posted on Nov, 20 2015 @ 05:02 PM
“Thus says the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (Amos ch2 v6).
“Three or four transgressions” begins to look like a very modest assessment, when Amos lays out the whole indictment.
The first charge is “they sell the righteous for silver, the needy for a pair of shoes”.
This gets repeated later, so perhaps it was becoming a popular proverb.
This may be about the bribes received by corrupt judges, so that poor people would lose their pleas or suffer false accusations.
This would be one of the ways that men would “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth”.
They also affront God more directly;
“A man and his father go into the same maiden, so that my holy name is profaned” (v7).
We can’t understand the objection to this without consulting what the Law says about incest.
When the Law says “None of you shall approach any one near of kin to him to uncover nakedness”, this includes not just the relatives themselves,
but also the wives of relatives. It is a kind of incest to uncover the nakedness of a brother’s wife, because “she is your brother’s
nakedness”. The same applies to the wives of sons and fathers (Leviticus ch18).
What Amos means here is that the act is just as incestuous even if the woman is not formally the relative’s wife. Even, perhaps, if she’s a
When father and son lie with the same woman, it’s a breach of the incest laws, an offence against the forms of true marriage.
That makes it an offence against the Lord, who takes marriage issues personally.
Not content with affronting their God and exploiting the poor, they find ways of doing both at the same time.
They “lay themselves down beside every altar (“with a woman”, understood), and they do so in garments which they have taken as debt-pledges.
They get drunk in the house of God, and they do so with wine which has been taken as a fine imposed by a court (v8).
They “turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth”, finding innocent people guilty (ch5 v7)
They take exactions of wheat from the poor, but they turn aside the needy from the gate (ch5 vv11-12).
Another kind of “trampling of the poor” comes from the traders, who are impatient for the feast or the Sabbath to come to an end, so that they can
go back to work and start cheating people again;
“…that we may make the ephah small [for measuring the produce] and the shekel great [for measuring the customer’s money], and deal deceitfully
with false balances, and sell the refuse of the wheat” (ch8 vv5-6).
Those who exploit the poor can become the idle rich, able to move between summer and winter houses, filled with ivory (ch3 v15).
“Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the
Who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music;
Who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (ch6 vv4-6)
There’s also a special word for “the cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria” (ch4 v1).
We might wonder why they are called “of Bashan”, which is a completely different mountain.
But the “bulls of Bashan” were a famous breed, because of the good pasture found in the area;
“Many bulls encompass me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion” (Psalm 22 vv12-13).
So the point of calling these ladies “cows of Bashan” will be that they are well-fed, strong and formidable.
Their customary appeal to their husbands is “Bring, that we may drink!” (ch4 v1)
They are just as guilty of oppressing the poor and crushing the needy.
In modern times, “attacking the rich” sounds political, and these passages become material for political sermons.
So I should point out that the prophet’s interests here are not political.
There is no suggestion that anything will be achieved by “changing the structure of society”, by imposing laws on the rich or getting rid of them
The wealthy are not in the wrong because they are wealthy, but because they gained their wealth dishonestly, and hold it with pride.
They exploit and neglect the poor, and think themselves independent of their God.
It’s a question of attitude, which could only be remedied if they were willing to heed the prophet’s warnings and change their own characters.
These faults undermine the value of their worship.
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and your cereal offerings, I will not accept them...
Take away from me the noise of songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream “(ch5 vv21-24).
These offerings are not wrong in themselves. They have a certain symbolic value, because they are acknowledging the God of Israel as Creator and
But they are not so valuable that they can serve to replace justice, and therefore they are not acceptable in the absence of justice.
Thus the prophet is not rejecting sacrifice altogether
when he drops into sarcasm;
“ Come to Bethel and transgress…
Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days…
For so you love to do, O people of Israel” (ch4 vv4-5).
The point is that the Lord cannot respect their sacrifices and tithes, because they are combining them with transgressions.
The fault which crowns the rest, because it prevents any amendment, is that they will not listen to rebuke or respect those who try to set them
“They hate him who reproves in the [city] gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth” (ch5 v10).
“I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites…
But you made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying ‘Do not prophesy’”.
Amos knows this from experience, of course, because the priest Amaziah wanted to bar him from speaking at the sanctuary at Bethel.
The Lord has said that he will “not revoke the punishment” of all these transgressions.
There is also a message here for all those in later times who understand themselves to be part of God’s people.
It serves as a warning that that their confidence in their status should not cause them to relax into complacency.