The prophet Amos preached to the kingdom of Israel. The northern kingdom under the rule of Jeroboam II was at peace with the nations around her. As a result, the nation had become wealthy and prosperous. For many years already the sin of idolatry had plagued this kingdom. With these few years of peace and prosperity the nation gave itself over to the worship of the heathen gods of the nations around her. Though the worship of Jehovah was still to be found, it was a false worship—a worship in appearances only and not from the heart. To use the words of Paul to Timothy, the church then had a “form of godliness but denied the power of it.” The true prophets of Jehovah had disappeared from Israel. Amos was sent by Jehovah from Judah to prophesy against this people.
The church in Israel had become apostate, and the worship was polluted with rituals borrowed from pagan religions. God had warned this nation of His displeasure and of His judgment upon her by sending famines, locusts, and blight. She often suffered defeat by the hands of the nations around her. But now was a time of prosperity. Her citizens soon forgot the displeasure of God over her sin. So Amos now proclaims in the Word of God we consider today in Amos 8:11,12, “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 His just judgment over Israel’s sin God was going to take away the desire to hear the true preaching of the Word.
The spiritual climate in much of the church today is little different than that of Israel of old. Prosperity and peace have ruined the church of today. People are at ease in Zion. As a result, they turn away from the true God of Scripture. They create a false Christianity, and the worship of the false church has become empty and meaningless. Those who still have a voice preach against this idolatry of the false church, but their voice is drowned out by the myriad of false prophets and teachers that have taken the church by storm. In judgment God is slowly removing the testimony of the gospel from the church world of today. Very few have been given ears to hear and believe. Most no longer have a desire to hear the truth of the Word of God. The prophecy of Amos is once again being fulfilled today. God is sending a famine of the hearing of God’s Word. This famine we examine today.
I. Chasing Religious Fads
The people in Israel knew from experience what a famine was. The people in our own land have never experienced anything like it. A famine takes place when God does not send rain for a long period of time—years. The skies are like brass. The sun shines hot every day and the ponds, lakes, and rivers begin to run dry. The result is that vegetation slowly shrivels away and dies. There is no more water, no more grain to make bread. Animals, and eventually people too, die for lack of food and drink.
This is the famine of bread and the thirst for water that Amos refers to in the Word of God we consider. As we mentioned, God had sent such famines on this nation as judgment for her sin against Him. This was in character with the Old Testament where God often sent temporal judgments in order to chasten and warn His people from their sin.
But Amos compares such earthly famine to something far worse: a famine of the hearing of God’s Word. Just as in a regular famine slowly but surely the water disappears and then the food, so also a famine of the hearing of God’s Word. Slowly but surely the hearing of God’s Word disappears and the church is left with stones in the place of the living bread of God’s Word. Apostasy takes over the church and robs the church of the water and bread of life. Like the heat of the sun it parches the church world, leaving it dead and dry, without the Word of God necessary for the life and vibrancy of the church.
The reason for this is clear too. Christ, after all, is the living water and the bread of life. He imparts life to the members of His church. He does this by going the way of the cross. There He died to pay the price of the sins of God’s people. He removes their guilt and makes them righteous before God. There He crucified the old man of sin in them and freed them from the hold sin had on their hearts. This is the life-giving gospel that is preached by the church of Christ. Christ died on the cross to save from sin and was raised again to give His people life. Forsake the preaching of that gospel and you forsake the Christ and the sovereign God who sent Him. When that happens, the church and her members are left dry and lifeless! There may be a shell of a church, but there is no life-giving Word there.
But Amos prophesies in particular in this verse that this famine is that of the hearing of God’s Word. You see, God’s Word stands forever. Today too, the Bible, the Word of God, is ever present and stands as the unchangeable standard of all truth. Its testimony about the holy God and His Son our Savior never changes. But Amos states there will be a famine of the hearing of God’s Word. That is telling! It directs our attention to two distinct truths. In the first place, it refers to the preaching of God’s Word. Obviously, it refers to the Word of God that is heard. That Word of God is heard through the mouths of those whom God has sent to preach that Word. So Amos here refers first of all to the horrible reality that God would send a famine of the preaching of the Word. Those sent out to preach the Word will no longer do so, but will give hay and stubble for bread and water.
