In this section of his book, Amos responds to a common religious misunderstanding at that time. The people of Israel were looking forward to the Day of the Lord because they expected it would be a time when Israel would be publicly vindicated by God and their enemies defeated by him. They could see no reason why it should be otherwise.
Amos warned them that this would not be the case. Instead of the Day being a pleasant one it would be an awful experience for them. He uses three vivid illustrations to highlight his claim. First, it would be a dark time, more like night than day; a murky day was usually caused by storms and that would be the experience of Israel when the Day came. Second, it would be a day when they would be trapped by their enemies and with no prospect of escape (like the man who while fleeing from a lion met a bear). Third, it would be a day of unexpected and fatal pain (like a man who expected comfort in a building but instead was bitten by a serpent).
Why would this happen? The Israelites assumed that the Lord was rejoicing in their religious behaviour, with its varied sacrifices and praise offerings (vv. 21-24). But he was not, a reminder that ritual without practical righteousness is offensive to the Lord. It is impossible to worship God acceptably if our lives are marked by disobedience.
The Israelites had behaved like this for such a long time that they had forgotten the priorities of God. In fact, they had begun doing so during the forty years in the desert after they were delivered from Egypt and even now they were worshipping false gods, some connected to Assyria (v. 26). Sadly, they were literally walking into the dark to face destruction from powerful opponents and would go into captivity beyond Damascus — to Assyria whose gods they were now worshipping. They had been captured by the gods of Assyria long before they were defeated by the army of Assyria. After all, if one worships like Assyria he will end up in Assyria!
I read this prayer of John Calvin today. It was connected to this passage. ‘Grant, Almighty God, that seeing we are so sleepy, yea, so fascinated by our sins, that nothing is more difficult than to put off our own nature and to renounce that wickedness to which we have become habituated — O grant, that we, being really awakened by thy scourgings, may truly return to thee, and that, having wholly changed our disposition and renounced all wickedness, we may sincerely, and from the heart, submit ourselves to thee, and so look forward to the coming of thy Son, that we may cheerfully and joyfully wait for him, by ever striving after such a renovations of life as may strip us of our flesh and all corruptions, until, being at length renewed after thine image, we become partakers of that glory, which has been obtained for us by the blood of the same, thy only- begotten Son. Amen.’