Last week I finished the latest in the Sons of Encouragement Series – The Prophet – which tells the story of Amos. The author’s introduction to the book states that she takes the story from the biblical account itself, adding only what she believes is consistent with the account in terms of character motivations and plot events.
The book starts by introducing Amos as a shepherd caring for his flock. His care of the sheep demonstrates his compassion and love for the sheep, and is replete with imagery. He is a man at home in the hills and uncomfortable in the city. His brothers, on the other hand, work for one of the priests in the Temple to pay off family debt, engaging in extortion that enriches the priest and enables them to pay.
As Amos learns what the family business is about, anger fills him against the wicked priest, his brothers, and ultimately against God for allowing it to go on. He does the duty required of him with sacrifices, but his heart is no longer quiet. In the midst of this comes a sudden set of visions from God. He resists when God calls to him, but finally gives in.
Though he is of Judah, God sends him to Israel. At first he is well received when he prophesies against Israel’s enemies, and even tolerated when he speaks of the judgment coming to Judah. The people seek to lavish gifts upon him and bring him into their homes. However, when it is time to speak against Israel’s sins he is reviled and beaten. Few welcome his words, and most that do have reasons of their own that have nothing to do with repentance.
Amos repeats his message throughout the years, and when it is time he returns home so that the words of the Lord can be written down. Constant is his message to repent and turn from the rebellion of their hearts, and constant is his cry that Israel and Judah turn from their flagrant idolatry. The end of his story is harsh, though perhaps fitting, or at least possible in light the enemies he has made.
Unlike some fictionalized Bible stories, Francine Rivers does not invent a superfluity of details, but prefers instead to keep the story trim and edifying. As with all fictional works, especially those based on true events and/or real people, the author’s interpretation of events must be taken into account as it alters how a story is presented, and teaches the reader to see certain things.
The story might come across as perhaps too preachy for those wanting more of a novelization, or as not didactic enough for those wanting a real exposition of the prophet. This book stands in the middle of those two extremes and takes some risks for doing so.
Not being an expert on the Minor Prophets, nor the time period involved, I cannot judge historical veracity. However, based on the story presented here, I can say that it is a well-told, if not simple tale. For readers daunted by reading the Old Testament prophets or readers looking to understand the historical and cultural context of Amos without having to crack open commentaries and history books, this telling is a good place to start.