Cows of Bashan

“Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say unto their lords, ‘Bring, and let us drink.’
The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that they shall take you away with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every one straight before her; and ye shall cast yourselves into Harmon,” saith the LORD (Amos 4:1-3).

Amos does not have many kind words for those who were comfortable and wealthy in Israel. The women are no exception.

He begins by calling them “kine,” or cows, of Bashan (Amos 4:1). Bashan is in the northeastern part of Israel across the Jordan, around the Golan area today (cf. Deuteronomy 4:43), and was famous for its pastureland and timber (Jeremiah 50:14, Ezekiel 27:6, 39:18, Micah 7:14). These “cows of Bashan” actually live in Samaria, and so the reference is clearly derogatory: these women are those who “graze” upon the best of the land. It was not a pleasant reference, and it was not meant to be; women have never taken kindly to being compared with cows.

Amos’ accusation is quite specific: these women have oppressed the poor and crushed the needy while demanding more drink from their husbands (Amos 4:1). They enjoy their wealth and prosperity today, but Amos warns them about the days to come when they will be thoroughly humiliated and denigrated: every last one of them will be carried off as exiles (Amos 4:2-3). God has sworn by His holiness that it will take place; it has been firmly decreed; it will not be revoked (Amos 4:2; cf. Hebrews 6:13). Within 50 years of Amos’ prediction, it did come to pass: Assyria overran Israel, and its inhabitants were exiled to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-41).

We do well to reflect a moment about Amos’ condemnation of the noblewomen of Samaria. He accuses them of oppressing the poor and crushing the needy, and yet it is hard to imagine that any of these women were ever out on the streets actively harming the poor or needy. They would not have engaged in business dealings, court bribery, adaptation of laws to benefit the rich and further impoverishing the poor, or other such behaviors promoting injustice and oppression. Their husbands were the ones doing so! But what was at least part of the reason behind why their husbands, the lords and nobles of Israel, behaved this way? They had the lifestyles of their wives to support; they continually demanded food, drink, and other luxurious items. Their lifestyle was supported on the backs of the poor and needy among them, and so they fall under the same condemnation as their husbands. They stand condemned for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy because they were indirect “beneficiaries” of the proceeds which came as a result of those behaviors.

Most people today are not actively, consciously, and deliberately going out to oppress the poor and crush the needy. Even if we do pass by a lot of homeless people, we might give a little something to a few that seem worthy. Most people give at least a little something to charity, even if it is some promotion at the grocery store or large retailer. Therefore, it would be very easy for most people to not take the charge of oppressing the poor or crushing the needy very seriously.

Yet Amos and his condemnation of the “cows of Bashan,” the noblewomen of Samaria, should give us pause. God does not condemn only those who actively work to oppress the poor and crush the needy, but also those who benefit or have their lifestyles financed by the oppression of the poor and the crushing of the needy! As in Israel, many times government is used by some to reinforce their advantage against others; in some cases, those whose family, friends, or tribe make up the government get the advantages to the detriment of everyone else. Yet this is not just a problem in other places: how much of our lifestyle is subsidized by cheap labor in other places? Workers in other countries are subjected to horrendous, often inhumane conditions, in order to make the products we buy at prices we feel comfortable paying. Their wages would never make it in America, and often barely make it where they live; some are imprisoned and making such products in forced labor camps; meanwhile, how many Americans have lost jobs and find themselves impoverished because their jobs were shipped overseas on account of lower labor costs? With every product there is a cost; the constant pursuit of lower prices hurts people in plenty of places. Multinational corporations exploit legal loopholes and often participate in illegal behavior if it produces sufficient profit; the stock price may go up, but people are harmed in the process. How many times have some governments or companies extracted minerals or other valuable commodities from the land, share the profits with themselves and their owners and shareholders, and disband or look away when it becomes clear that there are lots of environmental costs which are now passed along to the inhabitants of the area? Some people over the short-term made some money; generations living on that land may suffer the consequences.

