By Henry Mahan
The nation of Israel often disobeyed God, rebelling against his law and commandments. Yet the Lord continued to send his prophets to warn them, to instruct them, and to call them.
Though they were a stiff-necked people who 'erred in their hearts and did not know my ways,' even followed other gods, yet the Lord owned them, restrained them, and would not suffer them to be without 'a word from the Lord.'
Now in this chapter of Amos, the Lord announces judgment upon Israel, the very worst thing that can come upon them, 'I will take my word from you and there will be no message from the Lord' (Amos 8:11-13). If men are deprived of light, they wander in darkness. If men are deprived of truth, they walk in error.
Judicial blindness and no word from God is our greatest fear. It was said of Ephraim, 'Leave him alone;' and of the Pharisees, 'Leave them alone.' Nothing could be worse.
David feared this and said, 'Take not thy Holy Spirit from me' (Psa. 51:11).
Jeremiah wrote, 'The prophets also find no word from the Lord' (Lam. 2:9).
Micah said, 'There is no answer from God' (Micah 3-7).
Amos wrote, 'They shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.'
These servants of God all feared for the people when the heavens were silent.
1. What are the signs of 'a famine of hearing the words of the Lord'
Religion does not cease; for religion is as much a part of man as any emotion, as revealed in John 1:11, 'He came unto his own (nation, priesthood, and tabernacle) and his own received him not.' But when there is a famine of hearing the word of the Lord: Ministers go on preaching but without the power of the Holy Spirit. The voice of a man is the only voice the people hear. The gospel is heard in 'word only' (1 Thess. 1:5); and there is no regeneration, no conviction, no revelation of Christ, and no comfort nor growth.
Assemblies gather together on the Lord's day, but the Lord is not present with them. Like Mary and Joseph, 'They travel a day's journey supposing Jesus to have been in the company' (Luke 2:44), but he was not there and they sought him sorrowing.
The word of God is read, but there is no application to the heart. The disciples said, 'Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the scriptures?' Dear friends, someone said, 'We have listened to the preacher, truth by him has been shown; but we need a great teacher from the everlasting throne; application is the work of God alone!'
The ordinances (baptism and the Lord's table) are observed, but they are meaningless rituals and ceremonies without him. The formality of prayer is kept up; but if the Lord God 'has no respect to the prayer of his servants,' it is useless to pray (1 Kings 8:28).
The famine is in full drought when the scriptures become a source of controversy instead of comfort, a source of debate instead of instruction and inspiration.
When we are more concerned with proving our doctrine than proving ourselves, then our table becomes a snare and the means of salvation becomes a means of delusion (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
2. By the grace of God, how can such a famine be prevented in our area? In our day?
I urge you to look at Psalm 51--the seeking sinner's guide and the believing sinner's comfort. God heard David when he lived and prayed this Psalm, and he will hear us when we do!
Psalm 51:1-2 - A plea for mercy! David pleads for mercy on the grounds of the Lord's lovingkindness and tender mercies. He does not claim any merit nor righteousness; but he prays to be washed, cleansed, and his sins blotted out because 'there is forgiveness with thee' and 'thou art plenteous in redemption' (Psalm 130:3-7).
Psalm 51:3-4 - A confession of sin! You can be sure that there will be no forgiveness of sin nor mercy from God where there is no confession of sin. 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive' (1 John 1:9). 'He that covereth his sin shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy' (Prov. 28:13). Note the openness and honesty of his confession. 'My sin is ever before me and against thee have I sinned and done evil in thy sight.'
Verse 4 has a solemn and important statement. David justifies God and takes sides with God against himself. 'You are just when you speak against my sin and you are clear when you judge and condemn me.' A truly repentant sinner will own that he deserves to be damned (Luke 7:29-30).
Psalm 51:5-6 - A reason for our troubles! Our great problem is not so much what we do as what we are. What we are (fallen, depraved, corrupt sinners) determines what we have done and what we do. David confesses that his problem is within. Not only is the water bad, the fountain is bad! We were conceived in sin and brought forth from the womb speaking lies (Psalm 58:3; Rom. 5:12). We need to be born again; we need a new heart and a new nature (John 3:3-8).
Psalm 51:7-8 - A remedy provided! The Roman Church has a doctrine called purgatory, a place where all people go after death to be prayed from their sins by suffering themselves or by the good works of loved ones on earth. In purgatory they are purged from sin and made ready for heaven. One thing is true in all of this; if we are to stand in God's presence, we must be purged from all sin. This is what David desires when he says, 'Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.' But David speaks of the blood atonement on the mercy-seat provided by the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. The first mention in the Bible of hyssop was in Exo. 12:22 when the hyssop was dipped in the blood of the Passover lamb and sprinkled on the door in Egypt.
God said, 'When I see the blood, I will pass over you.' This is the message which brings blessings, the presence of God, and good to his people. There will be no famine of the word where there is:
1. A plea for God's mercy from the heart.
2. A genuine confession of sin.
3. An understanding of the root of our problem.
4. The preaching of Christ, our substitute, and him crucified.
Our God will honor those who honor his Son. Most of the time when there is a famine of the word, the problem is not in the pew but in the pulpit. Where God's servants faithfully preach Christ Jesus, the Father will bless.