"The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine in the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but will not find it."
Amos 8: 11-12
IT may seem that there could not be any judgement worse than famine of food, or destruction by floods and earthquakes, or even destruction through war. All these God has threatened through Amos. Yet because Israel had repeatedly disregarded God's word through Amos, and shown no repentance or turning away from idols to the living God, now God threatens a worse and more terrible judgement. All the previous judgements have been inflicted on the body and earthly life, and although such judgement in the end will bring death, and everlasting damnation, if they are not heeded, they are not directed at the soul, but directed in order to save the soul. All these temporal judgements have the purpose of calling sinners to repentance, and to the fear of the Lord, and hold the opportunity, if repentance is genuine, of God's favour and blessing being restored. In the judgement of famine of God's word the direction is toward and on the soul. If the soul is bereft of food and nourishment, then there can only be death of the soul, which is to leave a person without hope, and with only the awful looking forward to sentence of everlasting death.
LOOKING AT THE TEXT.
Before we go on to interpreting and application of the message here, and seeing its relevance today, we need to listen to and appreciate the message in the words of Scripture here.
In the first place we need to notice and take seriously that it is the Sovereign Lord who is speaking. Amos may have made the words audible, but it was God's word that is being spoken here. When God speaks of himself as sovereign, he is not simply stating the fact of his sovereignty, but also underlining the fact that he has power and authority to perform all he threatens or promises. God reveals himself as on the throne of the universe, whose word is true in substance, and true in execution. It is God speaking here with power to carry out what he threatens.
Then the text reveals to us that God is ruling in this world and universe. He is the one who executes all his purposes. He can bless and he can punish. These days our world does not see the hand of God in anything, and when devastations of various kinds come, the world simply sees execution of natural law, and blind mindless force. In every tragedy man sorrows, but believes he is able to control his environment, and all he needs is more knowledge and understanding of the world. Even in the church there is a dominant atmosphere that believes God does not intervene in judgement, but is universal love and able and does overlook sin, and would not judge anybody, regardless of behaviour. This text gives us the truth that God is sovereign, and he is ruling, and he does execute his word in the world, and what he threatens he can and will perform. The text assures us that God does not look on evil and godlessness with indifference, and although his love is seen in providing for forgiveness through sacrifice, he will execute judgement on sinners when they refuse his pleading to repent and be saved.
Yet there is still a message of grace and love, and this is seen in the words "The days are coming." By this we can see that God who is going to carry out his threat, yet announces it well in advance, so that all who believe it, and seek to flee from the wrath to come, have time and opportunity to repent, and seek the saving blessing from the Lord. We can see this grace in the book of Jonah where God determined to destroy the city of Nineveh on account of its wickedness, withdrew the judgement on their sincere repentance on hearing the preaching of Jonah.
Then the text gives us the nature of what God says he will do. It is plainly a judgement, and it has a finality about it because famine of food for the soul will bring about spiritual and everlasting death. The picture is not simply a withdrawal of the food for the soul, that is the word of God; but also that people will then begin to feel their need, and realise the hunger in their souls, but now, whatever they do, they will not be able to find the food of God's word to feed the soul.
The thought behind this is that this judgement is really a withdrawal of the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit to make the word of God live and be desired. The text does not say that the written word of God is withdrawn. The bible may well be present in a abundance. What the text is saying is that there will be no work of the Spirit to give understanding to people concerning the food which the soul needs. This means that people will be still able to read God's word, but will not be able either to accept its message, or be given ministers and preachers to expound and explain the word, nor the blessed work of the Spirit to apply the truth and give the gift of faith.
In the threat there is an indication that there will be at last a hunger of soul realised and felt, but that though food will be sought, even diligently and urgently, there will be no food found. In other words there will be a total withdrawal of any true preaching and no understanding given as to the truth. People may well be seeking the food of God's word, and be reading the Scriptures, but understanding will elude them. The illustration of this is in the account of the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the prophet Isaiah and chapter 53. He had no understanding of the message and meaning of what he read until by the Spirit of God Philip was brought to the eunuch and was given grace and ability to explain the meaning, and the Spirit opened the eunuch's mind to receive and understand the message.
UNDERSTANDING THE MESSAGE FOR TODAY.
Just as God threatened such a famine of food for the soul for Israel in the days of Amos, so such a famine can occur at any time, and as far as conditions are so today, in the experience of the western world, it is very present in wide areas of the UK and Europe.
What is the evidence of this? There is no lack of buildings where Christian worship is engaged in, but in spite of this, the importance of preaching has been eroded. The sermon has become secondary and even of little importance. Where there is a sermon, this preaching though often good in interest and technique, falls short of the bread of life. Almost everything is preached except Jesus and his cross. Where as Paul determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and him crucified; nowadays preachers tend to be determined to know anything and everything, except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Further to this the famine is seen already in the serious undermining in our world of the authority and truth of God's word. It is openly declared that the Bible only contains God's word, and is not truly in every part God's word declared and made known. We are told that God has given us minds, and the right and ability to decide ourselves what is God's word and what is not. We have claimed the arrogant right to decide what is true and what is not. The effect is that people from the sinfulness and unbelief within their minds and hearts simply chose from the Bible what suits what they want God to be and say, and will even twist the plain meaning of the message to fit what is acceptable to them. In this the food of God's word is destroyed and all that is left is dry crusts, and even poison. The food to nourish the soul has been removed. So famine results.
Just as there is plenty of things growing in our world which are not fit for our bodies to eat, and in many cases do actual harm to human life if eaten, so there is much that is called truth which is in fact of no value in feeding the soul, and may do actual harm. Preaching today is much of this kind in many examples of it, which purports to be nourishing food, but has no value, and in many cases actually poisons the soul.
This scenario is truly famine of the word of God. It is like serving up to people food which may look appetising, but when tasted, proves to be tasteless, or if tasting good, does not nourish the soul, but slowly starves it to death. Such famine will in fact cause death for the church and every individual who is subject to such a famine.
As in the days of Amos God warned Israel that such a famine was threatened, but still left time for people to come to their senses and repent, so the message of Amos is a call to the church to wake up to the danger, and repent and turn to God's word again. There is no true food for the soul unless the authority of the Bible as the infallible word of God is revived and received again. Only if there is total submission to God's word, and its meaning sought, received and believed, can this famine be avoided.
We still have our churches, and the structure of true Christianity. Let us take warning and return to the truth of God's word, and plead with God to give us preachers and teachers who will be owned by God and his Spirit, and will preach and teach the whole truth of God's word without equivocation. Otherwise the famine will become permanent and eventually churches will become empty and pass away, and there will be nowhere for the hungry soul to find food. It has happened like this before. Israel (the ten tribes making up the northern kingdom) did not repent and seek the Lord, and they disappeared altogether. Christian churches have disappeared, which once flourished with spiritual life. God will not be patient and long-suffering forever.