by Francis Foulkes ©


'Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light; as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; and to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, 0 house of Israel; You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves; therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus," says the Lord, whose name is the God of Hosts' (5:18-27)

We speak of Sunday as 'the Lord's day', and the use of this name goes right back to the New Testament (Revelation 1:10). It is 'the day of the Lord' to us because, remembering the resurrection of our Lord on the first day of the week, we specially give time on that day to worship the Lord with His people. In Israel in Old Testament times they had such days, their Sabbaths and especially their great festivals. But they came to look forward to a future 'day of the Lord' when God would rule over all men, and all His enemies would be conquered. They thought that that would be a wonderful day for them, just because they were His special people. From the lips of Amos they had to learn something different.

a. Darkness and not light

Because Israel thought of themselves as the people of God, they thought of their enemies as the enemies of God whom He would conquer in the great day when He would be seen to be Lord of all. In that day, they thought, they would have nothing but peace and blessing. It would be a great day of light and joy for them. But Amos had to tell them that they were resting in a false confidence. There would be a 'day of the Lord', but that day would be 'darkness, and not light', 'and gloom with no brightness in it' (compare Joel 2:1-2 and Zephaniah 1:14-16). Their lives, and not just the lives of other peoples, were not pleasing to the Lord, although they had been given His word and His warning again and again. They could not expect to receive the favour and blessing of God on 'day of the Lord'. It would not be a time of escape from trouble and difficulty; rather it would bring trouble on them. Amos was a shepherd. He knew what it was to have to run for safety from a lion or a bear; he knew what it was to come across a dangerous, poisonous snake in his path. So he said that for Israel on the day of the Lord it would be 'as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him'. There is a warning for us in this too, if we are living carelessly. We can very easily see everyone else's faults and fail to see our own as God sees them. We can think that God sees and will judge the faults of those around us whom we find it hard to live with, when all the time He may be wanting to say to us as He said to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-17, '1 know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked'.

b. An offence to God and not worship

The trouble with Israel, as we have seen in 4:4-5, was that they professed to worship God with sacrifices, offerings and tithes, but their hearts were far from Him and they did not live with their fellow-men as God intended them to do. They were dishonest and corrupt and the rich crushed the poor. They came for the great religious festivals of the year, like the Passover and Pentecost, and at the end of them had their tremendous assemblies for worship, but God said, 'I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies'. They were doing what God hated, and not that with which God was pleased. Their burnt offerings should have expressed the giving of their lives fully to God, their 'cereal offerings' of corn should have expressed their desire to give part of their crops back to God; their peace offerings' should have been the expression of peace and fellowship with God (and among themselves) based on His forgiveness. But the word of the Lord was 'Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon'. They thought of the beautiful music that they had in their worship, but God said, 'Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen'. They thought so much of all these lesser things in worship and all the time one thing really mattered to God, and He said, 'Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream'. We understand these words best when we realise that in the land of Palestine, as in many countries, there are two kinds of streams or rivers. There are those which flow with plenty of water in the rainy season, and then are dry for the rest of the year; and there are those which have water in them twelve months of the year. If there was any righteousness in Israel, any right dealings of the people with theirs neighbours, it was like the stream that flowed just for a little while in the year, and then was dry. God wanted righteousness all the year round, and the justice of the courts to be like a mighty river, always flowing, deep and strong, and sweeping away all the rubbish before it.

