The northern kingdom of Israel reached its greatest heights in the first half of the 8th century BC (2 Kings 14:23-25), during the forty-one-year reign of the powerful Jeroboam II. Confident in their nation’s victories, their worship, and their heritage, the people adopted the motto, “God is with us!” They were anticipating the day of the Lord, when God would strike down all their enemies and establish Israel as the undisputed ruler of the region.
Into this atmosphere of overconfident nationalism steps Amos, a shepherd from the southern kingdom of Judah. He stands in the great royal temple at Bethel and announces that God is stirring up a nation to conquer Israel. The day of the Lord, he insisted, will be darkness, not light. God isn’t impressed with Israel’s wealth, military might, or self-indulgent way of life. He is looking for justice, while the rich and powerful are taking advantage of the poor. God is calling Israel to repentance as the only way to avoid destruction.
The message causes an uproar. Amaziah, the high priest at Bethel, accuses Amos of treason. Amos is banished from the kingdom, but his oracles are recorded, creating one of the earliest collections we have from any Hebrew prophet. The book consists of roughly three dozen separate oracles, plus the story of his expulsion. Most of the book is loosely assembled, but it conveys one strong and consistent message: Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!