"Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you?" (Amos 5:18). It is always a prophet's responsibility to remind the people that the future is inextricably bound to the present. What one does today affects the course of events as time marches on.
Malachi asks, "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?" (Malachi 3:2). No such doubts assailed these people at all. They were confident that things would be all right. They felt they would march right through the day of their judgment because they were His chosen people.
But when Amos looked at his times, he became frightened. "It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him" (Amos 5:18-19).
There is no escape! People, living in their complacency, think that everything is fine. But the day of judgment will come upon them unexpectedly, and in utter hopelessness they will start running for their lives. They will escape one terror only to confront another! And just when they think they are finally safe, they will receive a mortal wound!
But, the prophet is not yet finished! "Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?" (Amos 5:20). Wailing and inescapable judgment are followed by darkness. In their complacency, the people think it logical to conclude that, since everything is presently all right, they must have overcome those things which plagued them. With that behind them, they think their future is full of gladness and good times. Amos disagrees! He accuses them of feeding themselves false hopes. When God comes, he says, He will be their enemy!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
These verses bear a definite affinity with Jeremiah 7, where the prophet warns his audience against giving heed to “deceptive words” (verse 4) and behind them, of course, fallacious doctrines. These people “entered these gates [of the Temple] to worship the LORD” (verse 2). Yet, much like those to whom Amos spoke earlier, they were guilty of perpetrating vast social injustices, justifying themselves all the while in the name of religion. Jeremiah asks, rhetorically:
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, “We are delivered!“—only to go on doing all these abominations? (verse 9)
He has already pointed out the moral depravity, however:
For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (verses 5-7)
These people considered themselves safe because of their religious heritage, typified most saliently in Solomon's Temple (verse 4). They thought, “God would never destroy that!” God instructs the people otherwise, asking them in verse 12 to go “now to My place that was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of My people Israel.” History has shown that the threats of the “severe” God are not idle:
Therefore I will do to the house that is called by My name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim. (verses 14-15)
The Goodness and Severity of God (Part Two)
The prophet is explicit: The Day of the Lord is totally dark. There is nothing at all light about it!
It is important that we recognize the context of this passage. In verse 1, Amos terms his words “a funeral song—that I am lifting up against you, house of Israel” (Common English Bible). The Modern English Version and The Voice actually refer to it as a “dirge.” The King James Version uses the noun “lamentation.” With that definition in mind, notice the verb tenses in verse 2: “She has fallen; virgin Israel will never rise again. She lies abandoned on her land, with no one to raise her up” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Amos' vision is so clear that he is actually treating his subject, the nation of Israel, as though she were already dead—gone. Yet, he wrote these words some forty years before ten-tribed Israel (that is, the Northern Kingdom) had actually fallen to the Assyrian Empire. Furthermore, we know that Israel will rise again, when God restores her, joining her again with Judah (Ezekiel 37:15-28). Indeed, Amos himself speaks of this restoration in Amos 9:11-15. Notice just verses 14-15:
“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the LORD your God. (English Standard Version)
Both Old and New Testaments speak of this restoration. Clearly, the language of Amos 5:2 is hyperbolic (that is, overstatement), highly apropos rhetoric for a dirge, the rhetoric of which is about as dark as it can be. With that context in mind, Amos' meaning in verses 18-20 becomes clearer. The prophet is in fact saying that the people of Israel thought the Day of the Lord was one of total light. They misunderstood.
If we were to transport a representative cross-section of Amos' audience to the twenty-first-century America, we might, after interviewing them, discover a lot of common ground between these self-righteous and hypocritical Israelites and the post-Millennialist members of today's liberal churches. Post-Millennialists believe that “things” are improving all the time, the result of the effective work of the church. They believe that, eventually, things will be so good that Christ will return. It is almost as though these people listen to different newscasts than the ones to which we listen!
So, too, the Israelites of Amos' day, focusing myopically on their current wealth and false sense of wellbeing, perceived nothing but “good times rolling.” Times were great, getting greater, with no end to prosperity in sight. They imagined themselves to be at the gate of Paradise, what they thought the Day of the Lord would be.
Amos corrects that errant perception. The time is coming, he avers in Amos 5:16, “In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, 'Alas! Alas!'” This is a far cry from “good times”! From their distress, he says in verse 19, they will find no viable path of escape—running from a lion, they meet a bear! Their doom is sealed.
In reality, for those doomed, the Day of the Lord will have no good in it at all. It will be totally dark, exactly the opposite of what Amos' audience dimwittedly envisioned. We know, however, that those not doomed during the Lord's Day will see God promptly take restorative action, extending “great compassion” to them.
The Goodness and Severity of God (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Amos 5:18: