THE WORLDíS WORST POSSIBLE FAMINE
by Wayne Camp
TEXT: 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.
I hope the seriousness of these verses will strike all of us to the very marrow of our being. Israel had rejected the word of God and had gone after idols. They had fallen into a depth of iniquity that has rarely been equaled in human history. God had sent various judgments upon them but they had not repented.
When Amos began to cry out against the sin of Israel, he was rejected. The religious and political leaders tried to send him packing. Amos 7:12-13 Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court. This is the kingís chapel. This is where the king goes to church and you ought to bridle your tongue, round the corners and water down what you say in this place. Do you want to embarrass the king? Go down into the land of Judah, that unsophisticated portion of the nation, and do your preaching against sin down there. We are a gentle people here. We pride ourselves in our liberal attitude. Leave us alone here in the kings court.
Did God have Amos tone down his message? Absolutely not! God warns them of the worst famine yet, a famine of not hearing the word of God. No judgment brought upon a nation can equal this kind of judgment. The day would come when they would run to and fro in the land seeking the word of God and could not find it. They would go from sea to sea and from the north to the east seeking the word of God and would not find it. Their young people would faint from thirst, a thirst to hear the word of God expounded but to no avail.
There are several things that are suggested in this text to which I would call your careful and sober attention.
WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT
FAMINE WAS NO STRANGER TO ISRAEL
Famine was no stranger to Israel. They knew what it was to run hither and yon seeking food. They had the history of their nation written in the five books of Moses and knew there had been famine before.
We read of a famine in the land in the early days of Abraham. Genesis 12:10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. This was bad enough that Abram had to leave the land and go down into the land of Egypt for the duration of the dearth.
In the days of Isaac there was another serious famine. Genesis 26:1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. Instead of Egypt, Isaac went to the Philistines for sustenance during the famine.
Then there was the famine in the days of Jacob and Joseph which drove Jacob and his family to Egypt to live. The account of this famine and circumstances in it take up several chapters in Genesis beginning with chapter 41.
This was a seven year famine. Genesis 41:30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land. One can only imagine the suffering. This famine was very serious. Seven years in duration and the people suffered greatly in all the lands. Genesis 41:57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands. Seven months would be a long time to go without rain. I canít imagine the effects of seven years.
This famine was not just in that particular part of the world; it extended over all the known inhabited earth. Genesis 41:56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. Even Egypt suffered in the latter years of the famine. Genesis 47:13 And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine. The famine was so great that the Egyptians had to sell their lands to Pharoah in order to survive. Genesis 47:20 And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's. Some, in these days of liberal socialism, would doubtless find fault with Pharaoh and with Joseph for buying up all the land. But, I would remind you that this is all ordered by God and was according to his plan for enhancing the position of Joseph in the land for the benefit of his people. Let me point out to you, that God often causes great distress and problems for the wicked to enhance the welfare of his people. God is getting ready to fulfill some things he had shown to Abraham and the famine was his means of bringing that about.
I would also remind you that the story of Ruth and Naomi begins with a famine in the land. Ruth 1:1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. Ah, how the providence of God does work in ways that are baffling to man. In the covenant of redemption Christ must lay hold of his people by partaking of a human nature. While he would primarily be Jewish, there was to be a little blood of other nations mixed in for some of his children were not Jewish. On two occasions this bringing in of other blood than Jewish blood was accomplished. This is one. Ruth, the woman from Moab would end up in the lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ and that was accomplished through the instrumentality of this famine that drove Naomi and her husband and their sons down there. When Naomi returned to their own land, Ruth returned with her.
We see another famine in the days shortly after David became king of Israel. Because of the sin of Saul and his bloody house there was a famine in the land in the days of David. 2 Samuel 21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. One might be prone to ask why this famine came after Saul was dead and gone. Two things might answer. God often visits the sins of the fathers upon the children, even to the third and fourth generation. In fact, the nation of Israel still suffers for the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The other reason this famine may have come after the death of Saul is that it would serve as a warning to David not to do such things as Saul had done.
Yes, Israel knew about famines. We see another famine in the days of Elijah and Ahab when there was no rain for three and one-half years. 1 Kings 18:2 And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria. Can you imagine what it would be like to go 42 months without so much as a drop of rain? It is beyond my comprehension. Growing up in Arkansas and living a number of other places over the years I have seen dry weather, but never for one year, much less three and one-half years. Israel knew about famines.
Then there was a famine in Samaria that was so terrible that women boiled their children and ate them. 2 Kings 6:25-29 And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son.
Over the years I have used this event a number of times in different sermons. Every time, without a single exception, folks have shaken their heads in amazement. How could a famine get so bad that women would boil their children and eat them! But, it did. There was a siege by the enemy and a famine for lack of food.
