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From Fig Picker to Fearless Prophet

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Amos 1–2

Join us on a journey through the book of Amos, one of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. Amos was an unlikely prophet, a simple shepherd from the village of Tekoa. However, God had great things in store for him, and he was called to deliver a message of judgment and hope to Israel. In this episode, we explore Amos and his prophecies against the surrounding nations and Israel. Through these prophecies, we see the consequences of sin and the importance of turning back to God. Join us as we learn from Amos's life and message and apply it to our lives today.


From Fig Picker to Fearless Prophet

Amos 1–2


In his romantic comedy The Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote these words: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” In the context of that play, those words were part of a joke. Yet in many ways, those words tell the truth that we often see played out in life.

“Some have greatness thrust upon them.” That describes the prophet Amos. Today we find ourselves in his book as we continue sailing through the Minor Prophets.

Amos certainly was not born into greatness. He was a simple, humble man, who lacked any training to be a prophet. He never tried to be great in the eyes of the world either. If we met Amos on the street or in the grocery store, we would be surprised that God would make him a powerful and fearless prophet—a great man in the eyes of God.

Now the first verse of the book of Amos gives us a lot of information:

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

This earthquake here is also mentioned in Zechariah 14:5, but we cannot pinpoint the date when it occurred.

We do know Amos ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. So, he preached around 760 BC—the same time, by the way, as the prophet Hosea. In fact, they probably knew each other—they might have even shared sermon outlines together.

Amos is from the village of Tekoa, about eleven miles south of Jerusalem. There he had worked as a humble shepherd. Later, in chapter 7, we learn he also had been a “dresser of sycamore figs” (verse 14); indicating that Amos was a fig picker—he took care of fig trees as a young man. This is not a very impressive resume at all, but God had impressive things in mind for Amos.

Now following verse 1, Amos immediately launches into his prophecy. He just gets right down to business. And you will not be surprised to learn that it is primarily a prophecy of judgment. Amos’s prophecy is directed first against the nations surrounding Israel. Yes, God is going to make an airtight case for the divine judgment of Israel, but Israel will not be able to claim God is singling them out for judgment while letting all these other nations off the hook. They will be judged as well.

Now you will find in these first two chapters a phrase repeated before each pronouncement of divine judgment: “For three transgressions . . . and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.”

This is a Hebrew expression we have already run across in the book of Proverbs, where we are told that God hates six things, even seven (see Proverbs 6:16). It means you cannot calculate the total number—it’s too long a list. As one commentator puts it, Amos is saying here that the long list of transgressions means that God’s “wrath . . . cannot be turned away.”[1]

The prophecies begin in verse 3 with Damascus, which as the capital of Syria, represents the entire nation. The primary sin mentioned here is that Syria “threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron.” Gilead, the Israelite territory east of the Jordan River, had suffered greatly at the hands of the Syrians.

Now God promises to bring destruction—“fire”—upon Syria. The Lord says in verse 5 they will “go into exile to Kir,” which is an area in Assyria. This means that Syria is going to fall to the Assyrian army and be taken into exile.

Beginning in verse 6, Philistia is told of coming judgment. The Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron are singled out because they captured and sold Israelites into slavery. The Lord says in verse 8, “The remnant of the Philistines shall perish.”

Then Phoenicia, represented by Tyre, that great coastal city to the north of Israel, comes next in verse 9. The Phoenicians also sold Israelites into slavery, and in doing so violated “the covenant of brotherhood,” a peace treaty they had made with Israel. They too will be judged by God.

Next in line for judgment is Edom, south of the Dead Sea. Edom was a persistent enemy of God’s chosen people. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother. Esau (Edom) is still fighting Jacob (Israel). Verse 11 tells us that “[Edom] pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity.”

Then the people of Ammon, east of the Jordan River, are marked out for God’s judgment. The Ammonites had committed cruel and brutal atrocities against the Israelites of Gilead. Verse 13 says they even “ripped open pregnant women.” Well, the judgment of God is coming for them.

Now as we move into chapter 2, the pronouncements of judgment continue with Moab. Verse 1 specifically mentions that Moab “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom.” In other words, they desecrated the body of a dead enemy. This revealed their cruel and vengeful attitude. God’s judgment will settle the score.

With that, these prophecies of Amos draw closer to Israel. In verse 4, Judah is condemned for rejecting God’s law and being led astray by their own deception.

Then in verse 6, the kingdom of Israel finally comes into the spotlight. Rather than give just one sinful act, as God does for most of these other nations, the Lord lists a number of Israel’s sins.

Even though this is a prosperous time in Israel, during the reign of Jeroboam II, it’s also a time characterized by greed and oppression. Verse 6 says they “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” People are being sold into slavery over debts amounting to the price of a pair of sandals. Human life has little value in these days; the wealthy and powerful, we are told here in verse 7, “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and [ignore] the afflicted.”

In verse 13, the Lord promises, “Behold, I will press you down in your place, as a cart full of sheaves presses down.” God’s judgment will crush them for their evil actions.

This crushing judgment is pictured in the following verses as defeat in war. The prophet foresees the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the fall of its capital Samaria. This will occur about forty years after Amos delivered this prophecy, and it will spell the end of the northern kingdom.

There will be no escape. Divine judgment might not arrive for another forty years, but it is on the way, as verses 14-15 tell us:

“The strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; he who handles the bow shall not stand, and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself.”

These opening chapters of Amos give us a tragic list of sins and the consequences of them for nations—including Judah and Israel. Charles Feinberg writes this:

If the prophecies of Amos thus far reveal anything, they show clearly that their central message is this: there is no turning back of the judgment of God after His repeated offers of grace and blessing are spurned or refused. And this is true today.[2]

Beloved, we might not be Syrians or Philistines or Israelites, but the principle of God’s judgment is the same for us. Yet God is very gracious in warning us of the devastating results of sin. Let us take heed of His warnings and decide even today to walk with Him in obedience to His Word and with a heart of thanksgiving for His concern and care and leading in our lives.

[1] Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Moody Press, 1990), 87.                                                               

[2] Ibid., 94.

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