These are the words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders of Tekoa--what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, in the days when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.
There must be some special reason why this prophet putts upon record the employments in which he spent his earlier years, and from which he was called to assume the office of the Lord's messenger to Israel. On the barren hills to the south of Bethlehem, where there is no tillage, and where the population must always have been scanty, Amos tended flocks of sheep or of goats, and at certain seasons of the year gathered the fruit from the wild sycamore trees.
I. RURAL AND MENIAL OCCUPATIONS WERE NO BARRIER TO THE ENJOYMENT OF DIVINE FAVOUR OR TO ELECTION TO SPECIAL AND HONOURABLE SERVICE. This lesson, taught by the career of Amos, was taught again by the election of the apostles of the Lord Christ. The great of this world are often apt to regard men of lowly station with disdain, but God takes no heed of social and artificial distinctions.
II. THE SECLUSION OF A PASTORAL LIFE WAS A SUITABLE TRAINING FOR THE PROPHETIC VOCATION. As David, when guarding the sheepfolds and leading the flocks to water, enjoyed many opportunities for solitary meditation and for devout communion with God, so Amos in the lonely pastures of Tekoah must have listened to the voice that speaks especially to the quiet and the contemplative, the voice of inspiration and of grace.
III. THE RURAL SURROUNDINGS OF THE PROPHET AFFORDED HIM MUCH APPROPRIATE AND STRIKING IMAGERY. The rain and the harvest, the sheep and the lion, the bird and the snare, the fish and the hook, the cart and the sheaf, the earthquake, the fire, and the flood, etc., are all pressed into the service of this poetic prophecy. God taught his servant lessons which stood him in good stead in after years.
IV. BY RAISING AMOS FROM THE HERDSMAN'S TO THE PROPHET'S LIFE GOD MAGNIFIED HIS OWN GRACE. The cultivated and the polished are liable to take credit to themselves for the efficiency of their ministry. But when the comparatively untaught and those who have enjoyed but few advantages are raised to a position in which they do a great work for God, "the excellency of the power is seen to be of God himself." - T.
The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa.
Though a native of the kingdom of Judah, Amos was sent with a message to the ten tribes. The unity of the two kingdoms was not the less real that their histories were divergent. In its origin, idea, and ultimate aim, the theocracy was one. The division which took place after the death of Solomon was a departure from the original conception, and the fruit of human sin. Yet, like many other events in which the Divine purpose seems to fail, it was so overruled as to promote the very end which it apparently frustrated. Not only were the two kingdoms a source of moral discipline — a mutual check to each other — but a richer, fuller illustration of God's dealings with His people was rendered possible than would .otherwise have been attainable. This unity in diversity, and diversity in unity, this double development, which is yet one, must not be overlooked if we would understand aright the history of God's covenant people. Whatever the two kingdoms were to their own thoughts, they were one in the eyes of God. During the vigorous reign of Jeroboam II., the kingdom of the ten tribes attained to a high pitch of prosperity and power. As this resulted from energy in the administration, rather than in any deeper moral principle, it only hastened the progress of inward decay. Luxury, oppression of the poor, lewdness, and profligacy in its many varied forms, followed in the train. It was thus to a people at the crisis of their destiny, in the height of apparent, but delusive prosperity, that Amos, the humble herdman of Tekoa, and gatherer of sycamore fruit, was sent. The circumstances of his mission gave occasion to a new step being taken in advance in the development of the prophetic testimony. Joel, Amos's immediate predecessor, prophesied to those who were chargeable, indeed, with much formality and shallowness of profession, and were therefore justly liable to severe chastisement, but who were yet free from gross and open vice. Hence, in unveiling the great movements of the future, he still identifies generally the covenant people with the friends of God and the objects of Divine deliverance; and "the nations" generally with the enemies of God, and the objects of His righteous vengeance. In reading the Book of Amos, we find ourselves breathing another atmosphere. The prophet no doubt first proclaims exterminating judgment against the surrounding nations, but this is only the prelude to the announcement of a similar doom on the chosen people themselves, who were eagerly following in the footsteps of the heathen. The prospect is held out, indeed, of blessing in the end, but not in a form that could convey the slightest comfort or hope to that ungodly generation. To them at least it was made abundantly plain that, like their rebellious fathers of old, they should spend their days in a wilderness of tribulation, and should not be permitted to see the promised rest. The book consists of a somewhat lengthened introduction, chaps, 1. 2. — followed by two chief divisions. The first, chaps. 3.-6., in the simple form of prophetic addresses. The second, chaps, 7.-9., in a series of visions. The whole being concluded with a promise of future deliverance and blessing.
