IN SOME WAYS AMOS 4 follows on very naturally from Amos 3. God has said that the warnings of the prophets are linked with real dangers (Amos 3:7-8). Now he highlights some of the sins that have evoked his warnings (Amos 4:1-5) and explains some of the warnings themselves and what they mean for the future if they are not taken to heart (Amos 4:6-13).
(1) The first warning is to the wealthy women of Israel (Amos 4:1-3), derogatorily described as “cows of Bashan”—proverbial for being well-fed, fat, and lazy, rather than lean and tough. These women have used their wealth and position to “oppress the poor and crush the needy” (Amos 4:1). The one-line vignette is devastating: they say to their husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” (Amos 4:1). This conjures up a picture of spoiled matrons, peremptory, decadent, interested only in being served and never in serving, lording it over their husbands, swilling down their boredoms in booze. So the Sovereign Lord swears “by his holiness” (Amos 4:2), which is akin to saying that he swears by himself, and thus by that which is immutable and than which there is nothing and no one greater. He swears that he will drag them away with hooks and chains into captivity, humiliated and degraded, in pain amid the rubble of their city (Amos 4:2-3).
(2) In the last half of the preceding chapter (Amos 3:9-15), God hammered away at three disgusting features of national life: social oppression, self-indulgence, and corrupt religion. The first two are enlarged upon in the first three verses of chapter 4, as we have just seen. The third, corrupt religion, is now treated with fine prophetic scorn (Amos 4:4-5). “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more”—the equivalent of saying, “Go to Canterbury and sin; go to Baptist headquarters and sin yet more.” (Fill in your own denominational mecca!) The place where, historically, Israel faithfully offered stipulated sacrifices (before the temple took precedence) are still places of sacrifice, but are now characterized by fine aesthetics, religious enthusiasm, and lots of bragging. Where are contrition and the broken spirit (cf. Ps. 51:17)?
(3) In the following verses (Amos 4:6-13) God reviews some of the temporal judgments he has imposed on the people at various times as warnings of much greater judgment to come. These warnings proved ineffective: witness the dreadful refrain, “ '[Y]et you have not returned to me,’ declares the LORD” (Amos 4:8, 9, 10, 11). Therefore the God of Israel will meet them (Amos 4:12)—he will meet them, all right, not in the glory of theophany but in the terror of judgment.