13. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
13. Propterea prudens in tempore hoc silebit, quia tempus hoc malum est.
Some interpreters think that a punishment is here denounced on the people of Israel, and that is, that the Lord would deprive them of Prophets and teachers. We indeed know that nothing is more to be dreaded, than that the Lord should extinguish the light of sound doctrine, and suffer us to go astray in darkness, yea, to stumble, and to rush headlong to ruin, as they do who are destitute of wholesome counsels. But I think that the meaning is quite different. Another exposition may be deemed probable, which is this, that the prudent dared not to speak on account of the prevailing tyranny; for Amos had said before that the judges, who then ruled, would not bear reproof. Hence, the prudent were forced to be silent at that time, for that time was evil; and every liberty of teaching was taken away. And this meaning opens still wider; for the silent would have to bear the wrongs done to them, and to devour inwardly their own groans, for they dared not to complain; nay, the very teachers did not oppose the torrent, for they saw that it was not the time to resist haughty and violent men. But this view may be also fitly applied to God's judgment, that the prudent would be silent, being put in fear: for silence is often connected with fear: and it is a dreadful judgment of God, when the prudent closes his mouth, or puts his hand, as it is said elsewhere, on his mouth.
As to the first exposition, I have already rejected it, and it has certainly nothing in its favor: but the second may be accommodated to the general meaning of the Prophet, that is, the prudent shall be silent at that time, because all liberty shall be taken away. I am, at the same time, unwilling thus to restrict it, as they do; for it became not a wise man to pass by in silence sins so grievous: though tyrants threatened hundred deaths, yet those on whom was laid the necessity of teaching ought not to have been silent. But the Prophet here speaks not of what the prudent would do or omit to do; on the contrary, he intimates, that whenever they began to speak, the arrogance of the judges would be so great as to repel all reproofs. The prudent then shall be silent, not willingly; for that, as I have said, would have been unworthy of wise men. And the Prophet here, by way of honor, calls those prudent who rightly discern things, who are not led away by corruptions, but remain upright; who, though they see the whole order of things collapsing, and though they see heaven and earth, as it were, mingled together, yet retain a sound judgment. Since the Prophet speaks of such men, he certainly does not mean that they would be willingly silent; for it would have been a base indolence in them thus to betray the truth and a good cause. What then does he mean? Even this -- that the wickedness of tyrants would be so great, as not to allow one word to be declared by the prudent; when any one came forth to reprove their vices, he was not suffered.
When therefore he says, that the time would be evil, he means, that such audacity would prevail, that all liberty would be denied to wise men. They would then be forced to be silent, for they could effect nothing by speaking, nay, they would have no freedom of speech allowed them: and though they attempted to discharge their office, yet tyrannical violence would instantly impose silence on them. Similar was the case with Lot, of whom it is said that he groaned and vexed his own heart, (Genesis 16:1) He was constrained, I have no doubt, to be silent after having often used free reproofs; nay, he doubtless exposed himself to many dangers by his attempts to reprove the Sodomites. Such seems to me to be the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, that the prudent would be silent, because these tyrants would impose silence on all teachers, -- now throwing them into prisons, then banishing them, -- now denouncing death on them, then visiting them with some punishment, or loading them with reproaches, or treating them with ridicule as persons worthy of contempt. We now understand the Prophet's, design. We may further observe, that men have then advanced to the extremity of evil, when reception is no more given to sound doctrine and salutary counsels, and when all liberty is sternly suppressed, so that prudent men dare not to reprove vices, however rampant they may be, which even children observe, and the blind feel. When licentiousness has arrived to this pitch, it is certain that the state of things is past recovery and that there is no hope of repentance or of a better condition: and this was the meaning of the Prophet.