Monday, December 11, 2006

Cows of Bashan?

Back in the ’80s, I had the pleasure of attending a “Walk Thru the Bible” seminar held at our church. There I learned that two Old Testament books were written by prophets sent to the ten northern tribes of Israel (sometimes referred to as “Ephraim”). The northern tribes just laughed at them — “HA HA” — which is a mnemonic device to remember the initials of those two prophets: “H” is for Hosea and “A” is for Amos (which sound like detective stories by Sue Grafton). Anyway, this morning’s Old Testament reading, from the book of the prophet Amos, begins like this:
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
Amos 4.1
Two things hit me about this. First, the language (especially the “cows” part) is unusual. Well, it seems that way to me, anyway. Second, who is this he’s addressing? They sound like music or movie stars — not all celebrities are like that I know, but that’s the stereotype. (And I wonder why he’s addressing women in particular?)

And I’ll bet you’re dying to know what the word is that’s being spoken to them. Here it is: they’re in big trouble; they’ll be taken away with hooks (as in fishhooks). Ouch!

Then the unusual diction continues:
“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings —
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.
Amos 4.4-5
The irony is astonishing — I think Amos has to be the champ of irony among the prophets. (By the way, leavened bread is a no-no for thank offerings, which would remove all doubt about the irony to any contemporary reader of this passage.) What I love about this passage is that it shows you don’t have to be politically correct (or even polite) to be used by God!

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city
and lack of bread in every town,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.
Amos 4.6
Now what’s that about? Well, at the beginning of today’s reading, we had some stuff about rich people — celebrities. And we saw in chapter 13 of Hosea, being rich and satisfied seemed to lead people away from God.

So now he’s bringing them poverty. Because it’s better to suffer on earth and return to God, than to have plenty on earth and die without him.

An astonishing thought.

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