TURN TO GOD
Amos continues to speak for God, who truly desires the restoration of His people and mercifully warns them through His prophet, even if they do not want to listen. In this chapter, God brings forth His accusations and indictments.
In Samaria, Israel’s capital city, the wealthy, self-indulgent women stand condemned for their extravagant lifestyle, which comes at the expense of the poor and needy whom they actively mistreat. These may be aristocratic women or women of the royal court married to powerful men of high standing, from whom they can demand luxuries without regard for the poor. Their lavish enjoyments come through exploitation.
The metaphor of “cows” may denote a life of ease where everything is provided, like rich pasture for grazing was provided to the prize cattle in the lush valleys of Bashan located east-northeast of the Sea of Galilee. “Cows” may also carry overtones of idolatry, as a cow would constitute a female counterpart to Baal, who was symbolized as a bull, denoting strength and fertility.
God’s judgment would be swift and certain. The exact punishment described is difficult to translate, but it could refer to two scenarios. The first involves capture, chaining together through hooks inserted into the nose or lip and being led into exile single file, straight through the breached city wall (Isa. 32:9–14, 3:16–26).
Alternately, the text could be describing attack and death at the hands of invaders, who will dispose of the people’s dead bodies with meat hooks, drag them out on shields and throw them out through holes in the damaged wall. Both meanings could be implied, as some are killed and others exiled, and both outcomes result from covenant curses. The cattle imagery is particularly gruesome as it compares corpses to carcasses cast out of the city like refuse.
Amos taunts Israelites who might seek self-justification by bragging about their regular and conscientious worship of God and their sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal, the worship places set up as competition to the Jerusalem temple. Although they had been acceptable worship venues in Israel’s patriarchal past, they were more recently associated with the idolatry of the golden calves set up in Dan and Bethel by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:26–33). God sees their so-called worship as rebellion. Rather than honoring Him, they offend Him.
God disciplined the Israelites in seven ways to prompt their return to Him in repentance, seeking His mercy and restoration. God punished by natural disasters, including famine, drought, blight and infestation of crops, illness, war and worse. Yet God says to stubborn Israel, “You did not return to Me.”
The pronouncement “therefore” brings down the judge’s gavel, and Israel must prepare for the ultimate accountability: meeting God. This encounter with the sovereign God of all the universe will be fearsome.
God disciplined them to prompt repentance and forgiveness. The Israelites refused numerous opportunities to repent though. Repenting had not even occurred to them, as they ignored the prophets through whom God graciously “reveals His thoughts” to those who listen.
By Stefana Dan Laing
Associate professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama