What comes to your mind when you think of a prophet? You may be tempted to think of an extraordinary individual with perhaps unusual gifting and training. Prophets are quite unlike us ordinary Christians, we think. A prophet might be of priestly heritage, like Ezekiel, or possibly even royal ancestry, like Zephaniah.
Any such impression must be discarded when we come to the book of Amos. Far from being raised in a palace or the temple, and far from receiving the best seminary education money could buy, Amos was “among the shepherds of Tekoa” (1:1). The word translated “shepherd” was used in the ancient Near East to refer to someone who, while shepherding, simultaneously managed a group of shepherds. While he bore a degree of responsibility, therefore, Amos was nevertheless nothing more than a shepherd and therefore extraordinary by his ordinariness. And yet it was through this ordinary man that Yahweh would roar from Zion and utter his voice from Jerusalem.
God has a way of using ordinary people in his work. Samuel struggled to believe that it was the most unimpressive of Jesse’s sons who would grow to be Israel’s king. Moses needed to unlearn all his impressive learning in Egypt’s finest schools, and needed to learn how to shepherd, before God would use him to deliver Israel. These are but two examples (in addition to Amos) of the 1 Corinthians 1:27 principle: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
None of this suggests that God categorically rejects people of status, power, and wealth. The Bible is filled with examples of wealthy followers of Yahweh whom he used. And that is precisely the point. Gary Smith gets to the heart of the matter: “God does not seem as interested in our past successes or failures as in our present willingness to respond positively to his call.”
It was Yahweh’s voice that needed to be heard. Amos’s qualifications (or lack thereof) were irrelevant. Yahweh would speak and he would bring his word to pass. The prophecy contains many picturesque warnings of an earthquake judgement (2:13; 8:8; 9:1–2, 5), which indeed came to pass. While he received his prophecy “two years before the earthquake” (1:1), the fact that he mentions the earthquake as a historic reality when he writes shows that God was faithful to his word. The earthquake happened as he said it would. And the fulfilment of his warning had nothing to do with Amos’s wisdom or training.
God’s greatest servants have always been nothing more than men. His power is not dependent on the training of his people. He is looking for faithful people, willing to follow his commands and preach his word. His mightiest ministers have laboured not by might, nor by power, but by his Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
Perhaps you have struggled to think that God could possibly use you in his kingdom work. “I’m just a stay-at-home mom,” says one believer. “I’m just a IT technician,” says another, while a third objects, “I’m just a landscaper.” God uses trained pastors and missionaries to build his kingdom. What good are my skills in his kingdom work?
As we think about the kind of people God uses to accomplish his work, let me briefly seek to encourage you with three simple truths.
First, God uses those who are willing. Willingness often precedes giftedness. God is looking for people who are willing to serve him, and will often give them what they need to be used in the work of his kingdom.
Second, God uses those who are weak. It is as he works through our weakness that his strength is magnified. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Third, God uses those who are worshippers. What was the difference between David’s brothers, who cowered before Goliath, and young David, who boldly marched out to meet the enemy? They were warriors; he was a worshipper. In worship, he came to recognise how great God is and was therefore confident that God was able to do what he could not.
As you reflect on Amos 1:1–2 this morning, examine yourself to see whether you are willing, weak, and worshipful enough for God to use in his kingdom work.