By Robert Olsen, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
TURN TO GOD
As a prophet of God, Amos was required to state God’s message, and in Chapter 4, he reveals God’s judgment upon the northern kingdom. His first criticism is aimed at the wealthy women of Israel, whom he calls cows of Bashan. These women were wealthy and healthy, just as the cows were in this fertile region. However, these women were wealthy because of their exploitation of the poor and needy.
God always expresses His care for the poor, and these women were taking advantage of their place in society by oppressing those beneath them. God states these women will be punished for their behavior and explains they will be taken away with fishhooks. Many ancient armies would take their captives back to their homeland by putting fishhooks in the captives’ lips or noses. Connecting the captives by rope created a line of captives who were virtually unable to run away. It was painful and embarrassing. This is exactly what happened to the northern kingdom when it was taken by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
After detailing what would happen to the oppressive women of Israel, Amos mocks the worship of the Israelites by calling it “sin.” He tells them to go to Bethel and Gilgal, two sites where worship took place, and to bring their tithes and offerings. Only these tithes and offerings were not true worship. They were sinful.
The people were sacrificing and bringing tithes, but not for the right reason. Instead of truly worshipping God, they were doing it for show. They were giving more than was required, but they were doing it to show off their wealth and “righteousness.”
When we read the Gospels, we see Jesus dealing with the same issue. For example, in Mark 12:41–44, Jesus reveals that the poor woman who gave only two small coins gave more than the rich people who gave larger sums of money because God knew her heart. Worship is always a matter of the heart. If we worship — singing, reading Scripture, giving — without the right intention, God judges it as meaningless.
Despite the impending judgment, God, through Amos, showed all the ways He had tried to get Israel’s attention. While God is indeed holy and must punish sin, He is also loving and desires His people to return to Him. He had brought famine, plagues, invading insects to eat the crops, drought and more.
All of these judgments God brought on the Israelites so they would repent and turn back to God, but they refused.
God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:7), and we need to be mindful of God’s discipline in our lives. It is easy for us to look at these people in the Old Testament and think about how foolish they were and how blind to what God was trying to do in their lives, but we are often guilty of the same. When bad things happen to us or around us, instead of blaming God for our misfortunes, we should pray and see how God is using those experiences for our sanctification.
Because the Israelites did not repent, God was bringing judgment, ultimately in the form of exile. God’s patience is not endless. There will come a time when He will bring judgment. As Christians this reminds us we need to always be repenting of sin. As the Church we are Christ’s bride, and we need to live as such. Christians living in sin are on a dangerous path.
God’s judgment is coming on the unbeliever as well, and this reminds us we need to be living out the gospel. We need to preach the gospel to a lost and dying world so people can see their need for a Savior, come to Christ and thereby be saved. Otherwise they will face God’s eternal judgment in the form of eternal separation in hell.