by Francis Foulkes ©


AMOS 1:1, 2


'The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel' (1: 1a).
`The words of Amos'. Why do we read the words of Amos, things that he said about the small kingdom of Israel more than 2700 years ago? Who was this Amos? What do we know about him? We know only the things that we read of him in this little book of the Bible, nothing more. We have these nine chapters that give us his preaching; and in them we read just three things about the prophet himself.

a. He was a shepherd

Many of the people of Palestine were shepherds; even David was before he became king (1 Samuel 16: 11-13). Amos was just one 'among the shepherds of Tekoa', and Tekoa was a little place on the edge of the desert about 11 miles south of Jerusalem and the same distance west of the Dead Sea; it was just a few miles from Bethlehem where Jesus was born (see map). There he lived a lonely and simple life. He knew what it was to hear the roar of a lion or the growl of a bear and to have these come and attack his sheep (see 3:4, 8, 12 and 5:19). He knew what it was to be out under the stars at night and to think of the great God who made heaven and earth (see 5:8), before whom men and nations are very small indeed. As with Moses and David before him, and as with John the Baptist after him, the loneliness of the wilderness (that semi-desert area of Palestine) was a place where God could prepare Amos for the great work that He had for him to do. Many a time God has specially prepared His servants in such a way as they have spent time alone with Him.

b. He was a fruit-farmer

In 7:14 Amos says that he was a 'dresser of sycamore trees'. Most shepherds in Palestine had a few fruit trees, and would eat their fruit, or sell their fruit to increase the little income that they had from their sheep. The sycamore tree had a fruit like a small fig, not very highly thought of, but used especially by the poor. Its fruit did not naturally have a very good taste, but to help it ripen and to make it softer and sweeter, people would make a hole in the end or bruise the fruit. This is what Amos would have done as a 'dresser of sycamore trees'. People who know Palestine well say that sycamore trees would not have grown satisfactorily in the area of Tekoa where Amos lived, and that he is likely to have had his trees some distance away, probably further west and thus nearer to the main highways that go up and down the country. In any case, as the breeder of a type of small sheep specially prized for their wool (for that is the meaning of the rather unusual word used for 'shepherds' in this verse), he probably would have had to go to the main centres of Israel's life to sell his wool. So he would have visited Samaria and Bethel and Gilgal. It is clear from his preaching recorded in this book that he had opportunity to know what went on there and what was happening in the nations round about him. That was of tremendous importance for the man who was to speak God's message concerning Israel and concerning those other nations.

c. He was a man whom God called

Amos was a shepherd and a fruit farmer, and neither occupation would have made him rich or important. But riches and importance in the eyes of men make no difference to God. What was of supreme importance was that God called Amos. His father was not a prophet, nor was he linked with those who were prophets before him. But God called him. We do not know how the call came to him; we just know it did. For him it was the greatest thing in his life. He could not turn back from that call of God, whatever men might say to him. Amos knew he must be God's messenger, and speak His word. When the shepherd heard the roar of the lion he could not act and feel as if he had not heard it; when a man hears the call of God he cannot feel and act as if he has not heard it. That is what Amos says in 3:8, 'The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?' Men may say, 'Do not prophesy - do not preach'; he must answer, 'The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, "Go, prophesy to my people Israel."' (7:15-16). so we have `the words of Amos', and God has spoken to men through them from generation to generation. Still today God calls men and makes them His messengers, and when a man or woman obeys that call and becomes His messenger and a witness to Him in the power of the Holy Spirit, there is no telling how far-reaching may be the effect of his or her words on the lives of other people. map


Lord, we thank You for the way that You call ordinary people to hear Your word and to speak it to others. Speak to us, we pray, and make us Your messengers that people whom we meet may hear through us Your word of life in Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.

For further thought and study 1. Consider further the way that the life of a shepherd would have helped to prepare Amos for his work as a prophet. See 3:3-8, 12; 4:13, 5:8, 18-20, Genesis 31:38-40, 1 Samuel 17:34-36 and John 10:10-14.

2. How do the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 apply to God's call of Amos and of others of whom we read in the Bible? What do they say about the kind of people whom God calls to serve Him today?

Note: This first verse of the book speaks of the words of Amos which he 'saw'. Some, but not all of the prophecies that Amos spoke came to him as visions (see 7:1-9, 8:1-3, 9:1-2). But all that he spoke came to him as God revealed or showed it to him, and not just out of his own mind. That is probably the reason why the word 'saw' is used.