The Prophet Amos and St. Patrick: Two men who have a lot in common. If I add young David who became Israel’s Great King, you will probably know what they had in common. And it’s something very few of us are able to have.
Here is a composite illustration of St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, for whom we eat corned beef and cabbage. Well, no.
But he was a real person, and the story that come down to us is that he was born in Roman Britain, in the 4th century a.D., to a fairly well-to-do family, possibly a family of the Roman nobility, long established in Britain.
As a young man, or what we would call “teenager,” this beloved son, Patrick, was captured by the Irish pirates that sailed the shores around Britain. Instead of being held for ransom, he was simply sold to a landowner back in Ireland. After the purchase, this young captive was put to work way out in the Irish hills to tend the sheep of the estate, which is where he spent long, lonely years, separated from family, friends, or anything familiar.
This is not unlike the experience of young David.
David was not “captured,” but just merely sent out into the fields and hills of Judea to tend his father’s sheep. As youngest and least important and skilled of his father’s sons, he could at least be useful out there. As a young man (again, what we misname “teenager”) he spent days and weeks at a time in isolation from his family and friends.
Hills of Judea:
Not much there. The higher into those hills you go, the rougher the land and the weather, but this is the very place where you can raise a certain kind of sheep known for the best kind of wool, highly prized. Even the vegetation, though sparse, can produce some of the most unique and desirable fruit such as the “sycamore figs” which you will see referenced in the book of Amos.
And it’s here that Amos spent most of his life. He was certainly a shepherd when he was a young man, but as a grown man, the Bible calls him by a name that is better translated “sheep-breeder” or “sheep-herder.” That is, an owner and highly-skilled manager of large herds of sheep which he would then combine with the task of a merchant, traveling far and wide to market his sheep and wool.
For thousands of years, lonely hills have provided the environment that sustains sheep herds and that develops and widens the intellect of the men who tend the sheep.
What kind of “intellect”? We can see evidence in the Psalms of David, some of which were imagined and composed during David’s days and nights alone in the country with his sheep. He looked up at the stars in awe and wonder and asked their Creator: “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” The life and death needs of his sheep and himself led David to understand that when our need is so great, the depths of God’s fatherly care of us is yet deeper and surer: “The Lord is my Shepherd…..”
And so……meet Amos. Shepherd of the hills of Judea near the village of Tekoa; observer of all sorts of humans as he traveled with his sheep and on business; a pious man who had long periods of time for contemplating God, which then, in turn, opened his mind to hear when God called.
I have much to learn from these three men. I think all three of them felt they were nothing “special,” and there was no great future apparently lying ahead of them. So how did they fill their time during their long years of loneliness and obscurity?