The people feared to protest openly the injustices in their society. Why would people be afraid of pointing the finger at somebody who is doing wrong? Because they knew that if they did, that would be the end of their advancement in society and at work. They did not want to blow the whistle on anybody else because they would get the reputation of being a troublemaker—and there went their future.
The word prudent indicates anyone who wants to succeed. "You would not want to spoil your prospects with this company would you? Just look the other way. Keep your eyes shut. Sure, we are stealing a little bit. Sure, this isn't quite legal. Sure, the government does not know about these shipments. Sure, we are getting these things into the country illegally. But what difference does it make? If you just keep your eyes shut, the company will pay you, and you will get ahead." Thus, those who wanted to succeed just kept their mouths shut. The evil went on.
On the other hand, the person who has really come in contact with God is so concerned about righteousness that he will do everything in his power to create a righteous community, whether that righteous community is his family, his neighborhood, or his church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God
Central to understanding verses 4-15 is the word "seek," which appears four times: three times in relation to seeking God Himself and once to seeking good. The charge to seek God is not in the sense of searching to find Him?because He had already revealed Himself to them to some degree?but of seeking to be like Him.
A second important element is the listing of a number of their sins, all of which are what we would call "social sins." Amos mentions the "poor" twice, but he does not necessarily imply a person with little money. The term includes them, but here the meaning is "weak." The poor are those whom we would say have little or no economic, political, or judicial "clout" or "pull." The sins Amos addresses are matters of the strong taking advantage of the weak.
He also mentions other sins that afflict the poor, such as bribery, unjust judgments in the courts, truth being ridiculed, and righteous testimony being thrown out. Amos especially indicts Israel's corrupt court system.
Undoubtedly, the most important element in this passage, due to its impact on most of the instruction in the chapter, is the mention of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal in verse 5. Amos notes these places because the Israelites were holding their festivals there. His overall warning to the Israelites is, "Don't go there because God is not there. Seek God instead." The rest of the chapter tells why God is not there, why what they were doing is unacceptable to Him, and what He will do about it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles
Again, Amos describes injustice in the legal system. The rich and powerful hired false witnesses, just as was done against Jesus (Matthew 26:59-60) and Stephen (Acts 6:11). The poor, without the financial ability to hire high-powered lawyers to handle their cases, were helpless before them.
What was the effect of this? "Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time" (verse 13). The poor could only wait quietly for the judgment of God, since they were powerless to appeal to the judgment of men through the civil authorities.
Today, many people are afraid to help the police because they fear that, if they go to court and testify, the accused felon or his friends will take some kind of retribution against them or their families. For just this reason, we have rampant problems with inner-city gangs and organized crime.
Our criminal justice system is so lax and unjust that the odds are good that an accused criminal will be acquitted through a technicality or receive a very short sentence. In our nation today, crime does pay! No wonder witnesses are afraid!
We find in America a very large but timid group that the media call "the silent majority." Though predominantly conservative and moral, these people allow themselves to be led by a vocal minority that espouses radically liberal views. Though they privately denounce high taxes, homosexuality, rising crime, illegal aliens, gangs, corrupt government, and so on, "the silent majority" publicly "keep silent."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Amos 5:13: