Amos – The Outsider

Today’s lectionary reading from the Old Testament is Amos 7.12-15. It is one of the more revealing passages in the book bearing his name because it shows several obstacles to the people listening to his message. I will look briefly at three:

  1. Amos was from the Southern Kingdom of Judah preaching to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  In the passage, Amaziah is the priest of Bethel, which is in the Northern Kingdom (vs. 10).  He tells Amos to flee to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which is where Amos hails from (from Tekoa – see below).  Thus, this made it difficult for the people in the Northern Kingdom to listen to Amos.  “He’s an outsider coming in and trying to tell us how to live.”
  2. Amos was a rural preacher.  We read in this passage that Amos is a “shepherd and a dresser of Sycamores.”  Earlier in the book we read that Amos is from Tekoa (Amos 1.1), which was more of a rural area.  Yet much of his ire is directed toward the more “metropolitan areas.”  For example, he calls out Samaria, which was the capital of the Northern Kingdom, in 3.9, 4.1, 6.1, and 8.14.  This again adds to the reasons the people do not want to listen to him.
  3. Amos was not of the class of prophets.  The translation of Amos 7.14 is famously difficult.  It could either read “I am no prophet” or “I was no prophet.”  There is no helping verb in the Hebrew.  Yet the point seems clear, that there was a social group/class of prophets in Israel and Amos was not a part of it.  We read about one of these groups prophets in places like 1 Kings 22 and Jeremiah 27-28.  These were royal prophets who turned out to be little more than “Yes Men” for the Israelite kings.  The people often liked the messages of these prophets because they were favorable.  Amos’ message, however, is not favorable, again adding to the people’s reluctance to hear him out.

From these considerations it is easy to see that Amos’ task was not a pleasant one.  Hopefully, regardless of one’s religious convictions, or lack thereof, we can all find courage in Amos’ example to cry out against injustice despite being out of place, or less educated, or in the presence of those who would give a more favorable message.