as a lack of food or water,
but Amos 8:11 speaks cryptically of a
famine of the hearing of the Word of God:
'The days are coming,’
declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘
when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine
of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.’”
To better understand a difficult message, it’s often helpful
to understand the messenger.
Amos, along with Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah, prophesied during the eighth century BC.
The Jews had split into two nations,
the northern kingdom, Israel,
and the southern kingdom, Judah.
It is interesting to note that Amos had no formal theological training;
he was a farmer who raised livestock and sycamore figs (Amos 7:14).
Interesting, too, is the fact that Amos, who resided in Judah,
was sent by God to preach in the northern kingdom.
As is often the case among a rebellious people,
Amos’s calls for national repentance were met with hostility (Amos 7:12).
Let us begin by examining the eighth chapter of Amos in its entirety:
This is what the Lord God showed me:
behold, a basket of summer fruit.
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.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
declares the Lord God.
“So many dead bodies!”
“They are thrown everywhere!”
Hear this, you who trample on the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
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,
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
and sell the chaff of the wheat?”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
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?”
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
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.
“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.
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.
“In that day the lovely virgins and the young men
shall faint for thirst.
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”
Just as the harvest marks the end of the season, the basket of summer fruit signifies
the coming judgment
in which the rebellious people reap the bitter harvest they have sown
Among the judgments of those days, God will send a famine:
a famine of hearing God’s Word.
This is surely a severe judgment, as people will seek the Lord and not find Him.
Those who rejected the prophets will no longer be able to find a prophet.
Those who despised God’s Word will have God’s Word
hidden from them.
They will hunger and thirst for a message from God, but too late.
Like the virgins in Jesus’ parable, they will come to the door of the wedding feast
and find it closed. “Lord, Lord,” they will say, “open the door for us!” (Matthew 25:11).
The only word they hear will be, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you”
To some degree, the famine of God’s Word is with us now.
A growing number of pastors
are abandoning sound biblical teachings and the message of the cross.
Rather than telling people they are lost sinners in desperate need of salvation,
these false teachers proclaim glowing messages of prosperity, self-esteem, or work based merit
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul warned,
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
and will turn away
from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Each of Amos’s eight messages follows a similar pattern. First, there is the phrase
“for three sins . . . even for four.” Second, one or two specific sins are mentioned regarding the nation being addressed. Third, a judgment is given.
Amos starts with Israel’s enemies and ends with oracles against Judah and Israel.
Judah (Amos 2:4-5) is accused of three specific sins (rejecting the Law, not keeping its statutes, and lying) and is judged with fire on the nation and Jerusalem. Israel (Amos 2:6-16) is condemned with a complete list of seven sins and receives an extended discussion of its coming judgments.
The book of Amos is filled with imagery related to sin and judgment. Included are images of
iron teeth (1:3),
murdered pregnant women (1:13),
burning bones (Amos 2:1),
destroyed roots (2:9),
and hooks (4:2).
How are we to understand these violent themes?
First, we must understand the context of these descriptions. Amos is pronouncing judgment on Israel’s enemies, and then on Israel itself, for some specific sins.
The purpose of prophesying doom was often to call sinners to repent.
That’s why God sent Jonah to preach in Nineveh, telling the people God
would judge their city in 40 days. The Ninevites repented, and God did not bring about judgment. The Lord had compassion for those who repented.
A brief look at each of the images in Amos more fully explains what they indicate:
- Murdered pregnant women (1:13): The Ammonites would be judged for performing atrocities against Israel. Second Kings 8:12 and 15:16 confirm the
reality of such horrific acts during war.
- Burning bones (2:1): The Moabites would be judged for their sin of the disrespectful treatment of an Edomite king’s corpse (2 Kings 3:26-27). In a culture in which a
proper burial was of utmost importance, the burning of bones
communicated a severe hatred.
Destroyed roots (2:9): This is a picture of God’s judgment on the Amorites, as the “fruit above” and the “roots beneath” were destroyed—in other words, the Amorites were completely wiped out. God reminds Israel of the Amorites’ fate in order to call His people back to righteousness and the fear of God.
Hooks (4:2): This is part of a prophecy against Israel, warning them that the Assyrians would one day take them captive. Israel would be
led away as fish were carried away on hooks.
While God clearly condemned the sins of the surrounding nations,
Amos’ message is dominated by judgment against Israel.
Yet, even in judgment, there is hope.
The conclusion of his prophecy (9:11-15)
speaks of a time of future blessing for Israel.
The book’s final verse reads,
“‘I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again
be uprooted out of the land
that I have given them,’ says the LORD your God.”
Though Israel would be taken from its land (as a result of attacks by Assyria and Babylon),
its people would one
day return to the land and live in prosperity with their Messiah.
The “Pride of Jacob” in Amos 8:7 is a reference to God Himself.
The Lord makes a solemn promise, based on His own character and faithfulness, that
He would bring judgment against Israel.
in Psalm 47:4 we read, “He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.”
Here, the phrase is in reference to the land of Israel rather than to God.
“pride of Jacob” is used in Amos 6:8 in reference to actual, sinful pride:
“I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds.”
The city of Samaria served as Israel’s capital, and “stronghold” likely refers to that city.
They were trusting in their city’s defenses (messiah) rather than in God.