Amos 5:20
Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
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(20) Darkness.—In the form of an interrogative, the condemnation contained in Amos 5:18 is emphatically reasserted. The term rendered “very dark” is that used to denote the gross Egyptian darkness that might be felt (Exodus 10:22), the awful gloom, such as fell on Jerusalem at the Crucifixion, which is always accompanied by the sense of confusion, terror, and intolerable suspense. (Comp. the graphic metaphorical language of Isaiah 5:30.)

5:18-27 Woe unto those that desire the day of the Lord's judgments, that wish for times of war and confusion; as some who long for changes, hoping to rise upon the ruins of their country! but this should be so great a desolation, that nobody could gain by it. The day of the Lord will be a dark, dismal, gloomy day to all impenitent sinners. When God makes a day dark, all the world cannot make it light. Those who are not reformed by the judgments of God, will be pursued by them; if they escape one, another stands ready to seize them. A pretence of piety is double iniquity, and so it will be found. The people of Israel copied the crimes of their forefathers. The law of worshipping the Lord our God, is, Him only we must serve. Professors thrive so little, because they have little or no communion with God in their duties. They were led captive by Satan into idolatry, therefore God caused them to go into captivity among idolaters.Shall not the Day of the Lord be darkness? - He had described that Day as a day of inevitable destruction, such its man's own conscience and guilty fears anticipate, and then appeals to their own consciences, "is it not so, as I have said?" People's consciences are truer than their intellect. However, they may employ the subtlety of their intellect to dull their conscience, they feel, in their heart of hearts, that there is a Judge, that guilt is punished, that they are guilty. The soul is a witness to its own deathlessness, its own accountableness, its own punishableness . Intellect carries the question out of itself into the region of surmising and disputings. Conscience is compelled to receive it back into its own court, and to give the sentence, which it would fain withhold. Like the god of the pagan fable, who changed himself into all sorts of forms, but when he was still held fast, gave at the last, the true answer, conscience shrinks back, twists, writhes, evades, turns away, but, in the end, it will answer truly, when it must. The prophet then, turns quick round upon the conscience, and says, "tell me, for you know." 19. As if a man did flee … a lion, and a bear met him—Trying to escape one calamity, he falls into another. This perhaps implies that in Am 5:18 their ironical desire for the day of the Lord was as if it would be an escape from existing calamities. The coming of the day of the Lord would be good news to us, if true: for we have served God (that is, the golden calves). So do hypocrites flatter themselves as to death and judgment, as if these would be a relief from existing ills of life. The lion may from generosity spare the prostrate, but the bear spares none (compare Job 20:24; Isa 24:18).

leaned … on the wall—on the side wall of the house, to support himself from falling. Snakes often hid themselves in fissures in a wall. Those not reformed by God's judgments will be pursued by them: if they escape one, another is ready to seize them.

All these things considered, ye secure, profane, and atheistical scoffers, speak yourselves, will not that day be as dark as I have described, and as little to your comfort? Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light?.... The design of such a question is strongly to affirm, that, in this day of the Lord spoken of, there should be nothing but misery and distress, and no prosperity and happiness, at least to the wicked Israelites, or the unbelieving Jews:

even very dark, and no brightness in it? signifying that there should be no deliverance, nor the least glimmering view or hope of it; that the calamity should be so very great, and the destruction so entire, that there should be no mixture of mercy, nor the least appearance of relief.

Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
20. An emphatic repetition of the thought of Amos 5:18, after the illustration of Amos 5:19.Verse 20. - The character of the day of the Lord is enforced with reiterated earnestness (ver. 18) by an appeal to the conscience of e hearers. Do you not feel in your inmost hearts that in the case of such guilt as yours the Lord can visit but to punish? Joel 1:1 contains the heading to the book, and has already been noticed in the introduction. Joel 1:2. "Hear this, ye old men; and attend, all ye inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing indeed happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Joel 1:1. Ye shall tell your sons of it, and your sons their sons, and their sons the next generation. Joel 1:4. The leavings of the gnawer the multiplier ate, and the leavings of the multiplier the licker ate, and the leavings of the licker the devourer ate." Not only for the purpose of calling the attention of the hearers to his address, but still more to set forth the event of which he is about to speak as something unheard of - a thing that has never happened before, and therefore is a judgment inflicted by God - the prophet commences with the question addressed to the old men, whose memory went the furthest back, and to all the inhabitants of Judah, whether they had ever experienced anything of the kind, or heard of such a thing from their fathers; and with the command to relate it to their children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

(Note: "As he is inquiring concerning the past according to the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:7, he asks the old men, who have been taught by long experience, and are accustomed, whenever they see anything unusual, to notice that this is not according to the ordinary course of nature, which they have observed for so many years. And since this existing calamity, caused by the insects named, has lasted longer and pressed more heavily than usual, he admonishes them to carry their memory back to the former days, and see whether anything of the kind ever happened naturally before; and if no example can be found, the prophet's advice is, that they should recognise this as the hand of God from heaven." - Tarnov.)

