1 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. 2 And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. 3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” declares the Lord God. “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!” 4 Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, 6 that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who dwells in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?” 9 “And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. 11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. 13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. 14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.”
Otou and Yumi Katayami are a couple in Nara, Japan. To look at them, you would have no idea anything was amiss. But, in reality, something was amiss indeed! Amazingly, Otou did not speak to his wife for twenty-three years. He continued to live with her and would respond to direct questions with grunts or nods, but he refused to speak to her. The reason? He was hurt, jealous at the attention that Yumi was giving the children and not him. So he decided to go silent. No words at all to his wife. For over twenty years! Recently, the children reached out to a Japanese television show in an effort to get the parents together so they might speak. And, amazingly, Otou did speak to his wife. He acknowledged how difficult their life must have been and told her he had been jealous of the children.
Withholding one’s word, in human relationships, is cruel. Inevitably what lies behind it is what we just heard: hurt feelings, jealousy, bruised egos.
But in Amos 8 the Lord says that He is going to withhold His word, and His doing so is not a result of hurt feelings or a bruised ego. It is rather the result of Israel’s persistent wickedness, religious hypocrisy, and cruelty to the poor.
To have God’s Word withdrawn is to have life taken away.
The first ten verses of Amos 8 continue a repetition of (a) the sins of Israel and (b) the promise of coming judgment as a result of their wickedness. The sins are primarily two, as explained here: (1) the abuse of the poor and (2) the blasphemy of Israel’s false worship. In verse 6, the wealthy persecutors of the poor state their desire to “buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” Ralph Smith observes that the wealthy “exploited the poor by giving small measures, charging exhorbitant prices, using rigged scales, and selling adulterated merchandise.” Verse 3 depicts in a most chilling manner the way in which the false worship of Israel will soon give way instead to agonizing cries of woe:
3 “The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” declares the Lord God. “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!”
The chapter concludes, beginning in verse 11, with a new angle. We have heard the promise of coming judgment more than once in Amos. But now we hear this:
11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. 13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. 14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.”
A famine of the word of God.
God was going to withdraw His word from Israel.
This promise is, in fact, more devastating than the other warnings of judgment, for the word of God is life! Without the word, we do not know how to live! In Psalm 1, delighting in God’s word, God’s law, is depicted as life-giving.
1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
The implication is clear: the one who delights in and meditates on the law of the Lord, the word of God, prospers. Those who do not are driven away. To have the word of God withdrawn is to be handed over to wickedness, for it is the word of God that shows us the way of life and truth and goodness.
In Psalm 18, we see that the word of God is truth and protection.
30 This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
To have the word withdrawn is to be separated from the truth of God and the protection that is in it.
And this raises an important question. Why would God bring a famine of His word if His word is life-giving. The famine of the word is the result of the people’s own rebellion. Consider what Jesus says in John 8:
47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.
The famine is a result of their godlessness. They cannot hear it, ultimately, because they refuse to hear it.
As Christians, we do not believe that anybody is beyond hope, yet it must be recognized that a person might become so hardened in his heart that he can no longer hear the word.
Israel invited the famine.
In Jesus, God’s Word has drawn near and dwells among us.
The power of God’s word and the life-giving nature of God’s word is what makes John’s description of Jesus in John 1 so compelling.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus is the word! Jesus is life! Jesus is truth! Jesus is safety for all who come to Him!
And this word “became flesh.” He incarnated. And not just that: He “dwelt among us.”
This is amazing! The word of God puts on skin and moves into the neighborhood!
In Jesus, the famine of the word ends. The word is here. The word is near. The word is with us. And the word is available to all who will come!
The church, then—the body of Christ—prospers as it follows the word, Jesus.
In Acts 6, we read of the early church:
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
The “word of God” increased. Disciples multiplied. Many, including priests, were being saved.
Church, Jesus is the word, and He is here…for you! Michael Card sings:
The Word is so near
To your heart and your tongue
With the One you confess
And acknowledge the Son
With the other believe
And are justified
And find life in knowing
It was for you He died
No it’s not up in heaven
Where your thoughts could not reach
Nor beyond the ocean
On some distant beach
No, the word is so near
In the innermost part
It’s alive on your lips
It abides in your heart
Yes, the word is near. He is near! And He dwells among us!
The only tragedy worse than a famine of God’s Word is neglect of God’s Word.
We have established two truths:
- The withdrawal of God’s word is the withdrawal of life.
- But in Jesus, the word of God has drawn near.
This means that, in our day, a famine of God’s word is a deliberate decision by us, for the word is indeed available.
Church, if you are starving for God’s word it is because you are starving yourself! In his article, “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy,” Kenneth Berding told the story of Stacey Irvine.
Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death.
Wow! A girl eats junk every day and starves herself of all nutrients and almost dies as a result. This is a picture of both the church and the world when we neglect the word of God! We are choosing famine.
In Matthew 4, after being tempted by the devil, Jesus says:
4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
You were not meant to live life, to operate as a human being, to have a healthy life, outside of the consumption and nourishment of God’s word. How much of God’s word? “[E]very word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Are you starving for the word of God? Why? Why are you choosing to do so? The word is present in the scriptures. The word is available to you. But the evidence suggests that Christians are simply choosing famine instead.
A recent LifeWay study found that only 32 percent of Americans who “attend a Protestant church regularly say they read the Bible personally every day.” Evangelical Protestants faired a little better (36 percent), but not much. As Albert Mohler put it, “The scandal of biblical illiteracy [is] our problem.”
Indeed, it is our problem.
I ask you, church: Do you love the word of God? Are you immersing yourself in it? Are you memorizing it? Are you being consistently nourished by it?
Church, hear me: there is no need for a famine of the word of God today. Christ has come. He is coming again. He has given us His Spirit. And He has given us His word, the scriptures.
Hear, love, reverence, learn, and consume the word of the Lord!
 Smith, Ralph. “Amos.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed. Clifton J. Allen. Vol. 7 (1972.), p.131.