Note: during 'Common Time' in the church calendar we will be looking first at the book of Amos, then at Paul's travels in Acts.
The book of Amos is one of the twelve 'minor prophets' (as opposed to the 'major prophets', Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) at the end of the Old Testament. Amos lived in the middle of the eighth century BC. Solomon's kingdom had been divided into the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel after his death around 931BC. Amos lived in Judah, which had maintained the dynasty of David's descendants, together with worship at the temple in Jerusalem. He was a shepherd who supplemented his income looking after fruit trees. However, God sent him to proclaim his message in Israel - a kingdom whose kings had no connection with David, and whose religion had no connection with Jerusalem, though (at times) they worshipped the same God.
Jeroboam II was king of Israel when Amos went there to prophesy, some time around 760BC. Amos 1:2 mentions the earthquake; we have no other record of that earthquake, so that does not help us with the date. During Jeroboam II's time Israel prospered; surrounding countries were weak, and Israel extended its borders almost to the same extent it had been in the golden age of King Solomon. However, all was not well. The rich got richer by oppressing the poor. The religion focused on idol worship. Amos denounced the injustice and immorality, and tried to bring the nation back to the true worship of God. His message is a prophecy of doom (the Lord 'roars', 'thunders', with devastating effect, v.2) with an offer of hope: disaster and exile will come if they do not repent, but life will come if they do change their ways. At one point he found himself in conflict with the priests at the national shrine in Bethel, who told him to go home; Amos gave them a personal message from God - but not what they wanted to hear.
We do not know what happened to Amos afterwards. Presumably he went back home and wrote up these prophecies - the book is the first extended record of any prophet's message in the Bible (after Moses). We do know what happened to Israel. Despite another prophet, Hosea, giving a similar message, there was no change in Israel's attitude, and within forty years or so of Amos' preaching the nation of Israel no longer existed, and its people were scattered all over the Assyrian empire.
Amos' book ends with hope, however; one day the land of Israel would be restored and blessed by God.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
1) What parallels are there between the situation in Amos' day and ours?
2) What advantage, if any, is there in God sending his message to a people through a foreigner?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
We don't like receiving criticism. Think of one time when you found a criticism helpful.
Begin with a song praising God's majesty and greatness.
Next use Psalm 94 to express indignation against injustice. Most Bibles divide it up into sections; either have different voices for each section, or stand together in a different corner of the room for each section. (Some may find verse 23 difficult - decide in advance whether to include it or not.)
End with a song such as Graham Kendrick's 'O Lord, the clouds are gathering' or 'Who can sound the depths of sorrow', which speaks of God's justice and mercy.