Photo credit to smithsonianmag.com
“‘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.’” Amos 8:11
Ancient Biblical days are not the only days of famine. There are countries right now that are going through famine in the sense of lack of food and insufficient provisions for the people. And just the same, ancient Biblical days are not the only days of famine when it concerns a destitution or lack or want in the spiritual realm. Now, I’m not talking mysticism here. There never seems to be a famine of that. But what I am talking about here is a hunger from lack of the word of Life.
Famine is visible. It has tell-tale effects on the human body. Go without food and water long enough, or go with less than sufficient food for long enough, and you will suffer weight loss. Children’s growth will be retarded. Malnutrition sets in and mortality rates go up, effecting the old and the young first. It’s not just starvation, but the fact that their bodies can no longer fight infection. It effects learning and concentration. Childhood malnutrition can cause a host of other problems like “reduced intelligence, anxiety, psychiatric issues, and cognitive impairment.” It effects the mind and body. There can be visual problems, bleeding gums/decaying teeth, inability for the heart to function properly, internal organ function threatened, the skin breaks down and can’t protect and shield, joints and muscles will ache and weaken and shrink, bones can become fragile, nerves in extremities break down, and diseases that are rare open up the body to a pandora’s box. You actually wouldn’t even need medicine to stop these diseases, only proper nutrition.
It doesn’t have to happen in a famished land either. It can happen in a place where people have sufficient food. But there are some who don’t have what they need and they get lost in the shuffle until the damage is apparent. It’s like a little boy who didn’t have the right nutrition and by the time he could get to the hospital for treatment, the TB had gotten into his bones and effected his learning. Thank God someone noticed. Thank God someone did something when they noticed. But the not noticing for a while caused permanent damage.
But there is a famine that is much more dangerous than that of hunger and thirst for our physical needs. There is a famine that can effect our souls. Our souls were created to be fed by One Source, the Source who created them. Our souls were meant to be fed by You God. But somewhere along the line we start thinking other things can satisfy.
In Amos’ day, the people were impatient and asking, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?” Does that seem insignificant? It’s not. The new moon was at the heart of keeping the calendar and the feasts and festivals that You had established. It was a reminder and an act of worship in remembering and doing. It wasn’t about ritual. The new moon was watching for that sliver to show up in the night sky to tell the end of one month and the beginning of the new and to count down the days to the next celebration of God. But instead of looking for that sliver with anticipation, instead of looking forward to celebrating You and Your care, they wanted to sell their grain and get on with their lives despite You. They were inflicting their own famine from You and no longer even felt hungry. It reminds me of someone who was eating lots of salad during her pregnancy to watch her weight. But when she went to the doctor, she found out that she was malnourished because iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value. We can try to meet our own needs and totally get it wrong.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the people also couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could get to selling their wheat. Here was this day that God instituted for man’s welfare and even demonstrated for us. Here was a day He gave us for rest and spiritual enrichment. It’s that day when You ceased, ended, and rested from Your creative works. You told Your people, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (Exodus 20:8) Remember, zakhor, doesn’t mean to just not forget. It means to observe and remember its significance. It’s about creation and deliverance from slavery into freedom. “Observe [shamor] the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (Deuteronomy 5:12) Sabbath was for remembering and observing by acting in a way that demonstrated that we are not in control over our environment but You are, God. To want to ignore Sabbath is to wrench that control away from You and put it back in our own hands.
So there was this day coming, when there would be this famine and thirst not for food and water, but for Your words. There would be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD.” That word for hearing is shama and it doesn’t just mean to hear. It means to hear and obey. Can you imagine people being famished for the words of the Lord, that people will want to hear You but won’t? How does that happen? Do You mean that people who have been hearing and obeying will no longer get to hear You? Or is it that people who have been hearing but not obeying will look for You and not be able to hear or see You? Will people ignore other people so that their spiritual famine grows to the point of no return? Will people so ignore their own need that they can no longer be helped?
Imagine asking for help and not receiving it. But in Isaiah 1:15 You say, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” Did You not hear the prayers? But You hear and know everything. Or did You choose to not respond to the prayers because shama is about hearing and doing, hearing and responding? But You chose not to listen. Why? Is that fair? Is that right? Well, if their hands were full of blood, doesn’t that mean that those who prayed weren’t hearing and combining the doing with it? Because if I was listening to You and doing it, how could I have blood on my hands? And if I won’t hold up my end of the covenant, then I have already broken the relationship, and You would no longer be bound to Yours. Every moment that You continue to hold covenant beyond that is shear grace.
