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Bible Commentaries
Amos 1

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

Verses 1-15

Notes on the Prophecy of Amos


Of Amos, we have much more information than is customary concerning the minor prophets. He gives us, by the inspiration of God, several autobiographical notices of deep interest, which it will be well to look at briefly ere entering upon the study of his messages to Israel and the surrounding nations.

His prophecies were given in the reigns of Uzziah king of Judah and Jeroboam II king of Israel. He describes himself as a herdman of Tekoa, a town in the hill-country of Judea, about twelve miles from Jerusalem, of which mention is frequently made in Scripture. Thence came the “wise woman” sent by Joab to persuade David to permit his murderer son to return to his patrimony, in plain violation of all law, both human and divine (2 Samuel 14:2). There too, Ira the son of Ikkesh, one of David’s mighty men, was born (2 Samuel 23:26). It is noticed on numbers of other occasions, and even after the return from Babylon, the zeal of the men of Tekoa is spoken of, though their nobles are reproved in connection with the building of the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:5, Nehemiah 3:27). A desert town, surrounded by large solitudes, it was a suitable place for men of pastoral occupation; and there Amos pursued his humble calling till separated by the Lord to the prophetic office.

He tells us that he was neither born into the goodly company of the prophets, nor did he choose that calling for himself. But when he was “a herdman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit” (that is, the fruit of the wild fig), the Lord said unto him, “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel” (ch. 7:14, 15). This was enough for Amos. He was not disobedient to the voice from heaven, but, leaving behind the pastures of the wilderness, and turning his back on the place of his birth, we soon find him declaring the word of the Lord away up in the capital of the northern kingdom, greatly to the disgust and arousing the indignation of Jeroboam and his false priest Amaziah. When ordered to flee to his own land and do his prophesying there, he boldly gives his divine credentials, and delivers a message more searching than ever.

Of the duration of his ministry, or the time or circumstances of his death, we have no record. But what has been vouchsafed to us is fraught with most important lessons.

It is ever God’s way to prepare His servants in secret for the work they are afterwards to accomplish in public. Moses at the backside of the desert; Gideon on the threshing-floor; David with his “few sheep” out upon the hillside; Daniel refusing to be defiled with the king’s meat; John the Baptist in the desert; Peter in his fishing-boat; Paul in Arabia; and Amos following the flock and herding the cattle in the wilderness of Tekoa-all alike attest this fact. It is important to observe that only he who has thus learned of God in the school of obscurity is likely to shine in the blaze of publicity.

Amos had no thought of becoming, or being recognized, as a prophet, as men today select “the ministry” as a profession. He would doubtless have been quite content to pursue his humble avocation as a small farmer, or possibly a mere farmer’s hand or assistant, to the end of his life, if such had been the mind of God for him. But as he followed the flock, his soul was communing with Jehovah. As he gathered the wild figs of the wilderness, his heart was meditating on the great issues of the soul’s relationship to God and the importance of walking in His ways. As he tended the herds he was learning wondrous lessons of a faithful Creator’s love and care. And so, when for him “the fulness of time was come,” the Lord, so to speak, kindled the already prepared fuel into a flame, and the humble herdman became a mighty, Spirit-energized prophet of God, not only to his own people, but to all Israel and the nations around.

We read of no unbelieving hesitation, no parleying with God, no bargaining or questioning as to temporal support; even as before there was no fleshly impatience or desire to be at the front attracting notice as a prophet or speaker. Throughout it is the record of a simple, humble man of God, who can wait or run as his Lord sees fit. In all this how much there is for our souls today! There are many self-made ministers whose inner lives are in sad contrast to their ministry. Many, too, insist on taking the place belonging to a servant of God who have never spent any time in His school, learning His ways, as did Amos. Thus their utterances are empty and disappointing in the extreme, as might be expected when coming from men who had not been sent by the Lord. It is blessedly otherwise with Amos. The more we learn of the messenger, the more we are prepared to listen to his message.

Those hidden years had not been wasted. Not only were they years in which he listened to the voice of God speaking to his own soul, but in them he was acquiring experience, and an insight into men and things which would be invaluable to him later on. Again and again in his public utterances he uses figures, or illustrations, which show how closely and thoughtfully he had observed the many things, animate and inanimate, surrounding him in his early life. This the following passages make abundantly plain: Chapters 2:13; 3:12; 4:9; 5:8; 6:12; 7:1, 2. Others too we shall notice as we proceed.

