Amos was not a prophet by trade. Instead he called himself “a herdsman who also took care of sycamore fig trees” (Amos 7:14; 1:1). From Tekoa in Judah, Amos was called by God to give a specific message to the northern kingdom of Israel. The message is dated “two years before the earthquake” during the reign of Uzziah in Judah (see Zechariah 14:8). The two kings mentioned – Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah – had overlapping reigns from 767-753 B.C., so Amos’ ministry must have occurred during this time.
This period in Israel and Judah was one of great prosperity for many people, so the fact that Amos preached disaster and judgment was readily mocked. In fact, his message and theme was relatively simple: Israel was involved in grave sin against God, so terrible judgment was coming if they did not stop. Not only was he specific in pointing out individual sins (many directly from the Torah ), he was colorful with word pictures, especially from nature, as one might expect from someone who spent a lot of time outdoors.
Chapter three begins with a series of “everyman” examples that Amos knew no one could miss. He used people, lions, birds, animal traps, and city watchmen for his word pictures (Amos 3:3-8). In case anyone was (or is) unsure whether this message applied to them, God clarified that it was “for the entire clan I brought up from the land of Egypt” (Amos 3:1), i.e., the whole nation of Israel and Judah. Whereas one could see the situations in Amos 3:3-6a as natural occurrences, Amos asked if God himself would not bring calamity as well (Amos 3:6b). However, just like the lions’ warning roar, God spoke through his prophets to warn of looming judgment, and Amos had to speak up (Amos 3:7-8).
In the second half of this chapter Amos was to call the Philistines (Ashdod was a major city) and the Egyptians as witnesses to Israel’s wickedness (Amos 3:9-15). Samaria was the capital of Israel (the northern kingdom) and housed a second temple where they worshiped (see John 4:5, 19-20). God was so exasperated (in human terms) with these Israelites that he exclaimed, “They do not know how to do what is right” (Amos 3:10). Because they were violent, they would be destroyed by violence (Amos 3:11-13), and God would crush their false worship as represented in their “altars” and “great houses,” possibly pagan shrines and temples (Amos 3:14-15). The “winter and summer houses” may also point back to the charge that many of the elites were living in luxury while oppressing the poor, destitute, and needy (Amos 2:6-7).