We have come to the second of three pointed words from the prophet, addressed to a disobedient Israel. The first begins with “hear this word” (3:1). The second does the same (4:1). The third begins with “hear ye this word” (5:1). God’s judgments are not designed by Him as surprise attacks. Surprise does result, but not because God did not give fair warning. What God does in this regard, He explains beforehand. The surprise is the result of moral stupidity and blindness. In this chapter, Amos continues to hammer away at his twin themes—opulent violence and its necessary connection to false worship.
“Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that [are] in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink . . .” (Amos 4:1-13).
Overview of the Text:
We have noted that Amos loves to use the number seven, and this passage is no exception. Here it comes in a two plus five structure, followed by a capstone conclusion. The first two units are fierce condemnations—the first of Israel’s rich cow-women (4:1-3) and the second of Israel’s false worship (4:4-5). Then Amos comes at them with five examples of Yahweh’s foreshadowed judgments, each of which Israel assiduously ignored. Each of the five concludes with the same concluding judgment: “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.” God spoke to them through famine (4:6); drought (4:7-8); crop failure (4:9); pestilence and war (4:10); and natural disaster (4:11). Then comes the conclusion—“prepare to meet thy God” (4:12) and a prophetic hymn to the sovereignty of God they must prepare to meet (4:13).
Cows of Bashan:
Those who don’t care about the poor, and who oppress the needy, and who call out to their husbands for more drinks—pink champagne on ice—are sarcastically taunted here by the prophet. He calls them cows of Bashan. Bashan was rich pasture land, and the word is connected to the word for fatness. This striking image of the cows is meant to refer to the luxury that they were abusing the poor to maintain, not to mention voluptuousness and sensuality—as we might speak today in a similar tone about the great mammals of Hollywood and their impressive udder implants.
God swears by His own holiness (probably meaning His own temple) that these women were going to hauled away through breaches in Samaria’s walls (v. 3), and they would be taken with fishhooks (v. 2) One of the practices of the Assyrians (who would those who conquered Israel) was to hook lines of captives together by means of a hook through the cheeks. God swearing that this judgment would fall, and swearing this by His own temple, highlights the importance of the next point that follows—the false worship of Israel was the central problem.
Context Defines Everything:
God had set His name in Jerusalem, and so to establish other centers of worship after He did this were rebellious in principle, down to the ground. It did not matter how particular they were to follow the details of the law. This was done both at Bethel and Gilgal (another false shrine in addition to Dan), and what the Israelites thought they were doing was in strict accordance with the law. They brought sacrifices every morning, like the law said (Lev. 9:17). They rendered tithes every third year, like the law said (Dt. 14:22-29). They offered thanksgiving sacrifices with leaven, like the law said (Lev. 7:12-15; 22:29-30). They announced their free will offerings, like the law said (Lev. 7:16-17; 22:18-23). The sailor seeks to defend himself—he works hard, obeys orders from the ship’s mate, always seeks the best interest of the crew’s mission, and he could extend the list indefinitely. “Yes,” Amos might reply, “but please recall that your ship is a pirate ship.” The groom doesn’t understand why we won’t come to the ceremony. “All the right words are in the vows—sickness, health, richer, poorer, better, worse. What’s your problem?” The problem is that he is trying to marry another groom. Getting the details right while in the wrong place just compounds the wickedness. “Come to Bethel,” Amos says, “and transgress.” “Come to Gilgal,” he adds, “and multiply transgression.”
Refusal to Read:
In the message last week, we noted that America’s wealth is under judgment, not because it is wealth, but rather because we have associated it with all the evils that Israel had tied her wealth to. One of those things was a refusal to hear what God says when He speaks in the course of historical events. This point is pounded by Amos in this chapter. God says that “He has done this thing,” and yet a nation in need of repentance “has not returned” unto Him. What do modern American Christians say is meant by famine, drought, crop failure, pestilence and war, and natural disasters? We say it means nothing. We point to whacked out prophets who assign trivial meanings to historical events, and so we ignore the explicit teaching of Scripture, and the long history of the Church on this. For the curious, our particular crisis of faith on this goes back to the War Between the States.
But Jesus rebuked uninspired Jews of His day for their inability to read the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3). The men of Issachar were wise and knew how to read the times (1 Chron. 12:32). When Jesus spoke of the disaster at Siloam, He did not tell Jews not to draw a lesson from it. He told them not to draw the wrong lesson from it (Luke 13:4). One of the reasons it is so important to be steeped in Scripture is that it enables you to read the book of history, and not just the other parts of Scripture. The biblical worldview is not static. Jesus is the Lord of history. Jesus is the Lord of American history. And Jesus is the Lord of the next one hundred years of American history.
Prepare to Meet Your God:
When Amos tells Israel to prepare to meet their God, the presupposition is that they are summoned to meet Him in battle, and that they will lose. Because they did not read all the foreshadowings in all the earlier chapters, they will be entirely astonished in the last chapter. They won’t know what to do, or where to look.
Who is the God we must meet? He fashioned the mountain ranges. Have you seen them? Do you want them to fall on you? He speaks, the wind forms into a storm system, and heads toward New Orleans. The God you must meet knows all your thoughts, all the shifting evasions, all the rationalizations, and all the theology that prevents you from reading the signs of the times. He holds light and darkness in His hand, and He walks on the high places of the earth. Getting our worship of this God right, honoring His name as the God of hosts, is essential.