For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

4:1.  “Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.”

Taylor translates this verse, “Listen to me, you “fat cows” of Bashan living in Samaria - you women who encourage your husbands to rob the poor and crush the needy - you who never have enough to drink!”

Because of Bashan’s rich pastures, the cattle from that region were renowned, and if Taylor’s translation is correct, then under the figure of these cattle, God addresses the wives of those who were rich through oppression of the poor.  Their husbands’ ill-gotten wealth supplied these proud pampered pleasure-loving women with every luxury that the heart could desire.  Since wine is a biblical symbol of pleasure - good or bad - their demand for wine or liquor may be also metaphoric, pointing to their inordinate love of pleasure.

If this interpretation is correct, then none will have difficulty seeing in these sleek pleasure-loving “cows of Bashan” a picture, not only of the rich women of Israel, but of their modern day counterparts, many of them prominent in the activities of Christendom’s “churches.”  The warnings pronounced by Amos come across the ages with no less clarity to the women of apostate Christendom and of our whole modern world; but as it was with the women of Israel, so is it with their modern day counterparts.  They too are too busy with this world’s pleasures to listen, and when on a rare occasion they do hear, their response is to mock.

It is necessary to point out, however, that some understand the “cows” to be a disdainful reference to the effeminacy of the rich men themselves, and it is very possible that this may indeed be the correct interpretation, and certainly it doesn’t change in any way the import of the message, nor its application to present day society.

Those who accept this latter interpretation point to the fact that the word for “husbands” is not the common Hebrew word for husbands, but rather for “lord” or “master”; and that “bring” is singular in the original, indicating that “masters” should also be singular, referring to the master of the rich men, i.e., the king.  The demand for wine is understood to relate to the fact that the rich men and the king often caroused together.

4:2.  “The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.”

The certainty of the coming judgment is declared in the Lord’s swearing by His own holiness.  What He threatens will come to pass, as history attests, for in just a few years they were indeed led off like cattle by the Assyrians.

The reference to hooks may be based on the practice of inserting a ring in the nose of a bull or cow, and then tying a rope to the ring to lead the animal.  The pain caused by resistance made control of the creature much easier.  The lesson is clear.  There would be no resisting the will of the conqueror.

The mention of fishhooks is probably also figurative.  As the fish, once hooked, couldn’t escape, neither would it be possible for the Israelites to escape from their captors. 

For the literal use of hooks in leading captives, see the next verse.

“Posterity” is more accurately translated “your residue” or “the last of you.”  The reference is not to a future generation, but to the very last one of that present wicked generation.

4:3.  “And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the Lord.”

The breaches in the walls would be so many that the captives would be led straight out through them instead of through the main gate of the city.  Still describing them as cows, God focuses attention on the contrast between their present state and that which would be theirs when they became captives of the Assyrians.  They would be as mere cattle in the eyes of their captors.

“... and ye shall cast them into the palace....”  Having seen no better explanation of this phrase than that given in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, I quote it in full, “Once outside they would be fastened to ropes with hooks for a single-file march into Assyrian exile.  Those who balked or refused to be led away would be forcibly snagged with large harpoons or fishhooks, much like fish pierced together and jerked over one’s shoulder to be carried to market.  Yanked in such manner, they eventually would be cast out as corpses as the march neared Harmon .... “Harmon” may refer to Hermon, a mountain at the northern tip of the Bashan region on the way to Assyria.  If so, an awful irony would attach to their fate: the “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1) would end as carrion in Bashan!”

The word which the KJV translates as “palace” is simply transliterated in some other versions as Harmon, the location of which is unknown.

4:4.  “Come to Bethel and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:”

Sadly, the places once associated with the obedient gatherings and worship of Israel had now become the principal centers of idolatry.

The Lord, in mocking irony, tells them to continue their hypocritical “worship” at Bethel where the golden calf had been set up, and at Gilgal which had also become a center of idolatry.  They might as well continue the travesty which angered Him, for nothing they might do now could avert His righteous judgment.  They had already exhausted His patience, and crossed the invisible line which separates His mercy from His wrath.

“... tithes after three years” probably refers to the command given in Dt 14:28-29, “At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: and the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand....” 

Some translations render the “three years” as “three days,” so that the literal statement might be rendered “Even if you brought the prescribed tithe every third day instead of every third year, etc.”

