This Is the Night the Lord Has Made
Amos again announces the complete reversal of what is expected (cf. Amos 2:6; 3:2; 9:7). In this case he promises that the day of Yahweh will not be a day but rather a night of judgment. A person (or a nation) will keep experiencing miraculous escapes until “peace at last” turns out to be broken by a biting serpent. Popular opinion held that the day of Yahweh would be a day when Yahweh would come and vindicate the nation and prosper its endeavors. But Amos announces it will be a day of darkness and not light. In order to do this the prophet employs a woe oracle, a rhetorical question and a gripping simile to shock his audience out of their lukewarm state (cf. Revelation 3:16).
Questions and Answers
(Note: Questions only are found in the student section.)
Q1. See 1 Kings 13:30 for the first time “woe” or “alas” (the Hebrew is hoy) appears in the Bible. What does the prophet’s use of hoy in Amos 5:18 signify?
A1. The use of “woe” (hoy) indicates Amos’s belief that Israel was spiritually dead. The genre of the “woe cry”comes from communal life in Israel. When the prophet from Bethel mourned the death of the man of God from Judah, he cried out “woe (hoy) my brother” (1 Kings 13:30b). Yahweh indicates that when Jehoiakim dies, people will not mourn for him with the words, “woe (hoy) my brother, woe (hoy) my sister, woe (hoy) O lord, woe (hoy) O splendor” (Jeremiah 22:18). Much like church bells tolling to announce a funeral, when someone cried out “hoy” one would immediately ask, “Who has died?” In Amos’s case the answer is, “You!” When Amos announced a “woe,” the effect was comparable to the audience hearing its death announced on a news broadcast or reading their names in the obituary column of the newspaper.
Q2. The Book of Amos divides Israel into two groups, the sinners and the sinned against. By looking at the following verses, define each group. Group one: 2:7; 3:11; 5:7; 7:10–17; 9:10. Group two: 7:2, 5; 2:6; 4:1; 5:12; 8:4, 6; 2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:6.
A2. The sinners were the government officials who were making a killing—literally—by storing up ill-gotten gain (3:11). They were legal “experts” who “turned justice into wormwood, and righteousness they threw to the ground” (5:7); the tradesmen, who “trampled the poor and needy” (2:7; 8:4); and the priestly class, who did everything they could to enforce the status quo (2:12; 7:10–17). These leaders “long for the day of Yahweh” (5:18) and “are at ease in Zion” (6:1). All the while these unrepentant sinners were confident that “evil will not overtake us” (9:10).
The second group are the “small people” (7:2, 5) who also are called (1) “the needy” (2:6; 4:1; 5:12; 8:4, 6); (2) “the poor” (2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:6); (3) “the oppressed” (2:7; 8:4); and (4) “the righteous” (2:6; 5:12). People in this group were being abused sexually (2:7b), fiscally (2:8; 5:11), judicially (5:10), spiritually (2:12), and vocationally (2:7; 4:1; 5:11). This is the remnant of Joseph (5:15).
Q3. How had Israel tried to keep Yahweh at a safe distance? See Amos 2:12; 4:4–5; 7:10–17.
A3. In decrying against Amos and his prophecy, Israel’s mantra was, “The Lion must remain caged” (Amos 2:12; 7:10–17). Note that in Amos 4:4 the prophet calls the people’s gifts “your sacrifices” and “your tithes,” then in verse 5 he makes the observation that Israel loved to follow the rites and rituals, implying that they did not love Yahweh or their neighbor. It appears as though the last thing Israel wanted in worship was to meet their God (cf. 4:12). Now they will meet Him on His terms, not on theirs. It will be a day of darkness and not light.
Q4. What does darkness indicate? See Exodus 10:21–29; Joel 2:10; Matthew 27:45.
A4. One of the plagues in Egypt was darkness (Exodus 10:21–29), which is a symbol of divine judgment (e.g., Joel 2:10; Matthew 27:45). Darkness could mean only one thing for Israel’s leaders; they were under the same curse as the Egyptians (cf. Amos 4:10; 5:17). A person groping around in the darkness indicates the enactment of the covenant curse of helplessness. Deuteronomy 28:29a states, “At midday you will grope about like a blind man.” This is the day Yahweh will make; the leaders will not be glad, neither will they rejoice in it (cf. Psalm 118:24).
Q5. The phrase “the day of Yahweh” makes its first appearance in the Old Testament in Amos 5:18–20. The oracle addresses those who “long for” or “desire”, and this assumes that there were those listening to Amos who could identify with the phrase. The rhetorical questions, as well as the repetition of the contrast between “darkness and not light,” suggests that the prophet was trying to refute a widely held view that “the day of Yahweh” would usher in more of Yahweh’s blessings. What is Amos doing with the expression “day of Yahweh”?
A5. Amos’s prophetic discourse, once again, takes a popular tradition that was positively understood and turns it upside down. Gospel is turned into Law. Contrary to popular opinion and Israel’s self-deception, when Yahweh appears, it will not be a day of national victory and celebration but a night of horrific disaster and defeat. Blinded by their boundless optimism, Israel was oblivious to the clouds of wrath that were swiftly gathering all around them (cf. Amos 6:14; 9:10). Amos, however, a keen observer of their way of living, is not bedazzled or beguiled by the apparent success of the nation’s economic, political, or religious state of affairs. He is well aware of the toxic waste that lies buried directly underneath Israel’s faltering foundation and that this waste will soon destroy the land.
Q6. This night will also be a time of no escape (cf. Jeremiah 48:44). There will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Amos expresses one of his more common themes—the inescapability from Yahweh’s judgment; see Amos 2:14–16; 5:18–20; 9:1–4. What do these three texts have in common?
A6. Any appearance of escape is really the assurance of disaster. The sequence of events is very much like “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Safety was an illusion, and it was temporary. The man had been delivered before, so surely he would be delivered the next time. Even if Israel’s leaders were safe from enemies now, disaster was waiting in the wings. Paul states it this way, “Beware, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Q7. Amos’s promises include “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” In the Old Testament, attacks from these animals were usually fatal. See Leviticus 26:22; Deuteronomy 32:24; Ezekiel 14:21. How do these passages illuminate Amos’s use of deadly animals?
A7. Adding insult to injury, harm from wild beasts also meant that Israel was under a covenant curse (Leviticus 26:22; Deuteronomy 32:24). This is reflected in Yahweh’s words in Ezekiel 14:21.
Q8. Both Amos 5:19 and 9:3 mention a “snake” or “serpent.” What do the following passages tell you about this wily foe? Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:9; 20:2; Romans 16:20.
A8. The serpent first appears in the fall narrative in Genesis 3:1, where it is described as the craftiest creature Yahweh God made. In Revelation 12:9 and 20:2, the serpent of the garden is identified as the devil and Satan. The promise of Romans 16:20 is that Christ will soon crush Satan.
Amos indicates that Israel’s leadership had acted unjustly toward the poor and needy. This was why the day of Yahweh would “be a day of darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18). Israel’s salvation in the past was no guarantee of their future security. Amos proclaims, “You had better think again before longing for Yahweh to appear and settle matters of right and wrong in order to eliminate evil. Because—hold on to your hat—he will eliminate you, because you are evil!”
“The day of Yahweh” is a recurring theme in the prophets (e.g., Isaiah 2:6–22; Joel 2:1–11). It refers to a time in which Yahweh will first punish Israel and then judge the nations. Wrath will then give way to mercy (Amos 9:11–15).