With astonishing irony Amos speaks to the wives of the leaders in Israel. He calls them “cows of Bashan”. They are one of the causes of the oppression of the poor. The judgment will strike them.
A people that feasts at the expense of others also push religion their own way. Amos denounces the religion that is practiced by the Israelites according to their own preferences in the places they have chosen themselves.
After denouncing both social and religious life, Amos points to events in Israel’s history in which God’s discipling hand has been visible. These disciplines are intended by God to bring them to repentance, but they have not been listened to. Therefore, He calls them to prepare to meet Him.
1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
Who say to your husbands, “Bring now, that we may drink!”
The prophet now addresses the ten tribes he compares to the cows of Bashan. From the female verbal forms it appears that Amos has the female or effeminate inhabitants of Samaria in mind (cf. verse 3). He speaks to them in particular, because they are the models of people who live in laziness and self-satisfaction.
In his words he uses the picture of grazing cows on the rich meadows on the other side of the Jordan. The cows of Bashan are known for being an excellent herd, well fed by grazing in the grassy meadows of the high plains of Bashan (Deu 32:14; Eze 39:18).
Amos uses these cows as an application to Israel because of both the prosperity of Israel and the beastly character that the Israelites display. And just as cows live for only one thing, that is to eat and become fat, and therefore want everything for themselves, so do these women. They focus exclusively on caring for their bodies. As far as that is concerned, a clear parallel can be drawn with the ‘body culture’ of our time, in which it is mainly about how I look or how the other person looks.
It is not a compliment for a woman to be compared to a cow. It is the women of Samaria’s new elite whose men made it into the welfare state of Israel. In name they are subject to their husbands and call them ‘lord’. In reality, the men are obedient servants who have to fulfill all their whims and pleasures. They command: “Bring now!” The high costs of maintaining such a woman can only be met by further exacerbating the poor and needy of the people.
In what Amos says here to the women of Samaria, we see the world in miniature, constantly protesting to his leaders for more material goods and where selfishness is growing. And the greater the selfishness, the more insensitive we become to the needs of others. We will even exploit those others to satisfy our selfish desires. To do this, we will finally go over corpses. All sympathy is gone, the fulfilment of one’s own desires is central. That is how cows live, that is how the women of Samaria live.
They will be shocked, the ladies! They sit and lie happily together, all tastefully and stylishly dressed according to the latest fashions, adorned with the most beautiful jewelry and richly painted with the refined products of the cosmetics industry. The room is filled with perfume. They all think they see the jealous glances of the other, because everyone thinks they look just as charming or more challenging than the other.
With an affected voice they tell each other their embellished stories. With their stories they try to outdo each other and exaggerate them firmly to that end. It gives you a dry throat. The hostess is told by her guests whether that husband of hers can bring in another drink. Where is that guy?
Suddenly the voice of the prophet bangs against those women: “Cows of Basan!” Amazed they stop their conversation. How dare that hillbilly! Without being presented, ill-mannered, illiterate – you can hear that in his dialect – and extremely insulting he disturbs their pleasurable togetherness. But listen, he talks on:
2 Judgment Comes
2 The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness,
“Behold, the days are coming upon you
When they will take you away with meat hooks,
And the last of you with fish hooks.
Amos is not a man who, at the sight of all this injustice, suddenly loses his patience and uncontrollably expresses his disapproval of the abuses in unmistakable words. No, he stands there on behalf of “the Lord LORD” Who “has sworn by His holiness”. That should underline the seriousness and irrevocability of his words. He has been sent by Him to speak these words. The whole action, the whole behavior of these women cannot exist in the light of the holiness of God. He can never tolerate iniquity. He is the Holy One. This means that He is absolutely and perfectly separated from sin, in whatever form.
If the LORD in Psalm 89 swears by His holiness that He will never lie to David (Psa 89:35), that is the guarantee that He will not lie. For if He did lie, it would violate His holiness. Here God swears by His holiness that He will let judgment come. If He would allow sin to continue with impunity, it would also violate His holiness. That He swears by His holiness is an extra guarantee that He will do what He says (cf. Heb 6:16-17).
The metaphor Amos uses to indicate how this judgment will be executed can also be found in other places (Isa 37:29; Jer 16:16; Eze 29:4; Hab 1:15). Just as a fish is suddenly torn from the water, its element, by the angler, so these women will be torn from their abundance and orgies. Judgment will be total as well as sudden. Should the impression be created that only a few would remain, then that impression will turn out to be vain.
With “the last of you” it may also be meant that with the women addressed, their descendants will also fall prey to the judgment. This will be done by the Assyrians who will make them prey.
