What is the significance of the cows of Bashan in the oracle of judgment from Amos 4?
The Bashan region existed to the northeast of the Jordan River and was famous for its fat herds of sheep and cows. The metaphor of “the cows of Bashan” is used many times in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 22:12 says, “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me.” The metaphor here is used to describe the enemies that oppressed and harmed the people. In Amos 4:1,
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, that we may drink!” (Amos 4:1).
It is talking here about the women of Samaria who asked their husbands for more prosperity. And they oppressed the poor and crushed the needy. In the history of Israel, when men’s leadership was declining, it was sort of God’s judgment over the people to appoint women or infants over them. “Infants” here refers to immature leadership. We can see an example of this in Isaiah 3:12:
My people — infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them (Isaiah 3:12).
So what happened during the days of Amos was that the women of Samaria mistreated the poor, oppressed the poor and abused the miserable and the needy. Therefore, the prophet described them as the fat cows of Bashan who abused others and asked for more things from their husbands, more wealth and properties, while abusing and oppressing the poor and the weak.