Amos 5:13 reads: “Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, For it is an evil time.”
Does this passage tell God’s Church to cease proclaiming the Truth, as we are living right now in an evil time?
In order to understand this passage properly, we must first of all consider the context and the theme of the entire book of Amos. The book deals with events leading to or occurring at the “day of the Lord”—when God will powerfully and mightily intervene in the affairs of men. The day of the Lord will begin approximately one year before Christ’s return and is oftentimes described as the day of God’s wrath, as God is angry about the sins of man.
Regarding the “day of the Lord,” we read in Amos 5:18-20:
“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the LORD to you? 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! Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?”
Even though God’s wrath will be poured out over all nations and peoples, end-time warnings in the book of Amos are specifically directed towards the modern descendants of the ancient houses of Israel and Judah. They can be found today in the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the state of Israel.
When referring to the house of Israel, the book of Amos speaks at times about the house of Jacob (Jacob was renamed Israel when he became converted) and specifically the house of Joseph (one of Jacob’s sons). Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh. On occasion, Amos also refers to Isaac (the father of Jacob) and the house of Jeroboam (who was a wicked king of the house of Israel).
In Amos 2:4-5, we read that God will punish modern Judah (the state of Israel in the Middle East) because of their transgressions and sins: “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have despised the law of the LORD, And have not kept His commandments. Their lies lead them astray, Lies which their fathers followed. But I will send a fire upon Judah, And it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.”
In Amos 2:14-16, the punishment of the modern house of Israel (cp. verse 6) is described in vivid terms, as follows: “The strong shall not strengthen his power, Nor shall the mighty deliver himself; He shall not stand who handles the bow, The swift of foot shall not escape, Nor shall he who rides a horse deliver himself. The most courageous men of might Shall flee naked in that day…”
Further descriptions of the coming punishment of the house of Israel are in Amos 3:9-15: “‘… See great tumults in her midst, And the oppressed within her. For they do not know to do right,’ Says the LORD, ‘Who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.’ Therefore thus says the LORD God: ‘An adversary shall be all around the land; He shall sap your strength from you, And your palaces shall be plundered. Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,’ Says the LORD God, the God of hosts… ‘in the day I punish Israel for their transgressions… I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house; The houses of ivory shall perish, And the great houses shall have an end,’ Says the LORD.”
In Amos 4:6-10, God announces famine, a plague (pestilence and disease epidemics) and the sword (war) for the modern descendants of the house of Israel, and He shows very clearly the time setting in verse 12: “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
In Amos 5, God shows that no one will help the house of Israel at the time of its destruction. We read in Amos 5:1-3: “Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel: The virgin of Israel has fallen; She will rise no more. She lies forsaken on her land; There is no one to raise her up. For thus says the LORD God: ‘The city that goes out by a thousand Shall have a hundred left, And that which goes out by a hundred Shall have ten left to the house of Israel.”
In the midst of these descriptions of terrible destruction, God utters the following admonishment, in Amos 5:6, 15: “Seek the LORD and live, Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, And devour it, With no one to quench it… Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
But God knows that the leadership and the people, by and large, will not listen or repent. He says in Amos 6:1,3, 6: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, And trust in Mount Samaria, Notable persons in the chief nation, To whom the house of Israel comes!… Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, Who cause the seat of violence to come near… [and who] are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.”
As a consequence, God will punish them severely. Amos 9:10 says: “All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, Who say, ‘The calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.’”
God addresses and condemns the pride of the modern house of Israel (Jacob) in their strength and might (Amos 6:8; 8:7). He specifically speaks of a wrong kind of patriotism and nationalism which prevent people from turning to God. Amos 9:7-8 states: “‘Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me, O children of Israel?’ says the LORD. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, The Philistines from Caphtor, And the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the LORD God are on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ Says the LORD.”
God makes clear that punishment WILL come. Amos 7:8-9 and Amos 8:2-3 state: “‘Behold, I am setting a plumb line In the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, And the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste. I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam… The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple Shall be wailing in that day,’ Says the LORD God—‘Many dead bodies everywhere, They shall be thrown out in silence.’”
God addresses wrong (pagan) worship services within the modern house of Israel, when He states in Amos 5:21-23: “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies… Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.” (Compare also Hosea 2:13.) Again, in Amos 8:10: “I will turn your feasts into mourning, And all your songs into lamentation… I will make it like mourning for an only son, And its end like a bitter day.”