3 The Judgment Is Irrevocable
3 “You will go out [through] breaches [in the walls],
Each one straight before her,
And you will be cast to Harmon,” declares the LORD.
Through the breaches in the walls behind which they feel safe, they will be carried away into the scattering. The breaches will be so numerous that they will not have to search for them. Everyone will find one right in front of them. Every woman who is taken away has nothing more to look for than the terrible fate she faces. Just as they think only of themselves in wealth, so they will think only of themselves when judgment strikes them and care for no one else.
The certainty of the judgment is confirmed once more by the words “declares the LORD”. If He has said it, who will be able to stop it or change it?
Where Harmon lies is not known. It has been thought that it should be Hermon. Then that indicates the direction in which the Israelites will be taken away, that is to the north, in the direction of Assyria. The reason why Hermon is so especially called is because it is located in Bashan. These women, these ‘cows of Bashan’, will go in the direction of the mountains of Bashan!
4 The Mockery of the Prophet
4 “Enter Bethel and transgress;
In Gilgal multiply transgression!
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
Your tithes every three days.
In addition to satisfying their desires, they also have their own self-willed religion. Bethel and Gilgal are places with a rich history of blessing. In Bethel God appeared to Jacob and there Jacob buried his idols (Gen 35:2-4). In Gilgal the people were circumcised when they entered the land (Jos 5:2-9). But of the blessing only the memory is left. In practice, these cities have become cities where idolatry reigns supreme.
It is therefore mockery that the prophet invites them to come to these places with their sacrifices. In his voice the mockery can be heard that is also heard with Elijah on the Carmel (1Kgs 18:27). The thought that God would accept their sacrifice can be thrown far from us (Amos 5:5). Amos speaks in an exaggerated sense: ‘If you were to bring your sacrifices every morning and your tithes every three days, it would only add to your sins.’
With the word “transgress” the thought of ‘rebellion’ is connected. They thought, blinded as they were, that by regular sacrifices they would remain in connection with the LORD. But Bethel is not the place God has said He wants to be served there (cf. Jer 48:13). That is Jerusalem. That is where He is to be found and not in the places of their own choice, although they still have such an old tradition.
Someone has said: Each generation of readers of the book Amos is obliged to examine his own religion in the light of this word. Not where we think we can serve the Lord, with or without an appeal to the fathers of earlier or later times, but where the Lord is served according to His Word, that is where He wants to meet us. Name and tradition do not guarantee divine approval.
5 So You Love It
5 “Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love [to do], you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.
Amos further mocks their religion. Are they so eager to sacrifice? Then let them not take it too seriously with the precepts. Feel free to make a sacrifice of praise in which leaven is incorporated. Did God say that there should be no leaven in the sacrifice of praise (Lev 7:12; 2:11)? Well, that is a dated precept. Now it is all about how you feel about it. Let yourself go. If you love it, God loves it too. Just get crazy for Him.
It is a picture of many services in Christianity today, where it only matters if you feel good about it, but not whether it is pleasing to God? There is also no question about the place where the Lord Jesus wants to meet His own. The question is whether I like it somewhere, whether the services appeal to me. The human being is central and becomes the norm for the service. Accessible, attractive to people in the world. The gospel rock band in the church, dancing, and a few more ‘spirit expressions’ like crying, falling and even barking in spirit, add some speaking in tongues and the crowds enter the church. Let’s sacrifice, let’s tell ourselves that we can offer this to God because He loves it that way.
But what do I hear? What does Amos say on behalf of the “Lord LORD”? “For so you love [to do], you sons of Israel.” Here we see that Amos talks completely to the taste of the people. That is why he even calls on them to sacrifice “from that which is leavened” against God’s prohibition. They disregard God’s commandments, don’t they? We must remember that in the Bible, leaven always represents sin as something that affects everything it comes into contact with, just as leaven affects the whole dough and leavens (1Cor 5:6-8).
For us, leaven in the sacrifice of praise means thinking and saying things about the Lord Jesus that dishonor Him. For example, thinking that He could sin although that was and is impossible. There are more wrong and even slanderous things said of Him in Christianity.
In addition to the call to bring offerings of thanks, Amos also urges free will offerings. But it is precisely a call to do so that detracts from the character of voluntariness. An appeal creates a moral compulsion or it can even become a legal commandment. It is important for these people that everyone knows how good they are at bringing ‘voluntary’ sacrifices to the LORD. What is given must be widely made known (cf. Mt 6:2; Lk 18:12).
