Of the four prophets of this time whose writings have been preserved in the Bible, the earliest was almost certainly Amos. The others were Hosea, Isaiah and Micah.
Characteristics of the age
Amos prophesied during the reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel and Azariah (or Uzziah) in Judah (Amos 1:1). These two kings between them expanded Israelite-Judean rule from Syria in the north to Egypt in the south, and from Philistia in the west to Ammon in the east (2 Kings 14:23-27; 2 Chron 26:1-15). With political stability and economic development, Israel and Judah entered an era of great prosperity. At the same time the religious and moral standards of society declined badly. Previously, society had been built around the simple agricultural life. Now, with the rapid growth of commerce and trade, the merchants became the dominant people in society, and the farmers became the oppressed. City life developed, and with it came the social evils of corrupt government and commercial greed. Rapid prosperity for the few meant increased poverty for most. As the upper classes grew in wealth and power, they exploited the lower classes. Bribery and corruption flourished, even in the law courts, leaving the poor with no way to obtain justice. As a shepherd-farmer who had to deal with ruthless merchants and corrupt officials, Amos knew how bad the situation was and he spoke out against it (Amos 1:1; 7:14-15). He condemned the greed and luxury of the rich, for he knew that they had gained their wealth through cheating, oppression and injustice (Amos 2:6-7; 3:10,15; 5:10-12; 6:4-6; 8:4-6). Although they kept the religious festivals, all their religious activity was hateful to God so long as they persisted in social injustice (Amos 5:21-24; 8:3,10). Amos saw that the nation was heading for terrible judgment (Amos 6:14; 7:8-9).
By announcing God’s judgment on some of Israel’s neighbouring nations, Amos no doubt gained the enthusiastic attention of his hearers (1:1-2:3). He warned, however, that judgment was coming for Judah also (2:4-5), and particularly for Israel, the corrupt northern kingdom with whom Amos was mainly concerned (2:6-16). As God’s prophet, Amos had a responsibility to announce whatever God told him (3:1-8). He did this fearlessly, condemning the corruption of Israel’s capital city Samaria (3:9-4:3) and the refusal of the people in general to heed God’s warnings (4:4-13). God demanded repentance (5:1-27), and warned that the nation’s corruption was leading it to certain destruction (6:1-14). Three visions told Amos that God’s patience with the rebellious nation could not last indefinitely (7:1-9). A local priest, tired of Amos’s constant announcements of judgment, tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the troublesome preacher (7:10-17). Amos then revealed two further visions God had given him. The first emphasized that Israel was nearing its end (8:1-14), the second that there was no possibility of escape (9:1-10). But after the punishment of the captivity, God would restore the nation and bless its people again (9:11-15).