by Francis Foulkes ©


"Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, "Bring, that we may drink!" The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fish-hooks. And you shall go out through the breaches, every one straight before her; and you shall be cast forth into Harmon," says the Lord. "Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, 0 people of Israel!" says the Lord God.' (4:1-5)

We saw at the end of chapter 3 that Amos not only predicted that God's judgment would come on Israel, but also where it would come first - on the religious ritual of Bethel and on the rich houses of the people. Here he has more to say about religion and riches in Israel, and the way that God saw them.

a. The rich women of Samaria

We need to remember that Amos was a man of the land, a shepherd from Tekoa in the south. He may have travelled to Bashan, the rich farming country further north and to the east of the river Jordan. At least he knew about the cattle of Bashan, fat and fierce as they were (see Deuteronomy 32:14, Psalm 22:12, Ezekiel 39:18). When he saw the rich women of Samaria, he thought of the cows of Bashan and he told them so. They just lay down and enjoyed themselves, feasting on rich food, and calling to their husbands to bring them more wine to drink. They thought of themselves as ladies, but really they were just like animals. They had no human feelings. To the poor they were fierce and cruel. They only wanted to `oppress the poor' and to 'crush the needy', in order to get as much as they could for themselves. Amos had no polite words to say about them, but it was not a time for politeness. He did not want just to abuse them with his words. He wanted them to understand that it was a time for them to see their lazy and luxurious life as God saw it. It was a time for them to realise that the scene would change for them, unless they changed the way they lived.

The Lord their God was a holy God. Sin and injustice were totally against His nature. He would not for ever look on their cruelty to the poor and do nothing about it. So Amos told them, 'The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you . . .' He showed what would happen to them as in another picture of these cows of Bashan, the whole herd in a stampede, rushing for their lives, being driven out through broken walls. They would try to go out 'through the breaches', that is everyone through whatever break or gap in the wall there might be 'straight before her'. But they would not get away. Amos changes the picture now. These fine ladies of Samaria would have hooks stuck into them and they would be carried away as slaves (compare Isaiah 37:29). We know from ancient inscriptions (and see 2 Chronicles 33:11) that this is just what the Assyrians did with those whom they took in battle ; they dragged them by a rope fastened to a hook went through the lower lip. So we can imagine this happening years after Amos had spoken these things. They had refused to take notice of the warning of God's messenger - Therefore they had to suffer the cruel treatment that they had given to others.

b. The vain worship of the sanctuaries

Bethel has been mentioned already (in 3:14) as one of places of worship in Israel. Abraham had an altar and worshipped God there (Genesis 12:8 and 13:3-3). It was there that God had met with Jacob and given him the vision of the ladder between earth and heaven (Genesis 28:10-22) It became a holy place , and when the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, Jeroboam I made it a great centre of worship for the people of Israel (1 Kings 12:25-33). Gilgal was the place where Israel encamped when God wonderfully led the people over the Jordan in the days of Joshua (see Joshua 4:19-24 and 5.10-12), and so it also became a holy place (as we see in 1 Samuel 11:14-15 and 15:21). Thus in the days of Amos Bethel and Gilgal were both important places of worship for the people. Perhaps Amos was copying the way that the priests of these sanctuaries might have called people, Bethel and worship! Come to Gilgal and sacrifice!' But he startled them by crying out, Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression', as if someone to-day were to call, `Come to church, and sin'. Why was it sin to come to worship God at Bethel and Gilgal? The people brought their sacrifices every morning of the festival and the tithe of their goods. They had their sacrifices of thanksgiving and even added 'freewill offerings', more than was expected of them. Why was all this transgression and sin? Because their hearts were far from God. Bitterly Amos commented concerning all their sacrifices and tithes, 'for so you love to do'. They loved all this, but they had no desire to please God; and God had no pleasure in what they did. They liked to 'proclaim' their freewill offerings for everyone to see, and to 'publish' them. Men might praise them, but God did not. (Compare Matthew 6:1-6 and 23:5). The Bible shows repeatedly, Old and New Testaments alike, that coming to a place of worship, making many prayers and offering numberless sacrifices or much money, does not please God at all, if our hearts are far from Him. We cannot bring God to our side, we must come to His. If we have no desire to obey Him and to love our fellow-men, then all the sacrifices and prayers in the world are useless. Amos knew that these people were not right with God, because of what they did to their fellowmen. He saw how they were cruel to the poor, dishonest in their trading, and persistent in taking and giving bribes. Then when he saw them at their worship at Bethel and Gilgal, he knew that the two things did not fit together. One showed the real people that they were; the other was all show, empty and insincere. 'Hear this word' says Amos to the people, and we should hear it too, and think how God sees the difference between what we do in church on Sunday and the way we treat our fellows on the other days of the week.


Lord, help us by Your Holy Spirit that our prayers in private, our worship with your people, and our service and witness in the world, may all be pure and unselfish and to the glory of Your Son Jesus Christ. AMEN.

For further thought and study. How do such passages as Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2 show that faith has to be shown in love and care for others if it is real faith? Consider also how pleasure-seeking and hardness towards others are shown to go together. See Ezekiel 16:49, James 5:1-6 and 1 John 3:17.

2. Compare the way that Jesus showed that people in His day might make a great profession of religion and take great care about the details of worship, and yet find themselves outside the kingdom of God. See Matthew 6:1-6, 7:21-23 and 23:23-36.

Notes. 1. It is difficult to be sure how to translate -the Hebrew words in verse 2. The New English Bible has quite a different translation, 'men shall carry you away on their shields and your children in fish baskets' ; but the Revised Standard Version translation is more probable.

2. It is not known what or where 'Harmon' is, which is mentioned in verse 3. It is perhaps a place to which the people would be taken as captives; it could mean that they would be taken to the 'palace' of the conquering king, as the word for 'palace' in Hebrew is a similar word.

3. There are also difficulties in knowing exactly what verse 4 means. It may give an exaggerated picture of the religious zeal of the people. Though they offered sacrifices every morning and tithes every three days, it would do no good, but it may mean that they offered sacrifices every day of a three-day festival and their tithes on the third morning.

4. Most of the offerings of bread were of unleavened bread in Israelite worship (see Exodus 23:18 and Leviticus 2:4) and so it has sometimes been thought that Amos was showing up a further sin of the people in their offering what was leavened. But leavened bread was sometimes offered (see Leviticus 7:13 and 23:17) and it seems that Amos was not concerned about whether the bread was leavened or unleavened but rather about the spirit of their worship.