Amos 4

After reading the last couple of chapters of Amos, maybe you’re thinking that God’s being a little harsh? One warning, followed by total destruction. But that’s not the full picture. In chapter 4, Amos goes on to hint at some of the reasons Israel was being judged (there’s much more detail from chapter 5 onwards, as we’ll see next week), as well as a recounting of all the warnings they’ve had in recent memory.

Amos 4:1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

Back to his tactful best. Amos calls out the wealthy women of Israel for pressuring their husbands to bring them yet more wealth – at the expense of the poor.

Pause for thought: we might decry the exploitation of workers in overseas sweatshops by multinational corporations, but do we contribute to the pressure on them to supply ever-cheaper goods? Are we really prepared to pay extra? Or are we happy to benefit from the exploitation while convincing ourselves that we’re not the ones directly doing it.

So what’s going to happen to these “cows of Bashan”?

Amos 4:2-3 The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
declares the Lord.

Images of the exile (which happened in 722BC). Exploit, and God will allow the tables to be turned on you.

Amos 4:4-5 “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.

Despite their oppression of the poor, these wealthy Israelites carried on doing their religious stuff like nothing was wrong. (Bethel and Gilgal were two locations where the northern tribes had set up altars.) In fact, they were boasting about how religious they were, while neglecting the very heart of what it meant to be the people of God.

Pause for thought: do we sometimes go through the motions of our “rituals” as a way of convincing ourselves our behaviour doesn’t need to be examined? Doing the weekly church thing, serving in ministry, etc. – can be a way of avoiding the voice of God calling us back to obedience.

So how had God warned them in the past? Well, the very ways he said he’d warn them back in Deuteronomy 28 (among other places).

Deut 28:16 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

God even warns about the warnings! Have a listen, firstly to Deuteronomy:

Deut 28:22-24 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

So God had laid out the penalty for idolatry: drought, blight, mildew, etc. (And therefore famine.) He’d withhold the bounty of the promised land, and its milk-and-honey-on-tap,  until they returned to him. And, in recent memory, God had done this to Israel, says Amos:

Amos 4:6-9 “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.
“I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away.
I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another.
One field had rain; another had none and dried up.
People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.
“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

But it’s not just the food supply that gets messed with. Back to Deuteronomy:

Deut 28:25-29 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you. 

Military defeat? Dead bodies of your army stinking up the campsite? Plagues like those that happened Egypt (boils, darkness)? Check, check, and check, says Amos:

Amos 4:10 I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt.
I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses.
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

And if you read on in Deuteronomy 28, it talks of being carried off into exile and mistreated by foreigners, etc. But you get the idea. (And, presumably, so did Amos’s audience.) They’d been warned about the warnings before they entered the promised land. Then the warnings had happened, but they hadn’t returned to God. In the end, all that remained was judgement:

Amos 4:12-13 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God.”
He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind,
and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Some of the scariest words in Scripture. “Prepare to meet your God.”

To think about

How might these warnings apply – by way of analogy – to us today?

How might they no longer apply, in light of Christ?

Post responses and questions

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