Like so many of the biblical prophets, Amos faithfully persevered with little to no visible fruit. His warnings of judgement to come largely fell on deaf ears. Far from receiving him as a prophet of Yahweh, Israel’s religious leadership drove him away. He was ordered to go to Judah to make his living and continue his ministry there because Israel was no longer interested in hearing from God (7:12). Devastatingly for the nation, God would give it exactly what it wanted.
In chapter 8, the Lord again reiterates that judgement was inevitable. “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them” (v. 2). Their joy would turn to mourning as Assyria fell upon them (v. 3). Their light would be turned to darkness (v. 9), their feasts to funerals (v. 10), and their rejoicing to lamentation (v. 10). But the worst judgement of all would be silence. “‘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). If the people did not want to hear from the Lord, he would no longer speak to them.
In what way would this judgement fall upon Israel? There are at least two ways in which it might manifest itself.
First, it might take the form of God removing prophets from the land. More specifically, it might take the form of God not giving his word any longer to the prophets in the land. Self-proclaimed prophets might remain but, with no word from the Lord, there would be nothing for them to declare to his people in need of revelation.
Second, it might take the form of deaf ears and hard hearts to the truth that was preached. Strictly speaking, it was not a famine of the word but a famine of hearing the word that was coming upon the nation. It may well be that the judgement was that the people would continue to reject the truth even as it continued to be preached.
The second possibility might be even more frightening than the first. But it is a very real possibility of which we should always be aware. If we resist the truth to which we are exposed for long enough, God may well turn us over to our desires. He may well give us deaf ears so that we experience a famine of hearing his words. We may remain religious and even sense a longing within us to hear his truth but find ourselves deaf to it because of our stubborn resistance to it.
There is no more tragic punishment than to remain religious but experience a famine of hearing God’s word. Without revelation, there is no light to guide us. Without revelation, there is no sustenance to nourish us. Without revelation, there is no map to direct us. Without revelation, there is no protection from the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Without revelation, there is nothing to keep us from running unrestrained. Wiersbe puts it poignantly: “The people would stagger like drunks from place to place, always hoping to find food and drink for their bodies and sustenance for their souls.”
God’s silence is often a means of testing us. Often, he wants us to learn to rely on him even when we do not hear from him. As absence makes the heart grow fonder, so silence often makes our trust grow deeper. When we learn to long for God’s voice, we come to appreciate it more when we actually hear it. His silence frequently builds character the way that adversity helps us to grow more quickly than prosperity does. As John Bloom says, “There is a pattern in the design of deprivation: Deprivation draws out desire. Absence heightens desire. And the more heightened the desire, the greater its satisfaction will be.”
But silence may have another root. It may be that we do not hear from God because we have made ourselves deaf to his voice. It may be that our persistent rejection of truth has led to a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. The solution may be repentance rather than patience.
As you meditate on Amos 8 this morning, examine your hunger for and submission to God’s truth. Are you eager to receive and obey, which will open the door to further revelation, or do you run the risk of famine by your persistent resistance to his truth?