Amos was a Judaean prophet from the village of Tekoa, about 10 miles southeast of Jerusalem (in the Southern Kingdom). By trade, he was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees (Amos 1:1, 7:14). Many interpreters say that his oracles stress the divine demand for social justice and concern for the oppressed in 8th Century Israel when the Northern Kingdom enjoyed relative prosperity under the reign of Jeroboam (c. 786–746 BCE). When Amos arrived in the North, the kingdom was full of pride (Amos 6:13-14), displaying “plenty, and splendor in the land, elegance in the cities and might in the palaces” (Heschel, 1962, p. 33). Amos condemned the ruling classes for their unjust treatment of poor and needy members of society (Barton, 2003). The leaders in positions of power afflicted the poor, exploited them, and even sold them into slavery (Amos 2:6-8, 5:11). According to Swindoll, the nation was “drunk on their economic success and intent on strengthening their financial position” (Swindoll, n.d.). Consequently, they lost sight of how to care for each other.
In addition to being displeased with Israel’s lack of compassion, God was also despised their false piety (Heschel, 1962). Their feasts and worship practices were meaningless because they accepted evil and disregarded good. Hence, God sent a message through Amos that God hated their religious feasts (Amos 5:21) and desired that they “let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:22-24). Even though God’s intolerance for injustice seemed harsh, the prophecy ended on a note of hope.