As we begin the fourth chapter of Amos, I’m reminded of growing up on a farm. Namely, raising cattle.
“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!”’
Again, God is talking to those in “the high places of watch mountain,” Samaria, and Bashan means “fruitful,” so specifically those who have grown fat on the good of the land. But this is far from a term of endearment.
First of all, God is calling them all cows. Not bulls, or even steers. I don’t know a woman who appreciates being called a “cow,” but it is especially insulting to a Hebrew man. The message is, you have missed the mark. You have not served the purpose for which I created you.
Cows are single-minded creatures. Basically, they follow the food. If you feed a herd once, you don’t need grain or hay to attract them again. Your very presence will draw them because they associate you with food. I’ve often watched a herd come running when my grandpa approached the fence empty-handed. Just the idea of food made them come. And, when feeding time is postponed, cows will raise such a stink, you’d think they were starving to death! They stand at the fence and bawl, “Feed me! Feed me!”
The Husbands, in the above verse is referring to the ones who do the feeding. The “herdsman” or “masters.”
Eating will often take precedence over their own off-spring. Calves learn quickly to keep up if they want to stay with their own food supply.
This single-mindedness makes them extremely uncompassionate. If there is a cow among them that is sickly or injured, they will run right over it to get to the food. Some will attack the weak, while others simply crowd them out. Filling their own stomachs is all that matters to them.
So it is with people who focus on their own desires, viewing others only as a means to achieve their purposes. Unfortunately, this behavior is seldom seen as negative in people—unless they’re the one being stepped on.
“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.”
The Complete Jewish Bible reads, “You will be dragged away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.” Cows are pretty good at getting themselves caught or tangled up, trying to get to greener pastures, but it takes another party to drag these cows from their fruitful land, Bashan. Hooks refer to something dubious, and fishhooks imply fishermen—and bait. A people focused on their own prosperity are easily deceived.
Now, when the slaughter truck comes to the farm, cows smell death, and will grow fearful and agitated. They’ll bolt and try to get away. But notice what’s happening to these cows. The walls protecting the city have been breached, broken down, yet instead of panicking at the threat, they don’t even look to the left or right. They just follow one another through the breaches—following their stomachs.
Harmon, means “high fortress,” and refers to “a place unknown.” These cows are being led into captivity. They don’t know or even care where.
“‘Come to Bethel and transgress,
At Gilgal multiply transgression;'”
If you remember, Bethel means “house of God,” and Gilgal means “a rolling wheel,” or “whirlwind.” Ironically, these places were the seats of Israel’s idolatry. Now, The Lord covers the spectrum from established houses of worship to fly-by-night religious fads. He tells them to go to their places of worship and literally fill up the measure of their iniquity. The Complete Jewish Bible reads, “Come to Beit-El, and commit crimes; to Gilgal, and commit more crimes!”
Amos 4:4 cont.
“‘Bring your sacrifices every morning,
Your tithes every three days.'”
To leave no doubt, God tells them how to fill up the measure of their iniquity. The original text reads, “And bring your sacrifices for the morning, your tithes for three days.” The word days, or yome, can mean a literal 24 hours, but can also mean time without end. And the number three signifies divine completeness and perfection, as well as resurrection.
Remember, God is being ironic. He’s saying, “You can perform your righteous works and tithe forever, but it’s all evil to Me, for your hearts are not right with Me!”
“‘Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven,”
It was the peace offering that was to have leaven, not the thanksgiving offering. It signified the peace which is the reward for fulfilling their covenant with God. Leaven could not be offered for The Lord by fire, because leaven is symbolic of sin. The leavened peace offering was to be consumed by those offering it, so the one offering the bread is the one who benefits most.
In other words, “Even your thanksgiving is evil to Me. You may feel good about what you offer to Me, but it is an abomination!”
Amos 4:5, cont.:
“‘Proclaim and announce the freewill offerings;
For this you love,
You children of Israel!’
Says the Lord God.'”
This is the heart of the matter, the root of their sin: to serve and garner glory for themselves. Many Christians get so wrapped up in “their gifts,” “their ministries,” and “their callings,” they lose sight of The Giver of the gifts, The One Who does the calling. Some don’t even wait for God to call them. They take it upon themselves to serve in a position in the Church, thinking they’re doing God’s work.
If you’re tempted to think the word of God to Amos has nothing to do with Christians today, consider this:
2 Timothy 3:1-9:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
“For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”
Does anyone in your church resemble this? I have often heard it said, “If you find a perfect church, it will stop being perfect as soon as you walk in.” In other words, there are no “perfect” churches. To this, I say,
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.”
The enemy would love for us to believe unity in the Church is impossible. This relieves us of our responsibility of dealing with our own short comings. It’s also a lie. Perfect unity of believers was achieved at Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, and again at Pentecost. If fact anywhere The Glory of God has manifested since, you will find unity in the body of believers. And the key to unity, is humility.
God’s anointed priests had to be clean and sanctified in order to minister to The Lord. If we take the robe of righteousness The Lord gives us, yet refuse humble ourselves and submit to His transforming fire, we are guilty of idolatry. We are sacrificing and tithing to our own image in the house of God.
Show me a church that indulges unforgiveness and bitterness, judgment and gossip, and I’ll show to a temple of Ashtaroth. Show me a church that esteems pride over truth, works over relationship, and ease of conscience over the blood of Christ, and I’ll show you a temple of Baal.
These may be harsh words, but the time for ballet slippers has passed. The Lord is calling His warriors from the four corners of the earth. Now is the time for combat boots. The life of the Church hangs in the balance. Only God can fit us for these combat boots, and we can’t be fitted for them while standing on our feet.
If we are to fulfill our purpose as the bearers of the name of Christ, we must humble ourselves before The Lord. We must fall prostrate before Him and cry out for forgiveness and wisdom. Now is the time to serve The Lord our God in Spirit and in Truth—with all our hearts.
2 Timothy 2:19:
“Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.'”
God’s grace and peace be yours,