The prophet Amos begins with a denunciation of the rapine and ravage of the nations against their neighbors. The God of Israel sees what these foreign countries and kings have done and pronounces judgment against them. Thus, the God of Israel was not a local deity concerned with getting his share of the sacrifices (as such deities are), but was a universal king who acted against evil — whether or not those people acknowledged His rule.
Amos thus begins as a prophet concerned with international politics — but the politics are subservient to his theological concerns:
While Amos proclaimed a God of nations who was also a God of humanity, it would be misleading to give the impression that he was interested primarily in politics or even primarily in the principles of humanity as such. He was interested in these; but above them, explaining them and including them, he placed religion. He was concerned above all else with the character of God and with the divine will. If he referred to the political situations of his own nation or of other nations, it was only because he saw in these a field in which God himself was active, and in which God’s will must rule. If he denounced actions that we would regard as offenses against humanity, even when these actions were directed against an enemy nation, it was only because he had been thrilled with a new vision of God’s regard for man as man and had seen the divine importance of a right behavior of men toward each other. The question “Who is my neighbor?” in the great parable of Jesus is really anticipated in spirit by Amos with regard to nations. In a word, his message on this point was “Who is my (national) neighbor?” It is not an easy question for nations to answer.
For him it was religion that was fundamental, and it is abundantly clear that he regarded his whole message as a message of religion. He was not assuming the rôle of statesman or teacher of ethical culture, neither was he offering a gospel of humanity, although all these elements appear in his message; he was first and foremost a religious teacher. As such he demanded a hearing, and only as such has he a claim on us to-day.
It is true that in these ideas he was leading the way toward a much larger view of religion than the one current in his day. Indeed, the expansion of religion to include the affairs of everyday life—the everyday life of business and of politics—is still a novelty. Yet for Amos these were the fields in which religion must operate, and their religious character rested back upon the character and will of God.
To know God as Amos knew him—as a God of honor and equity—means to realize that men cannot be acceptable in the sight of this God unless they themselves possess and exercise the same principles of equity and of honor. This reflection of the life of God in every aspect of the lives of men was for Amos the only true religion, alongside which a religion that contented itself with formal worship, observance of sacred days and seasons, stated offerings, and attendance at the temple was a worthless substitute. Not that these things in themselves were wrong, but that they were not of the essence of man’s most vital acknowledgment of the true God.
Lindsay B. Longacre, Amos, Prophet of a New Order, ed. Henry H. Meyer, Life and Service Series (New York; Cincinnati: The Methodist Book Concern, 1921), 30–31.