Recently I was reading the OT Book of Amos. I ran across an interesting verse. The prophet says, “Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, For it is an evil time” (Amos 5:13). Amos is saying that there are times when those who are wise do not speak. This occurs when it is “an evil time.”
Amos was a prophet to the northern Kingdom of Israel. Anyone familiar with the history of Israel knows that they quickly and deeply fell into sin. They were guilty of gross sexual immorality, murder, and idolatry. Amos stresses the fact that they were also guilty of many social ills, such as mistreatment of the poor. In fact, he points this out immediately before saying that at such times the wise keep silent (5:12). Amos was definitely living in an evil time.
But what does Amos mean when he says that at such times the wise are to remain silent? It is strange because Amos was not silent. He was speaking out against what he saw! Just a few verses earlier he said that the righteous were speaking out (5:10).
There are a couple of options. Based upon how the word “silent” is used in other contexts, we could say that there are times that even somebody like Amos would keep silent. There are occasions when the wise encounter people who are so hardened in sin that it is useless to speak to them. It is a waste of time to do so. Jesus appears to arrive at that point with certain Pharisees. He tells the disciples to ignore them, because they are blind leaders of the blind (Matt 15:14). Some people simply refuse to listen to the truth. Don’t waste your breath.
Have you ever encountered a situation like that? I think about the times when we present the gospel of grace to people who understand it but repeatedly reject it. I have found that in cases like this it is a waste of time to speak the truth.
But the word “silent” here in Amos 5:13 can have other meanings. Perhaps Amos has in mind that in previous days, before the country had descended into such depravity, those who promoted righteousness were sought out. People wanted to know what they thought. But things had changed. Now, they were no longer interested. The advice of the wise was silenced.
I know that we are not Israel. And I know that the US has never been a Christian nation. However, I am old enough to remember a time when the teachings of the Bible were highly regarded in our nation, even by many unbelievers. But it appears today that as a people we have accepted sexual deviancy which mirrors that of the day of Amos. Nobody seems interested in what God has said about such things. Those who would point out the negative consequences of such actions on society are relegated to a position of silence.
Amos may also be referring to something else. To avoid trouble, sometimes it is best to remain silent. The wise man may be around people who are not going to change, and to speak out will result in negative consequences for the wise person. In our day, for example, it is almost always wise to keep silent at work over the moral issues of our day. Particularly if one works for the government in any capacity, to speak of Biblical righteousness and the wisdom of such righteousness can very easily result in one losing his or her job. Silence is often the best policy.
I am not exactly sure what Amos meant when he said the wise are to be silent in very evil times. To take it in the absolute sense would go against the teaching that we are to be witnesses for the Lord and to be light in the midst of the darkness around us. But Amos makes a good point. Even as witnesses of the truth, there are times it is best to keep our mouths shut.