This was the earliest of four prophets, who all appeared during the time when Assyria was the .greatest world power, the other three being Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. It was probably during the latter half of Jeroboam's reign that the prophet Amos appeared. It was the age of Israel's greatest splendour; but prosperity, as is so often the case, brought the saddest evils in its train. Although the Book of Kings passes quickly over the reign of Jeroboam, and gives the briefest details, yet the pages of Amos and Hosea abound with descriptions of the fearful evils which had crept in along with the renewed prosperity of the nation. The simplicity which had once characterised the national life had completely gone. In defiance of the Mosaic law, a class of nobles had arisen, who possessed large estates, into which they swept the smaller holdings, and "misused their power to oppress the masses, who had sunk into a condition of poverty, and in some cases even actual slavery." Notwithstanding the terrible social evils, a show of worship was kept up. The people sedulously attended the sanctuaries, and brought in abundance their sacrifices and burnt-offerings. It would have seemed most unlikely that the luxurious Israelite nobles and this humble man, Amos, would ever have anything to do with each other. Yet this was the man whose voice was to ring throughout the nation in unsparing condemnation of its many vices. Amos may be pictured as a lonely man, whose spirit was deeply stirred within him by the blow-ledge of the sins which were being committed by the people: a man with a heart completely given to God, his whole being consecrated to Jehovah's service. In the silence of his native fields Amos was spoken to by Jehovah, and received the commission to be His prophet. He responded to the call. Like so many others, he forsook all to obey the Divine summons. He journeyed into the territory of Israel, and made Bethel, Samaria, and other places his headquarters. The average observer would have seen in the northern kingdom a nation at the zenith of its prosperity, and would not have thought of its fall. But the keen eye of the prophet pierced through the glittering cover which wealth had thrown over the foulest corruption... There are two truths of vast importance on which Amos especially insists. He "starts from the thought of the universal sovereignty of God." That is the one truth. The other is the need for righteousness. If the words which, more than any others, describe the nature of his prophecies had to be given, we could find none more appropriate than these: "Let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty (or overflowing) stream" (Amos 7:7-17
). The prophet taught persistently that God is ever closely watching the doings of nations and of men, and that He will reward or punish them in accordance with the eternal law of righteousness. The great lesson he has emphasised is, that every sinful nation, no matter how great and prosperous it may seem, will assuredly perish; that the real strength of a people consists in righteousness.
The prophet was by birth and residence a citizen of Judea. He belonged to the district of Tekoa, a small town some twelve miles south of Jerusalem, perched on a high hill, looking away eastwards across a waste of barren hills to the Dead Sea peeping through their interstices, and the lofty tableland of Moab bounding the horizon beyond. It stands on the edge of the desert, where the fringes of agriculture thin away into a wilderness of rock and sand, broken only by scattered patches of scanty pasturage. The town can never have been much more than a prosperous village; but the adjacent soil is fruitful and kindly, and its oil and honey became celebrated for their excellence. For strategic purposes, it was fortified by Rehoboam, and it had the advantage of lying in a region intersected by some of the busiest highways of commerce. Its inhabitants might see much and hear more, and, in connection with trading caravans, be drawn into travel and become acquainted with the world and its doings. The place was thus, in several ways, not unsuitable for the training of a prophet; and it is arbitrary to argue, as two or three scholars have recently done, because there is now no sycamore culture in the district, and because Amos possesses an intimate knowledge of the north, that therefore we must look for another Tekoa somewhere in Samaria Spite of a floating tradition to the contrary, which still survives in popular circles, the literary merits of the Book of Amos must be rated very high. The general information of the writer is comprehensive and minute. He can paint in detail the religious customs, the social conditions, the local circumstances and vicissitudes of every part of the northern kingdom. With the geography and history, the alliances and feuds, trade relations, national institutions, and aspirations of the neighbouring nations, he is thoroughly familiar. He is possessed of profound ideas about nature, providence, the movements of races, and their place and function in the ,world's government. For breadth of survey, for strength and massiveness of conception, alike in morals and in religion, he is not surpassed by