Historical Setting: Amos’ contemporaries were Hosea (preached in northern kingdom after Amos) and Isaiah and Micah (prophets in the southern kingdom).
1:1 The words of Amos [name means “burden” / some interpret his name to mean “the pain” and if so, then perhaps this name used by those who hated him; see 7:15 re: his call], one of the shepherds [“also took care of sycamore-fig trees” (7:14)] of Tekoa [located six miles south of Bethlehem and ten miles south of Jerusalem; means “a camping ground”]—what he saw [what God had revealed to him; see 7:1,4,7; 8:1; 9:1 re: visions of Amos] concerning Israel two years before the earthquake [must have been a memorable event because Zechariah also referred to it (Zech. 14:5)], when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam [a wicked king (cf. 2 Kings 14:24)] son of Jehoash was king of Israel [Israel had strong king, secure borders, and greatest prosperity it had known since the division of the kingdom; Amos sent by God to issue final warning to Israel that judgment would come if they did not repent/return to God (judgment came forty years later in 722 BC when Assyrians crushed Northern Kingdom)].
1:2 He said: “The LORD roars [like a lion; a metaphorical announcement of judgment] from Zion [the hill on which the temple was built] and thunders [like a storm] from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers. [describes the scope and devastating effects of God’s judgment/wrath]”
1:3 This is what the LORD says: “For three [enough to warrant God’s judgment] sins [rebellion] of Damascus [capital city of Aram (Syria), Israel’s northern neighbor and chief adversary], even for four [more than enough to warrant God’s judgment], I will not turn back my wrath. Because she threshed Gilead [located east of the Jordan] with sledges having iron teeth [in a battle that occurred fifty years earlier (2 Kings 10:32-33; 13:3,7), the Syrians mercilessly rode over the bodies of the dead and their helpless prisoners with iron threshing instruments thus chopping and flaying their bodies on the battlefield],
Note: How did a farm-boy from the south get the attention of the people of Israel? By pronouncing judgment against six of her heathen neighbors. People would rather hear sermons about other people’s sins than their own!
Each judgment is introduced by the formula, “for three transgressions … and for four” (Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; & 2:1,4,6). This is a way of stating that God had sufficient cause for punishing those nations and even an extra reason (compare to Proverbs 6:16). Amos’ audience probably enjoyed this part of his discourse! They probably shouted “Amens” as the rugged prophet from Tekoa delivered his diatribes against the heathen. Amos then masterfully turned his attention to the sins of his listeners (Amos 2:6ff).
1:4 I will [certainty] send fire [judgment, perhaps in the form of an invading army] upon the house of Hazael that will consume [signifies that God’s judgment would be thorough] the fortresses [fortified towers set up to defend Damascus from invaders] of Ben-Hadad [son of Hazael].
1:5 I will break down [thus making the entire city vulnerable and defenseless] the gate [main city gate not strong enough to stop invaders’ battering ram] of Damascus; I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden. The people of Aram will go into exile [less than 50 years later, the Assyrians, led by Tiglath-Pileser, destroyed Damascus and exiled inhabitants to Kir (2 Kings 16:9)] to Kir,” says the LORD.