A Famine in the Land


How much importance do we place in the word of God? Do we appreciate the seriousness of our responsibility to know God’s word? God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). There are many passages we can read to show the importance of knowing God’s word. In this article we will notice one such passage that shows the importance of God’s word and the results of being without it.

‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst. As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria, who say, “As your god lives, O Dan,” and, “As the way of Beersheba lives,” they will fall and not rise again’” (Amos 8:11-14).

This passage begins with a parallel between the word of God and food in order to make the point that His word sustains us in our spiritual life in the same way that food sustains us in our physical life. This comparison is also made in the New Testament when the word of God is referred to as “milk” and “solid food,” or “meat” (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12). Those passages teach that the word of God is designed to cause us to grow and mature as Christians. Other passages also show the importance of the word of God. Without the words of Christ, we cannot obtain eternal life (John 6:68). Without the gospel, we cannot be saved (Romans 1:16). In the same way that food nourishes us physically, God’s word nourishes us spiritually.

A spiritual famine works like a physical one. The effects are slow. When a famine arises, people do not perish immediately. Instead, they get weaker and weaker over time until they are no longer able to survive. The fault for this spiritual famine lies with man, not with God. God has given us His word for our spiritual survival. But man can choose to reject it, neglect it, or they may simply not know it. When we fail to take advantage of the word that God has revealed to us, we will perish and will not be able to blame Him for it.

Sadly, despite the great importance of the Bible, many preachers neglect to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). What is even sadder is that churches allow this. How do preachers know what to preach? They preach what is in the Bible. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said he was “eager to preach the gospel to [them].” Why was he eager? The next verse tells us. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:15-16). There will be consequences for the negligence of preachers to preach the word, and for Christians allowing it and not knowing the Bible themselves.

First Result: Confusion

People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12).

Here we have the picture of some traveling far and wide to find the word of the Lord. People will do the same today. When they go without the teaching of the Bible, they eventually realize something is missing and they try to find it. Unfortunately, what often happens is that they fail to look in the right place. God’s word shows us the path to take. By looking into His word, we can see and understand what He would have us to do. “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). He has given us His word so that we might understand His will.

However, although God has revealed His word to us, many fail to find the truth. The religious world is proof of this. There are countless numbers of denominations all teaching and practicing different things. How can this be since God is not the author of confusion? It is because they want to follow the creeds and commands of men. By doing so they show they believe that either (1) the Bible is insufficient, or (2) God was not capable of making His word understandable to those He created.

The confusion in the religious world also stems from man following after emotion or personal opinion. The wise man warned about doing this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). We can think of many things that seem like they would be good ideas to us. We might look at the results of a certain activity and think that it is a good work. But God in His word has shown us “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). The religious and spiritual practices we engage in must first be authorized in Scripture before they can be classified as a good work.

Many talk about faith without a proper understanding of what faith is. Faith is something you do, not something you feel in your heart. We are to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1:22). Later James wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). A feeling of spirituality cannot replace real spirituality.

Paul said that his Jewish brethren who had not accepted Christ had “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Many in the religious world are the same. They are sincere and basically good people. They are ready to run through walls for Jesus. But blind enthusiasm does no good. Zeal without knowledge leads one to establish his own righteousness and reject the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). The gospel is God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16), not charismatic preachers who can fire people up through their good speaking ability. We should not do just anything for Jesus. We should do just what He has commanded (Matthew 7:21-23; Titus 2:14). How do we find His commands and avoid confusion? We study the Bible.

Second Result: Falling Away

In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst” (Amos 8:13).

When you think of a physical famine, which is the basis of the lesson in this passage, the first to perish would generally be the elderly and the very young children. Why? Typically they would be weaker and less healthy in the first place. But here we see even the young men and women perishing. These are the ones you would expect to be the strongest. The lesson for us is that no matter who we are, there is a real possibility for us to become unfaithful. The Hebrew writer exhorted Christians, “Take care…that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13). Knowledge of God’s word helps us from being led astray (2 Timothy 3:13-14).

