Amos 4

Now we’re up on the Golan Heights (as it is known today, a place for artillery shelling of Lebanon). Is Amos talking to cows, or is this more likely a misogynist slur against the rich women of Israel in the north? These are the elite who love and live to shop and consume, in the mal-distribution of wealth. They are world-class – and will suffer world-class humiliation soon enough.

You don’t come and go through gates once the walls of your safe city are breached, but climb through the rubble of the gaps where walls once protected you. These were not immoral or irreligious women, in our terms. They practices lots of religion at the shrines of Gilgal and Bethel. However, they did nothing to honour the ethical imperatives of care for the poor – just moralistic duties of looking good and acting good, rather than doing justice.

The warnings were interruptions in affluence, according to this text. God gave us a couple of ‘lean times’, to tighten our belts, and deal with modest shortages from crop failures. Could we not generalize from the small to the greater? If interest rates to up a couple of points, and welfare payments shrink, are we not moved to reconsider our distributive justice, or imagine prosperity lost?

The greater warnings escalated in a pattern similar to the plagues visited on Egypt in the myth of Exodus. From pestilence to mildew, to harm to young men and communities – how much escalation is enough? We even saw examples that looked a lot like Sodom and Gomorrah, exceptional cases of inequity and abuse of persons, gluttony and excess. When will the frog jump out of the water reaching a boil? Not soon enough, it seems.

Even when you saw some of your own suffering, ‘brands plucked from the fire’ and burning out to charred sticks, rather than being reduced to ashes – you didn’t twig to the warning. How many Black Tuesdays or Enron’s or sub-prime crises would it take? Apparently, more.

“Prepare to meet your God. She’s coming. And she’s black. And she’s pissed.”

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’

2 The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fish-hooks.

3 Through breaches in the wall you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon,* says the LORD.

4 Come to Bethel—and transgress; to Gilgal—and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days;

5 bring a thank-offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! says the Lord GOD.

6 I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.

7 And I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered;

8 so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.

9 I struck you with blight and mildew; I laid waste* your gardens and your vineyards; the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.

10 I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses;* and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.

11 I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a brand snatched from the fire; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.

12 Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!

13 For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!