The events in Amos 8:1-12 happened almost 3,000 years ago, but they could read like headlines from today’s news. Amos lived during the reign of King Jeroboam II, whose reign was characterized by territorial expansion, aggressive militarism, and unprecedented national prosperity. His people took pride in their misguided religious beliefs, their history as God’s chosen people, their military victories, their economic affluence, and their political security.
Amos was a blue-collar lay preacher. The elites saw him as an unwelcome outsider. His criticism was brutal. He described how the rich mistreated the poor and flaunted their wealth. Fathers and sons visited the same temple prostitute. Corrupt judges sold justice to the highest bidder. Loan sharks exploited vulnerable families. The religious leaders pronounced God’s blessing on it all! Does this sound familiar? God sent his prophet Amos to warn the Israelites to repent of their sins. God gives us these examples in this passage to teach us that He hates sin. He promised a Saviour who would save us from our sins.
God used an image of ripe fruit to tell Amos the message that He wanted the Israelites to hear. The Hebrew word for end sounds like the word for summer fruit, which was harvested at the end of Israel’s agricultural season. This wordplay indicates that Israel’s end is near. The point of the vision was to declare that Israel’s rebellion had ripened. The harvest of their disobedience was God’s judgment. Israel’s refusal to return to the Lord brought her to the point of no return.
Israel’s wealthy eagerly awaited the end of feasts and the Sabbath so they could continue exploiting the poor. But on the Day of Judgment, not only would those celebrations be turned into mourning but there would be a famine of the words of the Lord-His truth would no longer be revealed through His prophets. Today, the Bible is available nearly everywhere, but deaf ears can still produce spiritual drought. Not many people listened to Amos. In fact, Amaziah the priest defended King Jeroboam and ran Amos out of town.
These visions have implications for us today. When is an individual, a church, or a ministry ripened fruit? Does resistance to God finally result in an irreversible end? Physical death ends the possibility of repentance and new life. We will spend eternity separated from God unless we accept His offer of salvation through Christ before we die. The scariest thing is that it is possible to resist the overtures of God’s love for so long that our wills can become hardened. We have to recognize the danger of becoming ripened fruit by never confessing Christ as Lord. Any claims of righteousness by faith must be combined with seeking and doing His will in our relationships and in our responsibilities to care for the poor, hungry, and disadvantaged.
When we do not heed God’s warnings and His exposure of what is wrong, we face the eventuality of becoming ripened fruit. We run the danger of becoming ripened fruit through the long process of hypocrisy. Israel’s hypocrisy ripened and would be cut off. Spoilage began and decomposition was not far off. All of us suffer from the danger of pretending to be pious while our actions contradict our words.
In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy led to blatant rebellion. The passage from Amos revealed four charges. One charge was against the hypocrites who pretended to be religious while the poor were starved, sold into slavery, or lived in an impoverished state. Weights and measures, which were crucial to the economic order of the nation, were being falsified in the sale of grain, wheat, and produce. In verse 7, God swore an oath the He would never forget these practices of the hypocrites. The consequence of His oath would be like an earthquake.
The greatest impact of God’s judgment on the hypocrisy would be a famine of hearing the words of God. It would not be a famine of words, but a famine of hearing. Hypocrisy ripened to the point where the people no longer sought God’s words, nor did they listen when He spoke.
Amos rightly calls this period of silence a famine. It will be discouraging. The pain of living under Roman rule will be bad enough, but the total lack of prophesy will make it worse. The Israelites will be able to practice their religion, but only because the emperor allows it. The people will wonder where God is. They won’t be given any sign that Roman power is limited in either time or magnitude. Their belief that God is the Lord of all creation will be mocked, and He won’t do or say anything to prove them wrong.
In this famine of hearing, people will react like starving people. News reports bring into our homes and hearts the reality of people who are starving. As we see physical hunger, we are forced to see the stages of starvation, especially in Africa. Hatred grows between people. The hungry move from place to place looking for food and water. Soon apathy sets in. Absent stares are seen in eyes that are set in dark, hollow sockets. The starving people sink to the ground. Atrophy begins. Then the terrible grip of the monster of hunger causes them to writhe in pain. Finally, there is death. This is similar to the spiritual starvation of the Israelites when they experienced the famine of hearing the words of God.
We can identify the famine of hearing in our own time. It is similar to the famine of food. When people substitute hypocrisy for a dynamic relationship with God, there is an unsatisfied spiritual hunger. They go through the same process as in physical starvation-agitation, then acrimony, followed by criticism and negativism. People run all over the place in search of meaning in their lives.
God has sent a famine of hearing today. We can block the ears of our minds and our hearts to His words of grace and guidance, His demands of righteousness and justice in our personal lives and society for so long that we become spiritually deaf for a time. When we want God as much as a starving person longs for food or a thirsty person for water, we will be satisfied. If we want to be right with God, and we want His righteousness in our relationships and our responsibilities, God will answer our prayers. Spiritual famine does not have to lead to our spiritual death.
Unfortunately many people don’t realize that they are in a spiritual famine. Many people do starve when spiritual food is available. Others eat spiritual junk food when they really need a substantial intake of spiritual food that they can only get by receiving the nutritious truths from God’s Word.
There is not a famine of the words of God in the world today. We can turn on the radio, television, computer, smart phone, or tablet at almost any time of the day or night and hear or read a biblical exposition. The difficulty is in the willingness to hear. Something is seriously wrong in our hearts when we see God’s commandments and regular, corporate worship as a burden to get through rather than a privilege to enjoy. When we lose our appetite for Scripture it is because of spiritual sickness. This passage from Amos gives us an opportunity to help people identify their spiritual hunger and determine why they may not be listening.
How hungry are we for the Word of God? In 1 Peter 2:2, Peter tells us to be hungry for the Word like newborn babies hunger for mother’s milk. How much time do we spend each day feeding at the divine table and savor each line and doctrine with such complete joy and relish that it changes us from the inside out? How much do we long to fill our souls with the pure and wholesome teaching of God’s Word? How often during the day do we pause to have devotions and savor the beauty, goodness, and truth of God and His Word?
If Amos were among us today, what would he see, and what would he say? God’s children are starving because the word of God is being withheld from them. We must ask ourselves if it is just rules getting in the way of them being fed. What if we suspended the rules? Would Christ show up anyway?
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013; pp. 1186-1187)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1227-1229)
- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 22: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.: 1990; pp. 355-366)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN:Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Dr. Paul Chappell, “The Worst Famine.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Spiritual Famine.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- T.M. Moore, “Hungry for the Word.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mike Slay and Matt Richardson, “Where is God?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Jennifer Brownell, “Rules.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dan Clendenin, “Amos: Will Not the Land Tremble?” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net