Famine in the Land
Crucifixion is probably the most violent and painful death ever devised for man to perpetrate on another man
Yet the most horrible way to die is probably starvation
To have what would otherwise be a healthy body and to simply waste away to nothing over weeks and months is an agonizing way to die
Death by starvation can happen in as little as three weeks or take as long as seventy days.
First the body uses up all of the glucose for energy. Then the fats are broken down and used. After that comes the proteins - tissues necessary for strong muscles and bones are broken down in and effort to maintain essential bodily functions.
The victims become apathetic and listless. Their skin becomes flaky, their hair changes color and their abdomen swells from massive edema (swelling of the body due to fluid buildup in the tissue).
In the history of the world there have been massive catastrophic famines
In the 1840’s disease struck the potato crop in Ireland causing food shortages on a tremendous scale that lasted until 1853 and resulted in 1.5 million deaths.
In 1921 following years of war and revolution famine swept the newly formed Soviet Union resulting in more than 5 million deaths
In China in the 1950’s and early 60’s government takeovers of private farmland and mismanagement of crops led to famine of an apocalyptic nature that left 43 million dead by the year 1962.
Yet as bad as physical famines may be - of greater danger to a nation and an individual is the experience of a spiritual famine.
Another side symptom of starvation is dehydration - being separated from the meat of the Word of God and the life-giving fountain of life.
We live in a world that is in the midst of a catastrophic Spiritual famine.
In Belgium a professor at a Catholic University was fired this year because he taught his students that abortion is murder.
In Canada, Trinity Western University law school has lost it’s accreditation because they have a sexual ethics policy that only allows for relations between heterosexual married couples.
Here in the United States, Cornell University, as well as other schools, has removed nativity scenes, angels, crosses and mistletoe from campus decorations.
And unfortunately it has even infected the church. In churches across the nation men are starting their teaching from points outside the Bible.
Tonight we’re going to look at Amos 8 and we’re going to see that the same factors that led to a spiritual famine in the days of Amos are prevalent in our world today.
Turn in your Bibles to Amos 8 - we’ll be working our way through the whole chapter
Read Amos 8:1-14
The Coming of the Famine
The Coming of the Famine
Behold - three times in this vision explanation Amos says behold, now hear this - wake up and pay attention.
Throughout the book Amos has repeatedly plead with the Israelites to wake up, to hear the words of the Lord - he is trying to call them out of their spiritual lethargy and get them moving again.
Amos is shown a basket of summer fruit, fruit that had grown rich and juicy through hours of sunlight and nourishment.
Fruit isn’t put in a basket unless it is ripe for picking.
The fruit symbolizes the nation of Israel that is ripe for destruction.
Amos uses a play on words here to drive his point home - in Hebrew the word for summer fruit and the word for end sound very similar - Amos is engaging in some word play to drive home his point that their time is at an end.
The patience of God - who is long in patience - had run out.
No longer would He relent from the judgement that the actions of the Israelites had stored up for them
He says that the songs of the palace, or most likely the temple, would turn to wailings.
The songs of the temple would have been festive and worshipful in nature but Amos here says that on that day - meaning the day of judgement that is coming for the nation - their songs would turn to wailing
Being in a house of four children I’m used to hearing wailing - and there is a significant difference between the fake wail of “I just need attention” and the guttural wail that cries out in pain
The wailing that Amos is alluding to here is the shrill, painful, guttural wail of utter loss and destruction. It is the wail of a parent who has just lost a child, or of a husband or wife who just lost a spouse. It is the cry that says the whole world is ending.
God declares that these wailings will be for the number of corpses that lie in and around the temple.
It is a difficult proposition to try to describe the horrors of war that I have never experienced myself and yet remain sensitive to the fact that some of you may have seen things I would never want to see. I use these illustrations to give us a picture of how bad things would be for the Israelites but if, as I read this, the description becomes too much for anyone simply raise a hand and I will move on without finishing the quote. This is a description of what life was like in the trenches of World War 1 - the closest situation to our day that I could think of to describe what Amos is saying in verse 3:
Out in no-man’s-land, ‘the sun swelled up the dead with gas and often turned them blue, almost navy blue. Then, when the gas escaped, the bodies dried up like mummies and were frozen in their death positions... sitting bodies, kneeling bodies, bodies in almost every position, though most lay on their bellies or on their backs.
‘The crows pecked out the eyes and rats lived on bodies that lay in abandoned dugouts. These rats were very large and quite fearless, their familiarity with the dead having made them contemptuous of the living. One night one fell on my face in a dugout and bit me.
‘Where we fought several times over the same ground bodies became incorporated in the material of the trenches themselves.’ He remembered in one place accidentally digging through corpses of Frenchmen killed and buried in 1915.
‘They were putrid, with the consistency of Camembert cheese. I once fell and put my hand right through the belly of a man. It was days before I got the smell out of my nails.’
At one stage his battalion had to deal with a thousand rotting corpses, which ‘came to pieces in your hands. As you lifted a body by the arms and leg, the torso detached.
'Even worse was that each one was crawling with maggots and covered inches deep with a black fur of flies which flew up into your face, mouth, eyes and nostrils.’
And then the silence - after the horrors of war the silence would be deafening - much like we will see the silence resulting from the ensuing famine will be deafening
The Creator of the Famine
The Creator of the Famine
Amos 8:11-12; Amos 3:6
Again God says through Amos - behold the days are coming
This is certain - there will be relenting from this famine happening
Famines are not foreign to the nation of Israel
Abraham - Genesis 12
Joseph - Genesis 42
Elijah - 1 Kings 17
All of these were sovereignly orchestrated by God for His purposes
This may sound harsh - but think for a moment on the beauty of the sovereignty of God
This last Sunday we looked at Luke 2 and the census decreed that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem
Think about how much had to happen for that census to take place - it’s not like today when there would be a mass mailing or more likely a facebook post
But in those days there would have had to be a decree carried out across the world by messengers by ship and then each monarch or governor would have to send out the news to the countryside
And then all those people would have to travel from wherever they were living to the town where they would be censused.
And all of that so that Mary would be there in that stable - more likely a birthing cave for sheep - on that special night so our Savior could be born
And the thing is we cannot have that sovereignty without the other - He can’t only be sovereign over the good events and not be sovereign over the bad
Amos 3:6 If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?
He is either sovereign over all or He is sovereign over nothing
And it is He who will bring this famine on the land
The 18th century evangelist George Whitefield once said this:
AS 1 God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, and unskilful guides. And yet, in all ages, we find that there have been many wolves in sheep’s clothing, many that daubed with untempered mortar, that prophesied smoother things than God did allow. As it was formerly, so it is now; there are many that corrupt the Word of God and deal deceitfully with it.
Men we live in a day where this curse resides on our land
Just this last week a great man of God, Dr. R.C. Sproul passed away - he may not have been exactly aligned with us theologically but he was a gifted expositor who stood strong for the faith, for the truths of justification and the inerrancy of the Bible when many are not. And men like him, Chuck Smith, Dr. John MacArthur are becoming fewer in number as the spiritual appetite for the true Word diminishes
That is another side affect of starvation - the loss of the ability to handle solid food in quantities necessary to sustain life
Spiritually we would rather just skim the surface or stick to simple concepts rather than hear the truth - just talk about the love and grace of God but don’t ever talk about sin or conviction because that might make me feel bad.
The people will stagger from sea to sea and from the north to the east seeking the Word of the Lord
People will search all four compass points to try and hear a word from God and yet will not be able to find Him
The phrase sea to sea would generally be used to encompass the whole earth but here mean the Dead Sea to the south of Israel and the Mediterranean Sea to the west - the inclusion of North and East round out the compass
The Lord had sent prophet after prophet to His people and they had rejected all of them and now would experience a spiritual famine and silence from the Lord
But why? Why did this famine take place - the explanations bookend the event
The Cause of the Famine
The Cause of the Famine
Amos 8:4-10; Amos 8:13-14; 2 Timothy 3:2-5; Amos 4:2; Amos 6:4
Amos addresses the aristocracy again saying listen up you who trample the needy and do away with the humble
These men and women were falsely religious - giving a show of being Godly but only going through the motions until they could get back to their true desire of making money
Paul gave a perfect description of them in 2 Timothy 3:2-5
The new moon and sabbath were religious observances mandated in the Mosaic covenant - and work was forbidden
These people only wanted to check the box of their religious requirements so that they could get back to their dishonest dealings
Amos makes three indictments against them
To make the bushel smaller - they would reduce the size of bags so that the amount of grain that people received from them would be less.
the shekel bigger - in the marketplace before coins, the shekel was supposed to weigh about 2/5 of an ounce and it would be weighed out against the gold that was brought to purchase items. They would make the shekel larger so that it would take more gold to balance the scale.