It is what we can compare today with having (voluntary) collections, where you are obliged, for the neighbors, to give something. And if others do not see how much you give, then fortunately what is given will be published.
What Amos wants to impress upon them is that with their lips they say they please the LORD, but that in reality they serve themselves with this way of serving God. It is serving God as it suits you best. In this way sin is multiplied.
6 Yet You Have Not Returned to Me
6 “But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
With this verse Amos begins to recount a series of events from the past, emphasizing that in these events God’s intervention can be seen for their benefit. No matter how terrible those disasters may have been, they were intended by a loving God to warn Israel that they are going the wrong way, a way that will eventually lead them to the judgment.
Each time an event is introduced with the word “I”. It indicates that God has brought this suffering upon them, with the intention of bringing His people closer to Him again (cf. Heb 12:6). Every event should appeal to the conscience of the people. But the conscience is often lulled back to sleep by seeking a natural cause for the disasters, as if God had nothing to do with them and His voice could not be heard in them. Surely He does not bring this on man? That is why we read five times as a refrain after each disaster: “Yet you have not returned to Me” (verses 6,8,9,10,11).
Other prophets have also had to testify accordingly (Isa 9:13; Jer 5:3; Hos 7:10). Also in the book of Revelation we find that after God’s judgments there is no repentance after all (Rev 9:20; 16:9,11). What patience speaks from this. He also has that patience with us.
There is a climax in the disasters, which are not linked to a certain period of time, but have come over the people in the course of Israel’s history. The first series of chastening concerns the land (verses 6-9); then the inhabitants are affected by disease and war (verse 10); finally there is the judgment that also affected Sodom and Gomorrah, wiping these cities from the face of the earth (verse 11).
It is not clear from the text when the event of verse 6 took place. However, it is thought that Amos refers to the seven years of drought from the days of Elisha (2Kgs 8:1). The expression “cleanness of teeth” means that due to lack of food, their teeth do not get dirty.
7 Distinction in Judgment
7 “Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While [there were] still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
The rain of which the LORD speaks is the late rain that falls in February and March. This is important for a good growth of the corn. Drought is a punishment announced by God in case of disobedience (Deu 28:23; Lev 26:19).
If we read this verse, we might think that God is acting randomly. This incongruity should be quickly banned from our minds. God never acts arbitrarily. His way of acting always has a purpose of blessing in mind.
We cannot always ‘checkout’ God (Job 37:12-18). We may try to understand His way of acting, if only we do not forget our place in front of the Almighty. We must keep in mind that we are little, tiny creatures. Let us not be so audacious as to think that God is obligated to account to us for His actions (Rom 9:14-21).
The distinction in judgment must also emphasize that He works this. He has made it rain on one city and He has withheld the rain on the other city. This distinction is also there in the handing out of blessing. This distinction, both in judgment and in blessing, is a big problem for us people. If we could really follow God in all His actions, we would be equal to God. We can find peace in the problem if we accept in faith that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isa 55:8-9).
8 He Who Is Thirsty …
8 “So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
It seems that on most of the cities no rain has fallen. Those cities have to go to a more distant city to get water. They “staggered” towards it, which reflects the difficult passage of those who are thirsty. That they are not satiated may be because they get nothing from the city where it did rain, sparingly as it is on its own supply.
Abundance makes people selfish and harsh, but so does scarcity. In both cases, man who has strayed from God expresses the lowest that is present in him. Those who live with God, like Paul, can learn to deal with abundance and lack (Phil 4:11-12).
It is also possible that the city they go to wants to give some water, but there is not nearly enough for everyone’s needs. In any case, those in need place their hope in something other than God, because they do not return to Him.
From a spiritual point of view, Christians are allowed to be a ‘city’ where the thirsty can go. They can be that if they themselves have gone to the Lord Jesus as ‘thirsty’ and been given a drink by Him. Whoever has drunk of the ‘water of life’ He gives (Rev 22:17), has received the Holy Spirit. And such a person can then pass water on to others, that is to say, bring to others that Source of living water (Jn 7:37-39).
9 Judgment on the Fruit of the Land
9 “I smote you with scorching [wind] and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
Scorching [wind] or blasting is a fungus that affects the rye. Mildew is a fungus that affects various types of grain. The three main trees of Israel – the vine, the fig tree and the olive tree – are devoured by the caterpillar. Botanical diseases and caterpillar, everything is at God’s disposal and He can use them to reach the conscience of His people.
If the farmer looked over his fields and let the desolate sight of them sink in, and then looked up to seek His God, God would have reached His goal. Unfortunately, the chorus here too reads: “Yet you have not returned to Me.”