They continued to observe the empty religious ritual, deluding themselves that observance of the mere outward form was sufficient to guarantee Jehovah’s blessing.  Someone has commented on the ominous absence of any mention of the sin or trespass offering, the ones they really needed to present.

Apostate Christianity engages in the same travesty, and labors under the same delusion; but her punishment is no less certain than was that of Israel.

4:5.  “And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord God.”

Some have taken “with leaven” to mean that they were departing from the authorized order, but it is to be noted that while leaven was excluded from most of the offerings, it was authorized when the Peace offering was being presented for a thanksgiving, see Le 7:13, “Besides the (unleavened) cakes, he shall offer for his offering leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offerings.”

The fact is, they were punctilious relative to the outward form of worship.  What made their offerings an abomination to God was that with them the only thing that mattered was the observance of the mere outward form.  God Himself meant nothing more to them than did any of the other gods they also worshiped.  To them He was just another of those many gods.

“... proclaim and publish the free offerings,” was God’s denunciation of their practice of making sure that everyone knew how much they were giving as freewill offerings.  Their later day counterparts were also rebuked by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself for the very same ostentation, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them ... when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.... But when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly,” Mt 6:1-4.

“... for this liketh you,” is literally, “This is what you love to do.”  They loved the adulation of those who witnessed the parade of their “generosity.”

What made their ostentatious hypocritical presentation of the free will offerings so abominable in God’s sight was the fact that such offerings were meant to be the voluntary expression of the genuine love of the offerer for God.

Little has changed since then.  The same proud spirit governs much of Christendom - and will receive the same recompense: God’s denunciation and punishment.

4:6.  “And I also have given you cleanness of teeth (famine) in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.”

Had they remembered God’s word they would have known that famine was a sure sign of His displeasure, for He had warned them of this in Le 26:26; Dt 28:17, and 1 Ki 8:37-40.  But they had forgotten His word, with the result that the famine went unrecognized as the sign of His anger in response to their sin,as it is written, “For God speaketh once, yea twice, but man perceiveth it not,” Job 33:14.

Many times, by the same means: famine, He has sought to turn the men of this present age back to Himself, but with the same result: blind eyes have failed to see His hand; deaf ears, to hear His voice, and the result is that they too are plunging on to foretold doom.

4:7.  “And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.”

Drought had been another device by which He had sought to turn the people back to Himself, but with no more success than when He had used famine; yet the very fact of His having made the drought selective - sending rain upon one city, and not on another - ought to have awakened them to the fact that this was no mere chance occurrence, but the direct act of God in chastisement, see Le 26:19; Dt 28:23-24, and 1 Ki 8:35-36. 

And so also has it been with today’s world.  There has been drought in many places, but as with famine, only a rare individual has recognized it as the voice of God calling men to the genuine repentance which alone can save them from eternal judgment.

4:8.  “So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.”

In the midst of drought the people had made every effort to find water in other places, but with scant success, failing to understand that all they had to do was to repent, confess their sin, and He Who commands the rain would have opened the heavens to give more than was needed.  Nor has it been different in drought-stricken areas of today’s world.  Very few see in the drought God’s response to sin; and still fewer believe that repentant confession is all that is needed to end the drought and bring His blessing.  Such a world is plunging recklessly in the footsteps of rebellious Israel toward judgment.

4:9.  “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.”

Like the previous judgments, these too had been foretold, see Le 26:20; Dt 28:18,22,30, and 1 Ki 8:37.  Blasting was the result of excessive heat; mildew, of too much moisture; but the one was as useless as the other to catch the attention of the rebellious people, and turn them back to God.  Nor was it any different when He increased the fruit of their fields and gardens, and then sent the palmerworm (locust?) to denude those same fields and gardens.  Their sin-blinded eyes, darkened minds, and seared consciences rendered them impervious to every Divine overture.  Nothing would turn them aside from the road to ruin.

Today’s rebels are equally unwilling to yield any response to God, so that they too pursue the path to destruction.

4:10.  “I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.”

Plagues similar to those with which He had afflicted the Egyptians; wars that had brought death to their young men, and to the horses in which they had placed so much trust; slaughter so great in their military camps that they reeked with the stench of the unburied dead - all alike had failed to produce repentance.  Instead of recognizing that these calamities had been foretold, see Le 26:16,17,25; Dt 28:21,25-27,49-50, and 1 Ki 8:33, and had come because of their sin, they apparently simply regarded them as facts of life, and not the voice of God calling them to repentance.

