Here is, I. The general character of this prophecy. It consists of the words which the prophet saw. Are words to be seen? Yes, God’s words are; the apostles speak of the word of life, which they had not only heard, but which they had seen with their eyes, which they had looked upon, and which their hands had handled (1 John 1:1), such a real substantial thing is the word of God. The prophet saw these words, that is, 1. They were revealed to him in a vision, as John is said to see the voice that spoke to him, Rev. 1:12. 2. That which was foretold by them was to him as certain as if he had seen it with his bodily eyes. It intimates how strong he was in that faith which is the evidence of things not seen.
II. The person by whom this prophecy was sent—Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, and was one of them. Some think he was a rich dealer in cattle; the word is used concerning the king of Moab (2 Kgs. 3:4; He was a sheep-master); it is probable that he got money by that business, and yet he must quit it, to follow God as a prophet. Others think he was a poor keeper of cattle, for we find (Amos 7:14, 15) that he was withal a gatherer of wild figs, a poor employment by which we may suppose he could but just get his bread, and that God took him, as he did David, from following the flock, and Elisha from following the plough. Many were trained up for great employments, in the quiet, innocent, contemplative business of shepherds. When God would send a prophet to reprove and warn his people, he employed a shepherd, a herdsman, to do it; for they had made themselves as the horse and mule that have no understanding, nay, worse than the ox that knows his owner. God sometimes chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, 1 Cor. 1:27. Note, Those whom God has endued with abilities for his service ought not to be despised nor laid aside for the meanness either of their origin or of their beginnings. Though Amos himself is not ashamed to own that he was a herdsman, yet others ought not to upbraid him with it nor think the worse of him for it.
III. The persons concerned in the prophecy of this book; it is concerning Israel, the ten tribes, who were now ripened in sin and ripening apace for ruin. God has raised them up prophets among themselves (Amos 2:11), but they regarded them not; therefore God sends them one from Tekoa, in the land of Judah, that, coming from another country, he might be the more valued, and perhaps he was the rather sent out of his own country because there he was despised for his having been a herdsman. See Matt. 13:55-57.
IV. The time when these prophecies were delivered. 1. The book is dated, as laws used to be, by the reigns of the kings under whom the prophet prophesied. It was in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, when the affairs of that kingdom went very well, and of Jeroboam the second kind of Israel, when the affairs of that kingdom went pretty well; yet then they must both be told both of the sins they were guilty of and of the judgments that were coming upon them for those sins, that they might not with the present gleam of prosperity flatter themselves either into an opinion of their innocence or a confidence of their perpetual security. 2. It is dated by a particular event to which is prophecy had a reference; it was two years before the earthquake, that earthquake which is mentioned to have been in the days of Uzziah (Zech. 14:5), which put the nation into a dreadful fright, for it is there said, They fled before it. But how could they flee from it? Some conjecture that this earthquake was at the time of Isaiah’s vision, when the posts of the door were moved, Isa. 6:4. The tradition of the Jews is that it happened just at the time when Uzziah presumptuously invaded the priest’s office and went in to burn incense, 2 Chron. 26:16. Josephus mentions this earthquake, Antiq. 9.225, and says, “By it half of a mountain was removed and carried to a plain four furlongs off; and it spoiled the king’s gardens.” God by this prophet gave warning of it two years before, that God by it would shake down their houses, Amos 3:15.
V. The introduction to these prophecies, containing the general scope of them (Amos 1:2): The Lord will roar from Zion. His threatenings by his prophets, and the executions of those threatenings in his providence, will be as terrible as the roaring of a lion is to the shepherds and their flocks. Amos here speaks the same language with his contemporaries, Hosea (Hos. 11:10) and Joel, Joel 3:16. The lion roars before he tears; God gives warning before he strikes. Observe, 1. Whence this warning comes—from Zion and Jerusalem, from the oracles of God there delivered; for by them is they servant warned, Ps. 19:11. Our God, whose special residence is there, will issue out warrants, given at that court, as it were, for the executing of judgments on the land. See Jer. 25:30. In Zion was the mercy-seat; thence the Lord roars, intimating that God’s acts of justice are consistent with mercy, allayed and mitigated by mercy, nay, as they are warnings, they are really acts of mercy. We are chastened, that we may be not be condemned. 2. What effect the warning has: The habitations of the shepherds mourn, either because they fear the roaring lion or because they feel what is signified by that comparison, the consequences of a great drought (Amos 4:7), which made the top of Carmel (of the most fruitful fields) to wither and become a desert, Joel 1:12-17.