10 Plague and War
10 “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
In Leviticus 26 the plague and the sword are also mentioned in one verse (Lev 26:25). There it sounds still as a warning. God threatens the people with these plagues if they continue to resist Him in spite of earlier punishments (Lev 26:23-24). The plague comes from Him. The sword also comes from Him, although by the hand of the enemy. The “sword” probably refers to a period of war with Syria (2Kgs 13:3).
God acts with His people as He did with Egypt. This proves how deep the people have sunk (Deu 7:15; 28:60). The plague that God has sent into Egypt is the cattle plague (Exo 9:3). Then He separated Egypt from His people (Exo 8:22), but now the plagues over His people follow one another, to strike their conscience.
The capture of their horses means the deprivation of military strength. The stench comes from the corpses of those killed by the plague and in the war, whereby we can think of both people and horses. The losses were suffered in the war against the Syrians (2Kgs 8:12; 13:3,7). The stench that has come into their noses is, as it were, the stench of their sins, to remind them of their sins and of the result of their sins.
11 A Firebrand Snatched From a Blaze
11 “I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
The reference to Sodom and Gomorrah is to indicate that the destruction is complete. Turning the people upside down refers to the destruction of the state after war has been waged on its territory (Joel 2:3). This destruction is referred to in several places (Isa 1:9; 13:19; Jer 50:40).
The destruction is complete, but is not definitive. Some will escape judgment. They are compared with “a firebrand snatched from a blaze”. The fire has taken hold of it, and if a power had not come from outside that tore the piece of wood out of the fire, it would have been completely consumed (cf. Zec 3:2). This is how it is with the people. The fact that they are still there is due to a God Who did not totally destroy them. Just as He saved Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah, He will also bring back a remnant of the people from the captivity of the Syrian (2Kgs 13:5; 17:27-28).
12 Prepare to Meet God
12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
Because I will do this to you,
Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”
Verses 6-11 deal with the punishments that God has brought upon the people in the past. This verse is about the actions of God in the near future. If all God’s actions to bring them back on the right track have no result, only one thing remains: that they will come face to face with God Himself as Judge. To say it with James: “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (Jam 5:9b). In verse 13 God’s majesty is impressively represented.
The moment will come when God will ask them to account for their actions and then have to judge them. The call here is not to make the people repent, although that should never be ruled out. The die is cast. The people have sworn in all tones that they do not want to repent.
The prophet now calls on the people to prepare themselves to appear before God. Let them have their defense ready to respond to the questions God will ask about their behavior. Not that they will be able to save themselves by doing so. Therefore, let the people brace themselves to hear God’s judgment and bow to its execution. While the people as a whole are being addressed, there may be a few in the people who repent at this thought and do not let it come to a confrontation with the Judge.
For us Christians, too, the call “prepare to meet your God” has an awesome meaning. For those who believe in Christ as their Savior, this encounter with God will not be an event to be faced with fear and trembling. Such a person may know God as his Father.
Nevertheless, there may be things present in our life as Christians that do not make the thought of an encounter with God an event he looks forward to. If that is so, let us confess sin and get rid of the wrong. Let us no longer maintain ourselves and honestly judge ourselves. If we do, we will not be condemned with the world (1Cor 11:31-32).
13 The Majesty of God
13 For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind
And declares to man what are His thoughts,
He who makes dawn into darkness
And treads on the high places of the earth,
The LORD God of hosts is His name.
The LORD God of hosts is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is the origin of mighty, impressive mountains. What is man compared to this? God is also the origin of the uncatchable wind, which He can make swell into an all-destroying hurricane, which people cannot control.
That God, from Whose hand nature and the forces of nature originate and are maintained by Him, also occupies Himself with man. He knows man to the deepest of his being, He knows his considerations (Jer 11:20a; Psa 139:1-6). The expression ‘His thoughts’ does not refer to God, but to man.
God reveals to man what He knows about him. He does this through the prophets, among others through Amos. God will not only judge man according to his actions, but also according to the condition of his heart. When man has to appear before God in judgment, He makes “the dawn into darkness”. Man in his prosperity without God thinks he lives in the light. The judgment of God will change that into darkness.
For Him nothing is too high, He surpasses everything. Everything will eventually be submitted to His feet, that is, to the feet of the Lord Jesus, He is God (Psa 8:6; Heb 2:8). Knowing that all things are in God’s hand, that nothing escapes His control, may be a comfort for the believer. God controls both the wide universe and the life of the believer with all its joys and troubles.