Nor has today’s world been any different.  The very same disasters have been viewed in the same light, and with the same results - they have failed to turn the people back to God in repentance.  For today’s sinful, unheeding world, as for Israel of old, there are coming the still more terrible judgments of the Tribulation era which will cause all past disasters to pale into comparative insignificance, as they reduce the whole structure of society to ruins.

4:11.  “I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.”

Specific catastrophes similar to those which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, are unknown, but their being recorded here as historic realities leaves no doubt of their having occurred, nor any doubt that those addressed by Amos were familiar with them.  Some believe the reference to be to earthquakes.  Those who had survived those judgments - and clearly those addressed were they - were likened to burning sticks that had been plucked out of a fire, and thus had been saved from burning, i.e., being also destroyed.  Neither the destruction of their fellows, nor their own deliverance, however, had effected any change in them: they had continued in brazen rebellion against God.

4:12.  “Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”

That wicked generation which had been graciously preserved through all the judgments listed, but having failed to repent of and forsake their sin, had simply plunged deeper and deeper into iniquity; and now, having exhausted God’s patience, were about to be destroyed.

Apostate Christianity, and the rest of today’s world, having compounded their sin by ignoring the lesson of Israel’s fate, are also about to become the objects of God’s destructive judgments in the impending Tribulation era.

This verse is frequently used in the gospel, and certainly it may be used for that purpose, but the preacher should make it clear that he is making an application of it, and that in proper context it is a message of irrevocable doom to a people who had exhausted God’s patience, and for whom there was therefore no longer any hope of national salvation.  A few believing individuals might be saved, but the nation was doomed.

The nature of the threatened final judgment isn’t revealed.  It may have been the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities; the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70; or the terrible Tribulation judgments of which those mentioned are but the precursors.  The latter seem the most likely, for they will conclude with the judgment of the nations which will result in the consignment of all unbelievers - Jews and Gentiles alike - into hell, and the invitation to the remainder - believing Jews and Gentiles - to enter into the enjoyment of the blessings of the millennial kingdom.

Beyond its immediate application to the Israel addressed by Amos, the command, “Prepare to meet thy God,” is one that applies to every man, believer and unbeliever alike, for we who believe should remember that we must appear at the judgment seat of Christ for the review of our service, and the bestowal of reward proportionate to the faithfulness of our service, 2 Cor 5:10, while every unbeliever will be arraigned before Him at the great white throne for the assessment of the degree of punishment to be endured eternally in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire, Re 20:11-15.

4:13.  “For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord, The God of hosts, is his name.”

Having cataloged His failed efforts to bring them to repentance so that they might be blessed, Jehovah now proceeds to remind them that His coming judgments are no idle threats: what He has promised to do He has the power to execute.  He is the Creator Who has brought the universe into existence simply by commanding it to be, see Ps 33:6-9, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.  He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.  Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.  For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.”

His failure to bring Israel to repentance is not to be attributed to lack of power, but to the fact that in His sovereignty He has given man a free will, and the freedom to choose life or death for his soul.  But He has placed a limit on the time during which man can make that choice, and once he crosses over the invisible line separating the time of God’s permissive will from that of His directive will, the power of choice ends.  What man has chosen within that time of free willed choice then becomes irrevocable: he remains a believer who will live for ever in heaven, or an unbeliever who will exist, also for ever, in the torment of the lake of fire.

Jehovah, having given a few evidences of His omnipotence, then concludes this section by declaring His name, “The Lord, the God of hosts (armies).”  The man who chooses to make God his enemy is guilty of consummate folly, for he thereby chooses the lake of fire as his eternal dwelling place.

While the words, “and declareth unto man what is his thought,” are taken by a few to mean that God can tell man what he (man) is thinking, the majority of expositors take it to mean that God has revealed His thoughts to men for their instruction and warning.  If the explicit revelation given Israel through Amos placed them under responsibility to obey or perish, how much greater is man’s responsibility today! because two thousand years ago God revealed Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is written, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last day spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high....” Heb 1:1-3.

[Amos 5]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough