ON FIRST READING, AMOS 5 is a bit of a muddle. It is made up of such diffuse bits—not only different themes, but different forms and literary genres. The NIV recognizes the point by putting verses 8-9 in parentheses (there are no parentheses in Hebrew). The first three verses are a lament, a funeral dirge, mournfully bemoaning the fall of Israel. Verses 4-6 and 14-15 constitute an evangelistic appeal. This is how Israel must respond if they are to be accepted by the Lord and survive. Verses 7 and 10-13 deal with the oppression and corruption in the land. The last two verses (16-17) return to lament.
It is easy enough to reflect on these distinct themes separately. For example, one might well meditate on how seeking the Lord himself (Amos 5:4-6, 14-15) is more important than the aesthetically pleasing form of worship (Amos 5:4-5), on how genuine repentance embraces a massive hatred of sin not only at some distant, theoretical level, but at the level of practical integrity and social responsibility, including justice in the courts (Amos 5:15). Does any society need to hear this more than ours, where there is less and less interest in justice and righteousness, and more and more interest in merely manipulating the duly enacted laws? And so we could work through all of the themes and forms in Amos 5:1-17.
For some purposes, of course, such thematic analysis is helpful. It finds its extreme in the liberal critic who thinks the chapter is a mismatched pastiche of sources that can be set to rights with scissors and paste. But that misses the genius and power of the chapter. This is a collage, akin to a rapid succession of images on film that dance from war to sermon to funeral to judgment to sin to repentance. Amos’s original hearers were hostile. To retain their interest he had to knock them off base, and the resulting rapid transitions give power to the whole precisely because they are jarring and unexpected. We are forced to think not only about the themes themselves, but about their interconnectedness with other themes.
The direction of the whole is exposed in the final verses of the chapter (Amos 5:18-27). For all their self-indulgence and moral ambivalence, these people retain a religious fervor that hungers for “the day of the LORD”—as many of us hunger for “revival.” But God says he despises their religious feasts and hates their assemblies. What he demands is implacable: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). Otherwise “the day of the Lord,” when he truly does meet with them, will be a day of dark judgment, infinitely removed from the paradisiacal light for which they hope.
Source: For The Love of God by Don Carson (Following Robert Murray Mccheyne reading plan)