‘Behold the 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 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 8:11,12
Israel had never had it so good; it was the Golden Era, a period of economic and military strength, material blessing, extravagant lifestyle, and pious religion. The rich dwelt in mansions, lounged on beds inlaid with ivory, and enjoyed the richest of fayre (3:15, 6:4-6). But although she had the outward appearance of soundness, the nation was rotten to the core. Complacency and corruption had eaten away the conscience of the people and God’s anger was roused.
It was into this world that Amos the shepherd was called, to point out the sin, to pronounce God’s judgement, to stand in the gap, and to plead for repentance. But it seems that the nation had run out of warnings. If God’s hand of chastisement had made no difference (4:6-11), then his prophetic pronouncements were unlikely to be heeded. Even when Amos hopped over the border to sue for peace he was sent packing, his words falling on deaf ears (7:10-17). Israel refused to listen to God and she faced the inevitable consequences of her stubbornness – “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” The warning could not have been clearer.
Things haven’t changed much. The British Church is characterised by similar traits, and like her Laodicean counterpart brags that she is “rich and wealthy and in need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). But God does not share her over-inflated view of herself. He sees poverty and nakedness, blindness and deafness, and worst of all, lukewarm indifference; the emperor has no clothes. The prospect is bleak for the unrepentant, but for those with ears to hear, there is hope (3:16-18).
Lukewarmness is the order of the day in many of our churches. Worldly compromise over God’s Word is commonplace with Truth fast becoming a relative term, often interpreted in the light of prevailing culture rather than by what the Bible says. In fact, true Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Evangelicals (for we now have to define terms) are viewed with increasing suspicion, often branded as stuffy, narrow-minded fundamentalists with an outmoded reverence for Scriptural authority. Indeed, those of us who speak up for Mosaic authorship, a literal creation, the restoration of ethnic Israel, the Millennial kingdom, male headship, a literal hell, etc. are in the minority. Love of the Truth among Christians waxes colder by the day, and even some of our most respected evangelical voices have relegated such doctrines to the rubbish bin of myth and fantasy.
The Church, in pursuit of popularity, closes its ears to God’s Word when it threatens to upset its liberal apple cart. The age of politically correct, user-friendly Christianity has dawned and it is now old hat to speak in absolute terms about the lofty biblical doctrines of creation and the fall, salvation and judgment, sin and repentance, holiness and sanctification.
Isaiah speaks with chilling determination to those who would so spurn God’s Word: “Keep on listening, but do not perceive, keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull” (Isaiah 6:9,10). And in like manner, Jeremiah addressed a “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear” (Jeremiah 5:21). Israel had lost its fear of God (v.22) and in the process, the ability to hear!
Famine in the Church
The Church is adrift from its doctrinal moorings, riding high on the “winds of [false] doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). But without the compass of God’s Word, how will she avoid the sea of error or the hidden rocks that threaten to shipwreck all on board? We need to plot our course back to the safe harbour of Truth and “ask for the ancient paths; where the good way is, and walk in it”; then we will find rest for our souls (Jeremiah 6:16).
A couple from a large evangelical church were warned by the minister not to join our fellowship because we were always going back and forth in the Bible. They came to us on the strength of his ‘recommendation’! Little wonder that so many fall for deception when even the leaders refuse to love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10,11). Instead of teaching the whole counsel of God as commended (Acts 20:27), pastors stave off the hunger of their flocks with a diet of fleshly gimmicks, anecdotal preaching and social action programmes. Even traditional hymns, where they are doctrinally sound, are being elbowed aside to make room for unbiblical choruses. Scores of charismatic Pied Pipers lead the Church a merry dance with their tuneful promise of a utopian world that does not exist. Sound biblical doctrine has given way to spiritual make-believe and charismatic hype, and sadly it is little different in our prayer life with its ‘bless me’ emphasis. Cringe-free Christianity rules OK, with advertising placards in recent years inviting the Christmas carol-singing public to ‘Sing your hearts out for the Lad’ at a community carol service near you. When the Church reduces the status of our Saviour to the language of the street, I wonder if they know Him at all. As the LORD Himself declares: “What does straw have in common with grain?” (Jeremiah 23:28).
