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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 16–20
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Verses 16–20

Here is, I. A very terrible threatening of destruction approaching, Amos 5:16, 17. Since they would not take the right course to obtain the favour of God, God would take an effectual course to make them feel the weight of his displeasure. The threatening is introduced with more than ordinary solemnity, to strike an awe upon them; it is not the word of the prophet only (if so, it might be made light of) but it is the Lord Jehovah, who has an infinite eternal being; it is the God of hosts, who has a boundless irresistible power, and it is Adonai—the Lord, who has an absolute incontestable sovereignty, and a universal dominion; it is he who says it, who can and will make his words good, and he has said, 1. That the land of Israel shall be put in mourning, true mourning, that all places shall be filled with lamentation for the calamities coming upon them. Look into the cities, and wailing shall be in all streets, in the great streets, in the by-streets. Look into the country, and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! we are all undone! The lamentation shall be so great as not to be confined within doors, nor kept within the bounds of decency, but it shall be proclaimed in the streets and highways, and shall run wild. The husbandman shall be called from the plough by the calamities of his country to the natural expressions of mourning; and, because those who will come short of the merits of the cause, such as are skilful of lamentation shall be called to artificial mourning, to put accents upon the lamentations of the real mourners with their Ahone, ahone. Even in all vineyards, where there used to be nothing but mirth and pleasure, there shall be general wailing, when a foreign force invades the country, lays all waste, and there is no making any head against it, no weapons left but prayers and tears. 2. That the land of Israel shall be brought to ruin, and the advances of that ruin are the occasion of all this wailing: I will pass through thee, as the destroying angel passed through the land of Egypt to destroy the first-born, but then passed over the houses of the Israelites. God’s judgments had often passed by them, but now they shall pass through them, shall run them through.

II. A just and severe reproof to those who made light of these threatenings, and impudently bade defiance to the justice of God and his judgments, Amos 5:18. Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord, that really wish for times of war and confusion, as some do who have restless spirits, and long for changes, or who choose to fish in troubled waters, hoping to raise their families, as some had done, upon the ruins of their country; but the prophet tells them that this should be so great a desolation that nobody could get by it. Or it is spoken to those who, in their wailings and lamentations for the calamities they were in, wished they might die, and be delivered out of their misery, as Job did, with passion. The prophet shows them the folly of this. Do they know what death is to those who are unprepared for it, and how much more terrible it will be than any thing that can befal them in this life? Or, rather, it is spoken to those who speak jestingly of that day of the Lord which the prophet spoke so seriously of; they desired it, that is, they challenged it; they said, Let him do his worst; let him make speed, and hasten his work, Isa. 5:19. Where is the promise of his coming? 2 Pet. 3:4. It intimates, 1. That they do not believe it. They say that they wish it would come because they do not believe it will ever come; nor will they believe it unless they see it. 2. That they do not fear it; though they may have some belief of it, yet they had so little consideration of it, and their mind is so intent upon other things, that they are under no apprehension at all of peril from it; instead of having the conscience to dread it, they have the curiosity to desire it. In answer to this, (1.) He shows the folly of those who impudently wished for any of God’s judgments, and made a jest of any of the terrors of the Lord: “To what end is it for you that the day of the Lord should come? You will find it both certain and sad; not a thing to be bantered, for it is neither a thing to be questioned whether it will come or no nor a thing to be turned off with a slight when it does come. The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light, Amos 5:18. Shall it not be so? Amos 5:20. Do not your own consciences tell you that it will be so, that it will be very dark, and no brightness in it?” Note, The day of the Lord will be a dark, dismal, gloomy day to all impenitent sinners; the day of judgment will be so; and sometimes the day of their present trouble. And, when God makes a day dark, all the world cannot make it light. (2.) He shows the folly of those who impatiently wished for a change of God’s judgment, in hopes that the next would be better and more tolerable. They desire the day of the Lord, in hopes to better themselves (though their hearts and lives be not amended), or, at least, to know the worst. But the prophet tells them that they know not what they ask, Amos 5:19. It is as if a man did flee from a lion and a bear met him, a beast of prey more cruel and ravenous than a lion, or as if a man, to escape all dangers abroad, went into the house for security, and leaned his hand on the wall to rest himself, and there a serpent bit him. Note, Those who are not reformed by the judgments of God will be pursued by them; and, if they escape one, another stands ready to seize them; fear and the pit and snare surround them, Isa. 24:17, 18. It is madness therefore to defy the day of the Lord.