The first verse of this book identifies the author as “Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa” (1:1). Much has been made of the fact that Amos was a shepherd—a man more comfortable among hills and dales than on city streets—a man more comfortable in the company of sheep than of people—an unsophisticated man shocked at urban excess—a shrill man railing against urban lifestyles.
However, it would be a mistake to attribute the harshness of Amos’ prophecy to his lack of sophistication. He became a prophet, not because he found urban lifestyles repulsive, but because the Lord called him. It was Yahweh who took Amos from his flocks. It was Yahweh who said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (7:15). Amos frequently prefaces his prophecy by saying, “Thus says Yahweh” (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13, 2:1, etc.).
The first verse of this book also tells us when Amos served as a prophet. It was “in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake” (1:1). Uzziah and Jeroboam ruled in the eighth century B.C., and scholars believe that Amos had a relatively short ministry in the middle of that century—around 760-755 B.C.
At that time, the Jewish people were divided into the ten tribes of the northern kingdom (Israel) and the two tribes of the southern kingdom (Judah). It was the time between the end of Solomon’s reign (c. 930 B.C.) and the fall of the northern kingdom (c. 721 B.C.).
Only a few years after Amos’ prophecies, the Assyrians forced the ten tribes of Israel into exile in Assyria. Unlike the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom (Judah), the ten tribes of Israel never returned to their homeland in any organized way. Instead, they were assimilated and disappeared as a people.
The Jeroboam mentioned above is Jeroboam II, who ruled c. 785-745 B.C. Jeroboam I, the first king of Israel (the northern kingdom), ruled c. 924-903 B.C., and died by the Lord’s hand (2 Chronicles 13:20). Jeroboam II was successful militarily, but “he did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh: he didn’t depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 14:24).
It is worth noting that the first Jeroboam was the first king of Israel, and the second Jeroboam’s son would be the next-to-last king of Israel. In between the two Jeroboams there was a succession of mostly bad kings of Israel.
We tend to think of Amos as a northern prophet, because his prophecy was directed primarily toward the northern kingdom (Israel)—but he was from Tekoa, a few miles south of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom (Judah)—and, as we will see in 6:1, he addressed both “those who are at ease in Zion” (the capital of the southern kingdom) and “those who are secure on the mountain of Samaria” (the capital of the northern kingdom).
Amos spoke against “social injustice and religious arrogance” (Tucker, 419). He warned the people of an upcoming military disaster that would reflect God’s judgment.
AMOS 7:7-9. A PLUMB LINE
7 Thus he showed me and behold,
the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb line,
with a plumb line in his hand.
8 Yahweh said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”
I said, “A plumb line.”
Then the Lord said, “Behold,
I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.
I will not again pass by them any more.
9 The high places of Isaac will be desolate,
the sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste;
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
“Thus he showed me” (v. 7a). As is clear from verse 6, it is the Lord God who showed Amos a vision. This is the third in a series of five visions:
• The first vision (7:1-3) was a vision of locusts.
• The second vision (7:4-6) was a vision of fire.
• Now we have the third vision, a vision of a plumb line (7:7-9).
• The fourth vision (8:1-3) will be a vision of a basket of summer fruit.
• The fifth vision (9:1-4) will be of thresholds shaking and shattering on the heads of the people—and people being killed by the sword—a vision of inescapable judgment.
“the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand” (v. 7b). A plumb line is a string with a weight (known as a plumb-bob) attached. When the user holds a plumb line by the string, the plumb-bob at the bottom will point with great exactness to the earth’s center of gravity. People use plumb lines, even today, to determine whether a wall is perfectly straight, i.e., exactly perpendicular to the horizon. In other words, a plumb line enables the user to test the straightness of a wall. A plumb line hung from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa would demonstrate that its walls are not straight. In that case, the walls are so far out-of-plumb that the naked eye can easily see that they are not straight. However, a more modest tilt might require a plumb line to detect the error.
A crooked wall can be difficult to correct. In many cases, an out-of-plumb wall must be torn down and rebuilt if it is ever to be right.
Many years ago, a policeman threatened to cite my father for bumping a concrete block wall under construction and knocking it out-of-plumb. The policeman had matched a mark on the wall with a mark on the rear bumper of our car. He said that my father had bumped the wall so that it was out-of-plumb, and had left the scene without notifying anyone. My father had no idea that he had done such a thing, so the policeman invited him to the parking lot to see the marks. As it turned out, the mark was on the bumper of my mother’s car—my sainted mother. She turned out to be as surprised as my father, because she had no idea that she had bumped the wall—much less that the bump caused a problem. The policeman saw her surprise and decided not to issue a ticket, but the people who were building the wall had to tear it down and start over and our insurance had to pay. The wall was only a few inches out-of-plumb, but it wasn’t repairable.
