An invitation to write regarding a favorite biblical character has its own set of challenges. Is one selected over another because of the doctrinal content for which he is known? Is there a particular doctrinal or historical issue that sets one above another? Is there a character trait that attracts your attention that others may not reflect? In many ways, therefore, this is a somewhat subjective endeavor.
At the congregation where I serve as an associate minister, it is a somewhat standing joke that I need little or no excuse to make some sort of reference to the prophet Daniel. Indeed, I am fascinated with the history and prophecies contained in that book. However, in answer to the question as to who my favorite biblical character is, I pass over Daniel to look to one of the more colorful characters of the Old Testament, Amos. The questions asked in the opening paragraph all serve as reasons for why I love the prophet, Amos. The doctrinal issues, though relegated to a particular group of people in a specific time period, are as applicable in principle today as they were in his day. As briefly stated above, he is one of the most colorful characters in the Old Testament, often coming across as “a little different and rough around the edges.” Let us look deeper into the character, life, and work of this fascinating character.
Commentators have referred to Amos by several names including the Prophet of the Plumb Line, the Backwoods Prophet, and the Cowboy Prophet. Each of these are descriptive of either his message, his approach, or how he may have been perceived in his day. I preached a sermon many times that I simply titled “The Country Preacher Comes to Town.” Amos is not the first person to ever been underestimated or mocked when his message could not be handled.
His name literally means “burden bearer” and he is not mentioned outside of the book bearing his name (there are some translations using the name elsewhere, but it is said to be a form of the name Amaziah). His home was the village of Tekoa (some ten miles north of Jerusalem). There are three words provided in the text that describe his pre-prophetic work. First, he was referred to as being “among the sheep breeders” (1:1 — noqdim). He raised a variety of sheep that produced a very valuable wool. Second, he was a “sheepbreeder” (7:14 — boqer — used elsewhere only in 2 Kings. 3:4). These two designations shows that he worked as a shepherd at one time but was one who bred and raised them. The final picture drawn of his early work was that of a “tender of sycamore fruit” (7:14 — boles). This referred to either scraping or pinching the fruit at some point in the ripening process.
Amos indicates that he was not a “professional or trained prophet” (7:14). However, as a prophet he had the character traits that made him successful in the mission for which he was called. He has been compared in many ways to Jeremiah. He was a man who was both fearless and uncompromising. His message was a difficult one, yet he never shirked his duty. In this sense he was a man of conviction and was bold. These traits can be abused, as some evidence today, yet there is no indication that he made any of his efforts personal attacks. As his work involved moving people toward repentance, he was seen as one who could make his audience see their spiritual reality. That cannot be done by “beating around the bush.” He was direct because of the danger of the situation of those he addressed in his preaching. He was one who simply told the truth. We live in a “politically correct” world that does not appreciate being too straightforward in our address. However, the danger of being eternally separated from God shows the importance of “telling it like it is.”
Amos had a message that cut through all the nonsense to get to the point. His primary message was “judgment is coming due to sin.” Again, people did not like the message and attempted to simply dismiss him. He was, in essence, told that he would not be supported to preach his message in the way he was doing so (7:12-13). Time will not allow a thorough discussion of their sins, but the following symptoms are addressed in the text. First, they were “at ease” in their riches (3:15; 4:1; 6:1, 4). Throughout Scripture we have seen a false hope provided by material things. Second, they were religious, but only in form and were apparently simply going through the motions (4:4-5; 5:21-24). This reminds me of those who simply “play church” or approach their religion as if it were some big social event. Third, the women were seen as “lazy cows” (4:1). We again see the trappings of prosperity. Temporal pursuits captivated their time and effort. Finally, they were those who had rejected God’s efforts to bring about their repentance (2:11-12). Amos was not the first prophet sent to call Israel to repentance, and time was running out for them. People will never make the spiritual changes that need to be made until they see both the reality of their sin and the urgency of their situation.
Amos is indeed one of the more “colorful” characters of the Old Testament. In many ways our day mirrors his day. In the same way spiritual reality needs to be seen and a sense of urgency shown. May we have more men like Amos today.