They would imbalance the scales so that the people would pay far too much for too little
When the people couldn’t pay they had to sell themselves into slavery to pay off their debts
And then to make matters worse - they would take the refuse from the floor and mix it in with the wheat, the useless debris and dirt and package it to sell to the poor
And remember this - they did all of this while they sat under the teaching of the word of God
They heard the Word without listening to it
The Word may have gotten into the brain but never impacted their hearts
And the sad thing is that the religious atmosphere in Samaria was vibrant and exciting
In churches across America there is a lively atmosphere with exciting light shows and entertaining speaking (notice I didn’t say preaching)
And yet the people leave and go home to their carnal lifestyles
Serving the lord I instead of the Lord God
Neglecting their families
Seeking only how they can make the most money
Addicted to their 3.5” or 70” screens - viewing things they know they shouldn’t be
Because the word is only heard and not done
We must move on - the Lord swears by the pride of Jacob
This is the third time in the short book that the Lord has sworn by something
Amos 4:2 - He swears by His holiness
Amos 6:8 - He swears by Himself
And now He swears again by Himself - He is the pride of Jacob
And He says He will not forget any of their deeds - the time for repentance is past, their deeds will now be repaid with judgement
He asks a rhetorical question - will not the land quake (possibly an allusion to the earthquake that Amos mentions in Amos 1:1) and everyone will mourn?
The answer to this question is yes - the land will quake with the mighty steps of the Lord’s judgement rolling across the land
I’m reminded of the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the time for the final battle has come and the German advance is approaching. As the tank rolls into town the ground shakes - so will the land quake with the coming of the armies of the Assyrians when they descend on the people of Israel
The Nile was known to have flood surges of up to 25 ft - and then would recede to it’s banks
This is an illustration of the Lord’s judgement rolling up over the land - when water floods the land devastation is rampant
Parts of New Orleans still have not recovered from the flooding that took place after Hurricane Katrina swept ashore more than 12 years ago
And that’s not all
The sun will go down at noon - the land will be shrouded in darkness
Their rich festivals will turn to mourning - the rich were living a festive lifestyle, reclining on their ivory couches drunk, laying with prostitutes by the altar - God will turn it all to mourning as they are led off to captivity
Their festive songs - remember that they fancied themselves to be equal to David (Amos 6:5) - would be turned to funeral dirges
Sackcloth and baldness are signs of mourning - those who had worn the finest clothing and decorated themselves with ivory rings would be wearing sackcloth (a hairy, itchy garment worn to remind one of self abasement) and bald heads
It will be like the mourning of an only son - the loss of an only son would be devastating in that society. Future generations would provide for the security of parents and the continuation of their bloodline
Now the back end - he says that the beautiful virgins and young men will faint from thirst - that the cream of their society would fall and lie weak and vulnerable
Amos now drops three final indictments against Israel that explain why the famine is happening in Israel
For those who swear by the guilt of Samaria - contrast this to the Lord’s oath by the “pride of Jacob” the guilt of Samaria is the blending of the pure religion with those of the pagans and the building of Baal-Asherah idols in Samaria, and golden calves in Bethel and Dan.
As your god lives O Dan refers to the silent idols that could not teach or help the people at all
Beersheba was a sacred location but not the place where God had placed His name and any observances there would be false religion
In our day - there are many who are looking to sources other than Christ for their truths
As the Israelites were living in a world that can best be explained by Romans 1, so we too live in a day that is demonstrating the truths of that chapter
We look to the young and beautiful of Hollywood and the playing field, making actors and athletes celebrities and worshipping them looking to them for how we should act or what we should say.
Our national leaders, regardless of party, seek only to stay in power and how they can make more and bank more as if they can take it with them
And in the church the true preaching of the Word of God is supplanted by man’s ideas of children’s Christmas songs and prosperity preaching. Adapting ouiji boards and witchcraft to false spiritual applications. Fake healings and false glory.
So what are we to do?
This passage paints a bleak picture - but I think if we look deeper there is a glimmer of hope to be found
Let me show you...
There is one who is the pride of Jacob who the Lord has sworn by
He came to the earth as a simple baby, humble, swaddled and laid in a manger in Bethlehem
By the way - those shepherds were pretty important - see all the lambs that were to be slaughtered in Jerusalem for the Passover were raised in Bethlehem. So when the lambs were born they would immediately swaddle them to keep them from thrashing around and blemishing themselves and then they wouldn’t be able to used in the Passover sacrifice
And the God who couldn’t forget any of our deeds laid them on Him at the cross on a day when the land shook and frightened those who dwelt there. When it was dark at noon. When the festival was turned into mourning and it was mourning as if for an only Son.
There is hope here and it is found in Christ and His grace
While we are guilty of marginalizing His Word, of going through the motions in church of hurrying home to get to our football games or internet porn, while we may be guilty of mistreating others for our own gain or pleasure - He came and lived a perfect life fulfilling all of the commandments practicing His active righteousness and then He went to the cross in an act of passive righteousness so that His active righteousness - His perfect life lived before God - could be imputed to us and we might be seen as righteous with Him.
That is the hope that we all have this season - but we must wake up from our lethargy and actually hear the Word of God.