The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany February 6, 2011
296, 388, 284, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit. And He said, “Amos, what do you see?” So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me: “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple shall be wailing in that day,” Says the Lord God—“Many dead bodies everywhere, they shall be thrown out in silence.” Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail, saying:“When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat? Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—even sell the bad wheat?” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall the land not tremble for this, and everyone mourn who dwells in it? All of it shall swell like the River, heave and subside like the River of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God, “that I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight; I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, and baldness on every head; I will make it like mourning for an only son, and its end like a bitter day. Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it. In that day the fair virgins and strong young men shall faint from thirst. Those who swear by the sin of Samaria, who say, as your god lives, O Dan!’ and, ‘As the way of Beersheba lives!’ They shall fall and never rise again.”
In Christ Jesus our Savior, who provides the nourishment for our souls, dear fellow-redeemed:
How long have you ever gone without eating a meal or at least a snack? Chances are pretty good that unless we’ve been sick most of us have not gone very long without at least some food. Even skipping just one meal can leave the stomach feeling empty rather quickly. In our country where we have such an easily obtainable abundance of food, we really don’t know what scarcity and hunger are.
How long have you ever gone without feeding your soul? It’s a similar need as food for our bodies—the need for nourishment. Souls send out pangs of hunger just as much as stomachs do. But sadly, it seems easier to listen to the growling of a stomach than it does the hunger pangs of a soul. Just as surely as we need meals each day to keep the hunger at bay, just as much as we need the nourishment of good solid food to keep our bodies alive, healthy, and growing, so surely we need the nourishment of God’s Word.
The soul of every sinner growls with hunger. Sometimes people can reject God and ignore the growling of their souls, but they still growl. The souls of sinners growl with hunger because they know they sin against God as their consciences bear witness that there has to be a “higher being” who has certain expectations which we can’t attain.
Souls growl with hunger when they collapse in loneliness. They growl with hunger when they cry with seemingly unstoppable tears. They growl with hunger when one’s attitude and approach to life is nothing but grumpiness and anger at anything and everything.
There is an awful lot of soul growling in our world. Our souls growl as well. God provides food, but in today’s text, God announced a famine for souls—not a famine of food or water, but of hearing the Word of God. As we consider this text we pray that this type of famine never strikes. I. Onset: The days of abundance come to an end, II. The once vibrant life withers without nourishment, and III. The hungry long for what they once despised.
The Lord showed Amos a basket of summer fruit. “And He said, “Amos, what do you see?” So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” [v.2]
The basket of summer fruit represented the end of the fruit-bearing season, and it was fruit that would not last long without spoiling. This symbolized to Amos that God’s time of patiently bearing with the people’s sin was coming to an end, just as summer fruit comes to an end and rots. It was the end of the season of God’s mercy and soon judgment would come. God continues, “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple shall be wailing in that day.” [vv.2-3] God would bring judgment!
God also identified some of the wickedness being practiced by the people. The people of Israel were pursuing things for their own selfish gains—not caring about those who had needs, not looking out for the poor; indeed not looking out for anyone but themselves at all! “Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail.” [v.4] They were self-focused, serving their own desires, getting what they wanted, getting it whenever they could, and didn’t care about how they obtained it.”
God continued with more specific examples: “[You say]:‘When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?” [v.5] Their question was “When will all this feasting and celebrating and worship be over so that we can get back to our business?” They didn’t like having to take time off to spend with the Lord. They didn’t want to worry about the sacrifice of the New Moon, Sabbaths, and other festivals. They just wanted to get back to business to earn money, get ahead in life, do their one thing, and have some fun! Essentially they asked, “When will all this religion be done so we can get back to meaningful things?”
When the people did return to their daily life, that wasn’t very God-pleasing either. God continues by describing their business dealings: “Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales by deceit ,that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—even sell the bad wheat?” [vv.5-6] Their business dealings were unscrupulous! They were falsifying scales, they were cheating in the weight of the grain, they were cheating in the money, they were selling bad grain mixed with chaff and impurities. They were making their living at the expense of others!
Can you find any parallels between Amos’ day and the conditions in Israel compared to our own? There are plenty of times and circumstances when it seems that the end of religion—time spent in God’s Word—can’t come to an end quickly enough because there’s so much else to do. We too see all of the busy-ness and all of the efforts to accomplish material wealth, to accomplish things for here and now, the cheating, and the selfish dealings at the expense of others.
Other examples in Amos provide a further parallel to our land. The people of Amos’ day were very self-reliant and proud: “Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood, you who rejoice over Lo Debar, who say, ‘Have we not taken Karnaim for ourselves by our own strength’”? (Amos 6:12-13).
The sexual immorality that is present today was also known to Amos: “They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, and pervert the way of the humble. A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name” (Amos 2:12).
Just as many in the world today, the people of Amos’ day were going about life, havin’ a good time, pursuing the sins of the flesh, just waiting for the religious stuff to be over. It looked like success. It looked like abundance, but God would bring His judgment and all of that so-called abundance would come to an end. All of the joy and reveling would fall silent and change to sorrow. God says in his judgment: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall the land not tremble for this, and everyone mourn who dwells in it? All of it shall swell like the River, heave and subside like the River of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God, That I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight; I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, and baldness on every head; I will make it like mourning for an only son, and its end like a bitter day.” [vv.7-10]
God describes the sorrow that would be experienced in a heart-wrenching way. The deep penetrating sorrow of losing an only child would be a beginning of a taste of the sorrow that would be felt when God’s judgment would come upon the land.
