Amos 4:1-13

January 20, 2007 at 1:07 am (Uncategorized)

(Please consult POST MENU PAGE for earlier notes on Amos and other books of Scripture)

The prophet continues his prophetic sermon detailing the punishment to be brought upon Israel.

Amos 4:1-3

Vs
1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who dwell on the mount of Samaria,
who press upon the poor, weigh down heavily on the needy, and who say
to your husbands: “Bring, that we may consume!”

The over-wealthy, over-fed, over-pampered women of Israel (i.e. the Mount of Samaria) are her compared contemptuously to the cows of Bashan. Bashan is a reference to the plains of Bashan located in the trans-Jordan region east of the Sea of Galilee, on the banks of the Yarmuk River. The area today known as the Golan Heights. This rich, fertile plain was famous for its well fed cattle (see Deut 32:14; Psalm 22:13).

Recall that in the initial indictment of Israel by Amos (2:6-16),
the nation was condemned because “they trample the head of the poor
into the dust of the earth” (2:7 RSV); kind of like cattle on a
stampede. Here the women of Samaria are accussed of pressing and
weighing down on the needy; a similar image. Apparently, the opulent
lifestyle they demand of their husbands has helped encourage the
mistreatment of the poor, and for this they are condemned. They demand
that drink be brought to them, reminding us of the wine extorted from
the poor as legal penalties levied by unjust courts (see 2:8).

Vss
2-3 The Lord has sworn by his holiness, “Behold, days are coming upon
you when you will be taken away with hooks, the very last of you with
fish hooks. Out through the breached walls you shall go straightaway
and you will be cast onto the dung-hill,” says the Lord.

The nation will face a military invasion (2:14-16)
which will lead to the the capture of the capitol of Israel, Samaria,
when its fortified walls are breached by the enemy (obviously Assyria).
Rings were sometimes put into the noses of animals as part of their
domestication, for it made them easier to control. A hook on a pole or
rope would be inserted into the ring in order to lead the animal around
(see Job 40:25-26).
Ancient Assyrian art depicts people captured by Shalamanezer III being
roped together and led away in single file lines. For more on the use
of rings and hooks in the treatment of prisoners click here.

Amos 4:4-5 A reproach for hypocritical worship

Vs 4
“Come to Bethel, and transgress; come to Gilgal, and multiply your
transgressions; bring your sacrifices morning after morning, bring your
tithes every third day;
Vs 5
offer a thanksgiving sacrifice of that which is leavened, announce your
free-will offrings, make them public: For this you love to do, O people
Israel,” says the Lord God.

God is here, through his
prophet, engaging in some sarcasm. The words are in the form of typical
priestly instruction concerning the Torah. The priests were supposed to
teach and exhort the people to worship God rightly. God, apparently
imitating the Northern preists, exhorts the people to false worship.
The sarcasm is intended to highlight the sin being committed under the
guise of true worship.

Morning sacrifices
were to be offered at the temple in Jerusalem; not the shrines of
Bethel and Gilgal. The very fact that the people are offering these
sacrifices anywhere other than the Jerusalem temple is itself a sin, no
matter how well intended they might have been.

Bring your tithes every third day.
The Jews were expected to pay an annual (once a year) tithe for the
upkeep of the temple and another tithe every three years for the good
of the poor, widows, and orphans. We saw in Chapter 2 that the people
had no concern for the poor and destitute. The tithes “every third day”
is probably more of a sarcsam than a fact. You can be meticulous about
paying your tithes, you can even pay more than was required, but if it
is done out of hypocrisy it will do you no good.

Some would
interpret these words as a condemnation of ritual worship, but nothing
could be further from the truth. No where do the prophets condemn
rituals which were ordered by God himself. Rather, they often condemn
formalism, a going thru the motion of ritual for hypocritical purposes.

Thanksgiving sacrifices
were supposed to be made known and celebrated publicly, for what was
being celebrated was God’s blessing upon an individual (see Psalm 22:23-32 and Psalm 116:17-19). Again, however, such things were not suppossed to be for self-aggrandisment.

The sarcastic command to come to Bethel, and transgress; come to Gilgal, and multiply your transgressions
is followed, in verses 6-11 by a series of critiques. God will detail a
number of his punishments he brought upon Israel which went unheeded by
the people

Vs
6 “I gave you cleaness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread
in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” says the Lord.
Vs
7 “And I also witheld the rain from you when there were yet yet three
months to the harvest; I sent rain upon one city, and sent no rain upon
another city, one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it
did not rain withered;
Vs 8 So two or three cities wandered to one
city to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to
me,” says the Lord.
Vs 9 “I smote you with blight and mildew; I laid
waste your gardens and your vineyards; your fig trees and olive trees
the locust devoured; yet you did not reurn to me,” says the Lord.
Vs
10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I slew
your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses; I made the
stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to
me,” say the Lord.
Vs 11 “I overthrew some of you as when God
overthrew sodom and Gomor’rah, and you were as a brand plucked out of
the burning; yet you did not return to me,” says the Lord. (Revised Standard Version)

These
verses, in the form a a litany (the repeated “yet you did not return to
me”) continue the sarcasm begun in verse 4. The people think -or worse,
pretend- to be seeking God by “coming” to Gilgal and Bethel but in fact
, for all their religiousity, they have not returned to the Lord. (See
Hosea 6:1-11)

When God made his covenant with his people he had
warned them not to forget him or worship falsely (Exodus 23:23-26). To
this the people agreed (Exodus 24:3). But God, thru Moses, also made it
clear that the people would sin against him and as a result be punished
with things like drought, lack of food, war, and locust plagues (see
Deuteronomy chapters 28-29 and the Song of Moses in Deut 32). God also
promised, however, that if they sincerely repented they would once
again enjoy his favor (see Deut 30). This Deuteronomistic theology
stands behind Amos 4.

Verse 11 makes reference to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomor’rah. These two cities are the quintessential symbols of evil and of God’s subsequent punishment. Genesis 19 says that God overthrew
these cities. This same word is used by Amos in verse 11. It means
literally “turned upside down” and is an obivious reference to an
earthquake (see Amos 1:1). The image of a brand plucked from the fire suggests that even though God showed mercy towards the unrepentant -even this did not move the people to repent. So God says:

Vs
12 “So now I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel! and since I
will deal thus with you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel:
Vs 13
Him who formed the mountains and created the winds, and declares to man
his thoughts; who made the dawn and the darkness, and strides upon the
heights of the earth: the Lord, the God of Hosts by name.” (New
American Bible)

Having punished them in the past he will now do it again.

The words prepare to meet your God caps the irony and sarcasm begun in verse 4. The people Come to Gilgal and Bethel and worship God falsely. This is not a return to
God. Having failed to come and meet the merciful God of the covenant as
repentant sinners they must now prepare to meet the covenant God of
justice.

Also, the Hebrew verb translated as prepare is used elsewhere in the bible for the preparation of a sacrifice (Ezra 3:3); and the verb translated as to meet
is often used in reference to prayer(the verb can be translated as
“call upon,” or “invoke.” See Gen 12:8; Psalm 79:6; Jer 10:25). The
people had sought God thru illegitimate sacrifice and prayer and now
they’re going to meet him; but not in a way they expected or wanted.

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