Famine is another arrow which God has in his quiver which he can use to chastise his own people or bring judgment upon a wicked nation. There are those who are prone to attribute all such tragedies to Satan. But, even what Satan may do must ultimately fall within the scope of Godís purpose. Satan apparently caused some things to happen to Job that involved natural catastrophes. Job, however, also knew they could likewise be attributed to Godís will and purpose. Job 23:14 For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him. If you look at verse 16 you will see that Job is speaking of God, not Satan. While he delivered Job into the hands of Satan for these trials, Job considers them to be coming from God. Therefore, it is correct to say they came from Satan. It is also correct to say God was performing them. Even the activities of Satan must be such that they will magnify God or God will restrain them. In fact, he had restrained him from attacking Job. Satan complained that God had a hedge around Job so that he could not afflict or oppress him. When God let this hedge down for his own glory, that which was inflicted by Satan was also, by Job, attributed to God. Job 23:14 For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him.
Now, let us look back to the famine in the days of Elisha. Elisha declared the famine was called for by God. 2 Kings 8:1 Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the LORD hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years. I would call your attention to something in this verse. There are those who are willing to say that God permits such things as floods and famines. Others will vehemently deny even that. But, this famine was especially called for by God. God commanded the famine to be and it was just as he commanded the light to shine out of darkness and it did.
There was another seven year famine that was specifically ordered by God. David declared the famine in the days of Joseph to have its origin with God. Psalm 105:16 Moreover he (God) called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread. If one reads the Psalm, there can be no doubt that David, under the inspiring power of the Holy Spirit, declared the famine in the days of Joseph to be of God. God called for the famine just as he did in the days of Elisha.
I will not read all the verses in Jeremiah that refer to famine but if you read of famine in that book it becomes very obvious that God is sending them. One of the judgments which God has reserved for the whore of Babylon in days yet to come is famine. Revelation 18:8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.
One of the most pathetical things I have ever heard is preachers who try to get God out of some kind of dilemma when a natural, or man-caused catastrophe comes. When I pastored in Louisiana we had two floods in one year. Water got into our church building both times. It was pitiful the way preachers were on radio and TV decrying the flood and assuring that God had absolutely nothing to do with it. I kept remembering Nahum 1:3. The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. God has his way in the storms when they come and when they are withheld. He has his way when the rain falls on the earth and when he withholds it from the earth. God was in the famines we have mentioned. They were ordered for his own good reasons.
ISRAEL IS ALSO FAMILIAR WITH TIMES WHEN THE WORD OF GOD WAS PRECIOUS AND HARD TO FIND
In the early days of Samuel there was a dearth in the land in which there was no open vision; God was withholding his word and not calling prophets to preach and expound the word to his people. 1 Samuel 3:1 And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. Perhaps I should point out that a nation or a city may have the written word but there may be no one to expound it. In the days of Eli, they had that portion of the Scriptures which had already been written but there were no prophets to expound the word. And my Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, when God truly calls a man to the ministry of preaching the word, and sets that man in the office of pastor, that man has an unction that members of the congregation do not have. Such men are given to the churches in this day "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). I am not advocating infallibility for pastors. A church may be as much of a church as it ever was or will be without a pastor, but there is a real need for pastors. These famines of not hearing the word do not mean they did not have the written word, they did not have men to proclaim and expound upon it.
One of the sad things about this nation of ours and the state of "Christianity" is that there are many preachers and churches that simply will not proclaim the whole counsel of God. With the new neutralism, also called "new evangelicalism" that says we should not say anything that will be offensive to others, there is not proclaiming of the true word of God. There can be a famine such as this if the trend continues.
In the days before Asa became king of Judah there had been a long famine of not hearing the word of God. 2 Chronicles 15:3 Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law. They had no teaching priest and no prophet. This is a sad condition for any nation.
David describes such a time. Psalm 74:9 We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long. They had the written word but could not understand the signs of their trouble. They had no one to interpret the Scriptures for them.
Jeremiah laments about many things in the book of Lamentations, one of which is a dearth of not hearing the word of God. Lamentations 2:9 Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the LORD. There were false prophets in the days of Jeremiah, but very few true prophets, he being one of a few, perhaps the only one at the particular time he was writing. Jeremiah 29:9 For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD. I think again of this land of ours. At one time in this land most of the churches which wore the name Baptist could be trusted to preach the word. Today it is not so. Entertainment, gimmicks, and clowns are the order of the day in many Baptist Churches, as well as others. As in the days of Jeremiah there is much preaching and little declaration of the whole counsel of God.
Ezekiel prophesied of such judgment as described in our text. Ezekiel 7:26 Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumor shall be upon rumor; then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients.
Above all other famines and afflictions, no famine can exceed in enormity a famine of not hearing the word of God. Amos 8:11-13 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 that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.
