Our study of the Old Testament Prophetic Books this year will cover these writings in chronological, not canonical, order. Chronologically, we can divide the writing prophets into three major groupings—those who prophesied during the divided monarchy of Israel and Judah before the exile (roughly 931–586 BC); those who prophesied while Judah suffered exile in Babylon (roughly 586–538 BC), and those who prophesied after the Jews came back to the Promised Land in 538 BC. Although dating some of the prophets is difficult, we can be essentially certain about the dates for most of them, so today we begin with Amos, the earliest of the prophets who ministered prior to the exile.
We do not know very much about Amos. All the biographical information we do have comes from his book, particularly today's passage, which tells us he was "among the shepherds of Tekoa" (Amos 1:1). Unlike most of the other writing prophets of the Old Testament, Amos' lifelong calling was not that of a prophet but involved agriculture. He spent most of his life as "a herdsman [shepherd] and a dresser of sycamore figs" (7:14), serving in prophetic ministry for no more than about two years sometime during the years 765–755 BC. Tekoa was a village in the southern kingdom of Judah, not far from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and we read about Tekoa in passages such as 2 Samuel 14 and 2 Chronicles 11:5–12. Though he was from Judah, Amos ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel, where he first spoke his prophecies (Amos 7:10–17). Later, they were written down for the sake of Judah and the succeeding generations of God's people.
Amos ministered during the reigns of Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. Scripture remembers Jeroboam II as a wicked king, but he enjoyed a successful reign from a geopolitical perspective. He took back all the territory Israel had lost to other nations, restoring the northern kingdom's borders (2 Kings 14:23–27). Jeroboam II also helped Judah regain sovereignty over regions it had surrendered (vv. 28–29). Consequently, this was a great time of prosperity for Israel, as God granted Israel's success (v. 27). Yet the elite soon forgot this. Wealthy Israelites took advantage of the poor (Amos 2:6–8; 5:10–12). Leaders boasted in their own strength, not in the Lord (Amos 6:8). Amos was sent to rebuke Israel for these sins and many others, and to call the nation to repentance.
Success is not inherently bad, but we should recognize that we are often more tempted to trust in ourselves during good times than during the bad. Moreover, we are often tempted to exploit whatever power we have over other people, whether relatives, employees, club members, the laity, and any who sit under our authority. Let us take care to trust the Lord and use our power only to serve others, and may we ask God regularly to strengthen us against self-reliance and exploiting others.