We still need to remember this. It is not with attendance at church, on Sunday or on great festivals, it is not with the amount of money we contribute, not even with our being important members of the church, not with any of these things in themselves that God is pleased - but only when these things are signs of inner faith and love, and when our daily lives show forth the righteousness and justice of which Amos spoke.

c. Captivity in a foreign land and not freedom in their own

We have seen that the prophets often reminded Israel of the way that God had led them from slavery in Egypt, and through the wilderness into their own land (see 2:10). In the wilderness God taught Israel many lessons, and especially that what He wanted from them more than anything else was trust and obedience (see Hosea 2:14-15 and Jeremiah 2:1-3). God's word through Amos here was, 'Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness?' In other words, was it sacrifice that was the most important thing? Jeremiah 7:22-23 shows what was most important in God's sight, 'For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you' ' (see also Deuteronomy 8:2-3). Now they put their sacrifices and offerings, their tithes and their festivals before obeying God. This would have two results. In the first place, since they did not serve the living God in their lives, they would be led astray after other gods- Sakkuth and Kaiwan (see Notes below). 'God turned and gave them over to worship the host of heaven' said Stephen in Acts 7:42 as he quoted these words from Amos. The people were to find these gods a burden that they had to 'take up' rather than having the Lord as the One who held them up and helped them with their burdens (compare Isaiah 46:1-4). Secondly, instead of enjoying in peace and freedom the land that God had given them, the Lord would take them 'into exile beyond Damascus'. This terrible warning was terribly fulfilled, when the Assyrians came and conquered them and took them from their land; and in exile they had no faith in the living God to support them. All around them was the useless Assyrian worship of gods that were not real at all, though they had been tempted to worship them.


Lord, help us to see ourselves as You see us and to turn from the things that You show us to be wrong; so may we live in freedom the life You want us to live now, and may we not be ashamed when we see You face to face; we ask this through Jesus Christ who died for our forgiveness. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. In the New Testament there are two main lines of teaching concerning God's judgment to come:
(a) that we are accepted with God on the basis of what Christ has done for us, if we turn to Him in repentance and faith;
(b) that we will have to give account for the way that we have spent our lives.
Look up John 3:17-19, 5:24, Romans 8:1 and 14:12, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, and consider how we should prepare for the 'day of the Lord'.

2. Along with verses 21-24, study 1 Samuel 15:22, Psalm 51:15-17, Isaiah 1:10-17, Micah 6:6-8, Malachi 1:6-14 and Romans 12:1-2, for what they say about the worship that is pleasing to God and that which is not pleasing to Him. Do you think that God must see the praise and prayer, the singing, the giving of money and other things in your church services - as pleasing to Him? Or are there ways in which they are displeasing to Him?

Notes. 1. Verse 26 is a very difficult verse for us to be sure of what it means. There have been three main ways of understanding it:
a. It has been thought that verse 25 means that it was not to the Lord that the people offered their sacrifices in the days in the wilderness, but even then they served other gods. Acts 7:42-43 seems to take it this way and quoting verse 26 has, 'you took up the tent of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan', but if our translation is right in speaking of `Sakkuth' and 'Kaiwan', these were Assyrian gods which were worshipped at a much later time.

b. It may mean that in the days of Amos the people were worshipping Assyrian gods instead of the Lord. The words in the Hebrew are more like `Siccuth' and Chiun', but the Hebrew people changed the original names putting in the vowels of a word that meant abomination' to show how they hated the worship of other gods. So the gods that were in mind were probably `Sakkuth' and 'Kaiwan', whose worship was linked with the worship of 'the host of heaven' which is mentioned in 2 Kings 17:16. Against this view is the fact that nearly everywhere else the book of Amos condemns the people, not for worshipping other gods, but for the wrong way in which they worshipped the Lord.

c It maybe that verse 26 (with its future tense) speaks of what will happen in God's judgment. Because the people have not served Him truly, they will lose the opportunity of freedom and ability to go to the places where He is worshipped. They will have to 'take up' these gods and their images, and also they will go into exile. It may be more accurate to translate verse 27, as the New English Bible, 'And I will drive you into exile,' rather than 'therefore I will, take you .. .'

2. Damascus was the furthest place beyond them to the north that the people of Israel really knew; and the warning was that beyond that they would be taken into captivity. Amos never mentions the Assyrians by name, but they were the great power beyond Damascus to the east who were so strong at this time. In the year 722 the Assyrians captured Samaria, and many of the people were then taken into captivity.