any of the prophets. He is a poet, orator, philosopher, statesman. But in those days and in his social environment, he might be all this without being a man of books and cities. Native genius, interest in the traditions of his people, intercourse with passing caravans, personal visits to distant parts, and a spirit awake to the presence and working of God in human history, past, present, and future, — these were influences potent enough to educate the man, and admirably adapted to prepare the way for the prophet. And this school was equally open to him, whether he was a poor man, living by his labour, now in one service, now in another, or a prosperous sheep-master and wealthy owner of fig orchards. remarks that Amos was "rude in speech, but not in knowledge"; and Jewish tradition has been pleased to credit him with a stutter or impediment of speech. This is probably the origin of a mistaken idea that his book is badly written, or at least betrays the rusticity of its author. On the contrary; the Hebrew of Amos ranks among the purest and most powerful compositions of the Old Testament. His language is choice and melodious, possibly in a few peculiar spellings recording a provincial pronunciation, or more likely the slips of the copyists' pens. His style is terse, dramatic, and simple, but very pointed and forcible. He loves brief uninvolved sentences, though occasionally carried away into passionate appeal or lyrical outbursts of poetic delineation. He indulges much in question, apostrophe, and exclamation. He is an orator more than an artist, or a bard. With all his simplicity we find traces of paranomasia, rhythmic arrangement, and rhetorical construction. His exposition abounds in rich and varied imagery derived from nature, and striking illustrations taken from everyday life. The ordered arrangement, compact style, and general literary finish of his book suggest slow, careful, and leisurely construction, while the fire of its invective, the impetus of its appeals, and the terrible directness of its denunciation prove it the record and embodiment of speech originally orally delivered On the surface Amos may seem to make too much of mere morality, but it is only an appearance. With him, to do right is to serve God, and the motive must be the love of God and of our neighbour.
Homilist.I. THE SPHERE OF LIFE HE OCCUPIED. He was a "herdman." God has often selected the chief messengers of His truth from men in the humbler walks of life. Elisha, David, etc. Our Lord Himself came from a peasant cottage in Nazareth. In this fact we have two things.
1. Worldly pride divinely rebuked,
2. Human nature divinely honoured.
II. THE AGE IN WHICH AMOS LIVED. Two events are specified.
1. The political event of this period. "In the days of Uzziah, King of Judah." A comparatively peaceful and prosperous period.
2. The physical event of this period. Two years before the earthquake. Why is the period of his life thus described?(1) Because you cannot rightly judge a man's character unless you understand the circumstances under which he lived.(2) You cannot estimate the value of a man's mission unless you correctly judge of the moral character of his times.
III. THE MISSION TO WHICH HE WAS CALLED. What was it to pronounce Divine judgment? He announced it —
1. As coming according to his vision.
2. As coming in a terrible form.
3. As issuing from a scene of mercy.
4. As fraught with calamitous results.What an argument for repentance!
()Amos was not ashamed of his descent. He was not a farmer, but a farm-labourer. Who cares to be on very close intimacy with a field-hand, or a cow-herd? To a little outdoor work Amos added the process of cleaning and preparing the fruit, either for preservation or for sale. Whilst he was doing his farm-work and attending to his fruit, a blast from heaven struck his deeper consciousness, and he stood up a prophet. The Lord will bring His prophets just as He pleases, and from what place He chooses. Amos was a field-hand, and yet he was fearless; he was all the more fearless because he was a field-hand. A farmer could not have been so fearless. Amos was a farm-labourer, yet he was equal to the occasion. Education is never equal to anything that is supremely great. There are times in human history when inspiration must go to the front — talent must go behind, genius must go into the first place. When we are inspired we forget our rags. When God calls. let not man despise. God's elections are startling. Amos begins where all rude, energetic minds begin; they begin in denunciation. Judgment seems to be a natural work for them to conduct. Amos issues his judgment against Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, Israel, — all round the circle that judgment-fire sparkles and blazes. It seems so much easier to denounce than to discriminate. Even young prophets began with thunder and lightning. Amos again and again says, "I will send a fire." And the nobles were lying on divans of ivory, having corrupted themselves to the point of rottenness. There are times in human history when only the disinfectant that can work the real miracle is fire. Fire never fails. We need voices of this kind; they help to keep the average of human history well up to the mark.