Now Amos sees Yahweh standing beside a wall with a plumb line in his hand. Yahweh’s purpose is to test the wall to see if it is straight or not—usable or not. We sense, of course, that Yahweh is concerned with something more than a wall. The next verse will make clear the real nature of his concern.
There is some question about the unusual Hebrew word translated “plumb line” here. Some scholars believe that it was based on an Akkadian word that means “tin.” Since tin was used in military weaponry, these scholars think that the word as used here points to a military defeat in the future—an idea found in verse 9. However, their interpretation is, at best, only a theory—and the context here favors “plumb line” (McCann, 478; Lederach; Smith & Page, 131).
“Yahweh said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel'” (v. 8a). Now Yahweh explains the meaning of the plumb line metaphor. Israel (the northern kingdom) is the wall that is being tested.
While the next verse will make it clear that Yahweh has pronounced the people of Israel guilty and plans to execute judgment against them—nevertheless, in this verse, he calls them “my people.” There is no sense here that Yahweh is gloating over the judgment that he must render. It is a broken-hearted Yahweh who has tried and tried to bring these people to faithfulness, but who is finally having to admit that it just didn’t work.
“I will not again pass by them any more” (v. 8b). The northern kingdom (Israel) has been in existence for nearly two centuries—since the end of Solomon’s reign and the division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms. With regard to the northern kingdom, there have been ups and downs, but mostly downs. Yahweh has given them opportunity after opportunity to repent and mend their ways, but they have failed to do so. Now Yahweh has decided not to “pass by them” any further—not to shower grace upon grace any longer. The time has come to put an end to their corruption, once and for all.
“The high places of Isaac will be desolate, the sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste” (v. 9a). The high places were sacred sites dedicated to the worship of pagan gods. Old Testament references to high places are uniformly negative (Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 33:52; 2 Samuel 1:19; 1 Kings 3:2-3; 12:31-32; 13:2, 32-33; 14:23, etc.), because worship at the high places was inconsistent with the worship of Yahweh.
The “high places of Israel” were temples established by Jeroboam I in Bethel (in the far south of Israel, just a few miles north of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah) and Dan (in the far north of Israel). Jeroboam I feared that, if his people were to continue going to Jerusalem to worship, they would soon form loyalties to Judah (where Jerusalem was located) and overthrow Jeroboam in favor of Rehoboam, the king of Judah. “Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he said to them, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Look and see your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ He set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. This thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan” (1 Kings 12:28-30).
“and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (v. 9b). Yahweh will bring a violent end to the house of Jeroboam. This will come to pass when Shallum, son of Jabesh, conspires against Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, strikes him down and assumes the throne (1 Kings 15:8-10).
After the first two visions, Amos begged for mercy (7:2, 5), and in each of those instances Yahweh relented (7:3, 6). However, in this third vision, Amos makes no such plea and Yahweh shows no signs of relenting. Presumably, Amos has seen the righteousness of Yahweh’s judgment and no longer has the heart to protest Israel’s punishment.
AMOS 7:10-11. AMOS HAS CONSPIRED AGAINST YOU
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel,
saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel.
The land is not able to bear all his words.
11 For Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land.'”
“Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words'” (v. 10). Amaziah is the priest of Bethel—one of the “high places of Israel” established by Jeroboam I (see comments on v. 9a above).
What we heard in verses 7-9 were the words that Yahweh spoke to Amos. We have no record of Amos speaking to the people, but verse 10 makes it clear that Amos has been telling people what Yahweh said—warning them of the judgment to come. Amos would have done so, not out of personal pique, but because Yahweh told him, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (7:15). His purpose would have been to secure the people’s repentance and, perhaps, to stave off the worst of the judgment which Yahweh is about to impose.
The priest, Amaziah, has become aware that Amos has been preaching to the people, and interprets Amos’ words, not as prophecy, but as sedition against Jeroboam. There is an element of self-interest involved in Amaziah’s report to the king, because it was almost certainly Jeroboam who appointed Amaziah to his priestly position (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33).
Amaziah sends word to Jeroboam concerning Amos’ preaching, slanting his report to portray Amos, not as a prophet, but as a traitor. The fact that Amos came from Judah rather than Israel made this a believable charge.
Amaziah’s report reflects his loyalty to Jeroboam, his desire to curry the king’s favor, and a desire to hang onto his comfortable sinecure in Bethel. But above all, Amaziah’s report makes it clear that his first loyalty is to the king rather than to Yahweh.
“For Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land'” (v. 11). This report is fairly consistent with Yahweh’s words to Amos, but it deviates at two points. First, Yahweh said that it would be the “house of Jeroboam” (7:9) rather than Jeroboam personally who would die by the sword. As noted above, it will be Jeroboam’s son who dies by the sword. Second, this is the first mention of the people going into exile.
AMOS 7:12-13. YOU SEER, GO, FLEE AWAY!
12 Amaziah also said to Amos, “You seer, go,
flee away into the land of Judah,
and there eat bread, and prophesy there:
13 but don’t prophesy again any more at Bethel;
for it is the king’s sanctuary,
and it is a royal house!”
