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What does it mean that there will be a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11)?

famine of hearing the words of the Lord

We typically understand a famine 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” (ESV).

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 (Amos 8:1–3). Ensnared by economic prosperity and fueled by greed, dishonest merchants added to their coffers by making merchandise of the poor (Amos 8:4–6). Rather than honoring the Lord, these dishonest merchants considered acts of worship as unwelcome business interruptions. None of this had escaped God’s attention. He had witnessed their deeds, and He knew the hardness of their hearts.

As is always the case, the unrepentant who refuse God’s mercy must face His wrath (Amos 8:7). Verse 9 tells of cosmic signs that indicate the dawning of the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord occurs before the millennial reign of Christ Jesus; this is the dark time in which God pours out His wrath upon the earth. The prophet’s graphic imagery of death and destruction reminds us that God’s wrath is a terrible spectacle to behold (Amos 8:8–14).

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” (verse 12).

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 political activism. 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. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3–5, ESV). Bible study bathed in prayer is the believer’s best preventative against spiritual famine.

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What does it mean that there will be a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11)?
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This page last updated: February 15, 2023