On the wild uplands of Judah beyond Tekoa, which is twelve miles south of Jerusalem, Amos, inured to hardship and danger, received his training as a prophet straight from the hand of the Lord. His beautiful style abounds in illustrations drawn from his mountain home. He had learned the power of the Creator in the mountains and the wind, in the dawn and in the darkness. Like David, he had gazed upon the stars and looked beyond them to their Maker. Like him also, as he had ''followed the flock'' (7:15), he had known what it was to defend them from the wild beasts, both the lion and the bear, and is probably describing his own experience when he speaks of a shepherd taking out of the mouth of the lion ''two legs or a piece of an ear'' [3:12].
[Author's note: ''The common Syrian goat, Capra mambrica, may be at once recognized by its enormous pendent ears a foot long, often reaching lower than its nose, and its stout recurved horns'' (The Natural History of the Bible, p. 93, by Canon Tristam).]
The snare of the fowler and the snake concealed in the rough stone wall were alike familiar to him. He was also a ''gatherer,'' or ''dresser,'' of sycamore fruit. This fruit, which is a very inferior sort of fig, only eaten by the very poor, has to be scarified at one stage of its growth with a special instrument for the purpose, in order to enable it to swell and ripen properly. Many of the figures which Amos uses are taken from the milder lowlands; these also may have been familiar to him in his earlier life, or, as a keen observer of nature, may have struck him as he prophesied in the plains of Samaria. He speaks of the oaks and the cedars, the vines and fig-trees and olive-trees, the gardens, the ploughmen, the sower, the reaper, and the cart pressed down with its weight of sheaves.
Reading Amos in the light of the earthquake, we can account for various things he foretells. The fires throughout the book. ''The waters of the sea poured upon the face of the earth'' (5:8). ''If there remain ten men in one house, they shall die'' (6:9). ''He will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts'' (6:11). ''Shall not the land tremble?'' (8:8). ''Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake'' (9:1). ''He toucheth the land and it shall melt'' (9:5).
But behind the primary fulfillment of his words, in the earthquake, there was the terrible invasion of the Assyrians, and the people carried into captivity (5:27; 6:14). And behind all this ''the day of the Lord.'' ''Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel'' (4:12).
It would seem that the people questioned [the prophet's] authority, for he proceeds by a series of seven questions to show that the Lord has revealed His secret to him, and that therefore, he can do no other than prophesy (3:3-8).
He denounces the sins of Israel in more graphic detail than Hosea, dwelling especially on the careless ease and luxury, the oppression of the poor, the extortion and lying and cheating which prevailed, and the utter hypocrisy in worship. The Lord grieves over the people for not attending to His judgments, with the refrain, ''Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord,'' and the renewed invitation, ''Seek ye Me and live.'' [Chapters 4 - 6]