Amos was a prophet from Tekoa, which is near Bethlehem, in the southern kingdom. Unlike some of the other prophets, he was not a political or religious insider but a tender of flocks and a sycamore-fig grove. Even though he was from the south, his prophetic ministry was to the northern kingdom. He prophesied in the middle of the eighth century BC, approximately thirty to forty years before the fall of Samaria, the northern capital, at the hands of the Assyrians.
In Amos’ day, the northern kingdom (Ephraim) was secure and prosperous, and therefore complacent and arrogant. A central theme of the book is social justice, which is a true quality of religious devotion to God. Amos rebukes the northern kingdom for worship of pagan gods, even at sacred places like Bethel. Also, Amos points out that many religious leaders and people were only going through the motions of cultic practice, thinking that merely keeping the rituals was enough. Like Hosea, Amos condemns such sacrifices and assemblies and calls them to “hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts” (5:15).
According to Amos (1-2), God will bring judgment to all the nations, and this will include the northern and southern kingdoms. Israel is last on that list, which leads to a series of prophecies against Israel’s disobedience, injustice, and unrepentant spirit (chapters 3-5). Israel’s behaviors will result in God’s visitation, the “Day of the Lord,” which is Israel’s exile to Assyria (chapters 5-6). The book ends with symbolic descriptions and pictures of Israel and her punishment: locusts will come, bringing destruction (as in Joel), a consuming fire will spread through the land, Israel is like a house out of plumb, and Israel is ripe for the picking. Still, at the end of the day, Israel will one day be restored: she will be a bountiful harvest, be as new wine, and will have rebuilt cities.