Vol. 10 — No. 8 February 23, 1969
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
In Christ Jesus, whose Word is to be received in meekness or it may well be taken away, Feilow Redeemed:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God…” These words are the formula so frequently used by the prophets to introduce a prophecy of things to come-good or evil. This was a prophecy of evil to come—a famine. But it was not to be a famine of bread such as their father Jacob had experienced when he was forced to take up residence in Egypt and such as the nation had experienced in the wilderness or when the plague of the locusts struck the fields or enemies cut off the food supplies. Neither was this to be a famine for water, as when they had murmurred in the wilderness because of the lack of water. So, this was to be an altogether different kind of a famine. It was to be a famine in the realm of the spiritual, a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
How was that prophecy received by the people who first heard it? We can well imagine that at first there was amazement, then utter disbelief, then anger and finally hatred against the prophet who dared to utter any such word against the favorite children of the Lord. When Amos began by prophesying against the surrounding nations who were the mortal enemies of his people, his prophesies were well received. But when he continued by prophesying against Judah and Israel, he was accused of conspiracy and treason against the state. The nation was affluent and powerful, yet Amos prophesied doom. Religious activity was lively, the priesthood functioned, the temple and shrines overflowed with worshipers, yet Amos prophesied a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
That famine came to pass according to the word of Amos. The tragedy in that day was that the people didn’t recognize conditions in their midst that were in the process of creating a famine of the Word. Oddly enough, when the famine of the Word strikes, its victims frequently don’t even recognize the judgment of the Lord against them. Let us realize that famine producing conditions and conditions of famine occur and re-occur throughout history. In our society, and especially within the churches, both famine-producing and conditions of famine are evident to the eye that dares to look. Let us make ourselves aware of what’s going on in our day by considering the words of Amos spoken centuries ago. A newspaper headline reporting the words of our text would probably have read like this:
Editorial comment on the prophecy would have possibly discussed first of all—
The first condition was the substitution of superstition for repentance and faith that works by love. What was the prevailing superstition of that time? It’s the sane superstition that people of every age and place fall victim to—the confident assurance that just going through the motions of religion, the forms of worship, is pleasing to the Lord. Religious formalism was being practiced in Israel. Worshipers went through the motions of religion. They imagined that God would be satisfied. What was His reaction? Amos recorded it: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer He burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.” (5:2l-22) The Lord hates pompous religious show, yet people superstitiously keep on believing that they can placate God with such a show. God looks at the heart and life of the individual. And what is He looking for? Repentance, a daily turning away from sin, and faith, a daily turning to Him for forgiveness, and love, a daily exercising of that faith.
Do we not have the same famine-producing conditions today? Think of one of the most widespread of superstitions among people today—the imagined value of a fine funeral for the deceased. Many people, even church people who should know better, imagine that a nice funeral with many flowers and an expensive casket and a beautiful corpse and a solemn service with a clergyman intoning pious platitudes and saying nice things about the deceased—that all of this will somehow assure the deceased of a place in one of the mansions of heaven. do funeral helps any dead person! The fate of an individual when he dies is determined by the lack or presence of repentance and faith in his heart the moment of death; The funeral superstition creates a famine condition because it makes the Word, which works repentance and Faith, superfluous.
A second condition that creates a famine of hearing the words of the Lord is the preaching of man-pleasing instead of God-directed messages. When Amos proclaimed God’s judgment upon the enemies of Judah and Israel, his words were well received. The people liked that! Isn’t it true that we all like to hear a preacher expose the sins of others and pronounce God’s judgment upon them? As long as we can make ourselves believe that the message is for the “other person,” we feel quite comfortable. But when the message begins to strike closer home, then we tend to feel uncomfortable. So it has always been. When Amos prophesied judgment upon Damascus and Gaza, the people nodded their solemn assent. But when he prophesied judgment upon Judah and Israel, they accused him of conspiracy, sedition and treason. People haven’t changed. None of us like to be reminded of our faults and shortcomings. And that is why it has always been and remains a characteristic of people that they want and expect their clergymen to tell them what they want to hear instead of what God vents them to hear. Any clergyman who feels conscience and duty bound to proclaim the word of the Lord, as did Amos, may find it rough going. Then the pressure will begin to mount to yield to the demands of the people, even as Aaron once yielded when he made the golden calf. When the Lord sees that neither those in the pew nor those in the pulpit want His Word, as He directs it to be proclaimed, it isn’t at all strange that He sends a famine of hearing His Word.
