Amos prophesies against the oppressors of the poor and needy that they will be taken captive (vv. 1-3); the idolaters who continue in the lust of their heart (vv. 4,5); and the unrepentant who will face God’s judgments (vv. 6-13).
The cows of Bashan, that is, the luxury-loving lives of the leading men and women of Israel, have oppressed the poor and the needy crushing them like the cows press and crush the grass (v. 1; see, Ps 22:12). The women forced their husbands into violence and fraud in order to secure means for luxury and debauchery (a classic example, Ahab and his wife Jezebel, 1 Kgs 21:1-16). Further, the women provoked their husbands to join them in their revels. Hence, God who cannot tolerate iniquity forever pledges to avenge Israel’s unholy practices. The wicked are taken as fish caught with hooks, meaning, helpless before their enemies, which are God’s instruments to punish the rebellious (v.2). Their punishment was painful to them as the hook causes pain to the fish and doubly painful when it resists.
Calling Israel to Bethel, the chief seat of their idol worship, Amos mockingly points out how zealous they are to sin by urging them to come there and sin more. “It is sad but often true that those who shamefully violate the simplest moral duties manifest along with this course a great religious zeal. Religious zeal in itself is no evidence of true piety. Further, this outward religious form and exercise often compensates for lack of real inner righteousness and thus soothes the conscience.” (SDABC 4:966). It is easier to sin and then do penance than to crucify the flesh and separate from sin. This will lull the transgressor into complacency.
The prophet points out how God’s displeasure is shown to them in many ways, yet with a desire for them to return to Him, but “they have not returned to Me” (vv. 6, 8, 9, 10, 11). Seven calamities are mentioned to awaken Israel: “Barrenness of teeth” that is, “lack of bread,” from famine (v.6); drought which resulted in extensive failure of crops (vv. 7-8); mildew on gardens and locusts or caterpillars devouring the vineyards and olive trees (v.9); plagues after the manner of Egypt and the killing of young men and horses resulting in stench caused by the unburied carcasses (v.10); and Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like destruction because of their greatness of sin (v.11). Unfortunately, these things did not move Israel. They did not recognize God’s benefits to them by sending warnings for the good of the transgressor. They did not heed God’s warning, and as a result divine judgment is sure. The judgment is not specified except to say, “Prepare to meet your God (v.12), which indicates that meeting God in judgment is more dreadful than so-called natural calamities. By all this, the Lord God of hosts, the Ruler of heaven and earth, calls God’s people to repentance.
Deepati Vara Prasad, Ph.D.
Watchman Publishing House, India