Many consider Amos to be the first Israelite prophet to have had his work transcribed, though Hosea, Isaiah and Micah contend for this claim. Amos’ visions and prophecies are canonized in the Bible as one of the twelve Minor Prophets.
In the book’s opening verse, Amos is identified his occupation and his location - Amos “was among the sheepherders from Tekoa” (Amos 1:1 NASB). Tekoa was a city twelve miles from Jerusalem in the southern kingdom, situated high upon a hill (2800 feet above sea level). It had been fortified by Rehoboam to maintain order at the time Israel was divided (II Chronicles 11:6, 12). Sir George Adam Smith (1856-1942) surmised “In the time of Amos Tekoa was a place without sanctity and almost without tradition. The name suggests that the site may at first have been that of a camp (Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, 74).”
Though Tekoa is situated in the southern kingdom, Amos’ mission was to the northern kingdom. There is a minority view which claims that another Tekoa existed in the northern kingdom and this is the locale from which the prophet originated. Stanley Ned Rosenbaum (b. 1939) summarizes, “The Book of Amos neither says nor implies that Judean Tekoa was Amos’s birthplace, only that he was (or his words were) known there.” (Rosenabuam, Amos of Israel: A New Interpretation, 32). No such northern Tekoa has yet been discovered by archaeologists.
A facet of Amos’ background that is not debated is that the prophet received no formal religious training. In addition to Amos’ opening verse identifying him as “one of the shepherds of Tekoa” (Amos 1:1 NASB), Amos described himself:
“I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15 NASB)The word used in Amos 1:1 which the NASB renders “shepherd” is noqed. James Luther Mays (b. 1921) explains that “Nōqēd probably means ‘breeder and tender of small cattle (sheep and goats).” Though the word is used only one other time in the Bible, to describe Mesha king of Moab (II Kings 3:4), Mayes determines that “The use of nōqēd in the Old Testament and a Ugarit does suggest that Amos was no ordinary shepherd, but a breeder of sheep who would have belonged to the notable men of his community (Mays, Amos: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 19).”
John W. Miller (b. 1926) concurs:
Far then from being a poor herdsman of sheep, Amos may have been one of the more substantial men of his region, and especially so in that he appears to have had a second source of income. The sycamore groves referred to would likely have been some distance from where Amos lived, for to grow properly they required the warmed climate of the Jordan valley where he would have taken his flocks for pasturing when the hills of Tekoa were barren. (Miller, Meet the Prophets: A Beginner’s Guide to the Books of the Biblical Prophets , 45)Amos’ biographical claims were made in response to his motives being criticized. Amos had no reason to desire an occupation as a prophet as he already had a successful career.
If God called you from your occupation, would you go? Have you ever known anyone who left a profitable job in the private sector feeling called to ministry? Amos was a man without credentials. He had not attended one of the schools of prophets that existed in his day and as such had no professional pedigree. In modern southern parlance, he was a jack legged preacher.
If you served on a pastor’s search committee, would you consider hiring an untrained candidate? Would you be able to hear the voice of God from an uneducated preacher? Do you know any good untrained ministers? Is there any situation where an untrained pastor is preferable? What is the most unlikely source from which you have heard the voice of God?