A third condition that brings on a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord is the triumph of self-love over love for the Lord and one’s neighbor. The days of Amos were affluent times, but they were also days of gross social injustice. The rich oppressed the poor. The wealthy society ladies were especially singled out by Amos because they crushed the needy, while urging their husbands to fetch them another drink. When man surrenders to his selfish instincts, when he smothers all concern for others in self—love, when living becomes entirely devoted to the gratification of the wants and desires of the body, then people become cruel and ruthless and heartless. Then man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man becomes his way of life. Then also the struggle for survival becomes the law of the jungle: kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. Self-love smothers love of God, which reveals itself in love for the neighbor. It’s impossible for a person to love God without loving his neighbor. St. John asked the rhetorical question: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath no seen?” (I John 4:20) When love towards God and man is dead, conditions are ripe for a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, for the Word of the Lord urges just such love.
Conditions were ripe in society at the time of Amos for a famine of the Word. They are also ripe for such a famine in our society today. What are conditions like when such a famine strikes? On the basis of the words of Amos our editorialist could also describe—
The condition may exist that there is a complete loss of the Word. Amos prophesied, “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” It’s gone! The Word is no longer there! What is the situation in the area where Amos preached and lived? Most of that part of the world is Mohammedan. The Word of the Lord has been replaced with the word of Mohammad. The Bible has been replaced by the Koran. The God of man’s salvation has been replaced by Allah, a figment of man’s imagination. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus has been replaced by the cry, “Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet,” and by fasting, uttering meaningless and worthless prayers, almsgiving, and pilgrimages to Mecca. The famine of hearing the words of the Lord has truly come to that part of the world, The state of Israel occupies the territory on which Amos stood when he proclaimed this word of the Lord. The Jew has the Old Testament but rejects the New Testament. In so doing he has lost the key to the Old Testament. The hope of Israel for a Savior from sin, death and damnation has been replaced by the hope of Israel for survival as a nation and state in the midst of its enemies. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has been converted into a mind-made idol who is entrusted with the fate of the nation. When the Word of God is rejected, the famine sometimes takes the form of a complete loss of the Word.
Another famine condition may well be the smothering of the Word by endless activity. Amos speaks of wandering from sea to sea and running to and fro and of seeking and not finding. It’s a picture of much activity, but fruitless activity. Isn’t this a graphic picture of the modern church? Think of the activity in the form of planning sessions and fund raising activities and building programs that end up in the fine modern educational units that one sees on every hand. Think of the committee activity, the hum of typewriters and printing presses, the whirl of train and truck wheels, the spending of huge sums of money to prepare, print and deliver educational materials. But when the congregations get their materials and their members have it in hand and sit down in their fine educational buildings, what do most church members find? A famine of hearing the words of the Lord. One disturbed women in the area, who questioned her pastor concerning the literature and teaching that her children were receiving in Sunday School, was told, “We don’t have time for the Bible stories.” No time for the Bible stories in Sunday School! That’s the way it is—so much activity, but in the midst of it all a famine of the Word. Is it any different in most modern pulpits? Oh there is activity in the churches as the social activists and revolutionaries take over, and there’s activity in the pulpits as propaganda is made for social programs and actions, but in the midst of it all there is a woeful famine of hearing the Word of the Lord. May God grant that we continue to be a rich oasis in the midst of this famine on all sides of us!
The famine can also take this form of the process of hardening by which the sound of the Word is heard but the contents missed. This type of famine condition can be created by hearers in the midst of a situation where there is no famine because the Word is being proclaimed and taught. We’ve been talking about just this situation in our adult Sunday School class. When Jesus taught and preached, there was no famine. Yet people created famine conditions by refusing to listen and heed. Jesus analyzed this condition for his disciples by quoting words from Isaiah: “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Matt. 13:14-15. The Lord is describing the dread condition of hardening by which the hearers create famine conditions for themselves in the midst of plenty. If anyone hears, but refuses to heed, he may soon be incapable of understanding. Haven’t you heard people say, “I just can’t understand it.” It may be that they are earnestly seeking, but it may also be that judgment has set in. They can’t understand because they didn’t want to understand.
Let us be on our guard lest we become victims of a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Daily repentance and faith, daily exercising of our faith by love, daily sitting at Jesus’ feet to hear His Word, daily taking our own thoughts captive as we seek to learn of Him, daily prayer for humility and submission to His Word—these are counter-famine measures. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.