Paul told the brethren in Ephesus that the church is designed to help Christians grow (Ephesians 4:11-16). There are different types of people in the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). While there are some differences in the roles of each of these, all of the functions serve the purpose of familiarizing us with the Word. They are to do this with the goal that “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

Preachers, teachers, and elders need to be working to strengthen the church. How do they do this? By doing what Paul did – preaching the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Constant reminders are necessary (2 Peter 3:1; Philippians 3:1). We cannot preach the “whole counsel of God” by just preaching the “positive” and avoiding the “negative.” Nowhere in the Bible do we read what constitutes “positive” and “negative” preaching. The concept, basically, is that the positive makes us feel good and the negative makes us feel bad. “Negative preaching” points out our sin and shows us where we are wrong. Many do not want to hear that. But people cannot correct their sin unless they know they are in sin. People will not be saved without having their toes stepped on.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter stepped on the toes of the Jews present by convicting them of being guilty of handing over the Messiah to be crucified. As a result, they were “pierced to the heart” and asked what they needed to do (Acts 2:37). They were told, “Repent, and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Luke records, “Those who had received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). They were saved because they responded to a message that was uncomfortable for them to hear. When we reject the word of God, we make salvation unobtainable. But we must always be careful. Even after we are Christians, we can lose our salvation and fall away from God if we reject His word.

Third Result: Lack of Respect for Bible Authority

As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria, who say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the way of Beersheba lives,’ they will fall and not rise again” (Amos 8:14).

In this verse we see the Israelites acknowledging the gods and false religions of the peoples around them. This put these false gods on the same level as the one true God. God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). Therefore, He expects His people to serve Him exclusively. They are not to go after any other god, philosophy, or religion.

The Bible is from God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Christ has all authority (Matthew 28:18) and His words will judge us (John 12:48). Therefore, the Bible is our standard and basis for preaching. Just as the Israelites were not to go off into the false religions of man, we are not to go off into false religions today. Paul warned us not to let anyone take us “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). He told the Corinthians that he came preaching Christ, not worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). His purpose was so that their “faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

Some today use the Bible but fail to preach the Word. They preach a distorted form of the gospel, making it as though it was a “different gospel” altogether (Galatians 1:6-9). Some twist the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). They try to conform the Bible to their thinking rather than conform their thinking to the Bible.

Some will say it does not matter what you believe on such and such, as long as you believe this. But if the Bible says something, then it is important. James wrote, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). Who are we to say what does and does not matter in God’s word? There are several different views people have regarding the days of creation in Genesis 1. The text shows the days to be literal, consecutive days. But some say the days are long ages of time. Some hold other views. Then some come along and say that it does not matter if you believe the days of Genesis 1 are literal or not, just as long as we see and appreciate God’s power in creation. But appreciating God’s power does not give us a license to disregard the plain teaching of His word.

There are also several different views people hold in regard to salvation. When we look at the New Testament, we see that salvation is a gift of God made possible by the death of Christ, but has certain conditions that must be met – belief, repentance, baptism, and continued faithfulness (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21; Revelation 2:10). But some believe we are saved by faith alone. Others believe we are saved by inviting Jesus into our heart. You can talk to other people and be told other things. But the common thought in all of those is the love and grace of God. People think it does not matter if you believe you need to pray the sinner’s prayer to be saved, just have faith, or just be a good, moral person because we all agree that we are saved by God’s love and grace. But God’s love and grace does not give us a license to invent our own plan of salvation. We must meet His conditions. When we do, He will save us by His grace.

The greater the famine, the greater the lack of respect for the authority for God’s word. God’s word is what sustains us spiritually. By studying His word, we can know and understand His will to avoid the confusion prevalent in the religious world today. His word will also keep us from falling and help us to stand. But we must take it as it is – the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). We must believe it and put it into practice. We need to use it as our exclusive guide in all religious matters. God has given us His word to feed us spiritually. We need to take advantage of that blessing so we do not perish in a spiritual famine.

This article is one of the fifty articles included in the book Plain Bible Teaching: The First Ten Years. Click on the link to read more about the book.

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