“Amaziah also said to Amos, “You seer, go, flee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there” (v. 12). The word “seer” is roughly synonymous with “prophet,” although it might have carried a negative connotation.
Amos is from Judah, so Amaziah tells him to go home to Judah and earn his keep there. Amaziah’s assumption that Amos is profiting financially from his prophesy is surely influenced by the fact that Amaziah is profiting from his priesthood. However, Amos isn’t prophesying for profit. He makes his living by serving as “a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” (v. 14).
“but don’t prophesy again any more at Bethel; for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a royal house” (v. 13). There is a turf issue here. Bethel and its sanctuary belong to King Jeroboam—and, by extension, to Amaziah, the king’s priest. If there is religious work to be done here, Amaziah considers it his privilege to do it.
AMOS 7:14-15.I WAS NO PROPHET
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet,
neither was I a prophet’s son;
but I was a herdsman, and a farmer of sycamore figs;
15 and Yahweh took me from following the flock,
and Yahweh said to me, ‘Go,
prophesy to my people Israel.'”
“Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son'” (v. 14a). This verse has caused some scholarly comment, because Amos IS a prophet—a man commissioned by Yahweh to speak the words that Yahweh gives him. How, then, can he claim not to be a prophet. We should note that there are difficulties in translating this verse which, in the Hebrew, has two noun clauses with no verb—in other words, there is no “I am” or “I was” in the original. We should also note that in verse 12 Amaziah implied that Amos is a prophet for profit. What Amos is almost surely saying here, then, is that he is not a professional prophet—not a member of any guild of prophets—not a man who expects to gain financially from his prophecy.
“but I was a herdsman, and a farmer of sycamore figs” (v. 14b). Amos goes on to make it clear that he is a simple man who makes his living as a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees.
“and Yahweh took me from following the flock, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel'” (v. 15). This brief description of Amos’ call leaves many questions unanswered. Why did Yahweh call Amos instead of someone else? What was Amos supposed to do with his flock of sheep while carrying out Yahweh’s call? Where is Amos supposed to prophesy? Is he to preach on street corners? Is he to knock on people’s doors? Is it to try to gain entrance to the king’s palace? How is he supposed to support himself while serving as a prophet?
While it would be interesting to know the answers to questions such as these, this verse tells Amaziah everything he needs to know. It tells him that Amos was called by Yahweh and is prophesying by Yahweh’s authority.
AMOS 7:16-17. LISTEN TO THE WORD OF YAHWEH!
16 Now therefore listen to the word of Yahweh:
‘You say, Don’t prophesy against Israel,
and don’t preach against the house of Isaac.’
17 Therefore thus says Yahweh:
‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be divided by line;
and you yourself shall die in a land that is unclean,
and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land.'”
“Now therefore listen to the word of Yahweh: ‘You say, Don’t prophesy against Israel, and don’t preach against the house of Isaac'” (v. 16). Yahweh told Amos to prophesy (v. 15), but the priest Amaziah tells him not to prophesy. In doing this, Amaziah is attempting to countermand Yahweh’s commandment. He is presenting Amos with a stark choice—obey the priest or obey Yahweh. From the context, we can see that this is not a difficult choice for Amos. He will obey Yahweh.
“Therefore thus says Yahweh: ‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line; and you yourself shall die in a land that is unclean, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land'” (v. 17). Whereas Amaziah the priest has given his first loyalty to the king rather than to Yahweh—and whereas Amaziah the priest has failed to call the people of Israel to faithful service to Yahweh—and whereas Amaziah the priest has attempted to countermand Yahweh’s commandment—therefore, Yahweh has decreed that these five punishments will follow.
Amaziah’s wife will become a prostitute. While it is possible that she would suddenly take on a degenerate character, it is more likely that she would become a prostitute once her husband and children were taken from her. Left on her own, she would have few options to support herself. For the wife of a priest to become a prostitute would be a great humiliation for both wife and priest.
Amaziah’s sons and daughters will die by the sword. While Amos doesn’t provide further details, we know that the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser, captured a number of Israelite cities and carried their people into exile (2 Kings 15:29). Then, when Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom, rebelled against Assyria, Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, besieged Samaria for three years. The city finally fell in 722 B.C., and many of its people were killed and the rest were taken into exile. Amaziah’s sons and daughters could have been killed in any of these conflicts, but most likely died when Samaria fell.
• Amaziah’s land will be parceled out when he is exiled.
• Amaziah will die in an unclean land—Assyria.
• Israel will go into exile in Assyria.
These five punishments, taken together, cut off all possibility of hope for Amaziah. Because he gave his first loyalty to the king and opposed the word of Yahweh, he will lose everything—family, property, status, and finally, his life. Once the Lord executes these judgments, Amaziah will know nothing but slavery, poverty, loneliness, and humiliation.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan