In what has to rank as one of my favorite epithets in the entire Bible, Amos takes a shot not at the men of Israel but their women. Hear this word, you cows of Bashan. Have you ever noticed that when men are described using the names of animals, its a generally positive description, while when women are given the same treatment, its always a negative association. When Rocky Balboa was called The Italian Stallion, that was perfectly okay, but the old gray mare, she aint what she used to be. I could give other examples, but most of the others arent really appropriate for polite society. Hopefully you can employ your imagination to get my drift.
Lets explore that metaphor for a moment. When Amos tags these women as cows of Bashan, what is he suggesting? Think about the cows youve known. First of all, cows are not particularly intelligent creatures. If there were an animal IQ scale, theyd score well above sheep, but all in all theyre pretty feeble-minded. Have you ever seen a cowboy movie featuring a trained cow? I dont think so. Roy Rogers could train Trigger to do everything from playing dead to fixing biscuits in a Dutch oven, but he apparently didnt have similar success with Elsie the Cow.
Besides their lack of intelligence, cows tend to do only about three things. First, they eat. Theyre not terribly discriminating when they eat, but what they lack in discretion they make up for in quantity. Second, they stand around chewing their cud. Is there anything in this world that looks more stupid than a cow chewing its cud? Finally, theyhow shall we say?complete the digestive process.
Cows arent useful as transportation. Theyre not bright enough to become a companion. No, a cow is only tolerated because it is meat on the hoof. Itll also tend to produce calves and milk along the path to the butchers shop. But its really kind of pitiful to think of a cow as a creature whose highest ambition can be to turn into a nice prime rib someday.
Of course a cow is simply being a cow, right? Theres nothing wrong with a cow embracing its cow-ness and being the best cow it can be. What is a problem is when a personcertain women in this casebehave like cows. Cows we can excuse, but when people are simply eating and eliminating, oblivious to the fate in store for them, thats a sad state of affairs.
This passage puts an accent on the dumbness of dumb animals. In verse three, Amos changes his metaphor from cows to fish, apparently, as he prophecies that these women will be taken out of the city with fish hooks. A trout with a hook in its mouth is one thing, but a person? Thats rather sad.
As I read these words, I dont assume that Amos is a sexist. He has plenty of criticism for men as well. Instead, hes lashing out at those who are oblivious to the harm they inflict on others and content living for themselves. Im afraid thats a role I inhabit now and again. You and I arent cows of Bashan, but we must be sure not to carelessly graze in that pasture. God still has a good supply of fish-hooks, Im sure.