Summary: The book of Amos shows some "bovine behavior" demonstrated in the nation of Israel – a nation that had stubbornly strayed from the Lord – and if the people failed to repent, they would be led away as cattle to the slaughter.
I want to begin this morning by saying that the Bible has a lot to tell us about the personality of sheep in comparison to people. Two good examples are Psalm 23 and Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” Sheep are portrayed as being not too smart, having to rely on a shepherd to keep them from doing things to harm themselves; and they are total herd animals with no ability to think for themselves. They just go along with the crowd. Now, you rarely see the Bible refer to people as cattle, but cattle might be a much better comparison.
I grew up around cattle. I used to be quite comfortable with them; but then I learned that, like people, they will turn on you and you should never let your guard down. If you startle them, they will stampede through a fence to get away; and then when they realize that you’re not the boogey man, the whole herd will turn and come after you! Cattle can actually “catch each other’s feelings” in what’s called “emotional contagion,” and they can learn behavior from each other as well.(1) In people, we can see a similarity with cattle being demonstrated right now, as emotion is leading to rioting, and criminal behavior is being learned and repeated just about everywhere.
It’s been said that “a herd of cows is very much like a pack of wolves, with alpha animals and complex social dynamics.”(2) For example, “there is often one cow in the herd who is seen as the boss and who dictates behavior to the rest of the cows. Any cows that don’t follow the leader will become isolated from the herd.”(3) I’ve met people who are good at bossing others around, and pushing them to the side of they don’t conform. In fact, our entire society is getting to where those who don’t comply are being ostracized and cancelled.
“Cows have the ability to discriminate shapes, colors and individuals within the herd.”(4) I’ve noticed that cattle tend to stick with those of their own color. If there happens to be one white cow among a group of black ones, then the white cow is usually pushed aside. People tend to discriminate on the basis of color as well, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing so much civil unrest in our nation. With people it’s called racism. I guess with cattle it should be called “breedism.” Right?
In the book of Amos we’re going to see some more bovine behavior demonstrated in the nation of Israel – a nation that had stubbornly strayed from the Lord – and if the people failed to repent, then they would be led away as cattle to the slaughter. So, we’re going to begin our passage by looking at the “cows of Bashan.”
The Cows of Bashan (vv. 1-3)
1 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!” 2 The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. 3 You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,” says the LORD.
Here, we encounter a shocking use of words, as Amos referred to some women as “cows.” Some people will use this passage to argue that the Bible is sexist, but women are often viewed in a positive light in the Scripture. Allow me to refer to the New Testament, for example, where we see women holding vital roles of leadership in the early church. In Acts 18:24-26, Pricilla, along with her husband Aquila, “taught” Apollos. So, women were teachers. In Romans 16:1-2, the word “servant” used to describe Phoebe is diakonos, where we get the word “deacon.” So, we can infer that women are able to serve as deacons. In Philippians 4:2-3, Euodia and Syntyche, who are both women, were serving as missionaries; and in Luke 2:36-38, we even see Anna, who is described as a “prophetess.”
This passage in Amos has nothing to do with demeaning the female gender. In fact, in Psalm 22:12 and Ezekiel 39:18, we see negative references to the bulls of Bashan, which are talking about sinful men. Amos was addressing one particular group of women, and calling them out for their sin. The expression “cows of Bashan” is a symbol for some manipulative and abusive Israelite women; and Amos implied that these women were the trendsetters and leaders in Israelite society.(5) They were “the wives of the wealthy [male] leaders of the land, [men] who had gotten rich by ruthlessly and illegally robbing others. These ‘society women’ lounged around all day, drinking wine and telling their husbands what to do.”(6)