The verse serves as a kind of title with sub-titles, situating the speeches that follow.
Translators limit the range of possible meaning in the original (except when they cannot avoid the reverse, and add ambiguity to a univocal text).
Translators have usually opted for "words of Amos", this suggests the underlying Hebrew word, but this rendering colors our reading of the book. It suggests that the book is a collection of the sayings of Amos. This may be true - but there are other possibilities.
Amos is "among the sheep farmers from Tekoa" a phrase that raises two questions - place and profession. The word noqed is difficult, but probably makes him an owner of flocks and/or herds. Tekoa is mentioned several times in the Bible as the name of either a fortified Judean town or an area of "wilderness".
Since medieval times attempts have been made to link Amos with a Northern village of similar name, but these seem unnecessary.
Assuming that "Tekoa" is Khirbet Taqu`a then the noqedim are "from Tekoa" as they spend months at a time elsewhere with their flocks.
"Two years before the earthquake", firstly this phrase implies both precision of dating - the first receivers of the text presumably knew all about "the earthquake" and when it happened (though we cannot fix its date), but also a short ministry for Amos. (RSV followed by NRSV has a note offering "during two years" as an alternative translation, however most scholars and translators are content to accept Meek's conclusion that a point in time is intended here.)
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos , if you have reached it as a standalone page, to view it in context, go to www.bible.gen.nz © Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.