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2. The second message on women, worship, and willfulness ch. 4
This message consists of seven prophetic announcements each of which concludes, "declares the LORD" (Amos 4:3; Amos 4:5-6; Amos 4:8-11). Amos 4:12 is a final conclusion, and Amos 4:13 is a doxology.
Amos opened this second message as he did the first (ch. 3), with the cry, "Hear this word." He addressed the wealthy women of Samaria, calling them "cows of Bashan." Bashan was a very luxuriant region of Transjordan east and northeast of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) where cattle had plenty to eat and grew fat (cf. Psalms 22:12; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 39:18; Micah 7:14). These women, along with their men, were oppressing (threatening) the poor and crushing (harassing) the needy. The women were even ordering their husbands to wait on them and bring them drinks. The Hebrew word ’adonim, translated "husbands," means "lords" or "masters." By using it Amos was stressing the role reversal that existed. The picture is of spoiled, lazy women ordering their husbands to provide them with luxuries that the men had to oppress the poor to obtain (cf. Deuteronomy 28:56-57; Isaiah 32:9-13).
"What is luxury? The word ’luxury’ comes from a Latin word that means ’excessive.’ It originally referred to plants that grow abundantly (our English word ’luxurious’), but then it came to refer to people who have an abundance of money, time, and comfort, which they use for themselves as they live in aimless leisure. Whenever you are offered ’deluxe service,’ that’s the same Latin word: service above and beyond what you really need." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 352.]
Economic exploitation 4:1-3
Sovereign Yahweh had not just said what He would do, but He had sworn that He would do it. When God swore He provided an additional guarantee, in addition to His word, that He would indeed do something (cf. Genesis 22:16-17; Isaiah 62:8; Jeremiah 44:26; Hebrews 6:16-18). He made this solemn declaration in harmony with His holiness. As surely as God is separate from humankind and cannot tolerate sin, these women would surely suffer His judgment one day.
An enemy would cart them off as butchers carry beef with large meat hooks and as fishermen carry fish with hooks. This description may imply that the enemy would tie them in lines with ropes and lead them away since this is how fishermen strung their fish on lines. Carved reliefs that archaeologists have found show Assyrians leading people by a rope attached to a ring in the jaw or lip of their captives. [Note: See Leonard W. King, Annals of the Kings of Assyria, pp. 116-20, 125-26.] Alternatively it may mean that their dead bodies would be disposed of as so much meat. [Note: J. H. Hayes, Amos, pp. 140-41.] The enemy would carry the bodies of these women (living or dead) off through breaches in Samaria’s walls. The women would be carried off without any complications; each one would go straight ahead to captivity or to burial through any one of the many passageways made through the broken walls.
The enemy would take them to Harmon, perhaps an alternative spelling of Mt. Hermon. Some scholars believe the meaning of "Harmon" is uncertain, though it appears to be the name of some site. Mt. Hermon was to the north of Bashan, so these cows of Bashan would end up near Bashan. This is, in fact, the direction the Assyrians took the Israelite captives as they deported them to Assyria.
"Those who oppress the poor and crush the needy in order to support an extravagant lifestyle can expect God’s harsh judgment to fall upon them." [Note: Smith, p. 86.]
Ironically the Lord told these sinful Israelites to go to Bethel but to transgress, not to worship. Such a call parodied the summons of Israel’s priests to come to the sanctuary to worship (cf. Psalms 95:6; Psalms 96:8-9; Psalms 100:2-4). Bethel was the most popular religious site in the Northern Kingdom, but the Lord looked at what the people did there as transgressing His law rather than worshipping Him. Gilgal, another worship center, was evidently the Gilgal where the Israelites had entered the Promised Land and had erected memorial stones (Joshua 4:20-24). Other references to it indicate that it was a place that pilgrims visited and where they sacrificed in Amos’ day (cf. Amos 5:5; Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11). At Gilgal (from Heb. galal, to roll) God had rolled away the reproach of Egypt from His people (cf. Joshua 5:9), but now they were bringing reproach on themselves again by their idolatry at Gilgal.
God hyperbolically and ironically urged the people to bring their sacrifices every morning and their tithes every three days (rather than every three years as the Law required, cf. Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Even if they sacrificed every morning and tithed every three days they would only be rebelling against God. The people were careful to worship regularly, but it was a ritual contrary to God’s will.
"It’s as though a pastor today said to his congregation, ’Sure, go ahead and attend church, but by attending, you’re only sinning more. . . . Your heart isn’t serious about knowing God or doing His will. Since it’s all just playacting.’" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 353.]
