by Francis Foulkes ©


' "Behold, the days are coming,'" says 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 fair virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. Those who swear by Ashimah of Samaria, and say, "As thy god lives, 0 Dan", and, "As the way of Beer-sheba lives", they shall fall, and never rise again." (8:11-14)

It is terrible to see a land suffering from drought, and sadder still to see people suffering from famine. Amos knew what this meant. He knew that Israel (as in the days of Elijah) had suffered drought and famine, and God had wanted to use these to bring the people back to depend on Him. In 4:6-8 we have these words, ' 'I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,' says the Lord. 'And I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to harvest; I would send rain upon one city, and send no rain upon another city; ... so two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me,' says the Lord'. It is sad indeed to see a land suffering from drought and people suffering from famine. But it is also sad to see people suffering from a famine of the word of God. People may be very poor and without sufficient food, and yet have life and hope in their souls. On the other hand people may have plenty of food and live in comfort, but they may have no meaning or purpose in life. They know nothing beyond themselves, because they have no word from God on which to rely. Amos predicted a famine of the word of God; and he did so because these people had rejected all God's messengers and had commanded the prophets, `You shall not prophesy' (2:12).

a. The results of spiritual famine

Because there was this famine of the word of God, the people were restless. They wandered up and down the country, from one side to the other, seeking something to satisfy their deepest needs. But they found nothing. We can look at the wealthy countries in the world today. Drought and famine may not trouble them. But people are restless. Their lives are full of ceaseless activity, but they achieve very little. They have a great desire to travel and can afford to go from place to place; but they are not satisfied. They have to learn that life is more than food and clothes; it is more than money and education. People in the poorer countries often desire the wealth of the rich, and they do need greater resources for their development. But whether richer or poorer, as individuals or in our countries, we need to learn and learn and relearn the lesson that 'man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord' (Deuteronomy 8: 3). The most wonderful thing for us is that we have God's word - His word that brings us the knowledge of forgiveness and salvation, His word of promise, encouragement and strength. Without it we are hungry in soul, and restless, and in the end lifeless.

The time comes when a hungry and thirsty man can go on no longer, and just faints by the way. The time comes also when one who is hungry and restless in soul has no strength to go on. We see this very clearly in the world to-day. Young men and women, who should be full of life and enthusiasm, become discouraged and depressed and frustrated. They become weary with life, and want to drop out from it. In many countries the suicide rate has never been higher. How true the words of Amos are! When there is a famine of the word of God 'the fair virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst ... they shall fall, and never rise again'. For in the end, whether a person stands in the stresses and strains and difficulties of life depends on whether he has fed his soul on the word of God and found God's strength and support, or whether he has not.

b. The living God or lifeless religion

Verse 14 describes the religion that there was in Israel, religion that could not keep men and women from being hungry and restless, from fainting and falling. As we have seen, they went to the sanctuaries, to Samaria, to Dan, and to Beer-Sheba, to Bethel and Gilgal too (see 4:4-5 and 5:4-5). They made their oaths. They used religious language. But it was meaningless. They needed to hear and hear again, and to heed the word of the Lord through Amos, 'Seek me and live' ; 'seek good, and not evil, that you may live' (5:4, 14). Life, eternal life, comes when any one turns to the living God, and trusts in Him. All religion which is not a seeking of the living God will prove in the end to be unable to give life and strength and peace.

Sometimes today in a time of special personal need or national crisis people turn to whatever god or religion they think might help, perhaps to several at once. This is not the way. Man's hope is not in religion, nor even in prayer, but in the living God who has made Himself known in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He alone is 'a very present help in trouble' (Psalm 46:1). He alone can give us real security and all we need.


'Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted,- but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint' (Isaiah 40:30-31)

For further thought and study. Study the following passages where God's word is spoken of as food for the soul: Proverbs 9:1-6, Matthew 4:1-4, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Hebrews 5:11-14 and 1 Peter 2:1-3. Consider other passages where the Bible speaks of there being a famine of the word of God, or great difficulty in being able to have an opportunity of hearing it: 1 Samuel 3: 1, Lamentations 2:9, Ezekiel 7:26, Micah 3:5-7. There are two reasons to-day why people are not hearing the word of God and finding life and peace in it. One is that they have rejected it when they have had opportunity to hear it. The other is that the message of the gospel has not reached them. How should we be challenged to-day by Romans 10:14-17?

Notes. 1. Verse 12 speaks of 'from sea to sea', which meant the Dead Sea in the south-east to the Mediterranean in the west. It also speaks of 'north to east' - we would expect to have 'north to south' or 'west to east', but the Jews thought of the north as the 'dark quarter', and the east as the direction of the sun-rising.

2. The different translations of verse 14 show the difficulty of the verse. The reference may be to different gods (other than the Lord Himself) worshipped at these different places, Ashimah or perhaps Asherah at Samaria, another god at Dan, and then the god of Beer-sheba. Moffatt has 'As your Patron lives, Beer-sheba', the Jerusalem Bible 'By your Beloved's life, Beer-sheba'. Both of these are possible translations, and so both may refer to a god worshipped at Beer-sheba. On the other hand the verse may refer to the way in which worship was carried on in these places. The Authorised and Revised versions had 'They that swear by the sin of Samaria', and that would probably mean the worship of the golden calf there; there was similar worship in Dan (see 1 Kings 12:25-33). 'The way of Beer-sheba' may have meant the way of worship there, or the road by which one went on pilgrimage to Beer-sheba (New English Bible has 'By the sacred way to Beer-sheba').