God had already allowed trouble to come to the people in an effort to lead them see their sin and repent. He told them, “I gave you hunger in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to me, says the LORD” (Amos 4:6). The time for patience was ending, the days of abundance would soon come to a close, the time for judgment was at hand.
The effect of the famine of hearing God’s Word would be that the people would not hear the message of salvation. God pronounced, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” [v.11] All of the things that God gave the people through His Word would be gone.
The Word of God that pronounced that He was their God and they were His people—GONE! The Word of God that says, “I am almighty God. I made the heavens and the earth, I will protect and provide for you”—GONE! The promise of a Savior that would come and redeem them—GONE! The promise and assurance of the forgiveness of sins so that sinners can go on day-by-day in confidence knowing that they have peace with God and are “right” with Him—GONE!
Think for yourselves of all the promises and assurances that you have because of what God says to you through His Word. Think of the reliance you have upon that Word. Because you can hear the Word, because you can go to the Scriptures and read them, you have so many blessings which God gives through His Word. Now imagine all of that gone…forgotten…completely removed from your life. That is the effect of a famine of hearing the Word of God. All of the truth, all of the grace, simply GONE!
If there is a famine of hearing the Gospel, then all that the Gospel brings to sinners is gone and the once vibrant life withers without nourishment. Jesus used the illustration of a vine and branches: “I am the vine, you are the branches, He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Connected to Jesus we are living and vibrant. Connected to Jesus through His Word and the working of the Holy Spirit, we produce fruits of faith. We follow things in our lives that glorify God and agree with His will. Our words and actions give testimony to all that He is and all that He has done. Were we to be cut off from the Vine, we—the branches—would quickly wither and die. A famine of hearing the Word of God brings spiritual death and destruction.
God also describes the aftermath left in the wake of the famine. “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it. In that day the fair virgins and strong young men shall faint from thirst. Those who swear by the sin of Samaria, who say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan!’ and, ‘As the way of Beersheba lives!’ They shall fall and never rise again.” [vv.12-14]
Earlier in book of Amos we learn that the people of his day told the prophet to be quiet because they didn’t want to hear what he had to say. They said, “Do not prophesy!” (Amos 2:12). Now, God says, in the aftermath of His judgment, in the midst of the famine, those same people who once said, “Do not prophesy!” will suddenly want to hear. They will go from sea to sea, and north to east, hither and yon, searching far and wide to find God’s Word, but will not find it.
In much happier days as the children of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God warned of what would happen if they forsook Him. Through Moses He said: “If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD…Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known—wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see. (Deuteronomy 28:58,64-67).
This is a very bleak and somber picture. It was the picture of a famine that God said would come upon the people because they had turned away from Him. They had despised His Word long enough and He would take it away. Isaiah the prophet warns: “Seek the Lord while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6).
If this is where God left things, we would have pure Law and we ourselves would be left despondent. We do not listen and honor God’s Word as we ought. Though our souls hunger for the message of the Gospel, we do not always pursue the nourishment of the Gospel with the same excitement and the same sense of need as we do food for our bodies. We sin against the Law of God and we too deserve God’s judgment.
But even in the book of Amos—which is predominantly a record of God’s righteous judgment upon the selfishness and unbelief of the people—God provides hope. In the last chapter of Amos, beginning with verse 11 the Lord speaks saying, “On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the Lord who does this thing. “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” (Amos 9:11-13).
In a famine-stricken land that was bleak, empty, and without hope, God promised a day when the abundance would be so great that the reapers wouldn’t be done harvesting when the time came to plant; and the ones who press the grapes would not have finished one year’s crop before the next season began. The mountains would drip with sweet wine. God foretold an abundance so overwhelming and so amazing that the famine would be long forgotten—not even a distant memory. God foretold an abundance of salvation and grace in Jesus, our Savior.
Our sins deserve God’s judgment just as surely as He judged Israel, but in Christ Jesus we have an abundance of salvation. The rivers of Living Water and the Bread of Life flow to us (cf. Gospel reading). Jesus stands up in our midst and says, “I am the Bread of Life. I will feed your growling soul. I will give you nourishment when your soul is weak. I will give you the refreshing waters of salvation by assuring you that your sins are washed away.”
You are guaranteed a famine-free existence by clinging to the Word of Jesus. While you cling to His Word, He isn’t going to take the Word away from you. Jesus isn’t going to strip you of your soul’s bread and water. Only if we neglect the nourishment do we face the danger of God’s judgment and a famine of hearing the Word of God.
Pray that famine never strikes. As you pray, go to Jesus, the Bread of Life to hear His Word and be nourished. Feed your souls the way you feed your bodies, and your souls too will be strong, healthy, vibrant and bearing much fruit. Feed your souls as you feed your bodies and you will be living fruit-bearing branches of the Vine. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.