Amos 4 – “Yet You Have Not Returned to Me”
A. The sinful women of Israel.
1. (1) Amos describes the indulgent women of Israel.
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 wine, let us drink!”
a. You cows of Bashan: Amos wasn’t trained as a prophet, he was a simple herdsman and farmer. When he wanted to get the point across to the indulgent women of Israel, he called them fat cows. The livestock of Bashan – in the northern part of Israel, the modern-day Golan Heights – was known for being fat and healthy.
i. Psalm 22:12 mentions the strong bulls of Bashan; Ezekiel 39:18 mentions the large livestock, the fatlings of Bashan. It’s no exaggeration to say that Amos calls these women “fat cows.” Though it is true that the very skinny ideal of female beauty is a modern phenomenon and especially in ancient times plumpness was a valued sign of affluence, we can count on it that at no time in human history has a woman appreciated being called a fat cow.
ii. “The sarcastic epithet cows of Bashan seems to refer both to the luxury that the wealthy women enjoyed and to a certain voluptuousness and sensuality which their extravagant life-style afforded them.” (Hubbard)
iii. “The prophet here represents the iniquitous, opulent, idle, lazy drones, whether men or women, under the idea of fatted bullocks, which were shortly to be led out to the slaughter.” (Clarke)
b. Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy: It wasn’t that these women were plump and affluent, it was that they gained their wealth and affluence by oppressing and crushing the less fortunate. God saw this and promised to hold them to account.
i. “These women may not have been directly involved in mistreating the poor. But their incessant demands for luxuries drove their husbands to greater injustices.” (McComiskey)
ii. “David complains of the strong bulls of Bashan (Psalm 22:12), but those he might better deal with than these cursed cows of Bashan.” (Trapp)
c. Who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!” It wasn’t that these women were plump and affluent, it was that they used their affluence in the pure, self-focused pursuit of pleasure. God saw this and promised to hold them to account.
2. (2-3) God’s promise of judgment against the women of Israel.
The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,” Says the Lord.
a. The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: This is an exceedingly solemn and sure oath. “When he swore by his holiness in Amos 4:2, he guaranteed that the judgment would become a reality, because the holy God does not lie, nor can his holiness allow sin to go unpunished.” (McComiskey)
b. He will take you away with fishhooks: God tells unrepentant Israel of their coming agony when they are conquered and exiled by the Assyrians. When the Assyrians depopulated and exiled a conquered community, they led the captives away on journeys of hundreds of miles, with the captives naked and attached together with a system of strings and fishhooks pierced through their lower lip. God would make sure they were led in this humiliating manner through the broken walls of their conquered cities. This would thoroughly humble the fat cows of Israel.
B. God’s answer to Israel’s vain sacrifices.
1. (4-5) The vain sacrifices of Israel.
“Come to Bethel and transgress, at Gilgal multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days. Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, proclaim and announce the freewill offerings; for this you love, you children of Israel!” says the Lord God.
a. Come to Bethel and transgress: Because the kings of Israel did not want their people to go to the southern kingdom of Judah and sacrifice at Jerusalem, they set up rival centers of worship in cities like Bethel and Gilgal. The offered sacrifices – supposedly to the Lord – at these places, but because the offering wasn’t made in obedience to God, it was only a transgression.
i. Your tithes every three days: There was a tithe that was to be brought every three years (Deuteronomy 14:28). Amos says, even if you were to bring your tithes every three days it would not matter, because it is all just outward show.
b. Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven: Only one offering in Israel included leaven, the wave offering made on the Day of Pentecost. Here the prophet either refers to this one offering, or to mock their corrupt sacrifices, he suggests they bring an offering polluted by leaven.
c. For this you love: The children of Israel loved their corrupted worship. It was disobedient both in heart and action, but they loved it. It’s always wrong to measure worship by how it pleases us, because it is possible for corrupt and disobedient worship to be “wonderfully” pleasing.
i. Of course, we don’t want to get into the thinking that worship must “hurt” or be “dour” to be holy and acceptable. That isn’t the point. The point is that we don’t first measure worship by how it makes us feel, we measure it by how it honors God.
