Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Prophet. - Amos (עמוס, i.e., Bearer or Burden), according to the heading to his book, was "among the shepherds (nōqedı̄m) of Tekoah" when the Lord called him to be a prophet; that is to say, he was a native of Tekoah, a town situated on the borders of the desert of Judah, two hours to the south of Bethlehem, the ruins of which have been preserved under the ancient name (see at Jos 15:59, lxx), and lived with the shepherds who fed their sheep in the steppe to the east of Tekoah; of course not as a rich owner of flocks, but simply as a shepherd. For even though nōqēd is applied to the Moabitish king in Kg2 3:4 as a rich owner of a choice breed of sheep and goats, the word properly signifies only a rearer of sheep, i.e., not merely the owner, but the shepherd of choice sheep, as Bochart (Hieroz. i. p. 483, ed. Ros.) has proved from the Arabic. But Amos himself affirms, in Amo 7:14, that he was a simple shepherd. He there replies to the priest at Bethel, who wanted to prevent him from prophesying in the kingdom of Israel: "I am not a prophet, nor yet a prophet's pupil, but a herdman (bōqēd) am I, and bōlēs shiqmı̄m, a gatherer of sycamores" (see at Amo 7:14), - i.e., one who fed upon this fruit, which resembles figs, and is described by Pliny (hist. n. 13, 14), as praedulcis, but which, according to Strabo, xvii. 823 (ἄτιμος κατὰ τὴν γεῦσιν), was very lightly esteemed as food, and also, according to Dioscor., was ἄτιμος καὶ κακοστόμαχος, and which is only used in Egypt as the food of the common people (Norden, Reise, p. 118). Consequently we have to regard Amos as a shepherd living in indigent circumstances, not as a prosperous man possessing both a flock of sheep and a sycamore plantation, which many commentators, following the Chaldee and the Rabbins, have made him out to be. Without having dedicated himself to the calling of a prophet, and without even being trained in the schools of the prophets, he was called by the Lord away from the flock to be a prophet, to prophesy concerning Israel (Amo 7:14-15), under the Judaean king Uzziah and the Israelitish king Jeroboam II, i.e., within the twenty-six years of the contemporaneous rule of these two kings, or between 810 and 783 b.c. Amos therefore commenced his prophetic labours about the same time as Hosea, probably a few years earlier, and prophesied in Bethel, the chief seat of the Israelitish image-worship (Amo 7:10). We cannot fix with any greater exactness either the time of his appearing or the duration of his ministry; for the notice in Amo 1:1, "two years before the earthquake," furnishes no chronological datum, because the time of the earthquake is unknown. It is never mentioned in the historical books of the Old Testament, though it can hardly be any other than the terrible earthquake in the time of Uzziah, which the people had not forgotten even after the captivity, inasmuch as Zechariah was able to recal the flight that took place on that occasion (Zac 14:5). As Amos has not given the date of the earthquake, his evident intention was not to fix the time when his ministry commenced, or when his book was composed, but simply to point to the internal connection between this event and his own prophetic mission. According to the teaching of Scripture, the earth quakes when the Lord comes to judgment upon the nations (see at Amo 8:8). The earthquake which shook Jerusalem two years after the appearance of Amos as the prophet, was a harbinger of the judgment threatened by Him against the two kingdoms of Israel and the surrounding nations, - a practical declaration on the part of God that He would verify the word of His servant; and the allusion to this divine sign on the part of the prophet was an admonition to Israel to lay to heart the word of the Lord which he had announced to them. So far as the explanation and importance of his prophecies were concerned, it was enough to mention the kings of Judah and Israel in whose reigns he prophesied.
Under these kings the two kingdoms stood at the summit of their prosperity. Uzziah had completely subdued the Edomites, had subjugated the Philistines, and had even made the Ammonites tributary. He had also fortified Jerusalem strongly, and had raised a powerful army; so that his name reached as far as Egypt (2 Chronicles 26). And Jeroboam had completely overcome the Syrians, and restored the original borders of the kingdom from the country of Hamath to the Dead Sea (Kg2 14:25-28). After the power of the Syrians had been broken, Israel had no longer any foe to fear, for Assyria had not yet arisen as a conquering power. The supposition that Calneh or Ctesiphon is represented in Amo 6:2 as having already been taken (by the Assyrians), rests upon an incorrect interpretation, and is just as erroneous as the inference, also drawn from the same passage, that Hamath was conquered and Gath destroyed. Amos does not mention the Assyrians at all; although in Amo 1:5 he threatens the Syrians with transportation to Kir, and in Amo 5:27 predicts that the Israelites will be carried into captivity beyond Damascus. In the existing state of things, the idea of the approaching fall or destruction of the kingdom of Israel was, according to human judgment, a very improbable one indeed. The inhabitants of Samaria and Zion felt themselves perfectly secure in the consciousness of their might (Amo 6:1). The rulers of the kingdom trusted in the strength of their military resources (Amo 6:13), and were only concerned to increase their wealth by oppressing the poor, and to revel in earthly luxuries and pleasures (Amo 2:6-8; Amo 5:11-12; Amo 6:4-6); so that the prophet denounces woes upon those who are in security upon Zion and without care upon the mountain of Samaria (Amo 6:1), and utters the threat that the Lord will cause the sun to set at noon, and bring darkness over the land in broad daylight (Amo 8:9).