Why do we expect You to listen and respond rightly to us and we don’t feel ourselves obligated to You in any way? Why are we not concerned about hearing You speak these words, “I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity”? (Matthew 7:23) There are people out there who are thinking they are doing good things, but since they won’t listen to Your words, they don’t understand that You are the only Good Thing, that Jesus is the only Good Way, and the only Right Choice. And no one gains eternal life in the next life without knowing eternal life in this one first. And the only way to know eternal life now is to know the Eternal Life Giver, the one who was there in the beginning and created everything with His very words.
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My commandments, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.” (Exodus 19:5) You can’t help reiterating how important, how doubly important it is for us to hear and listen and obey and do. Am I “indeed obey”ing? Shamoa tishmeoo is the Hebrew. It’s the double repetition of shama’. “If you hear-hear My voice…” Or since we know what shama’ means, we could listen as God also says, “If you obey-obey My voice…” And wouldn’t that therefore mean You are saying, “If you hear-obey, hear-obey”? And that’s with an exclamation mark. Is hearing and obeying all of Your words that important to me? Because it is to You. And it is if I want a real relationship with You. My hearing and obeying actually has bearing on Your hearing and responding. Does that matter to me?
Do I somehow think that Your covenant with other people outside the nation of Israel is different? Do I think that Your requirement for “If you hear-hear (obey-obey)” (Skip Moen) is only for the nation of Israel but for us Your covenant is absolute and unconditional? Did Jesus come so I wouldn’t have to hear and obey? I only have to hear and believe in what I hear? How empty is that? How hungry will that leave me? What kind of relationship is that? Why don’t we just leave off on eating and drinking and just live on the thought of food and water? If is a bigger word than it looks. If says there is a condition, a relationship to the following words. Man is called to cooperate. God chooses but His people who are chosen must respond. You can’t just hear and go your own way. Shama’, hearing and doing, “precedes active citizenship.” (Skip Moen)
And it’s not that I just get to hear and obey just the things I like, like Thomas Jefferson who went to the extent of cutting out the words of his Bible that he didn’t agree with. He even wrote His own Gospel! The Smithsonian says Jefferson “was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents.” So what did he do? He took “a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy,” he penned the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. This “bible” excluded miraculous events or anything “contrary to reason” including the resurrection! How can one be classified as “devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ” without accepting the words of God that Jesus accepted as true? Because those words tell of his death and resurrection. Those words tell of God doing miraculous things. But I suppose that’s a choice any of us can make, to grasp the “manhood” of Jesus and strip Him of His Godhood. Then it’s ok for me to listen to what I want to because Jesus was just another good moral teacher and that’s all.
But what a dangerous and empty thing that is, to write everything up according to my understanding. What ludicrous thinking to imagine that I can understand everything. To think that I can rewrite Scripture when I can’t even speak a universe into being? To write off miracles when even my own birth is one? If no one can create a camera as accurate as the human eye and yet somehow that eye came into existence. If you choose to believe it all came into being by chance, or by some story you want to create, that’s your choice. But to tell you the truth, that actually seems contrary to reason to me. I’ve seen the effects of the words of God. I’ve seen how Your word changes lives, including mine. I’ve heard how it raises the dead and sets the prisoners free. I’ve seen it do so. I’ve see the hungry fed and the thirsty satisfied. I’ve seen lives changed and empowered by Your words as people did more than believe with their heads, but as people obeyed and lived according to Your words. I’ve seen life bloom where death was imminent where Your word took root in a heart, where broken families have been restored, where people become new creations all together.
Simon Peter was just as credible a witness as any of us because he was just as human. He was there when Jesus shared, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. “ But Thomas Jefferson could have been one of the followers in the crowd that day. Many of those who had been his disciples walked away, saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” What were Your words, Lord? “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” And many walked away. But Jesus turned to the twelve, and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?” But Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6) There is only One who can satisfy us eternally, here and into eternity. There are words of eternal life. Only the word of God will satisfy completely, believing is acting upon them and living in them and holding on to them with all my life. Yes, I can trust the same Word that brought me into existence for that Word is the same that will forever keep me in Him. I don’t have to be hungry or thirsty. I can drink from the Fountain of Life and eat from the Bread of Life, every day for every meal and continuous snacks in between. I never have to be malnourished if only I will hear and obey Your words, whether they are sweet like honey or bitter to the taste. My life depends on it. Our relationship depends upon it. And I can’t have life without having a relationship in You and with You first. Lord, I don’t want to experience a famine from You. I want to hear Your words, love Your words, and live out Your words in my life.