Have you ever been really hungry? We don’t mean you missed lunch and were “starving” by suppertime. Rather, have you ever been without adequate food for days, weeks, months, or even years, perhaps to the point of death? Images that come to mind here are the countless pictures of the Jewish Holocaust, of the walking skeletons created by the Nazis. To prove this horror was not propaganda, and to answer those he knew would one day deny it even happened, General Eisenhower ordered all civilian news media, military camera units, and even regular GIs to take as many pictures as possible. Incredulously, some still deny it.
The Hebrew rā‘āḇ (H7458) appears some one hundred times in the OT and is usually translated famine (also “hunger, dearth, and famished”). Both Abraham and Isaac, for example, experienced famine in Canaan (Gen_12:10; Gen_26:1), and it is mentioned fifteen times in the story about Joseph and the famine in Egypt (Genesis 41-47).
The theological significance of rā‘āḇ is particularly striking. God is clearly sovereign over hunger and famine (Deu_8:3) and provides for His people who are hungry (Pro_10:3). Jeremiah is especially dramatic in his use of this word some thirty-two times, most of which refer to the judgment that is to come upon Judah (by way of the Babylonians) because of her headlong plunge into idolatry.
It is Amos, however, who pictures a famine far worse than any physical one: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Pro_8:11). While Amos (a contemporary of Jonah, Hosea, and Isaiah) was a Judean prophet, God wanted him to speak to the northern tribes (Amo_7:15). During a time of great prosperity and security, God told the people the day was coming when because of their moral decay and rejection of truth, they would no longer hear the Word of God read or preached. This soon happened with the Assyrian captivity, and such “deafness” continues to this day.
What could possibly be worse than such a famine? And what of our own day? Amos does, indeed, have “a word for any nation in Israel’s condition,” one writer observes. “Put his descriptions in [modern] dress and they will strike home.” In a very real sense, some aspects of contemporary Christianity are causing a holocaust. Is the day coming when we will no longer hear the Word at all?
Scriptures for Study: Notice the further details of Amos’ prophecy in Amo_8:12-13.