I. The Prophet And His Time
The book of Amos is one of the books in the collection of the twelve Minor Prophets. The book contains words attributed to the prophet Amos, whose ministry probably occurred somewhere around the middle of the eighth century b.c. during the royal reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. What little we know about Amos comes exclusively from the sparse detail about the prophet and his activity described in the book of Amos. Am 1:1 tells us that he was from Tekoa (probably Tekoa in Judah), that he was a shepherd, that he prophesied in the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam “two years before the earthquake.” The narrative in Am 7:10-17 augments our knowledge a tiny bit by calling him a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees and by informing us that he had not abandoned his vocation as shepherd-farmer until he was summoned away by God and commanded to prophesy (vv. 14-15).
The precise date of Amos's prophetic ministry is by no means certain. That he preached during the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam is abundantly clear, but they both ruled over a rather lengthy span of time. The phrase “two years before the earthquake” suggests a specific date and even a short period of time not exceeding two years. But when was the earthquake? We simply do not know. Zec 14:5 mentions an earthquake in Uzziah's time but does not specify a date within that king's lengthy reign.
Since Amos was apparently from the Tekoa in the kingdom of Judah, he was a southerner whose divine calling was to prophesy in the northern kingdom of Israel. Why this is so is not explained, nor does the text tell us how this affected the way he was looked upon as he prophesied in an alien kingdom. To be sure, the priest of the Israelite sanctuary at Bethel ordered him to flee to Judah (7:12-13), but we are not told whether he would have been treated more hospitably if he had been a native of Israel rather than Judah.
We know nothing of Amos's life before he became a prophet other than that he was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. Nor are we told whether, after his call, he remained a prophet until his death. We know only that he prophesied in Israel for an unspecified period of time. We know almost nothing, moreover, about what he did when he prophesied in Israel. One brief narrative (7:10-17) tells us that he once was in conflict with Amaziah, priest of Bethel. No additional narratives in the book describe his activities. Speeches condemning the sanctuary cities of Bethel and Gilgal as well as the capital city of Samaria suggest that he may have spoken in each place, but we are not explicitly told that. Thus we are left largely in the dark about Amos's life and activity. We know much more about the book that bears his name and the message that the book contains.