Amos—Prophet With a Fishing Pole

Getting to know a neglected biblical prophet.

Daniel R. Flinn is an instructor in English at Columbia Adventist Academy, Battle Ground, Washington.

WOULD it seem rather strange to you if you lived in Bethel around 775 B.C. and had an appointment with Amos, the city prophet, at 1:00 P.M., Thursday afternoon, that you found a note on the door reading, "Sorry I missed you. Gone fishing"? Undoubtedly so, for I too think it highly unlikely. But it is true that Amos knew something about fishing. This is apparent in Amos 4:2, where he draws a comparison between God's people being captured by the enemy and a fish being drawn in by a fishhook.

Whether Amos himself had ever personally fished or whether he had watched someone else fish, he knew that once a fish was well hooked there was little chance for escape. He knew too that the pain of being drawn out by a hook became doubly severe through at tempts to resist. The use of Amos' figure of speech as a comparison seems to suggest that even a top official of the Lord still had time to consider other interests and hobbies.

Amos apparently did have many interests. For we can infer from his choice of words, his figures of speech, and his allusions the kinds of things that interested him most. There is a particular language that suggests what a person's occupation is or where his interests are mainly focused. We know, for example, that a wheat farmer has his own particular jargon and that he enjoys drawing illustrations from the farm life with which he is most familiar. He would probably feel uneasy attempting to communicate with an accountant, a ham radio operator, or a professional ball player. He would feel even less comfort able attempting to explain something to another person using accountant, ham-radio, or ball-player terms or ideas. With these things in mind, let us shake hands with Amos, meet him a little more personally, and discover more of his interests.

If the prophet lived in today's society he, like countless others, would undoubtedly plan for that yearly vacation in the country. But, as a matter of fact, Amos had very little planning to do to find himself in the country. For, as is evident from his language, figures of speech, and many allusions, we can say that he was most likely an independent sheepherder. Not only are we told in Amos 1:1, R.S.V.*, that he was "among the shepherds of Tekoa" but we see that he constantly alludes to places only a shepherd could truly appreciate.

Bashan (chap. 4:1), according to several Bible dictionaries, was noted for its beauty of landscape and its pastures. We can imagine that just as a mechanic would have a trained eye for a beautiful piece of machinery, so Amos must have contemplated those choice pastures and beautiful pastoral settings. Often he may have been drawn closer to God through his meditation of the Creator's handiwork.

Even as Amos contemplated the beautiful pastoral settings and used them in his figures of speech, he was also awed by some of God's other creations. In Amps 2:9 we find an interesting comparison between the strength of the oak, the height of the cedar, and an Amorite soldier. He seems to magnify the greatness of God by using the powerful and stately oak tree to suggest the Creator's strength. Amos enjoyed a communion with God that many can have today if they pause for a season to take in His handiwork and digest His greatness as seen in the second Bible, nature.

Amos, it is true, appreciated land scape and trees, but even more, perhaps, he enjoyed animals. Living as he did in the country, he had his own zoo of sorts, for there he had many opportunities to observe wildlife. He respected and appreciated the lion (chap. 3:4) and the bear (chap. 5:19). And with his flock to consider, it would not be unusual to imagine that the prophet carefully studied these predators' habits and abilities.

When Amos uses these figures to show how terrible will be the coming of the day of the Lord to those who remain unprepared, he leaves a vivid and lasting impression of God's sure judgment. And in relationship to that sure judgment, Amos uses yet another metaphor in chapter 3:5 when he asks, "'Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it?'" clearly pointing to the certainty of God's judgment.

Amos' breadth of interest does not end with nature and wildlife. In a more serious vein, he certainly took more than a passing interest in international affairs and warfare. In Amos 1:9 the prophet charges Tyre with failing to remember the covenant of brotherhood. In verse 11 he charges Edom with pursuing a brother with the sword. The Moabites are promised swift destruction (chap. 2:2), and the Amorites (verse 15) are given no hope for survival, as Amos alludes to their archers ("'he who handles the bow'"), their infantry ("'he who is swift of foot'"), and their cavalry (" 'nor shall he who rides the horse save his life'"). " 'I slew your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses; and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils.'" Perhaps only a prophet who was personally acquainted with the horrors of war could depict them in such a vivid manner as Amos does in chapter 4:10.

Amos also carefully observed domes tic and internal affairs. Much as a Ralph Nader of his time, he warns those who oppress the needy. In chapter 5:11 he calls to task the wealthy who have built fine houses from their dishonest exactions, warning that they will not inhabit these houses of hewn stone. And again Amos promises sure judgment to those who "'make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances' " (chap. 8:5).

As many today enjoy looking up to the heavens to identify constellations and admire God's universe, Amos too had an interest in the stars. He aptly draws our attention to the majestic Creator "who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning" (chap. 5:8). With stars for a blanket and moon for company, Amos must have seen God's handiwork in the heavens, just as surely as he did in the fields and trees and plants. That he knew these groups of stars by name seems to suggest that astronomy was a hobby he practiced often.

Like those shepherds who later saw the miraculous "bright morning star," Amos undoubtedly spent many an evening contemplating the firmament. He probably knew something about the weather too, for watching out for his flock certainly required a knowledge of changing conditions and seasons. Those ancient shepherds of Tekoa must also have discussed the weather, just as we often do today.

The many interests of the prophet of God also included masonry. Amos tells us the "Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand" (Amos 7:7). He goes on to tell us that this very same plumb line will be placed in the midst of the people of Israel. As you know, a plumb line is a weight suspended on a string that is used to determine the perpendicular, the standard of uprightness of a structure. Who more than someone interested in masonry or building would recognize the import of such a device?

Amos' understanding of masonry does not end here. In chapter 9 he refers to the shaking of thresholds, and we realize almost immediately that he under stood the strengths and weaknesses of structures. If you have ever noticed what has become of buildings after an event such as an earthquake you prob ably noted that the thresholds were usu ally all that remained. The prophet's reference suggests just how powerfully God will shake those who refuse His call.

Music was apparently another of Amos' interests. When he tells us that "'Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet'" (chap. 2:2) we know that he realized the power and range of such an instrument. In chapter 5:23 and again in chapter 6:5, he refers to songs and harps. It is not difficult to imagine that many solitary hours, while he tended the flock, were taken up with song and the playing of instruments. Perhaps, like David, Amos even found time to invent some of his own musical instruments. It may have been that on warm summer nights the prophet's own harp could be heard, as melodic strains gently serenaded the herd and wafted over the grassy leas.

In almost everyone's bundle of interests there is room for sports. Even Amos may have had some time for such inter est. Amos 2:15 mentions both the bow and horseback riding. Perhaps an independent sheepherder like Amos found some time to practice a little with the bow. We know that David had time to practice with the sling, so it is not entirely strange to imagine that Amos had time for such things. Perhaps he and others from neighboring villages even had time for games once in a while.

Don't you find now that you have got ten to know Amos a little better, that he is more interesting than you once thought? Perhaps, like Amos, there are other Bible characters waiting to get to know you. Why not pay some of them a visit in the near future and see what hobbies and interests you share?

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Daniel R. Flinn is an instructor in English at Columbia Adventist Academy, Battle Ground, Washington.

December 1976

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