“‘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'” (v. 11).
Amos’ vision of God distinguishing between faithful and unfaithful Israel (Amos 7:7–9) must have comforted the righteous, repentant remnant. The prophet’s harsh condemnations often made it seem as if no one would survive, but seeing the hope for Jacob’s faithful offspring certainly encouraged the Lord’s true servants to persevere. Israel was running out of time to repent when God gave Amos a vision of “summer fruit” (8:1)—ripe, ready-to-eat fruit—showing that Israel was ripe for judgment. Genesis 15 teaches that God often waits to destroy a nation until its iniquity is complete, until its people reach the point of no return and there is no hope they will repent. He did not bring Israel into Canaan until the Amorites’ sin more than merited their end, and now Israel as a whole was no better than the Amorites. The Lord resolved to pass over His people’s sin no longer (Amos 8:2). Israel’s hypocritical praise to Yahweh as it broke His law would become a funeral dirge as foreign armies slaughtered Israelites (v. 3). Greed and the oppression of the poor in Israel prompted this destruction. The people were so concerned with riches that their thoughts were consumed on holy days with going back to work, not the Lord’s worship (vv. 4–5). They used false weights and measures in direct violation of God’s law (Deut. 25:14–15; Prov. 20:23). Merchants reduced the ephah (grain container), perhaps by adding thin coats of wax to the interior, shrinking the storage capacity and fooling buyers into paying more money for less food. They increased the shekels used to weigh silver during trade. Making shekels heavier than the weight they were marked with, sellers took in more silver than was needed to balance a correctly marked weight. The poor suffered the most, as they do any time currency is inflated or false weights and measures are employed. Moreover, things were so bad in ancient Israel that the unjust elite sold the poor and powerless into slavery for debts as trivial as the cost of a pair of sandals (Amos 8:6). Death for such crimes was promised, but the worst judgment of all would be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD” (vv. 11–12). This is a judgment God pours out when people impenitently refuse to hear Him. He withdraws His restraint, gives people over to sin, and removes His special revelation (Rom. 1:18–32). Nothing can be more awful, for without God’s Word, people do not have the hope of salvation.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
John Calvin comments on today’s passage about God’s withdrawal of His Word: “When we abuse God’s bounty, our ingratitude deserves this recompense.” God is long-suffering and kind, but He will not forever send His Word to people who will not hear it. He will take it from nations and peoples who refuse it and turn them over to falsehood. Let us pray that such would never happen to us, and may we always be quick to relish the privilege of hearing His Word.