils of Israel’s women. Apparently, they were lazy and unproductive, living only to eat and drink, living off of whatever their husbands could leach from the poor. They would be violently torn from their lavish lifestyles when the Assyrians arrived.
Amos then talks about sacrifice. Sacrifice in Old Testament times was meant to teach about the coming atonement of Jesus Christ. When a person brought an animal to the temple to be sacrificed and laid it upon the altar, both he and the priest laid their hands upon its head and transferred the sins of the person onto the beast, which was then slain. This was more than a physical exercise, but carried profound spiritual messages and the possibility of repentance and forgiveness. At this time, the Israelites had completely lost sight of the spiritual ramifications of their religion, and they were just going through the motions of sacrifice. There had been waves of pestilence sent by the Lord to try to bring the people to a remembrance of Him, but to no avail.
Amos 7–9 contain the visions of Amos. The first four visions show the judgments that will come upon Israel; the fifth vision “portends the overthrow of their apostate theocracy and the restoration of fallen Israel.”
“The visions are (1) a swarm of locusts ( Amos 7:1–3 ); (2) devouring fire ( Amos 7:4–6 ); (3) the master builder with the plumbline ( Amos 7:7–9 ); (4) the basket of summer fruit ( Amos 8 ); and (5) the smitten sanctuary ( Amos 9:1–6 ). Each has a symbolic meaning that clearly shows that the Lord intended to bring the kingdom of Israel to an end if His people did not repent. The meaning of each vision will be considered individually.”
In Amos 8:11–12 Amos predicts a famine in the land, but not of food or water. It is a famine for the word of the Lord. This prediction would have a dual fulfillment. After the death of Christ’s apostles, there would be a famine for the word of God, with little access to the scriptures that then existed, and with no new scriptures coming forth. This famine ended with the restoration of the ancient church and the priesthood power to act in God’s name, beginning in 1820.
“Many centuries passed and that day came when a blanket of disbelief covered this earth, not a blanket of cotton or wool, but a blanket of apostasy, and a hunger and a thirst by many which was not satisfied.
“It was the Lord our God who came to the earth and manifested himself and brought truth again to the earth with prophecy, revelations, authority, priesthood, organization and all of the benefits of mankind. It was the Lord our God who did all this for us.” (In Conference Report, Temple View New Zealand Area Conference 1976, p. 4.)
“Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, who at the time was the Executive Area Administrator for one of the European areas, spoke of the effect this famine had had upon Europe: “We have observed a restless spirit of searching today among the people of Europe. Why? Because there is a gnawing hunger in the human heart that, if not fed by the truths of the gospel, leaves life empty and devoid of peace. The hodgepodge of economic ‘isms’ advocated by so-called wise men of the world has solved few, if any, problems, and has brought no real joy. Such empty nostrums have led mankind to seek worldly goods and symbols of material power, blinding humanity to the truth that only the righteous life firmly established in the daily living of God’s commandments brings true happiness. Anything less leaves the heart unfed, with a yearning inner hunger—a hunger which it is our mission to identify and define and of which we should make the people aware. I have seen in Europe the fulfillment of the words of Amos, that there would be ‘a famine in the land, not a famine of bread . . . but of hearing the words of the Lord.’ ( Amos 8:11 .)” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1975, pp. 154–55.)
Amos 9:7–15 predicts the scattering of Israel among the nations.
“Every righteous soul who has taken upon himself the name of the Lord—be he Israelite or Gentile—will be brought into the kingdom (see Amos 9:12 ). And the lands of the earth will shed forth their riches. The promises to scattered Israel are secure, for they will be gathered back into the kingdom of God, inheriting every blessing promised to the righteous with no fear of losing them evermore” (see vv. 14–15 ).
One of the things to cherish about the Book of Amos is its exquisite language.
“For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what ishis thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord, The God of hosts, is his name” (Amos 4:13).
“Seek himthat maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is his name” (Amos 5:8)…
“Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; That chant to the sound of the viol, andinvent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed” (Amos 6:3-7).
*Portions of this article were adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament manual.