It was at such a time as this that the plain shepherd of Tekoah was sent to Bethel, into the kingdom of the ten tribes, to announce to the careless sinners the approach of the divine judgment, and the destruction of the kingdom. And whilst it was in itself a strange event for a prophet to be sent out of Judah into the kingdom of the ten tribes, - so strange, in fact, that in all probability it had never occurred since the kingdom had been founded, or at any rate, that no second instance of the kind is recorded, from the time when the man of God was sent out of Judah to Bethel in the reign of Jeroboam I (1 Kings 13), down to the time of Amos himself-it must have attracted universal attention, for a man to rise up who belonged to the rank of a shepherd, who had had no training at all for a prophet's vocation, but who nevertheless proved, by the demonstration of the Spirit, that he was a prophet indeed, and who foretold, in the strength of God, what destruction awaited the covenant people, before there was the slightest human probability of any such catastrophe.
The prophet's style of composition does indeed betray the former shepherd in the use of certain words, which evidently belonged to the dialect of the common people, - e.g., מעיק for מציק (Amo 2:13), בּושׁס for בּוסס (Amo 5:11), מתאב for מתעב rof מ (Amo 6:8), מסרף for משׂרף (Amo 6:10), ישׂחק for יצחק (Amo 7:9, Amo 7:16), נשׁקה for נשׁקעה (Amo 8:8), and in many figures and similes drawn from nature and rural life; but for the rest, it indicates a close acquaintance on the part of the prophet with the Mosaic law and the history of his nation, and also considerable rhetorical power, wealth and depth of thought, vivacity and vigour, more especially in the use of bold antitheses, and a truly poetical roll, which rises by no means unfrequently into actual rhythm; so that Lowth has already expressed the following opinion concerning him (De poesi sacr. ed. Mich. p. 433): "Aequus judex, de re non de homine quaesiturus, censebit, credo, pastorem nostrum μηφὲν ὑστερηκέναι τῶν ὑπερλίαν προφητῶν sensuum elatione et magnificentia spiritus prope summis parem, ita etiam dictionis splendore et compositionis elegantia vix quoquam inferiorem." Beyond these facts, which we gather from the prophet's won writings, nothing further is known of the circumstances connected with his life. After fulfilling his mission, he probably returned to Judah, his native land, where his prophecies were most likely first committed to writing. The apocryphal accounts of his death, in Pseud.-Epiphanius, c. 12, and Pseudo-Doroth. (see Carpzov, p. 319), have no historical value whatever.
2. The Book. - Although Amos was sent by the Lord to Bethel, to prophesy to the people of Israel there, he does not restrict himself in his prophecy to the kingdom of the ten tribes, but, like his younger contemporary Hosea, notices the kingdom of Judah as well, and even the surrounding nations, that were hostile to the covenant nation. His book is not a mere collection of the addresses delivered in Bethel, but a carefully planned, complete work, in which Amos, after the occurrence of the earthquake in the time of Uzziah, gathered together all the essential contents of the prophecies he had previously uttered at Bethel. It consists of a lengthy introduction (Amo 1:1-15, 2) and two parts, viz., simple prophetic addresses (ch. 4-6), and visions with short explanations (ch. 7). In the introduction the prophet proclaims, in the following manner, the judgment about to fall upon Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel. The storm of the Lord, which bursts upon all these kingdoms, remains suspended over the kingdom of Israel, which is mentioned last. This is evident from the fact, that the sin of Israel is depicted more fully than that of the other nations; and the threatening of judgment is couched in such general terms, that it can only be regarded as a provisional announcement, or as the introduction to the body of the book by which it is followed. The first part contains an extended address, divided into three sections by the recurrence of שׁמעוּ (hear ye) in Amo 3:1; Amo 4:1, and Amo 5:1. The address consists of a "great warning to repent," in which the prophet holds up before the sinful Israelites, especially the rulers of the kingdom, the arts of injustice and wickedness that are current among them, and proclaims a judgment which embraces the destruction of the palaces and holy places, the overthrow of the kingdom, and the transportation of the people. In Amo 3:1-15 the sin and punishment are described in the most general form. In Amo 4:1-13 the prophet sweeps away from the self-secure sinners the false ground of confidence afforded by their own worship, recals to their mind the judgments with which God has already visited them, and summons them to stand before God as their judge. In ch. 5 and Amo 6:1-14, after a mournful elegy concerning the fall of the house of