That famine of which Amos prophesied, people of God, has come! It is upon the church today. Oh yes, there still are those who faithfully proclaim the Word of God yet today. We thank God for those faithful ministers of the gospel who still preach and teach the Word of God in all its clarity. But they are few in comparison to the false prophets that have taken over modern Christianity today. There are few left that faithfully proclaim sin and salvation in the cross of Jesus Christ alone. Few that reprove the world for its sins and call sinners to repentance. As a result, what we see in our world is a famine of the hearing of God’s Word because churches no longer insist on the sound preaching of God’s Word. People are dying spiritually because there is, as there was in Israel’s day, a lack of knowledge in the Scriptures. Without even realizing it, people are starving to death spiritually. Why? The preaching of God’s Word is rapidly disappearing. Preachers are offering all kinds of human philosophy and antidotes for this world’s ills. They do not preach the gospel contained in the Scriptures. The cry, “Lo, here is Christ,” is heard from various pulpits when Christ is not truly present.
Add to this the problem that preaching in many churches is looked upon as a relic of the past. Preaching is replaced by a short moral homily, an inspirational speech, a political soapbox, a comedy sketch, a testimony, but no longer an exposition of the Word of God. Certainly, no sin is preached, no need for salvation. These are too depressing. The innate goodness of man, the need to think positively, love and toleration of every person, the need for community service—these need to be emphasized. Then too, the “sermon” is short in order that it can be overshadowed by more “relevant” worship, so it is said, such as singing groups, shallow choruses, testimonies. Other innovative ideas include holy laughter, clapping and faith healing, puppet shows, Super Bowls, and so on. There is a famine of the hearing of God’s Word today. The members of the Christian church in general are dying! They are slowly shriveling up from a spiritual point of view.
Then there is the other side of this spiritual famine in the land: people do not want to hear the truth of God’s Word anymore. It is not only the fault of false teachers, but it is the fault of those who have itchy ears and desire to hear anything but the truth of sin and salvation. Amos describes this for us in verse 12: “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.” They shall wander from coast to coast and in every direction to seek the Word of the Lord and shall not find it. And they shall not find it, not simply because it is not there. We know that the truth of God’s Word is still being preached today. If a person were sincerely seeking the Word of the Lord, he or she can still find churches today that preach it. But the reason they cannot find it is because there is a famine of hearing the Word of Jehovah. People do not want to hear the truth, the real truth about God and Jesus Christ, about the fall of man and his sin, and about salvation in Christ alone.
When people wander therefore in every direction, it is because they in their ignorance do not know the truth and are not interested in studying God’s Word to find the truth. They have developed their own idea of what truth is. They do not even heed the simple teaching of God’s Word. And when they are told the truth, they do not want to hear it, and so they keep wandering around aimlessly seeking something new that will tickle their fancy.
The Hebrew term translated here as “wander” means to “swing to and fro.” The idea is to vacillate. One who wanders is one who is not well-grounded in the Word of God. He vacillates between what one person says and then another. He is not sure of himself and what really is truth. So he wanders from place to place looking for what possibly could be the truth—without, mind you, taking time out to study the Word of God itself. God’s Word describes such people perfectly in II Timothy 3:7: “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The Hebrew term translated “running to and fro” literally means “to run around with the arms lashing the air.” Quite the colorful word, I would say! People will run to and fro frantically throwing their hands in the air while searching to find what they might believe is the Word of God and they shall not find it. They go here for a time and there for a time. They never join anything, neither are they any longer required to be a part of anything. There is the spirit of non-commitment, where people go one place for a while, only to become unhappy and go somewhere else for a time. Our church world is given over to fads, and people seek this fad and that fad thinking they now have found the truth of God’s Word, only to see it fade away. Yet, if a person does not keep up with the latest religious fad he is considered irrelevant and outdated. What seems so attractive about all these fads is that these movements amass thousands of people in short periods of time. They look at small churches as irrelevant to the world because, well, such churches, they claim, cannot adapt themselves to the culture in which we live. We need to make an impact on our culture, but we cannot because we use the outdated method of preaching the Word of God and insist on members who learn and know the Scriptures. The true church of Christ is scorned and ridiculed by the vast majority of the church world that cater to the mass of unlearned and spiritually starved people.
