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A Herdman, And A Dresser Of Sycamore Trees

"I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a dresser of sycamore trees"

(Amos 7:14).

Thus did Amos respond to the taunt of Amaziah the priest of Beth-el, but Amos was able to add, "The LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel" (Amos 7:15). He was from Tekoa, a district south of Bethlehem, and his name signifies "a burdenbearer". He was a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, and the burden of his message was conveyed "two years before the earthquake" (see Zech. 14:5).

It is remarkable how the Lord calls men from different spheres of life to carry His message, and fulfil His purposes. When an outstanding administrator and leader was required, the Lord chose Moses, the meekest man upon the face of the earth (Num. 12:3), and one who was not eloquent or a man of words. The Lord called him from Pharaoh's own household to lead the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt to the promised land. When later the Lord required a man "To feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance" (Psalm 78:71), He chose David, and took him from the sheepfolds, and from following the ewes that give suck. In the dark days of Jeroboam the son of Joash the king of Israel, the Lord chose Amos, a man close to the soil, a herdman and a dresser of sycamore trees. His profession at Tekoa was very different from that of a prophet, and his father was not a prophet. Yet Amos had the divine commission, "Go, prophesy unto My people Israel".

As we consider the man and -his message we observe that the language he uses has a relationship with his occupation as herdman, and dresser of trees. May we draw attention to a few of the strong and telling expressions Amos uses: "The pastures of the shepherds shall mourn"; "As the shepherd

rescueth out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be rescued"; "The multitude of your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees hath the palmerworm devoured"; "Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen?"; "That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes"; "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed". It is interesting to note that part of the work of Amos as dresser of sycamore trees refers to the cutting of the fig-like fruit, so that the insects which collect inside may be released.

In order that we may appreciate fully the prophecy of Amos we must have regard to the conditions- that existed during the reign of Jeroboam the son of Joash. This king of Israel must be distinguished from Jeroboam the son of Nebat who rebelled against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, and became the first king over the ten tribes in fulfilment of the word of the LORD through Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 11:31). The reign of Jeroboam the son of Joash was a long one - forty-one years and from his capital Samaria he ruled over the ten tribes in the Northern Kingdom. It was a period of material prosperity and expansion. Wealth and poverty walked side by side, and Amos bemoans the injustices done to the poor. The spiritual barometer was almost at its lowest, and the little that is recorded of the second king Jeroboam testifies "And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin" (2 Kings 14:24).

The commercial life of the Northern Kingdom was most active, and the business men in that day had little time for even the false religious observances. "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat? making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and dealing falsely with balances of deceit" (Amos 8:5). There was evidence of prosperity and wealth; the beds of ivory, the summer and winter houses, the music, the wine in bowls, and the perfumery. There is a sad word which seems to refer to the women, "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say unto their lords, Bring, and let us drink" (Amos 4:1). The rough herdman from Tekoa seems to liken the women of Samaria to the fat cattle of Bashan, urging their husbands on in their wicked ways.

There was plenty of religious life in the Northern Kingdom, and the worship of the two golden calves set up by the first Jeroboam in Beth-el and Dan was carried out with some zeal. Indeed, Amos pictures the people thronging, not to Jerusalem, the place where the LORD chose to put His name, but to Beth-el and Gilgal. "Come to Beth-el, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes every three days" (Amos 4:4), until the LORD declared, "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies".

Amos was a man of Judah within the Southern Kingdom, but in the fulfilment of the Lord's command to him he journeyed northward to Samaria where his strong words of condemnation roused the ire of Amaziah the priest of Beth-el; so much so, that Amaziah informed king Jeroboam that the land could not bear the words of Amos. There followed an encounter between Amaziah and Amos during which the former told Amos to return to the land of Judah and there eat bread, and prophesy there. It was then that Amos disclosed his former occupation, and the divine commission he had received.

The book of Amos opens with a series of judgements, first against the surrounding nations, Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, then Judah, and Israel, and finally "against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt" (Amos 3:1). When speaking of the whole family of Israel, the LORD by the mouth of Amos reminds His people, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). It is understood that the word "known" used in this case refers to the closest kind of human relationship. There is the other aspect-that this close relationship with its privileges, brought responsibility, and the guilt of Israel would be deepened and bring judgement. In the fourth chapter of this remarkable book there are five judgements against Israel and, despite the severity of these, Israel refused to repent. We have then the solemn word, "Therefore thus will I do unto thee, 0 Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, 0 Israel" (Amos 4:12).

The sin of Jeroboam the son of Joash in perpetrating the worship of the golden calves in Beth-el wherewith he caused Israel to sin is condemned by Amos in the strongest language. Yet the LORD'S words through Amos are heard pleading "Seek ye Me, and ye shall live" (Amos 5:4); "Seek the LORD, and ye shall live" (Amos 5:6); "Seek Him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion" (Amos 5:8), and finally,' "Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you" (Amos 5:14). Alas! the pleadings went unheeded, and the judgements of the LORD fell upon Israel.

In response to the question, "Amos, what seest thou?", he replied, "A basket of summer fruit". No doubt in Tekoa Amos had often seen a basket of summer fruit, but the significance of this particular basket is conveyed to Amos in the words of the LORD, "The end is come upon My people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more (Amos 8:2). They were ripe for destruction, and the LORD would not again relent. Not many years elapsed ere the judgement fell upon Israel when "The king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away unto Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and in Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:6).

Even in their days of seeming prosperity and religious activity, when Israel were thronging to sacrifice at Beth-el and Gilgal, the LORD gave them "cleanness of teeth" and want of bread. A different kind of famine was pronounced later "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). This is surely the saddest plight of any people in any generation.

The prophecy of Amos is one of gloom, but the light breaks through towards the end of his message, and the day of restoration is visualised after the LORD has sifted "the house of Israel among all the nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth". The last three verses that come to us from the herdman of Tekoa are worthy of special attention in these days when many eyes are focused on the land of Israel: "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God" (Amos 9:13-15).