Misunderstanding the Day of the LORD – Amos 5:18-20
(18) Woe to those longing for the Day of Yahweh.
Why do you desire this, the Day of Yahweh, for yourselves?
It is darkness and not light.
It appears that the Israelites were longing for the Day of the Lord, meaning (they thought) the day when God would fulfill their destiny as his covenant people and make Israel essentially rulers of the world. Amos says you all should not be actively seeking the Day of the Lord, because it won’t be what you think it will be, and you won’t be on the side of it that you think you will be.
It is clear from elsewhere in the book of Amos that the Israelites of Amos’ day were confusing their material wealth with God’s pleasure. At times I have said they were confusing their “success” or “prosperity” with God’s pleasure, but to use “success” or “prosperity” in this way is inaccurate. The words “success” and “prosperity”, properly used, ought to connote a broader concept of well being than mere material wealth. Wealth is a part of success or prosperity, but it isn’t the whole picture. This is the real problem with prosperity preachers – many times they are focusing on material wealth rather than the broader picture of well being. It is my opinion that God’s good pleasure will bring success and prosperity, IF, that is, we understand these words to be the well being of the whole self, or what is intended by the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom, which we often translate “peace”, includes all parts of well being: health, material wealth, peace in the world around you, and most especially good relationships.
What the Israelites were doing, and what we in America are often tempted to do, is to look at material wealth as the key indicator of overall shalom, or overall blessedness. As I have observed before, however, it is possible that material wealth is not only not a sign of God’s good pleasure towards a person, but it can even be a way that God hands that person over to their own sinful desires. This is because wealth is a tool, and a powerful one. If it is given to a person who is not mature enough to handle it, it will destroy that person. This is why, I think, God sometimes keeps us from wealth, especially extremes in wealth, because if you have money to pay your bills, food in your fridge, and a place to sleep, in the grand scheme of things you are a pretty wealthy person. More than this brings burdens and responsibilities in addition to any pleasure it might bring. Sometimes, one who has little can be said to be more blessed than one who has a lot.
For example, Proverbs 15:16-17 say:
Better is little with the fear of Yahweh than a great storehouse and turmoil with it.
Better is meal of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
It is very important that we have spiritual eyes to perceive true blessedness and true prosperity. When we get myopically focused on money, we invite two complementary problems:
- when we have little, envy can blind us to our true blessedness, and we miss out on the peace and joy that we really ought to have;
- when we have a lot, greed can blind us to our true wretchedness, and we can wrongly assume that everything else is okay.
This second condition, I believe, accurately characterizes the wealthy Israelites to whom Amos was prophesying. As a result of their obsession with their own wealth, they could neither empathize with the poverty of those around them nor perceive their own sinfulness. They were assuming their covenant relationship with God was just fine when it was really in tatters, and they were longing for the day of God’s judgment, wrongly thinking that that day would be one of blessing for them rather than destruction.
(19) It will be just as if a man were to flee from the face of a lion
Only for a bear to encounter him.
And he goes into the house
And rests his hand on the wall
Only for a snake to bite him.
The Day of the Lord is the day when God makes everything right and just. For those who are on the wrong side of it, there will be no escape, because the wrath of God is not haphazard or directionless. It is not, karma, or the rebalancing of the universe by blind fate. If it were simply impersonal fate or coincidence that brought destruction, one would be justified in thinking that one might be able to find a way out if one has enough money or skill or knows enough people in high places. For the wealthy and well connected, there is usually a way out of a bad situation. But when God sets his mind to punishing the wicked, there will be no way out. You will never be able to outwit God or outspend God or outprepare God. When God purposes to punish, all contingencies are planned for.
It is like if God were to send a lion to devour a man, but the man sees it in time and is fast enough to get away. However, he turns around and runs right into a bear. But still he’s pretty fast and agile, so he manages to avoid the bear and escapes into a nearby shelter. Leaning against the wall to catch his breath, and thinking “Whew! Sure is a good thing I am in such good shape AND that I built this building here”, a venomous snake hiding in the shadows bites him. He thought he was avoiding the lion and bear, and all the time he was being lured into a place where he could be bitten by a snake. If life is a chess game, I don’t care how many opening lines you have memorized, God is always going to have resources available to him that you didn’t take into consideration. Or if life is poker game, I don’t care how thoroughly you think you have the deck stacked in your favor, God is always going to have the card he needs to beat you. If we live our lives according to the world’s system and use that system skillfully to accumulate wealth or power, when that world’s system is judged you won’t be able to escape that judgment. We can never think that our material wealth or our skill in life will make us immune when destruction comes. The only way to avoid the judgment that is coming on Babylon is to come out from Babylon completely. Coming out from Babylon (Revelation 18:4) involves placing all your hopes in king Jesus rather than saying your hope is in Jesus but conducting your life as if your real hope is in the world and its values.
(20) Is the Day of Yahweh not darkness rather than light?
And it is deep darkness,
And there is no bright light in it.
The Day of Yahweh is not going to be pleasant. I feel that, even if we are safe in the arms of the Savior, the judgment of God is not something we should be wishing on people. Or if we are, I think it might be because we haven’t really thought deeply about what the judgment of God really is or how serious it is. We shouldn’t be so blindly zealous for the world to be made right that we forget that there are real people are on the receiving end of judgment.
I also think that God doesn’t need us cheering him on in punishing people. We don’t need to be self-righteously telling people they are going to hell with some perverse kind of pleasure. That’s not the spirit of Christ. Jesus mourned over the Israelites who would not listen to him: “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one killing the prophets and stoning the ones sent to her. How often have I desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.” Jesus didn’t jeer at the Jews who rejected him. When we urge God to punish someone for their sinfulness, I imagine him saying, “You mind your own business. I’m his daddy. I’ll handle it.” That’s essentially what God is saying when he says, “Vengeance is mine.” He means, “Vengeance isn’t yours, so hush up and trust me to be the just judge.”
Now, on the other hand, if you have been on the receiving side of injustice, it is perfectly right for you to pray for justice. But the way we pray for justice in light of Jesus is different than the way the world would seek justice. The world seeks justice without regard for the humanity or real personhood of the offending party. The worldly way of seeking justice is to de-humanize the offender (call him or her an animal, for example) and seek a punishment that is at least equivalent to the offense. But Jesus calls us to consider the humanity of those who offend us, to pray for those who persecute us, not to resist those who would spitefully use us. We pray for justice, but we pray for merciful justice. We pray that God would forgive those who are hurting us, because clearly they aren’t aware of what they are doing. Let us leave the vengeance to God. We we are too eager for vengeance and this is reflected in the way we pray, it reveals that we haven’t really trusted God to be a just judge.