()It is well to notice —
1. The importance of prophecy in an evidential point of view, as one of the supernatural elements of the Bible. To the honest, earnest, impartial inquirer, no more convincing or impressive proof of the truth of this revealed Word can be offered than its propHetic element affords. The age of miracles is past. The testimony of the "more sure (confirmed) word of prophecy," as it has been fulfilled, and as it is daily being fulfilled before our eyes, is all the more important.
2. The importance of the Old Testament Scriptures. The prophet Amos alleges his own inspiration. Much has been made by hostile critics of the supposed discrepancies and contradictions of Scripture; but how little has been said about its marvellous unity! What is it which imparts this unity?
3. In the Book of Amos is illustrated a principle of the Divine dealing. Amos was one of the people, and not in the order of the prophets. The Lord had suddenly and unexpectedly called and commissioned him to be a prophet of Israel. And so, in working for God, the question is not so much whether it is Amos the rude, or Isaiah the polished; the question is, are we verily and indeed called of Him? Are we qualified by His grace, and anointed by His Spirit?
4. The doctrine of a special providence is here strikingly set forth. Judgments were appointed to descend on several nations in succession. Than this there can be nothing more certain, that national sins draw down national judgments and punishments. Men are apt to think they may escape in a crowd. We have each our share in public misfortune and in national guilt, and in God's sight are held liable accordingly. But it is also true, that a special providence works in and with each of God's true children.
()One point of interest in the Book of Amos is its testimony to the power of inspiration and religion on the untaught and uncultivated mind. It shows how such a mind may strike out bold, simple pathways, and forcible expressions, which arrest us with a greater force than even those of the more refined and cultivated. Imagery borrowed from natural scenery and its circumstances, will be among the most forcible modes of expression which such men will use. We may often gather important lessons from this influence of nature on the mind. She teaches us to dive more into her own calm and profound depth, to read the will of God. In Amos we have a mind accustomed to see duties or acts of religion through images borrowed from the external world. But not only does the form of nature influence the ruder mind of the peasant; he is influenced by the customs and conventionalities of the society in which he lives. Amos makes use of these frequently in connection with his religious mission. One practical question opens out to us, it is the real condition and value of the uneducated mind under the influences of religion. There is often an inclination alike to overrate as to underrate this; and serious injury is done by both tendencies.
Sunday Companion.Do you remember what was the immediate agent in Bishop Hannington's conversion? Someone sent him a little book. Hannington determined to read every word of it, so he began with the preface. He became impressed with the notion that the book was unscholarly. "I therefore threw the book away, and refused to read it." Some time after he was leaving Exeter for St. Petherwyn, and he spied the old book. He knew his friend would ask him if he had read it. "I suppose I must read through it, and so I stuffed it into my portmanteau. At Petherwyn I took the book out, and read the first chapter. I disliked it so much that I determined never to touch it again. I rather think I flung the book across the room. So back into my portmanteau it went, and remained until my visit to Hurst, when I again saw it, and thought I might as well read it, so as to be able to tell the sender about it. So once more I took the old thing, and read straight on for three chapters or so, until at last I came upon that called, 'Do you feel your sins forgiven?' And by means of this my eyes were opened. I was in bed at the time, reading. I sprang out of bed, and leaped about the room rejoicing and praising God that Jesus died for me. From that day to this I have lived under the shadow of His wings in the assurance of faith that I am His and He is mine." The Lord used that which was apparently contemptible to be a minister of salvation! What appeared to James Hannington to be despicable turned out to be the instrument of his redemption. Now God loves to use the apparently base and ignoble, and the despised! He loves to send His power along commonplace wires! He calls into His service some uncultured speaker, whose words tumble out in disorder, and whose thoughts are wanting in logical succession, and He fills the ungainly speech with power, and through the rough utterance there come spiritual stabs that pierce to the very hearts of the hearers. He loves to use some letter which is devoid of literary grace, and written with no grammatical accuracy, and He fills it with the dynamic of the Holy Ghost, and it is mighty to the bringing down of strongholds.