"The inhabitants of the land" are the inhabitants of Judah, as it was only with this kingdom that Joel was occupied (cf. Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:1). זאת is the occurrence related in Joel 1:4, which is represented by the question "Has this been in your days?" as a fact just experienced. Yether haggâzâm, the leavings of the gnawer, i.e., whatever the gnawer leaves unconsumed of either vegetables or plants. The four names given to the locusts, viz., gâzâm, 'arbeh, yeleq, and châsil, are not the names applied in natural history to four distinct species, or four different generations of locusts; nor does Joel describe the swarms of two successive years, so that "gâzâm is the migratory locust, which visits Palestine chiefly in the autumn, 'arbeh the young brood, yeleq the young locust in the last stage of its transformation, or before changing its skin for the fourth time, and châsı̄l the perfect locust after this last change, so that as the brood sprang from the gâzâm, châsı̄l would be equivalent to gâzâm" (Credner). This explanation is not only at variance with Joel 2:25, where gâzâm stands last, after châsı̄l, but is founded generally merely upon a false interpretation of Nahum 3:15-16 (see the passage) and Jeremiah 51:27, where the adjective sâmâr (horridus, horrible), appended to yeleq, from sâmâr, to shudder, by no means refers to the rough, horny, wing-sheath of the young locusts, and cannot be sustained from the usage of the language, It is impossible to point out any difference in usage between gâzâm and châsı̄l, or between these two words and 'arbeh. The word gâzâm, from gâzâm, to cut off (in Arabic, Ethiopic, and the Rabb.), occurs only in this passage, in Joel 2:25, and in Amos 4:9, where it is applied to a swarm of flying locusts, which leave the vine, fig-tree, and olive, perfectly bare, as it is well known that all locusts do, when, as in Amos, the vegetables and field fruits have been already destroyed. 'Arbeh, from râbhâh, to be many, is the common name of the locust, and indeed in all probability of the migratory locust, because this always appears in innumerable swarms. Châsı̄l, from châsal, to eat off, designates the locust (hâ'arbeh), according to Deuteronomy 28:38, by its habit of eating off the field crops and tree fruits, and is therefore used in 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Psalm 78:46, as synonymous with hâ'arbeh, and in Isaiah 33:4 in its stead. Yeleq, from yâlaq equals lâqaq, to lick, to lick off, occurs in Psalm 105:34 as equivalent to 'arbeh, and in Nahum as synonymous with it; and indeed it there refers expressly to the Egyptian plague of locusts, so that young locusts without wings cannot possibly be thought of. Haggâzâm the gnawer, hayyeleq the licker, hechâsı̄l the devourer, are therefore simply poetical epithets applied to the 'arbeh, which never occur in simple plain prose, but are confined to the loftier (rhetorical and poetical) style. Moreover, the assumption that Joel is speaking of swarms of locusts of two successive years, is neither required by Joel 2:25 (see the comm. on this verse), nor reconcilable with the contents of the verse itself. If the 'arbeh eats what the gâzâm has left, and the yeleq what is left by the 'arbeh, we cannot possibly think of the field and garden fruits of two successive years, because the fruits of the second year are not the leavings of the previous year, but have grown afresh in the year itself.

(Note: Bochart (Hieroz. iii. p. 290, ed. Ros.) has already expressed the same opinion. "If," he says, "the different species had been assigned to so many different years, the 'arbeh would not be said to have eaten the leavings of the gâzâm, or the yeleq the leavings of the 'arbeh, or the châsı̄l the leavings of the yeleq; for the productions of this year are not the leavings of last, nor can what will spring up in future be looked upon as the leavings of this. Therefore, whether this plague of locusts was confined to one year, or was repeated for several years, which seems to be the true inference from Joel 2:25, I do not think that the different species of locusts are to be assigned to different years respectively, but that they all entered Judaea in the same year; so that when one swarm departed from a field, another followed, to eat up the leavings of the previous swarm, if there were any; and that this was repeated as many times as was necessary to consume the whole, so that nothing at all should be left to feed either man or beast.")

The thought is rather this: one swarm of locusts after another has invaded the land, and completely devoured its fruit. The use of several different words, and the division of the locusts into four successive swarms, of which each devours what has been left by its precursor, belong to the rhetorical drapery and individualizing of the thought. The only thing that has any real significance is the number four, as the four kinds of punishment in Jeremiah 15:3, and the four destructive judgments in Ezekiel 14:21, clearly show. The number four, "the stamp of oecumenicity" (Kliefoth), indicates here the spread of the judgment over the whole of Judah in all directions.

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