The theme of the book of Amos is emphatically one of judgment on Israel and Judah, and the nations about them.

In the first two chapters we have eight separate burdens, addressed respectively to Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel.

The second part of the prophecy includes chaps. 3 to 6, giving the word of the Lord to Israel, that is, the ten-tribed kingdom of the north.

The third and last division takes in chaps. 7 to 9, in which we have a series of five visions, with a considerable parenthesis (ch. 7:10-17) devoted to the personal history of the prophet, which we have already slightly noticed. The visions close with the declaration of millennial blessing and restoration, as seen in both the preceding books, Hosea and Joel, and generally throughout the Prophets.

For though judgment be the theme, yet judgment is but to prepare the way for glory. The Lord will not cease till He has established righteousness and blessing in all the earth.

Chapters 1 And 2

The Indictment Of The Nations

Amos does not conceal what men might be disposed to call his mean origin. He boldly begins with, “The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake” (ver. 1). Here the prophet’s name, his humble calling, the place of his dwelling, and the date of his prophecy, are all plainly set forth.

The earthquake referred to would doubtless mark a time-epoch for more than one generation; but we have no record by which now to locate it. In Jewish traditionary lore it is said to have occurred when Uzziah impiously sought to take to himself the office of a priest of the Lord. Josephus thus connects the two incidents. But of this there is no proof.

Having already dwelt somewhat on the other points mentioned in this first verse, in the introduction, we may turn at once to the prophetic messages, of which, as before noted, there are eight in the first two chapters; five in chapter one, and three in the second.

From verse 2 we gather that the nations addressed are regarded in connection with Jerusalem and Mount Zion. There Jehovah had set His name. Thence He would roar in His indignation and utter His voice in judgment, so that the pastures of the shepherds should mourn and the top of Carmel wither.

Notice that each separate prediction begins with the same solemn formula, save for the change of the name: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because--.” This the Jewish expositors generally understand to have the force of, “Three transgressions have I forgiven them, but the fourth I will visit in judgment.” It at least implies that, in His long-suffering, God had waited again and again, looking for some evidence of repentance ere finally dealing in wrath; but there was none. In three transgressions they had filled up the cup of their wickedness. In the fourth it had overflowed, and declared that all further testing was useless. They were corrupt and abominable in His sight. Judgment therefore must take its course.

The crowning sin of each people is especially set forth in the terrible indictment and sentence combined which proceeded from the seer’s inspired lips.

Damascus had “threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron.” Ruthlessly persecuting the exposed borders of Israel across the Jordan, they showed no mercy to age or sex, but swept over the land, cutting down all alike, and treating them as grain under the flail. For this they should have judgment without mercy meted out by the Moral Governor of the Universe, whose eyes were upon all their ways (vers. 3-5).

Gaza, the ancient Philistine capital, had made His people their prey, taking them captive and selling or giving them to Edom (in type, how graphic a picture of false religion delivering man up to the power of the flesh 0, and thus aiding this cruel unbrotherly foe to destroy and enslave his near kinsman. But as they had sought the destruction of the erring people of the Lord, His fire and His hand would be against Philistia, even to its utter destruction (vers. 6-8).

Tyrus, the merchant city by the sea, once in “brotherly covenant” with Israel, in the days of Solomon and Hiram, had forgotten the pledges made, and likewise sided with Edom, delivering up to them the captives they had taken. Therefore the fire should devour the fancied impregnable wall of Tyre and blot out her palaces (vers. 9, 10).

Edom, ever the bitterest enemy of the seed of Jacob, had been unrelenting in his fury, “pursuing his brother with the sword, and casting off all pity.” So should the Lord forget to pity him in the day of His righteous wrath, recompensing to Edom the indignities heaped upon Israel. The prophecy of Obadiah connects intimately with this passage (vers. 11, 12).

Ammon’s fiendish display of hatred against Israel, seeking by cruelty of most heinous character to blot out the hope of the chosen nation, that he might enlarge his own border, had called down the divine retribution upon his own guilty head, and he should be exposed to all the fury of the tempest of Jehovah in the day of the whirlwind of His wrath (vers. 13-15).

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Amos 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/amos-1.html. 1914.
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