II. Divine Judgment
Now, Amos gives us a reason for this spiritual famine too. It may sound hard and harsh. But nothing takes place by chance or by means of its own power. All things are in the hands of God, and He regulates them according to His own will. That is true of the weather. God can send the sunshine, sometimes so hot it scorches the earth. God sends famine. He withholds the rain and sends the sun and everything is dried up. The same is true of spiritual famine, people of God. God sends spiritual famine. Notice what Amos writes in verse 11: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land.” According to this Word of God, God Himself sends this famine. It does not just so happen to take place by chance. This famine of the hearing of Gods Word that we see so evident in the ecclesiastical world of today God sends. It is His judgment on a church that has rejected Him and His Son. God will send false prophets and teachers who will deceive many. They will deceive many by teaching a God and a Christ who are not the same God and Christ taught us in the Scriptures. They will preach and teach a pseudo-Christ, a look-alike Christ. They will preach a god that is not the sovereign, holy, just God of heaven and earth. And many will follow after these lies. God says, I will send these men to deceive many.
Now, such a truth is at one and the same time both frightening to God’s people and offensive to those who walk in error. But we do not say this today on the basis of one passage of the Bible. Jesus warns us in Matthew 24:24, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” God’s Word also clearly states in II Thessalonians 2:11, 12, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Strong language! But it is a reality—whether we want to believe it or not. God’s judgment rests on a church world that has turned away from Him. God shall send them strong delusion. I will send a famine of the hearing of My Word!
Further, God tells us in verse 12 of our text here in Amos that these people will seek the hearing of God’s Word and they will not find it! They will jump from one religious fad to the next; they will attend (not join, mind you), they will attend the services of one popular church until another one that tickles their fancy arises. They will not find the hearing of God’s Word! They will not find it because they cannot find it. This is God’s judgment on a church world that has gone apostate. God, as it were, closes the ears and hearts of people that they refuse to hear the truth. The phrase, then, of our text, “a famine of the hearing of God’s Word,” makes reference to these two great truths. First, God sends men who no longer preach the truth, and in that sense no one is able to hear it. But then too, God stops the ears of many. He hardens their hearts that they refuse to hear it.
May God grant, to those who without realizing it are ensnared by those who deceive, deliverance to an acknowledging of the truth. Certainly, we pray for them that God might deliver them out of the snare of the devil. We cannot overcome a famine that God sends. We know that. But we also know that God will save His people. May God graciously grant to His people the eyes to see the error of so many and the truth of His Word so they are not deceived. What a warning we receive from this prophet today. May we study to show ourselves approved of God.
III. The Only Antidote
This certainly has implications for those churches in this world who yet preach the Word of God in truth. Behold, God says! Take notice! Beware! Pay attention to what I am saying! I will send a famine. That famine is no longer in the future, but in the present! Beware! Acts 13:40: “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets.” II Peter 3:17, 9: “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” To the church the calling comes: “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Preach the Word of God. And hear that Word. Listen to it. That Word will be as the gentle showers that fall upon the hearts of God’s people in order that they might live. The life-giving Word, the gospel, is the only means by which we are fed unto life eternal. Christ will use the preaching to feed His sheep.
As believers we need to seek out the hearing of God’s Word. We must insist upon good sound preaching of God’s Word. The hearing of the Word is vital to our spiritual lives. How good it is, dear listener, to sing and pray together, but then also to sit quietly listening to the Word of God preached. This is a rare delight today, it seems. We thank God that yet today we can eat and drink God’s Word and walk away not starving from famine, but full.