Religious hypocrisy 4:4-5
Thank offerings expressed gratitude for blessings and answers to prayer (Leviticus 7:11-15). The Israelites made freewill offerings spontaneously out of gratitude to God (Leviticus 7:16; Leviticus 22:17-19). God permitted the people to present leavened bread in these offerings. The people loved to practice these acts of worship, but they did not love to obey sovereign Yahweh or care for their poor, oppressed neighbors. The Lord wanted their loving obedience, not their acts of worship. Loving religious activity is not the same as loving God.
The Lord had brought famine throughout the land to warn His people about their disobedience and His displeasure, but this judgment did not move them to repent (cf. 1 Kings 8:37-39). They had made an idol of the sacrificial system. Famine was one of the curses that God said He might bring if His people proved unfaithful to His covenant (Leviticus 26:26; Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:17; Deuteronomy 28:48).
Refusal to repent 4:6-11
He had also sent drought when the people needed rain the most, three months before their harvest. He had let rain fall on one town but not another resulting in only spotty productivity (cf. 1 Kings 8:35). This too should have moved them to repent. Drought was also a punishment for covenant unfaithfulness (Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:22-24; Deuteronomy 28:48).
The Lord sent plant diseases and insects to blight their gardens, vineyards, and fruit trees. Yet the Israelites did not return to Him (cf. 1 Kings 8:37-39). These were also threatened judgments in the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 26:20; Deuteronomy 28:18; Deuteronomy 28:22; Deuteronomy 28:30; Deuteronomy 28:38-40; Deuteronomy 28:42). "Many gardens" is another indication that the Israelites were affluent.
Wars had brought various plagues on the Israelites, and many of their soldiers had died (cf. 1 Kings 8:33; 1 Kings 8:37). The plagues on the Israelites should have made them conclude that God was now judging them. God had plagued His people as He formerly had plagued the Egyptians. The stench of dead bodies should have led the people to repent, but it did not (cf. Leviticus 26:16-17; Leviticus 26:25; Leviticus 26:31-39; Deuteronomy 28:21-22; Deuteronomy 28:25-27; Deuteronomy 28:35; Deuteronomy 28:49-52; Deuteronomy 28:59-61; Deuteronomy 29:23-28).
Even the overthrow of some Israelite cities did not move the Israelites to repent (cf. Deuteronomy 28:62). Comparing these overthrown cities to Sodom and Gomorrah indicates their proverbial complete destruction (cf. Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 13:19; Jeremiah 50:40; Zephaniah 2:9), not necessarily the method of their destruction. God had rescued His people like burning sticks from a conflagration, as He had formerly extracted Lot and his daughters from Sodom (Genesis 19). The Assyrian kings customarily sowed the ground of a conquered area with salt so nothing would grow there. [Note: Niehaus, p. 402.]
In all, Amos mentioned seven disciplinary judgments that God had brought on the Israelites: famine (Amos 4:6), drought, (Amos 4:7-8), plant diseases (Amos 4:9), insects (Amos 4:9), plague (Amos 4:10), warfare (Amos 4:10), and military defeat (Amos 4:11). God sometimes permits His people to suffer so they will turn back to Him (cf. Hebrews 12:6), but the Israelites had not done that.
The Israelites should prepare to meet their God because they had failed to repent (cf. Exodus 19:10-19; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He would confront them with even greater punishments (cf. Amos 3:11-15). They should prepare to meet Him, not in a face-to-face sense, but as they would encounter a powerful enemy in battle. The prophet’s call was a summons to judgment for covenant unfaithfulness, not a call to repentance or an invitation to covenant renewal. [Note: Paul, p. 151.] The absence of a stated punishment makes the summons even more foreboding.
The inevitable outcome 4:12-13
Their enemy was the most formidable one imaginable. It was not another nation or army but sovereign Yahweh of armies. It was He who forms tangible and stable mountains, creates the intangible and transitory wind, knows people’s thoughts, turns dawn into darkness, and steps on the hills of Israel like a giant approaching Samaria. They could not escape His judgment, so they better prepare for it (cf. Micah 1:3-4).
"In one bold sweep, this hymn shows the sovereignty of God-from his creation of the world to his daily summoning of the dawn, from his intervention in history to his revelation of mankind’s thoughts. Every believer can take comfort in the fact that, while sometimes it seems that God does not interfere in human affairs, the world is never out of his control. His sovereignty extends to every aspect of human experience." [Note: McComiskey, p. 308.]
The description of God here (and in Amos 5:8 and Amos 9:5-6) is a divine royal titulary. This is a genre that was common in the ancient Near East, and it appears occasionally in the writing prophets. [Note: Niehaus, p. 323.] A titulary combines the name of the god or king with epithets that describe him.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Amos 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20