Israel (Amo 5:1-3), he points out to the penitent the way to life coupled with the repeated summons to seek the Lord, and that which is good (Amo 5:4, Amo 5:6, Amo 5:14); and then, in the form of a woe, for which a double reason is assigned (Amo 5:18; Amo 6:1), he takes away all hope of deliverance from the impenitent and hardened. Throughout the whole of this address Amos prophesies chiefly to the ten tribes, whom he repeatedly addresses, predicting ruin and exile. At the same time, he not only addresses his words in the introduction (Amo 3:1-2) to all Israel of the twelve tribes, whom Jehovah brought out of Egypt, but he also pronounces the last woe (Amo 6:1) upon the secure ones on Zion, and the careless ones on the mountain of Samaria; so that his prophecy also applies to the kingdom of Judah, and sets before it the same fate as that of the kingdom of the ten tribes, if it should fall into the same sin. The second part contains five visions, and at the close the proclamation of salvation. the first two visions (Amo 7:1-3 and Amo 7:4-6) threaten judgments; the next two (Amo 7:7-9; Amo 8:1-3) point out the impossibility of averting the judgment, and the ripeness of the people for it. Between these, viz., in Amo 7:10-17, the conversation between the prophet and the chief priest at Bethel is related. The substance of the fourth vision is carried out still further, in a simple prophetic address (Amo 8:4-14). Lastly, the fifth vision (Amo 9:1) shows the overthrow and ruin of the whole of Israel, and is also still further expanded in a plain address (Amo 9:2-10). To this there is appended the promise of the restoration of the fallen kingdom of God, of its extension through the adoption of the Gentiles, and of its eternal glorification (Amo 9:11-15). This conclusion corresponds to the introduction (Amo 1:1-15 and 2). Like all the nations that rise up in hostility to the kingdom of God, even Judah and Israel shall fall victims to the judgment, on account of their unrighteousness and idolatry, in order that the kingdom of God may be purified from its dross, be exalted to glory, and so be made perfect. This is the fundamental thought of the writings of Amos, who was called by the Lord to preach this truth to the nation of Israel. And just as the close of his book points back to the introduction (Amo 1:1-15 and 2), so also do the visions of the second part correspond to the addresses of the first, embodying the substance of the addresses in significant symbols. The parallel between the fifth vision and the elegy struck up in Amo 5:1 is very conspicuous; and it is also impossible to overlook the material agreement between the first and second visions and the enumeration in Amo 4:6-11, of the divine visitations that had already fallen upon Israel; whilst the third and fourth visions set clearly before the eye the irrevocable character of the judgments with which careless and wanton sinners are threatened in ch. 3-6.
There is evidently no foundation for the assumption that the second part contains "the true kernel of his work," namely, "the addresses which Amos originally delivered at Bethel;" and that the first part, together with the introduction (ch. 1-6) and the Messianic conclusion (Amo 9:11-15), is purely a written description, composed by Amos after his return from Bethel to Judah, to give a further expansion to his original utterances (Ewald, Baur). This by no means follows, either from the fact that the account of what the prophet experienced at Bethel is inserted in the series of visions, as it moves on step by step, and that the place in which it occurs (viz., ch. 7) is evidently its original position, or from the circumstance that Amos commences his work with a saying of Joel (compare Amo 1:2 with Joe 3:16), and evidently refers to Joel (Joe 3:18) even in the promise at the close (Amo 9:13). For the position of this account in ch. 7 proves nothing further than that Amos related those visions in Bethel; and the allusion to Joel simply presupposes an acquaintance with the predictions of this prophet. If there were no previous addresses, the visions in ch. 7 and 8 would have nothing to explain their occurrence, and would also be lacking in the requisite clearness. Moreover, the work of Amos in Bethel cannot possibly be limited to ch. 7-9. And lastly, the addresses in ch. 4-6 are throughout so individual, so full of life, and so impressive, that they clearly reflect the original oral delivery, even though it may be nothing more than the essential substance of what was orally delivered, that has been given here. Only Amo 1:1-15 and 2 appears to have been really conceived in the form of a written composition, and placed at the head of the book at the time when it was first compiled, although certain thoughts that had been orally expressed may lie at the foundation even there.
For the exegetical writings upon Amos, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, pp. 284-5.