Currently, Eastern and Southern Africa are in the grip of a severe drought. This is threatening a famine that may affect up to 40 million people. Such catastrophe is distressing but seems all too remote from our own experience. We know nothing of what the experts describe as “food insecurity”. There is such a thing as spiritual famine, however. The Bible speaks of “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord”. To many, it would be absurd that we could be on the brink of that. We have Bibles. There are still many preachers in the land. Some seem to gather large enough congregations. But availability of preachers does not always equal availability of the Word.
This “famine of hearing the words of the Lord” is described in Amos 8:11-12. There might well still be numerous prophets in the land, but they would not be proclaiming the words of the Lord. Why would God judge His people in this way? Simply because they would not obey His Word. This was seen in their false worship. Following on from Jeroboam they had invented things in the worship of God that He had never commanded. Since they would not obey His Word, He would, therefore, withdraw His Word from them. Failure to obey God’s Word in the area of worship and in many other areas is the great evidence that the Church in our land despises the Word of God.
We then get the preaching that we both want and deserve: a populist message of pragmatic platitudes. It is preaching that does not exalt God and will not proclaim eternal realities. The lives of all too many are filled with trivialities and much preaching declines to unsettle this. It communicates a “feel-good” gospel that neither offends nor benefits anyone. Sometimes it is so vague that is not even distinctively Christian.
Many preachers do not want to press home to their congregations the particular parts of God’s Word that they are ignoring or disobeying. Sin is played down and holiness neglected. It reveals a lack of confidence in the power and authority of the Word of God. Messages prevail therefore in which Scripture is alluded to in the lightest of ways. We have succumbed to our culture’s resistance to reading anything carefully or in depth. Many sermons concede defeat to the most minimal attention span and seem obliged to offer entertainment. The result is biblical illiteracy and malnutrition. Perhaps the greatest curse is not simply to experience such spiritual famine but not to be conscious of it.
False prophets of every variety are the greatest threat to the Church in our nation. Thankfully there are faithful preachers but they are a comparatively small number. This is the imminent famine facing our nation. It may be that the time will come when some will realise too late that they have effectively lost contact with the Word of God. Now is the time to seek out authentic, soul-nourishing preaching.
“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” (Amos 8:11-12).
George Hutcheson draws vital lessons from this solemn verse. Since they were so desirous to be rid of the Word the Lord, He threatens that in their extremities they should be deprived of it. Though they would seek after it, they would not find it. This teaches us:
1. The Word of the Lord should be, and is to the soul, what food is to the body.
It refreshes, strengthens it and keeps it in life, enabling action and work. The lack of it is called famine in the land (see Job 23:12).
2. When the Word is despised, God is just in removing it.
When the Word is despised, and men are weary of it, God is justly provoked to take it from them.The false priest Amaziah expressed their general attitude in his words to Amos (chapter 7: 12-13). Now “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”.
3. Famine of the Word is worse than famine of food.
Men’s souls are better than their bodies and their eternal welfare should be preferred to physical life. Thus, a famine of the Word is a more solemn affliction and expresses greater wrath, then if the Lord should let a nation starve for lack of food and drink. Therefore it is “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water (which is small compared to this) “but of hearing the words of the LORD”. This is why the verse also begins with “Behold”.
4. Those who despise God’s Word most may yet realise their loss in not having it.
There are those who despise God’s Word most and would think it a great mercy to be rid of the trouble it gives them. These may yet experience such extremity that they will miss the Word and would be glad to have it. They will even expend great effort to enjoy it. Thus, “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”.
5. It is just that God should entirely remove His Word from such, even though they seek it.
It is righteous for God to remove the Word from those who despise it when it is offered. Even though they miss it and seek after it when they afterwards experience trouble. They only seek it because they want to get rid of their calamities. It is not because they are conscious of their sin or desire true spiritual comfort. It is righteous for God to give them no success when they seeking after the Word. Even though they make the greatest efforts to run through all corners of the land. Thus, “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”.