Deo volente (Lord willing), I will be preaching through the Old Testament book of Amos in the near future. Below are some things you should do to prepare yourself for our time in this book!
The following are general guidelines applicable to the study of any book of the Bible.
1. Read it in one sitting!
In the beginning of a book study it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with "the big picture" by digesting the book as a whole first. Read it in one sitting. Then do it again in another translation. Time yourself. You may be surprised how quickly you can do this if you do not stop to take notes or run down cross references. The time will come for that later. The more you do this the more you will learn of the "terrain". Then when you do dig in to the details you will have a better understanding for how these details fit together with the larger context. "Sandwich" these readings with prayer!
Recommended translations for doing this besides the King James Version are as follows: New American Standard (NASB), English Standard (ESV), New International (NIV), New Berkeley (Modern Language Bible), and New Living (NLT). Some of us will also be reading it in John Nelson Darby’s translation, the New King James (NKJV), Young’s Literal (YLT), the American Standard (ASV), the New English (NEB), and the Revised Standard (RSV). Note: These recommendations are not given as an endorsement of either the textual basis or the approach to translation of any of the above mentioned versions.
2. Memorize it!
Select some verses or passages that you have come to appreciate and treasure and commit them to memory. Add more as you grow in your appreciation for the book during your study. For example: Amos 1:2; 2:6-8, 13-16; 3:1-8, 10; 4:11-13; 5:8, 14-15, 18-20, 24; 6:1, 12-13; 7:7-9, 14-17; 8:11-12; and 9:11-15. Do this with prayer, and comtemplate ways to work these passages into your prayers.
3. Meditate on it!
As you continue to read and memorize the book spend quiet time reflecting on and absorbing what is revealed there. Your profit from this book will be in direct proportion to the amount of time you invest in this exercise! Do this prayerfully! Anything you gain is a grace gift of God, the Author of His Word!
4. Journal it!
Use your "third eye", a pen or pencil with a notepad, to record your questions and observations as you continue to read and study the book. Try to get beneath the surface, and to comprehend the flow of the book as you do this. These questions and observations may have to do with the book as a whole or with the details you are noticing as you read, memorize and meditate.
Here are some suggested questions you might consider to get you started:
a. What earthquake? (1:1)
b. What is the significance of the expression "for three...and for four"? (1:3-2:6)
c. What is "the bar of Damascus"? (1:5)
d. What is "the brotherly covenant"? (1:9)
e. What is "the wine of the condemned"? (2:8)
f. Why "like David"? Was it wrong for David to do this? (6:5)
g. Why "the house of Joseph" (5:6), "the remnant of Joseph" (5:15), and "the affliction of Joseph" (6:6)? Why not Jacob (3:13; 9:8), or Israel (5:1, 3, 4, 25; 6:14; 7:10; 9:9)? And along the same lines, why "the high places of Isaac" (7:9), and "the house of Isaac" (7:16), rather than Judah or Israel?
5. Use your tools!
a. Bible Dictionary
Now comes the time when you should check out the nouns in Amos such as the names of people and geographical place names in a good Bible Dictionary like Zondervan’s, Unger’s, or the New Bible Dictionary. These would include, but not be limited to, the following (from the first three chapters of this book): Amos, Tekoa, Israel, Uzziah, Judah, Jereboam, Joash, Zion, Jerusalem, Carmel, Damascus, Gilead, Hazael, Benhadad, Aven, Eden, Syria, Kir, Gaza, Edom, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Philistines, Tyrus, Teman, Bozrah, Ammon, Rabbah, Moab, Kirioth, Amorite, Egypt, Nazarites, Samaria, and Bethel.
b. English Dictionary
If you come across any words that are unfamiliar to you a good English dictionary is also a helpful resource. Remember, "the beginning of understanding is precise definition"!
In order to bring the teaching of the rest of Scripture to bear on passages in Amos a concordance like Strong’s or Young’s will connect you to other contexts where the same words are used. Scripture interprets Scripture, so this will shed light on what you are reading, and help you to add to your understanding.
6. Check out other resources!
Bible atlases, encyclopedias, introductions to the Old Testament, study Bibles, commentaries and journal articles all contain information that you might find valuable in your study. Resources like these may lead you to answers to your questions, may correct some of your initial observations, or may give you food for thought in directions you had not yet considered.