Summary: When we neglect God and His word, when we turn to God-substitutes, the result is spiritual dryness. When we want God to leave us alone, He just might. Amos tells what it will be like to live without a prophetic voice.
“Spiritual Famine” Amos 8:9-14 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (23 Aug 2015)
In 1968, the USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence ship, was captured by North Korea, a week before the start of the “Tet Offensive” in Vietnam. The sailors were held prisoners for nearly a year. To help them get through their captivity and mistreatment, they compiled a “Pueblo Bible” of all the verses they could remember. If the Bible was taken from you, how much would you miss it, and how much of it would you be able to recall?
The prophet Amos was a shepherd who appeared on the scene 760 years before the birth of Christ, around the time of the founding of Rome. The nation was economically prosperous but spiritually bankrupt, complacent, and with little tolerance for correction. Spiritual apathy results in spiritual dryness. Amos was preaching against a self-imposed spiritual famine. It was a tough-sell; his audience was God’s chosen, entitled people, yet they were acting like orphans. And so “the prophetic word hammered away, to penetrate the thick defenses of excuse-making” (Eugene Peterson).
A popular public figure recently mentioned that he has an extensive Bible collection--all the Bibles sent him by people who apparently thought he needed to read God's word. He said he wouldn't dream of throwing them away, but I wonder if he ever picks one up and actually reads it? Or does he fail to see his need of any word from Above? The Bible opens our minds to truth that transforms.
In the days of Amos, merchants were keeping religious festivals...but reluctantly. They were going through the motions of worship, putting up a front, being “respectable.” They really couldn’t wait for the holy days and Sabbaths to be over so they could go back to making money. All they were really cared about was their bottom-line of bettering themselves. Their heart was not in their worship; it was on material things. They put on a religious front, but God knew their hearts, and He was not pleased. Because the people didn’t have an appetite for His Word, God warned He would take it away. “They will get what they asked for: His absence. And then no amount of searching will find Him” (Peterson). What is more important to us than God and His will?
Neglect of Scripture--Biblical illiteracy--is a grave danger. When we're seeking guidance, do we consider what God has to say, or do we consult everything except God's word? We all know people whose Bible is The Wall Street Journal. Scripture is a lamp to our feet, a light for our path. We can stumble in the dark, or walk in the light. So let's look at today's passage, verse-by-verse...
Verse 9 starts out with the force of a curse: “In that day,” a day of divine intervention. God declares that the sun will go down at noon-time; not an eclipse of the sun, but a figurative punishment, that of spiritual darkness. The image reflects the nation's spiritual blindness. This is more apocalyptic than any natural disaster. Worse than strong words of judgment from God is no word from God. Those who refuse God's revelation will lose His guidance--a famine of silence. We complain that God is silent, when the problem is: We're not listening.
In verse 10 the festivals will become times of lamentation, and singing will give way to mourning. Parties will be turned into funerals, and people will be singing the blues. God will motivate His people to return to Him. Sackcloth and shaving the head are signs of repentance.
Compare verse 11 with Jesus' Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Matthew 5:6. As a punishment, God warns that He will take away even the opportunity to hear His word. For some, they've already done that! They've rejected the prophetic message delivered to them. They would discover what it is like to live without a prophetic voice. They already are, by their own choice, starving. They're famished yet they don't see the problem. Guidance and comfort from above will dry up. When we tell God, “Leave me alone,” He may well do so.
Verse 12 says that in dry days people will search for a word from the Lord without success. They will inquire at the Temple for a word of hope, but there will be nothing. They will faint, due to spiritual thirst. They will be weakened, unsteady and aimless, by spiritual famine. And we will too when we fail to spend time in God's word. We won't be able to withstand the trials and temptations that come our way. Isaiah urges us to “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (55:6). The implication is that there may well come a day when it will be too late.