The temptation is to ignore the Old Testament in our reading of the Bible, even the passages set to be read at worship. We concentrate on the New Testament, deeming it to be the more interesting and relevant for our purposes and the Old Testament the duller and less apposite part. How mistaken we are and what neglect! The Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible and He is recognised to be the fulfilment of its prophecy. The two belong together. They complement one another and the Old Testament, or a good part of it, continues to be paramount to our understanding of Christian faith. After all, it tells the story of Amos, one of the great Old Testament prophets; to miss out on him would be a great pity. We will have a look at the message of Amos later, but first a thumbnail sketch of the man himself.
To meet Amos in person we would need to go back to the 8th century BC to a time when there were two great Hebraic kingdoms: Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Amos belonged to the town of Tekoa in the South: his occupation – he took care of fig trees; his specific task – to scrape or pinch the fruit to make them ripen for human consumption. A seasonal job, so he had a second string to his bow. He was shepherd of a breed of sheep that produced very fine wool. It was a hard life, a dangerous job. The territory he roamed with his flock was a wild, desolate wilderness. Amos speaks intimately of the lion and the bear, enemies of the flock. To use an Americanism, he was a tough cookie, shaped and moulded by the hazards, rigours and poverty of the desert. A man more at home there than amid the ease and comfort of the city. As the story of Amos unfolds, this tough, stern character becomes a vigorous fighter for right, a champion of the poor. And, like most desert men, Amos had a way with words. His education did not come from books but from observation and the long silent hours of reflection for which the desert so amply provided. He knew the history of his people and of surrounding countries, acquired most probably as he mixed with travelling caravans in the market where he sold his wool.
Sometimes to do business it was necessary to leave Tekoa, about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, and make his way north to Bethel, the principal religious centre of the northern state about which the Old Testament has little good to say. However the OT can be a little unfair in its treatment of Israel. Not everyone was bad. It was served by a number of good kings and developed a rigorous life of its own. Jeroboam the 2nd was on the throne in Amos’s time and the circumstances of the day would have justified the claim made in our own post-war history when Harold McMillan the then prime minister boasted We’ve never had it so good. But Amos saw the other side of the picture and was appalled by it. Morally and spiritually the nation was rotten. On one side was great wealth, on the other abject poverty. The more fortunate their circumstances, the more self-indulgent the rich became and the less concerned were they for the poor.
Those were the conditions and issues that compelled Amos to respond to God’s call and embark upon his new “career”. Amos was not the only prophet around then, many roamed at large in those days chanting weird and unintelligible sounds which purported to be the message none other than God had given them to proclaim. They were a peculiar breed; a laughing-stock of the people. Amos was not one of that motley crew; he stood alongside a great line of new prophets. Unlike those others, Amos and company were in full possession of their senses, clear-sighted and able to cut a clear line between good and evil. No beating about the bush; no soft pedalling; given a Word to preach, they were fearless in its delivery.
More next time………