LET US CONSIDER FOR A FEW MINUTES THE CAUSES OF SUCH A FAMINE, A FAMINE OF NOT HEARING THE WORD OF GOD
When the people of God are not faithful to their task of proclaiming and attending upon the teaching of the word of God, God is likely to send a famine such as is described in our text. It is easy to get distracted from our real work. I speak to preachers as well as others. It is easy to get caught up on things that are not a part of the ministry to which God has called you. And, it is also easy to let certain aspects of the ministry occupy too much time and leave too little time for the study of the word, meditation and prayer. Some churches have the idea that the principle work of a pastor is to visit the sick and prospects for the church. This is important, but the study (which requires prayer and meditation) and proclamation of the word is paramount and must not be neglected. I once helped a preacher and church in a meeting that illustrates my point. I was there for a ten day meeting which would end on Saturday night. This brother would be up and his wife would be getting breakfast before six each morning. By eight we would be out visiting. This was a very rural church and we ran every "pig trail" in the country visiting. We would grab a sandwich at his house at lunch and by one be back on the road. We would come home about 4:30, clean up and eat and be at service at seven. I rarely had time to study on my message for the night. I would take my Bible with me and between his talking and our visiting I would snatch a moment or two now and then to study. On the final Saturday morning we got up and he was ready to go again. I balked. I said, "Brother, I have to feed my people tomorrow. I am going to study." He said, "Well, I have a few more calls I want us to make." I replied, "You will just have to go by yourself, I am going to prepare for tomorrow." I then ask him, "What are you going to do tomorrow? Have you already prepared for tomorrow?" "No," he said. "What are you going to preach?" I inquired. "I just thought I would kind of sum up what you have preached during the meeting," he said. He needed to get some priorities in line, I believe.
God may also send a famine when men substitute their own ideas for the word of God. When the religious leaders of Israel had added some 600 rules and regulations to the law God sent a famine of not hearing the word and the nation went 400 years without a prophet. When the leaders of Israel demanded that Amos go into Judah and prophesy rather than in Israel, God threatened them with a famine of not hearing the word of the Lord.
When preaching of the word is displaced by programs, pageants, plays, cantatas and other forms of entertainment that appeal to the flesh, there will arise a famine of not hearing the word of God. God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save sinners. I regularly get calls from sales people who want to send me the latest gimmick designed to draw crowds. "What do you have going for your "Childrenís Church." We donít have one," I say. "Why not?" they ask. My standard reply is, "I have read the Bible through and I canít find a single mention of a ĎChildrenís Church,í a ĎJunior Church,í or any other such critter." They usually want to send me some materials but I tell them not to bother. All kinds of shenanigans are being substituted for the preaching of the word today and there is a famine in the land.
When error prevails under the guise of truth there will be a famine in the land. Rationalism replaces the clear-cut teachings of the word. Tradition replaces the law of God. Arminianism becomes the dominant theology of the churches and preachers. Legalism with its rules and regulations displace the preaching of Godís marvelous grace. Indifference replaces enthusiasm for the word of God. Psychology replaces the counsels of the word of God.
When men are ordained to the ministry who do not have an aptness to teach there will be a famine. Not every one who says he is called to preach should be licensed or ordained to the ministry. One of the qualifications of a pastor is that he be apt to teach. The Greek word is didaktikos (didaktikos). It means "to be skillful in teaching." The word means having a God-given ability to communicate to others. It involves a knowledge of the word as well as the ability and willingness to communicate what one knows to others. When men who are incapable of doing this they should not be in the office of pastor because they will, out of sheer inability, tend to preach little of the word and may misinterpret what they do preach. The church that has such a pastor will be in a famine.
When social reform becomes more important to the preachers and churches than regeneration there is going to be a famine. A preacher once said to me, "I emphasize the social side of the gospel while you emphasize the evangelical side." Some preachers, well-meaning pastors, get caught up in trying to combat the political ills of the day, rather than preaching the word. Yet, they think they are doing Godís service. Most of such preachers are always looking for some issue that they can thunder away on rather than studying the word of God. Paul lived in one of the most politically wicked times in history. Yet, read his epistles and see how very rarely he mentions any thing of a political nature.
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF SUCH A FAMINE?
There is no means for continued edification of the body of Christ, the local church. Ephesians 4:11-12 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: I get calls often from folks who are looking for a pastor. It is hard for them to get one and I rarely know of anyone to recommend. Are we headed for a famine of not hearing the word?
When the word of God is rarely preached and a famine exists, there is no means for the declaration of the gospel to the lost. Romans 10:14-17 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
In such a famine, the means by which God is pleased to save sinners is removed. 1 Corinthians 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
The instrumental means of regeneration is gone. The efficacious means of regeneration is the Holy Spirit. He quickens. He begets sinners. He brings about the new birth. But, there is also an instrumental means of regeneration which is the word of God. 1 Corinthians 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God and he uses his sword. The gospel is spirit and life. John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. When there is a famine in the land, a famine of not hearing the word of God, there is no instrumental means of regeneration.
I fear the famine is spreading. There is such a dearth of the real preaching of all the counsel of God in the land. How those who do have a pastor who boldly and faithful stands for the great doctrines of the Word of God and faithfully proclaims all the counsel of God ought to thank God for that pastor. Be faithful in attendance to the word. Study the word.