Read The Prophet: Amos Online

Authors: Francine Rivers

Tags: #FICTION / Christian / Historical, #FICTION / Religious

The Prophet: Amos (3 page)

BOOK: The Prophet: Amos
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Judah was prospering under King Uzziah’s rule, though relations with the ten tribes of Israel were still hostile. The tribes that had broken away from Solomon’s foolish son continued to worship the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. Jeroboam II now ruled, and Samaria had become a great city a mere two-day journey from Jerusalem. King Jeroboam had taken back lost lands and cities from Lebo-hamath to the Dead Sea, expanding Israel’s boundaries to those from the time of King David and King Solomon. In a bold move to gain more power, he captured Gilead, Lo-debar, and Karnaim, all important fortress cities along the King’s Highway, thus controlling the major trade route from the Tigris-Euphrates river valley to the Gulf of Aqaba and Egypt. Trade now flourished with the safe passage of caravans from Gabal and Syria to the north and Egypt and Arabia to the south.

From boyhood, Amos had witnessed King Uzziah’s work going on throughout Judah. The king mended Judah’s defenses, reorganized and better equipped his army, built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and the Valley Gate, and fortified the buttresses. He had also built towers in the wilderness to keep watch over the Philistines and Edomites. Work crews made cisterns so that there would be water wherever the army moved. When Uzziah went to war against the Philistines, he triumphed and tore down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Slaves now bent to the task of rebuilding fortress cities that would guard the trade route called the Way of the Sea.

Amos’s home, Tekoa, was only seven miles from Jerusalem, but far enough away for him to turn his mind to his own endeavors. Amos saw the changes in Jerusalem and in the countryside as he moved his flock from one pasture to another, but he spent little time contemplating the ways of kings and nations. What use in leaning on his own understanding when he had none? Why trouble his mind with matters over which he had no control? Could he change anything that happened in Judah, let alone Assyria or Egypt or Israel, for that matter? No! While his brothers praised Uzziah or fretted over the threat of enemies, Amos concentrated on his sheep. He brought tithes and offerings to the priests, visited briefly with his brothers and their families, and then returned to Tekoa, then out into the pasturelands with his flock. He felt at home there.

Out in the open with his sheep, he felt free, even though he knew that freedom could be easily stripped from him. Out in the open Amos could believe in God. In Jerusalem, seeing and hearing the priests living any way they chose while claiming to represent God, Amos grew disheartened. Why study the Law when the priests could add to it any day they pleased? And then there were the traditions to add an even greater burden! He preferred a few select psalms written by David, a king who had grown up as a shepherd. David had understood the pleasures of walking over the land, tending his sheep, sleeping under stars scattered across the night sky.

Sometimes, when the sheep were restless or disturbed, Amos would play his zamoora, the reed flute he’d made, or sing psalms to comfort them.

Each time he ventured inside the walls of Jerusalem, he tucked away his uneasy faith, lest a priestly heel crush it. Private, protected, precious, he kept it hidden.

And it grew in ways he did not expect.

“Come, sheep!” Amos called as he headed for the fold he had made last year. The sheep came in a rush, clustering and following close behind him. He opened the gate and used his rod to separate the goats into another area, then checked each sheep carefully for injury or hint of illness.

He stretched out across the entrance while the sheep slept safely in the fold. Amos would awaken at the slightest change. He knew the sound of every insect species and listened for predators. When a wolf howled from a distant hilltop, he sat up. A lamb bleated. “Be still. I am here.”

Rising, he kept his eyes on the wolves running in the moonlight. When they ventured closer, he used his sling to send a well-aimed stone flying at the leader. The wolf retreated with a yelp. The pack followed, disappearing over the hill. The sheep rose and moved around, nervous, trembling.

Entering the fold, Amos lifted his wounded lamb to protect it from further injury. He held it close in his arms, stroking its head and kneading its soft ears as he spoke softly to the others. “Rest now, sheep. You’ve nothing to fear. I will never leave you.”

He stood for a long time in their midst, waiting for them to settle and sleep like the lamb in his arms. His presence calmed them. One by one, they lay down again. He set the lamb down and went back to the narrow gate, making himself a barrier against anything that might threaten his flock. Amos closed his eyes then and slept, staff and club close at hand.

Rising with the dawn, Amos opened the gate. As each lamb passed under his rod, he stopped it and examined it. Parting the wool, he checked the skin for scabbing and ran his hands over the animal to feel for any signs of trouble. He rubbed a mixture of oil, sulfur, and tar around the eyes and nose to keep the flies away. One limped, and Amos removed a rock embedded in its hoof. Straightening, he tapped the animal with his staff and watched it bound out into the field. One tried to sneak past him. He hooked the crook of his staff around its neck and turned it back. “One day you’ll learn to stand and wait.”

When the last sheep was examined and tended, he lifted the wounded lamb to his shoulders, closed the gate, and went out with his flock. He led them to new green pastures. Amused, Amos watched them kick up their hooves and spread out to graze. The sheep loved finding thick tufts of grass. The lambs frolicked while the dams and rams grazed.

Leaning on his staff, Amos kept watch, finding pleasure in the contentment of his flock.

