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Some of the people had so much wealth that they hardly knew what to do with it! These few wealthy Israelites were so rich that they owned not just one house, but two, three, or four! Blinded by their riches, thinking God had prospered them for their righteousness, they ignored the terrible oppressions they were inflicting on the poor and weak. For this, God promises punishment.
Thus, Amos scathingly rebukes them:
» I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals. They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, and pervert the way of the humble. (Amos 2:6-7)
» Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, 'Bring wine, let us drink!' (Amos 4:1).
» Woe to you . . . who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall; who chant to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments (Amos 6:3-6).
He describes a tremendously wealthy people. Men sought to make money at any price, no matter what the consequences to the "little guy." The derogatory term "cows of Bashan" describes the rich women who controlled Israelite families, making demands on their husbands to keep them in their accustomed lifestyle. Spoiled people living ostentatious lives, luxuriating in expensive materialism, satiating their flesh with wine and rich foods, they denied themselves nothing.
But how did they obtain such wealth? Property and legal rackets! Exploiting the poor! Shady business deals! The powerful and rich used the laws and the courts to their advantage against the weak and poor who could not afford legal assistance. The latter always came out on the short end of the deal.
They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. . . . For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins. You afflict the just and take bribes; you divert the poor from justice at the gate. (Amos 5:10, 12)
Israelites held their public meetings and court trials at the city gate where everyone could witness the proceedings. When rebuked for the way that they lived, for their social attitudes, for their immorality, for their lack of spirituality, the hedonistic Israelites would typically malign or assault their critic rather than repent. Bribery, obstruction of justice, and attacks on law-abiding citizens were common occurrences.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)