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Book of Amos

Book of Amos
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

The prophecies of Amos were delivered during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.) at Bethel in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa in the Southern Kingdom of Judah who cared for sheep and sycamore trees He was not a professional prophet (7:14), but received a call from God to go to the North and proclaim the word of the Lord. He was a contemporary of the prophet Hosea, but likely preceded him. Many of the earlier accounts of prophets found in the Old Testament are found within the context of other accounts of Israel's history. Amos is the first prophet in the OT to have a whole book named after him.

In very strong and poetic language, Amos condemns external religious ceremony and practice that camouflages social corruption and is not accompanied by internal conversion of heart to the Lord. He is the OT prophet of social justice par excellence. Because of their empty worship and toleration of injustice, Amos prophesies that the Israelites in the North will be conquered and carried off into exile. That is what happened 30 years later in 721 B.C.

All is not gloom. Amos knew that the Lord would preserve "a remnant of Joseph" that would continue the practice of justice. This remnant will be the basis of hope for the future restoration. God's action in history, therefore, is to save and not to destroy. The book ends on a note of hope.

The book of Amos falls naturally into three parts:

  1. Judgement of the Nations - Amos 1-2
  2. Words and Woes for Israel - Amos 3-6
  3. Symbolic Visions: Threats and Promises & Epilogue - Amos 7-9

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Detailed Outline.

I. Judgement of the Nations - Amos 1-2

The first opens with a general title to the work, giving the author's name and the general date of his ministry (i, 1), and a text or motto in four poetical lines (i, 2), describing under a fine image the Lord's power over Palestine. This part comprises the first two chapters, and is made up of a series of oracles against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Juda, and, finally, Israel. Each oracle begins with the same numerical formula: "For three crimes of Damascus [or Gaza, or Tyre, etc., as the case may be], and for four, I will not revoke the doom"; it next sets forth the chief indictment; and finally pronounces the penalty. The heathen nations are doomed not because of their ignorance of the true God, but because of their breaches of the elementary and unwritten laws of natural humanity and good faith. As regards Juda and Israel, they will share the same doom because, although they were especially cared for by the Lord who drew them out of Egypt, conquered for them the land of Chanaan, and gave them prophets and Nazarites, yet they have committed the same crimes as their pagan neighbours. Israel is rebuked more at length than Juda, and its utter destruction is vividly described.

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II. Words and Woes for Israel - Amos 3-6

The second part (chaps. iii-vi) consists of a series of addresses which expand the indictment and the sentence against Israel set forth in ii, 6-16. Amos's indictment bears (1) on the social disorders prevalent among the upper classes; (2) on the heartless luxury and self-indulgence of the wealthy ladies of Samaria; (3) on the too great confidence of the Israelites at large in their mere external discharge of religious duties which can in no way secure them against the approaching doom. The sentence itself assumes the form of a dirge over the captivity which awaits the unrepenting transgressors, and the complete surrender of the country to the foreign enemy.

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III. Symbolic Visions: Threats and Promises & Epilogue - Amos 7-9

The third section of the book (chaps. vii-ix, 8b.), apart from the historical account of Amasias's opposition to Amos (vii, 10-17), and from a discourse (viii, 4-14) similar in tone and import to the addresses contained in the second part of the prophecy, is wholly made up of visions of judgment against Israel. In the first two visions--the one of devouring locusts, and the other of consuming fire--the foretold destruction is stayed by divine interposition; but in the third vision, that of a plumb-line, the destruction is permitted to become complete. The fourth vision, like the foregoing, is symbolical; a basket of summer fruit points to the speedy decay of Israel; while in the fifth and last the prophet beholds the Lord standing beside the altar and threatening the Northern Kingdom with a chastisement from which there is no escape. The book concludes with God's solemn promise of the glorious restoration of the House of David, and of the wonderful prosperity of the purified nation (ix, 8c-15).

Our next biblical article takes us to the Book of Obadiah.

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