()Many of God's most distinguished workmen have been called from scenes of the humblest labour. It was when toiling over a shoemaker's bench that Carey's soul was filled with a zeal for missionary labour. Morrison was once a maker of shoe-lasts. John Williams, of Erromanga, was called from the blacksmith's shop. Dr. Livingstone from working in a cotton mill. Our Saviour also called His disciples from among the fishermen.
Which he saw concerning Israel.The prophet was specifically appointed for the Israelites, though born elsewhere. But how, and on what occasion, he migrated into the kingdom of Israel, we know not. It is probable that this was designedly arranged, that God might check the insolence of the people, who flattered themselves so much in their prosperity. Since the Israelites had hitherto rejected God's servants, they were now con. strained to hear a foreigner and a shepherd condemning them for their sins, and exercising the office of a judge: he who proclaims an impending destruction is a celestial herald. This being the case, we hence see that God had not in vain employed the ministry of this prophet; for He is wont to choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and He takes prophets and teachers from the lowest grade to humble the dignity of the world, and puts the invaluable treasure of His doctrine in earthen vessels, that His power, as Paul teaches us, may be made more evident. But there was a special reason as to the prophet Amos; for he was sent on purpose severely to reprove the ten tribes; and he handled them with great asperity. For he was not polite, but proved that he had to do with those who were not to be treated as men, but as brute beasts; yea, worse in obstinacy than brute beasts; for there is some docility in oxen and cows, and especially in sheep, for they hear the voice of their shepherd, and follow where he leads them. The Israelites were all stubbornness, and wholly untameable. It was then necessary to set over them a teacher who would not treat them courteously, but exercise towards them his native rusticity.
Two years before the earthquakePalestine lies almost in the centre of one great volcanic region of the earth's surface, that, namely, which includes the basin of the Mediterranean, and the provinces of Western or Central Asia. Traces of that volcanic action are found in every direction. The black basaltic rocks of the Hauran, the hot springs of Tiberias, and Emmaus, and Gadara, the naphtha fountains near the Dead Sea, the dykes of porphyry, and other volcanic rocks that force their way through thy limestone, the many caves in the limestone rock themselves, — all these show that we are treading on ground where the forces of the hidden fires of the earth have been, in times past, in active operation. We are, that is, in a zone of earthquakes. On some of these earthquakes, tremendous in their phenomena, and in the extent of the desolation caused by them, we have full details, in earlier and even in contemporary history. The Jewish writer, Josephus, speaks of one which occurred in B.C. 31, as having destroyed many villages, and countless flocks, and herds, and human lives, which he estimates (with somewhat, perhaps, of Oriental vagueness as to statistics) now at ten, and now at thirty thousand. Herod and his army, who were then carrying on war against the Arabs, were only saved by their being encamped in tents, and so free from the peril of falling houses. As it was, he had to combat the panic and depression which it spread through his troops, and with something of a sceptical epicureanism, to assure them that these natural phenomena were not signs of greater evils to come, but were calamities by themselves, having no connection with any others that followed or preceded them. Within the last thirty years again the shocks of an earthquake were felt over the whole of Syria, in Beirdt, Damascus, Cyprus; Safed was almost utterly destroyed; Tiberias was left little better than a heap of ruins, and one-third of the population perished, to the number of a thousand. Rivers forsook their beds, and left them dry for hours. The hot springs that flow into the Sea of Tiberias were largely swollen in volume, and the level of the lake was raised. One such convulsion has left its impress on the history of the kingdom of Judah. It seems to have been the first great earthquake in the history of Israel. It occurred in the time of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5). There is no trace of anything of the kind in the Book of Judges, or in the earlier history of the Kings.
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