At that time, there will also be a famine of the Word of God, as we read in Amos 8:11-12. It is not that God’s Church will cease preaching God’s Word. In fact, Christ said in Matthew 10:23 that God’s ministers will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Rather, people will be so deceived that they will not recognize the Word of God when it is being preached. They will look for it, but won’t find it, as their minds have been blinded to the Truth. After all, they had told the prophets—those who understand prophecy—not to prophecy and to preach the Word of God (Amos 2:12). In fact, we read in Amos 5:10: “They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.” This same attitude was already prevalent at the time of Amos, when he was told NOT to preach and announce God’s warnings (Amos 7:10-13).
God had shown the people then—and He shows us today—what is going to happen (Amos 4:13), and He commands His ministers to proclaim His Word and to warn the modern descendants of the houses of Israel and Judah and the world (Amos 3:7-8). He also shows what will happen after Christ has returned and when He sets up the government of God on this earth (Amos 9:11-15)—the good news of God’s coming Kingdom which needs to be proclaimed by His Church at this time as well.
It is in this context and in light of all the passages in the book of Amos, as discussed herein, that we must evaluate God’s statement in Amos 5:13, saying that the prudent will keep silent during this evil time.
Commentaries offer different attempts to explain this passage.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible gives this explanation:
“God said by Solomon: ‘He that reproveth a scorner getteth himself shame, and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot’ (Proverbs 9:7). And our Lord bids, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs, and cast not your pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6). They hated and rejected those who rebuked them… Since then rebuke profited not, the prophets should hold their peace. It is a fearful judgment, when God withholds His warnings. In times of punishment also the prudent keep silence… It may be too, that Amos, like Hosea 4:4, 17, expresses the uselessness of all reproof, in regard to the most of those whom be called to repentance, even while he continued earnestly to rebuke them.”
Even though some of these statements have some merit, Amos 5:13 cannot apply to the “prophets” or the ministry in God’s Church who have a duty to proclaim God’s Truth and who have to lift up their voice as a trumpet to show and declare to God’s people and the “house of Jacob” their sins and transgressions (Isaiah 58:1; Micah 3:8). In fact, it is the duty of the Church to announce the gospel of the Kingdom of God to this world as a witness, even though God knows that most will not respond and repent, but it must be done so that Jesus Christ can return.
Realizing the duty of the Church to proclaim God’s Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2), some commentaries make a distinction between “public” and “private” responsibilities.
Matthew Poole’s Commentary states:
“The prudent; the wise men; prophets, say some, but I rather think other private men are here meant, whose private capacity alloweth them to keep silence when others must speak.”
Similarly Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“Therefore the prudent shall keep silence at that time… Not the prophets of the Lord, whose business it was at all times to reprove, and not hold their peace, let the consequence be what it would… but private persons, whose wisdom it would be to say nothing; since reproof would do no good to these persons, and they would bring a great deal of hatred [and] ill will, and trouble upon themselves as well… or the sense is, they would not speak to God on the behalf of these wicked men, knowing the decree was gone forth…”
It is true that while the ministry of the Church of God has an official duty to proclaim God’s Word publicly, that is not true for the membership or others, or even ministers in their “private” capacity. We are told that we need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us, WHEN ASKED (1 Peter 3:15), but this does not mean that we are to approach and bombard our friends or coworkers or even our unconverted mate or just anyone we may come in contact with in an attempt to proselytize them and correct them and chastise them for their wrongdoing.
It is also true, as pointed out by Gill, that we are not to ask God to bless others in their sin; that is, to bless them for and while sinning. Rather, we could pray that God would open their minds so that they stop sinning, but the time may come and may already be here for some when God tells us not to utter those prayers anymore, as they will refuse to repent at this point in time (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11).
The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary offers another interesting explanation of Amos 5:13:
“… the prudent—the spiritually wise… shall keep silence—not mere silence of tongue, but the prudent shall keep himself quiet from taking part in any public or private affairs which he can avoid: as it is ‘an evil time’… Ephesians 5:16 refers to this…”
A true Christian and God’s Church as a whole will not participate in the public affairs and the politics and the agenda of the rulers of this world who through their “wisdom” have become fools and enemies of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 3:19-20).
In conclusion, Amos 5:13 does not tell the prudent ministers of God to cease from publicly warning the modern nations of the ancient houses of Israel and Judah, as well as the entire world, of impending disaster. God’s ministers have a duty to speak out, and woe unto them if they are negligent, lax or slack in that task (note the principle in Jeremiah 48:10 in the New Jerusalem Bible, the New International Version or the New Revised Standard Version) or if they refuse altogether to do it (Ezekiel 3:17; 33:2-11; Jeremiah 6:17; Habakkuk 2:1-3).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link