The noblewomen of Samaria stood condemned for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy even though it was their husbands who actively engaged in that behavior. Their condemnation was secured because they were the beneficiaries of the immoral and unjust behavior. God judged them speedily; they did not escape. We live in a different time and under a different covenant, but God has no less concern for the poor, disadvantaged, and needy (Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:1-7, 5:1-6). If we indirectly benefit from oppressive behavior, will we escape the same punishment? Let us stand against oppression and injustice in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, and seek the welfare of all people, near and far, and live in such a way that our lifestyles are not sustained to the detriment of the poor or needy in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Where is the God of Justice?

Ye have wearied the LORD with your words.
Yet ye say, “Wherein have we wearied him?”
In that ye say, “Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them;” or, “where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17).

The evils and inequalities of life can pose a quandary for people who believe strongly that there is a God and that He loves and cares for His creation. When oppression takes place and injustice seems to rule the day, it is easy to start wondering where the God of justice went! Probably not a few people have turned to Deism in order to make some sense, at least in their own minds, of how it could be that God could create the universe and then allow such things to happen– instead of trusting that God will right the wrong, it is easier to believe that God is an absentee landlord.

Undoubtedly Israel in the days of Malachi wondered whether God was an absentee landlord. It would be quite easy to interpret their statements in Malachi 2:17 as rebellion but they are most likely the result of frustration and despair. They say such things not because they do not believe in God but precisely because they do believe in God and do believe in the promises God made to their forefathers.

What they do not understand is how God can be the God of justice and lovingkindness and allow what was happening to continue. These Jews had their faults and failings– but they were not as guilty as their fathers. They had not established idols of all the gods of the nations around them as their fathers had done. And yet while their fathers lived in a free and independent Israel with their own king, they remain under the hand of the Persian authorities and Persian taxes. How was that just? How was that fair? How could God allow them to remain under the hand of a foreign authority when they were acting more faithfully than their fathers who were free? Where was God in all of this, anyway?

The Jews also perceive how the ways of the wicked, at least for the time being, were prosperous. They had read in the Law and the Prophets how blessings come to those who obey God and curses to those who act wickedly (e.g. Leviticus 26:1-46, Jeremiah 7:1-15). The Psalms and Proverbs are full of such statements (e.g. Psalm 1:6, Psalm 37:17, Psalm 75:10, Proverbs 3:33, Proverbs 10:6). Yet, in the eyes of the Jews, those who were righteous were not gaining favor, but the wicked were increasing and prosperous. In bitterness they declare that God must now be siding with the wicked– how else could they be so successful?

The Jews, however, are not right in this, no matter how justified they might have felt in their despair and criticism. They are wearying God with these words and these ideas. Malachi goes on to promise the day of God’s coming, a day of refining and purification, and it will be painful (Malachi 3:1-6). The message is evident: God is paying attention. God sees what is going on. God remains the God of justice. God does not take pleasure in the sinfulness of the wicked. Yet God is patient, and shall accomplish His will in His good time.

We would do well to learn the same lesson. It is easy to get impatient and impetuous and wonder where the God of justice has gone. One could easily despair and wonder if God is in fact prospering the wicked. But such would be wearisome and unprofitable– God is still here, and God has no pleasure in the sinfulness of the wicked (1 Peter 3:12). God also takes no pleasure in any injustice, especially injustice perpetrated against His elect (cf. Luke 18:1-8). Nevertheless, God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is patient when we would be impatient (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). His concept of time is far different from our own (2 Peter 3:8). When God acts, it will be done mightily, and we will be ashamed of ourselves if we wearied God with these types of words– we will see His justice vindicated, and righteousness fully established (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13). The righteous will be refined as silver (1 Peter 1:6-9); the wicked will perish (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Let us not fear or be distressed. The God of justice has not abandoned His creation. He is paying attention. He will render to each one according to His works. Let us therefore serve Him while we still can, fully confident in His presence and justice, and be prepared for the ultimate Day of the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry