Q. In Amos 7:14, at the king’s sanctuary in Bethel, the prophet verbally defends himself against the priest Amaziah by denying that he ever said he belonged to a company of prophets. Amos adds, “I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamores.” What does that expression mean?
A. The Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible explains that the biblical sycamore tree, related to the fig tree, has smaller and less useful fruit than a true fig. Sycamores grow especially in the lowlands of Palestine. This type of tree is not to be confused with American or European sycamores.
The footnote for this verse in The New Jerusalem Bible explains, “Dressing sycamore-figs involved pinching thin stalks, which helped them to ripen.” John Collins in The Catholic Study Bible points out that the sycamore’s fruit, “resembling a fig, had to be tended in order to prevent insects from destroying it.”
Amos was content with both tasks, but he was ready to leave them when called by God to be a prophet.