Spring came, bringing with it swarms of nasal gnats hatching in vast numbers near the streams and water holes. Amos rubbed oil over the sheep’s faces to repel the insects. But even with that remedy, the sheep shook their heads and stamped their feet, bothered by the constant buzzing. When one bolted, others followed. Amos usually managed to stop them before they tangled themselves in the brush.

He led his flock to the more arid pastures near Tekoa, knowing the best place, for he had spent a long, cold winter month clearing rocks, tearing out brush and roots so that more grass could grow. Rich grazing away from the torment of flies renewed the strength of the tired sheep, and there were trees enough to provide shade from the heat of the day.

The lamb’s leg had healed. After so many weeks of being carried and tended, the animal had bonded to Amos. It grazed close to him and followed wherever he went. When he sat, the lamb rested in his shadow and ruminated.

The water holes dried in the heat of summer, but the sheep had enough water by grazing at dawn hours when the grass was drenched with dew. The ewes produced plenty of milk to fatten the lambs.

Amos led the flock into Tekoa for shearing. The heavy wool had become so thick, the weight of it could make an animal unable to get up from the soft ground they so often sought out for rest. Cast sheep were easy prey. Though the sheep hated being sheared, they bounded away with renewed vigor when the work was done. Amos handed over the thick bundles of lanolin-scented wool to workers who would remove the burrs and debris, wash the wool, and prepare it for sale.

Amos let the sheep into the fields he had planted with grains and legumes. The animals feasted for a week, and then he led them out again to cooler pastures higher in the mountains. He knew every gully, ravine, and cave between Tekoa and the mountain meadows where he kept the flock for the rest of summer. When he found lion spoor, he put himself between the flock and the brush where the beast might hide.

Girding his loins so he could move more quickly, Amos filled his pouch with stones. A lion was the most cunning of animals—patient, watchful, seizing the perfect opportunity for a kill. Staff in hand, Amos kept close watch on the brush where one might be lying in wait. Sheep had no defense. They could not run like a gazelle, nor had they teeth or claws to fight back. Attacked, they often became so frightened and confused they scattered or, worse, stood still. He had seen sheep freeze at the roar of a lion, but run in terror when startled by a rabbit.

Listening to every bird sound, watching every movement of grass, Amos stood guard over his flock. If one of his sheep strayed even a short distance, he called. If it didn’t turn back, he used the crook of his staff or threw his club.

Quail burst into the air on the opposite side of the flock. A spine-tingling roar brought Amos around.

Half the sheep scattered; the rest stood, feet planted, too terrified to move as a lioness burst from the high grass and headed straight for one of the lambs.

Amos used sling and stone to stop her. The rock struck the lioness, and she went down heavily amid bleating, scattering sheep. Dazed only, she sprang to her feet. Amos ran at her, club in hand. Crouching, she roared in fierce frustration. When she charged him, he clubbed her. She raked her claws across his right arm as she fell. He drew his knife and ran at her, but she gained her feet, scrambled back, and clawed at him. When he did not back off, she roared in defiance and disappeared into the brush.

Panting, heart pounding, Amos sheathed his knife and retrieved his club before he checked his wounds. He stanched the blood flow quickly while keeping his eye on the bushes. The lioness would return at any opportunity. “Come, sheep!”

The flock raced to him. Rams, ewes, and lambs clustered close as he led them to safety. He kept looking for signs of the lioness. If he had one of his nephews with him, he would have tracked and killed her. But alone, he would not leave his flock unprotected with a lion so close.

The sheep quickly forgot the danger and spread out to graze. Amos tended his wounds while keeping watch, walking around them to keep them close together. The lamb followed at his heels. A domineering ewe butted another away from the best grass, and stood her ground, defending her spot. When a lamb came too close, the ewe lowered her head and charged.

Amos tapped her with his staff. “There’s grass enough for all.”

Looking disgruntled, she ruminated for a few minutes, but lowered her head again when the lamb came close. Amos tapped her harder. Startled, she bleated, moved to one side, and lowered her head again. This time, Amos thrashed her. When the discipline was done, the ewe walked away with stiff-legged pride to another patch of grass. Shaking his head, Amos kept an eye on her.

Bumping and shoving tended to cause the others to grow nervous and then irritable. When discontent set in, appetites waned, and the entire flock suffered. A bullying ewe could cause more trouble to a flock than a lion.

As the end of summer approached, Amos led his sheep to the most distant pastures in the lowlands. He had paid for grazing rights with long hard hours, days, and weeks of incising the sycamore fruit. Now his animals benefited from his labors, growing fat and content.

Nights became cold. Nasal flies and insects disappeared. Leaves turned crimson and gold. Amos built fires to keep warm at night.

The rams came into rut. Necks swelling, they strutted like proud monarchs among a harem. To prevent them from injuring one another, Amos rubbed their heads with thick grease before releasing them into the pasture. They ran, banged heads, and glanced off each other. Often they stumbled and landed in a heap. Confused, dazed, they would rise, looking almost embarrassed as they stood. All those rams could think about were the ewes! And it wasn’t long before they charged again. Stubborn, they tried to lock horns, and Amos had to get between them with his club.

BOOK: The Prophet: Amos
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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