Israel suffered four silent centuries for her failure to honour God and His Word. From Malachi to John the Baptist, God’s people staggered “from sea to sea” in search of His Word but did not find it (Amos 8:11,12). Yes, they had God’s Law, the Torah, the Touchstone of life, but God’s prophets were stonily silent; there was no word to guide the nation through its spiritual wilderness, and no pillar of fire to light the night sky. We desperately need to learn the lesson of history if we are to avoid the same judgment; the hour is decidedly late and already the icy finger of famine is sending a chill through our churches.
Manna or Quail?
The Israelites turned up their noses at the manna and craved quail instead (Numbers 11), and Christians today are no different, preferring to fill their spiritual stomachs with food that does not satisfy and which God never intended them to eat. The quail looked so appetising, but it was a judgment of God, and not the main course (v.33). Gathering manna took effort; it was the same thing every day but it kept the Israelites alive, and that’s the whole point. God was teaching them a spiritual lesson. As Moses writes: “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna... that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
So why is it so hard for us to learn the lesson of the wilderness? I think part of the problem is one of perspective. Like Israel, the Church all too often sees itself as God’s blue-eyed boy who can do no wrong, and petulantly refuses to believe that He would ever raise His voice in anger or His hand in chastisement against us, let alone cause us to go hungry! But this is a serious underestimation of God’s character. He does discipline us, and often through privation, so that we may learn to hunger after the Bread of Life and in Him produce the “fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). In the wilderness, fruit is a sight for sore eyes.
A Man who heard from God
‘If things are as bad as you say, shouldn’t we just batten down the hatches and wait for the Lord’s return?’ Well, before we reach for the hammer and nails and bunker- down, let us consider what the Lord might be saying to us. The days of famine are also days of opportunity. They were for Joseph and they can be for us too. The seven years of famine were preceded by seven bumper harvests, and with God-given foresight, Joseph stored up grain in the years of plenty so that in the fullness of time he was strategically placed to feed the people. He alone heard from God; one man with the revelation of Truth, who made a difference to countless people, including his own family.
Joseph was beloved of Jacob, and his brothers hated him for it (Genesis 37:3,4). They despised him even more because he heard from God. They could not stomach his revelations, and while Jacob kept the matter in mind (37:11) they plotted his silence for twenty paltry shekels of silver (37:28). Out of earshot, out of mind! And if we are honest, that is what we can be like at times, jealous of a brother or sister who hears from God. Some say Joseph was arrogant and unwise to share his dreams with his brothers, but the point is, he heard from God! And let us remember that it took a famine to bring his brothers to their senses. How we need to see the bigger picture!
Grace in Winter
Samuel Rutherford (c.1600-1661), one of Scotland’s most beloved pastors, taught that grace grew best in the wintry conditions of our lives. Like Joseph, Rutherford knew what it was to suffer for the Lord and it is claimed that he produced his best work behind bars. Persecution worked grace into his life; the bitter winter of imprisonment softened his heart and made him the man he was. It was the same with Joseph: twice condemned, incarcerated in a prison within a prison, tormented in body and soul, and tested by the word of the LORD (Psalm 105:17-19). How did he react? How would we react under the same circumstances? Scripture does not fill in the details of those years, but we are told one very important fact: God was with Joseph to bless and to prosper him; he was given pastoral responsibility for his fellow prisoners (Genesis 39:21-40:23) and gifted in dream-interpretation. In short, Joseph was in the centre of God’s will, although it was some time before he could testify to that fact (45:5-7). Beloved, how are you faring in the dark days of trial? Have you been cut off from your brothers because of your stand for the Truth? Is God’s grace softening your heart towards them or are you nurturing a bitter root of resentment?
