Nehemiah 8:1-12; Mark 12:41-44; Acts 13:44-48
The word hangs like an awful omen in our heads.
Mentally, we picture a brutal, grotesque image. Cows’ hips protrude. Babies’ eyes are hollow. Bloated stomachs growl angrily. Skin stretches across faces tight as a trampoline. The outline of the skull slowly emerges. Joints swell. Grim, despairing stares replace smiles. Hope is gone . . . life is reduced to a harsh existence as famine takes its toll. Those who have seen it cannot forget it. Those who haven’t cannot imagine it.
We are told it is coming. “It’s only a matter of time,” declare the experts. There was a time when such predictions appeared only in science fiction books and novels, but no longer. Prophets of doom are now economists, university profs, and official spokesmen for our government, not to mention those authors who interpret our times as “threatening” or “terminal.”
For us who are so well fed, the idea of famine is foreign—almost a fantasy. It’s something that plagues India or China, never America! Fear of famine doesn’t square with our “amber waves of grain,” our “fruited plains,” certainly not our streets lined with McDonalds, thirty-one flavors, and innumerable shops bulging with every conceivable type of food.
My first rude awakening to the reality of hunger occurred early in 1958 when our troop ship full of U.S. Marines pulled into the harbor of Yokohama, Japan. We were so thrilled to see land, having been at sea for seventeen days, we were initially unaware of the barges full of Japanese men and women that encircled our ship. I later discovered that this was a common occurrence. They had come to paint the ship while we were at the dock for several days. Their pay in return? The garbage from our tables! The thought stunned me.
There is another kind of famine equally tragic . . . but far more subtle. God spoke of it through the prophet Amos. Listen to his words:
“The time is surely coming,” says the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will wander everywhere from sea to sea, seeking the Word of the Lord, searching, running here and going there, but will not find it.” (Amos 8:11–12 TLB)
We may find physical famine almost impossible to believe, but how about a spiritual famine? You don’t have to wait until the future for that! Take a trip across these United States. Or pick a country—any country. Talk about a famine! It’s easy to misread the words of Amos. He didn’t predict a lack of churches or chapels or temples or tabernacles or seminars or sermons. He spoke of “a famine . . . of hearing the words of the Lord.” Remember, a famine does not mean an absence of something . . . but a shortage of it . . . a scarcity that creates a scene of starvation.
In our enlightened, progressive, modern age, an ancient, dusty prophecy is fulfilled. Hearing the unadulterated truth of God is a rare experience. How easy to forget that! We have come upon hard times when those who declare and hear the Word of God are a novelty.
How easy to be spoiled . . . presumptuous . . . sassy . . . ungrateful . . . when our spiritual stomachs are full! Funny thing—those who are full usually want more. We belch out increased demands rather than humble gratitude to God for our horn o’ plenty.
Tell me, when was the last time you thanked God for the sheer privilege of hearing more of His Word than you could ever digest? And when did you last share a crumb from your table?
That’s why there’s a famine.