Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord ! Why do you long for the day of the Lord ? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! – Amos 5:18-24
I officially like Amos. He seems like a kindred spirit to me, like someone always game for an adventure that I could imagine grabbing a beer with. The language and descriptions he uses feel like they are born of abundant life experience with things like lions and bears. Perhaps he is drawing on his experiences as a farmer and a shepherd. The closest I have been to a lion or bear is the zoo or a distant beach in Alaska. I have certainly not fled from a lion or a bear. I think the closest encounter I have had was when I wrestled a deer outside my office. Why you ask was I wrestling a deer outside my office, excellent question….
I am a geology professor at a regional university. A number of years ago I was meeting with a student in my office. In the middle of our meeting we heard what sounded like someone dropping a bowling ball in the hallway. We both looked at each other and decided to peek our heads out the door to find out what was going on. As we did we saw a crowd of students fleeing down the hallway in distress. I was puzzled and perplexed so I decided to go see what they were running from down the hall. When I got to the corner of the building I saw what the bowling ball noise was coming from. A young deer was charging the full length windows at the corner of the building, bashing his brains out against the window. Blood was smeared in long streaks down the glass.
I was a recently transplanted from Oregon into a new position and state. My first reaction was to think “someone has to help that deer”. Well no one else was stepping up so I ran outside, jumped over a wall, and grabbed the deer by the neck to prevent him from bashing his brains out against the window. I think it was at this point that it occurred to me this was an predictable wild animal and I may actually be in some danger. Fortunately for me another crazy individual decided to help me by holding the deer’s legs while I held his head until the police showed up and put zip ties on the deer’s legs and placed him the back of the police truck. I am not sure what happened to the deer after that, and perhaps I do not want to know, but I was shaking from the adrenaline.
I had to give a lecture shortly after this excitement and I failed to notice that I had deer blood smeared on my shirt. There was more chatter than usual in my 120-student lecture class and finally a young woman raised her hand and asked “Dr. Wampler is it true that you just wrestled a deer”. Word travels fast in a student body and this was before smart phones and Youtube. I can only imagine what would have happened if someone had a video of the event on their smart phone. I would probably forever be branded as the “deer wrestler”.
Getting back to reality…it seems the main point of this passage is that God is warning that we should not long for adversity like lions, bears, and deer bashing their brains against windows. The coming day of the Lord will “be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness” So in the end God will win, but it will not be a pretty scene and one that we would probably avoid if we could. Justice will “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
What does it mean for justice to roll on like a river? Or righteousness like a never-failing stream? Combining these two river descriptions I get the picture of a large meandering perennial stream like the Mississippi River. I had to look up the word justice, and here is what Merriam-Webster says, justice is “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. So the metaphor essentially means a perennial and consistent adjustment of rewards and punishments, in this case by God, the One River. God is the ultimate arbiter of our punishments and our rewards. At this point in history there was no escape from the snare of sin and falling short of God’s expectations.
Fortunately for us the snare has been broken and God has extended His arm to save our souls from this darkness and train us “cave dwellers” to live in the light. When God chose to bring light into the darkness through Jesus He essentially promised that if we seek Him we will find Him, no matter how dark and confusing it gets. His justice will roll on like a river, but this is a river He has promised to help us cross. This is a reassuring truth to be sure.
Prayer: God thank You for freeing us from the snare of sin and bringing light into darkness