Joseph emerged from his dungeon trial an older, wiser man, upright and blameless, and destined for the dizzy heights of God’s greater purpose. But there is no record of bitterness, no avenging scheme, and no railing against God; just a simple testimony of grace: “God has made me forget all my trouble and my father’s household” (41:51). Well, Joseph may have forgotten his family but the Lord hadn’t. Pharaoh’s dreams bring God’s purposes into sharp focus as Joseph is entrusted with the task of supervising seven bumper harvests, planning strategy and personally superintending the distribution of grain. It took him 7 years to fill the store cities and there was no room for complacency; every handful of grain was counted. And then the famine hit, and the word got to Jacob: “There is grain in Egypt” (42:2). The text teems with redemptive imagery.
Finally, in a scene that moves us to tears, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers (Genesis 45). Repentance brings restoration and Joseph’s unconditional forgiveness of his brothers is an example to us all. In the world’s eyes he had every justification to want their comeuppance, to demand his pound of flesh, but he lived by different standards and so must we. Joseph knew the heart of God and he learned to see things the way God did. How else could he have so confidently declared to his brothers that God had sent him on ahead to preserve a remnant on earth (45:7)? Israel’s redemption had cost Joseph dearly, but he had been prepared to pay the price. It just shows what the Lord can do with a man who hears from God.
Preserving the Remnant
God saved countless thousands of Gentile lives through Joseph, but the focus of the narrative centres on Jacob and his tiny infant nation of seventy (46:27). Resettled in choicest Goshen, the remnant saw out the remaining years of famine under Joseph’s watchful care. Let this be a word of comfort to those who fear the day of famine. As Jeremiah writes:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit — Jeremiah 17:7,8; see also Psalm 1.
We are to be fruit-bearers and grain-gatherers, even under famine conditions, but let us never forget what Israel forgot, that we can only do so if we abide in Him and in His Word (John 15:4,5). But if we are to be fruitful in the days of famine we must join together with like- minded believers. The early Church “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:42), and we must follow the same pattern, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some...” (Hebrews 10:25). Consider this point carefully, because the word translated “forsake” (Greek enkataleipo) literally means “to abandon or leave in dire straits” and is used to translate Jesus’ heart-cry from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). We are not to be of that mindset; instead we must “stimulate one another to love and good deeds... encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day [of Jesus’ return] drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24,25). And we can only do that if we remain in fellowship together. Our doctrine needs legs if we are to function as the body of Christ.
God is on the look-out for the Joseph-hearted, those who are willing to count the cost, ready to invest time and effort in Bible study and prayer, and prepared to build a store city in home and fellowship. Are you ready for the long haul, for possible rejection and trial, for wintry weather and unprecedented devotion to the purposes of God? Well, these are the conditions of service and would-be job seekers should note them well.
The LORD longs to restore the famine-ravaged prodigal and wants us to keep a weather-eye out for His return. We may have to wait a season before we see a measure of restoration in the Church, and then it may only be a remnant that returns. But one day a familiar face may appear at your door in search of food shelter and fellowship. Will he find a welcome and something to eat?
About the Author:
Andrew Robinson was born in Penarth, South Wales in 1951 and was raised in Christian Science. He and Pat were born again in 1987, while he was working as a senior youth and community worker in Bury, Lancashire. Married for 37 years, they have 3 grown up daughters and a son, who are all following the Lord. They also have 3 young grandsons. Andrew and Pat have served the Lord in a pastoral ministry for 22 years, ministering in Scotland and the Manchester area. Andrew holds a theology degree from Manchester University and was trained as an AOG pastor. He has taught at Manchester Bible School and for the last 15 years has pastored Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church in Stockport, an independent Pentecostal fellowship which came into being in the wake of a Jeffreys brothers’ campaign in South Manchester in the late 1920s. Andrew resigned from Assemblies of God in 2001.
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