2. (6-8) God withholds rain from idolatrous Israel.
“Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the Lord. “I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord.”
a. I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities: Because Israel seems have enjoyed financial prosperity when Amos preached, this is probably set in the “prophetic present” – future events spoken of in the present tense. God will so humble prosperous Israel that their clean teeth won’t be made “dirty” by food, because there will be no food to eat in the drought God will send.
b. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city: God made the provision of rain so specific, they would know it was from His hand. Yet the message did not get through to them.
i. “To prove to them that this rain did not come fortuitously or of necessity, God was pleased to make these most evident distinctions. One city had rain, and could fill all its tanks or cisterns, while a neighbouring city had none . . . in these instances a particular providence was most evident.” (Clarke)
c. Yet you have not returned to Me: This is the greatest tragedy. Anyone can stumble into sin and feel the correcting hand of God, but we are in far greater trouble when we feel God’s correction and still will not return to Him.
3. (9-11) Further judgment on idolatrous Israel.
“I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord.
a. I blasted you . . . the locust devoured . . . I sent among you a plague . . . I made the stench of your camps come up: Because Israel would not listen to the chastisement of the Lord, His hand grew more and more heavy upon them.
i. This wasn’t a demonstration of God’s anger, but of His love. He starts His chastisement slow and increases it incrementally, so that He can use the smallest amount of discipline necessary to turn our hearts back to Him. If we will not turn back the hand of chastisement grows heavier and heavier, out of loving desire to see our repentance.
ii. “Blight is the work of the east wind that dries and scorches the grain prematurely so that it turns brown. Mildew is the product of parasitic worms which turn pale the tips of green grain.” (Hubbard)
b. You were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me: God sees Israel as a glowing ember plucked from the fires of judgment, like the same judgment that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah. Even though God spared them, they did not respond in gratitude – they have not returned to God.
4. (12-13) God vows to perform what He has promised.
“Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth; the Lord God of hosts is His name.
a. Prepare to meet your God: This is a sober warning, appropriate for all men at all times, because we never know when we will meet our God in eternity. Because we don’t know when, we must always be prepared to meet our God – but this is especially true for those facing the judgment of God.
i. We can apply this text in three ways:
· Prepare to meet your God as a challenge
· Prepare to meet your God as an invitation
· Prepare to meet your God as a summons
ii. As a challenge, God invites His enemies to prepare to meet Him. A boxer prepares long and hard before stepping into the ring against a champion. If you are going to step into the ring with God, you had better prepare! “The prophet may be understood as in irony challenging the proud rebels to meet in arms the God whom they have despised. Let them prepare to fight it out with him whom they have made to be their enemy, and against whose laws they have so continually revolted.” (Spurgeon)
iii. As an invitation, this is a blessing. The summons, “Prepare to meet your God” was nothing but a blessing to Adam. Ever since the fall it is our nature to hide from God, so the call “Prepare to meet your God” has a different sense entirely. Still, if we will come to God we must prepare ourselves.
iv. As a summons, we recognize that one day all will stand before God and give account. “Think awhile upon who it is that you have to meet! You must meet, your God – your God! That is, offended justice you must meet whose laws you have broken, whose penalties you have ridiculed; justice righteously indignant with its sword drawn you must confront. You must meet your God; that is, you must be examined, by unblinded omniscience. He who has seen your heart, and read your thoughts, and jotted down your affections, and remembered your idle words, you must meet him; and infinite discernment you must meet; those eyes that never yet were duped; the God who will see through the veils of hypocrisy and all the concealments of formality. There will be no making yourself out to be better than you are before him.” (Spurgeon)
b. The Lord God of hosts is His name: God emphasizes the point by emphasizing Whom makes the point, a God we should never trifle with.
· He is the God of all creation (He who forms mountains, and creates the wind)
· He is the God who is absolutely sovereign over man (who declares to man what his thought is)
· He is the God with all power over nature (and makes the morning darkness)
· He is the God who rules above all (who treads the high places of the earth)
© 2001 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission