Famine of the Word

This lesson examines how God can and does punish modern nations in the same way He disciplined the Israelites for similar sins against Him.
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Even if the Bible is very much a historical document, it only gives us a glimpse of God's dealing with just a handful of nations, and the nation it does talk about are those that have some dealings or influence on the nation of Israel, the people through whom God would send a Savior.

Although there's no mention of other nations, we must not think that God has not and does not continue to deal with each race, each culture, and each nation, even to this day. We think, you know, the only people that he cares about, the only people He's working with, you know, are Israel back in the Old Testament and the church today.

Everybody else doesn't count, but that's not true. We know that the Bible describes in detail only one particular portion of history, but within these details, it does teach that God has and always will deal directly with other nations, with nations, there we go, for his own purposes.

For example, Daniel speaks of angels who were over certain nations like Persia and Greece, in Daniel 10:20. In the book of Revelation, John describes in highly symbolic language God's dealing with Rome and her empire.

Jesus mentions that nations will be judged in Matthew 25. And in Matthew 28:18-20, the charge is to go to all the tribes and all the tongues and all the nations with the Gospel. Now, the Bible has not revealed God's dealings with every nation, only limited information about some nations, but that's not to say that he has not dealt with all the nations.

However, we do gain insight about his dealing with nations in general from his dealings with the nation of Israel in particular. Many of these warnings to them stretch out across history to warn other nations whose behavior and condition today warrant the same punishments visited upon the Israelites for the same kinds of sins many centuries ago.

In other words, if you want to see how God deals with a nation, study the nation of Israel, and you'll find out how God deals with nations, not just Israel, but all nations. There's the pattern for us.

For an example of this, let's look at the warning that God gave the Israelites during the prophet Amos, during his day, and see it as relevant to our own nation and time today. So basically I'm going to try to draw similarities between the time of Amos in Israel and today and how God deals with each nation, can and does deal with each nation.

Background of Amos

The ministry of Amos the prophet takes place during the reign of Jeroboam II. He was the son of Joash who ruled the Northern Kingdom of Israel from 786 to 746 BC. We complain that the leader of our country, whoever that person has four years before there's another election.

These guys were up there 40 years at a time, 50 years at a time. So, to try to keep that in perspective. Most of you are familiar with the history of the Jews during this time, but for those who need just a bit of a refresher, let's have a little review, shall we? The Jews led by Joshua settled into the Promised Land around 1400 BC.

They were ruled at first by their clan or their tribal leaders for several hundred years, until all the tribes were consolidated under one king, and that was Saul, the first king. The throne passed from Saul to David and then from David to his son Solomon, who reigned during the nation's wealthiest and most glorious period.

After Solomon's death, there was a threat of civil war, and as a consequence, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, the northern one called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judea, and this was around 931 BC.

These two kingdoms went through cycles of peace and war with one another and with their respective neighbors. Sometimes they would be allies. The north and south would be together against another nation, and sometimes, they'd be in conflict with one another.

The time of Amos's ministry was approximately 200 years after the united kingdom split into two. So Jeroboam II, he was the 14th king to rule the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the division took place.

So it gives you a little historical perspective. Now, by the time of Jeroboam II's rule, each kingdom was well entrenched in their separate states with Jerusalem as the Judean capital in the south, and the city of Samaria serving as the capital for the Northern Kingdom.

Each of the kingdoms experienced periods of social and economic hardships, as well as times of prosperity. Now, for the Northern Kingdom, the period during Jeroboam II's rule was a time of great prosperity.

They were at peace with the Southern Kingdom, and because of political and military problems in the far northern nations of Syria and beyond, Jeroboam had been able to expand and secure his northern border.

Trade routes were channeled through the capital city from the coast, and the money derived from levies created a booming economy. The building trade was very busy as many people, believe it or not, upgraded their homes and property.

We don't think they did that in those days, but they upgraded their home and property. Excavation, archeological excavations from that time show that many homes renovated from simple rock and mortar structures to cut stone structures, which was, another class, if you will, stepping on up, if you wish, when they did that.

Now, along with great prosperity and rapid economic development, we also know that many social ills that come from these conditions were also present in the Northern Kingdom at the time. For example, there was a wide gulf that developed between the rich and the poor.

The rich became very rich and the poor became poorer. And that seems, that cycle seems to, continue, even to this day. There was injustice in the legal system as money became the measure and the arbitrator of a person's ability to obtain justice for himself.

And there was a secularization of religion as more and more of the pagan customs of Baal worship became intermingled with the worship of Jehovah. It wasn't that they had completely abandoned the worship of Jehovah, but they began to mix the worship of Jehovah with Baal worship.

Again, archeologists have found half as many names compounded with the word Baal as they did with the word Yahweh in the descriptions of the time. And so into this greedy, unjust, increasingly godless society, God sends Amos, his prophet.

Now what's interesting about Amos is that he is not from the Northern Kingdom, nor is he a teacher or a priest or a religious leader of any kind. In reading his book, we find out that he's a sheep breeder from Judea, the Southern Kingdom, and he's called by God to go to the Northern Kingdom, very much like Jonah, for example, and preach against its excesses and its sins.

Amos's warnings and prophecies were strong warnings of God's ability to punish a nation blinded and bloated by prosperity. Now, we don't have time to study the book line by line and chapter by chapter, but in some reform, this is what Amos does and what he says to the Northern Kingdom during his ministry.

First, he begins by pointing out the sins and judgements against the pagan nations that surround the Northern Kingdom, many of which they have emulated and profited from. So he condemns the nations around Northern Israel because Northern Israel or the Northern Kingdom, rather, have copied their religious and their secular ways.

So he starts by condemning these nations. Next, he focuses on the particular failures of Israel, which is the Northern Kingdom, the decay in their society, seen in the oppression of the poor and the excesses of the rich and the injustice and the hypocrisy in their religious practices.

And then he continues with visions of judgment and doom against them, and he warns the nation to repent. And then finally, he also speaks of the types of punishment that they will experience, and then he ends the promise that God eventually will restore them once again, after he has disciplined them.

Now, this outline follows the pattern of many prophets and their writings, but there is one unusual, chilling warning that is given only to those who know God, and therein lies the point of my lesson today.

You see, many nations throughout history have had corrupt societies in one way or another, and God has punished them. I mean, he has removed their power, or he has reduced their economies, or he has redistributed their territories.

We've seen him do it to ancient nations like Babylon and Rome. We've witnessed his hand even in our lifetimes, as Russia, for example, went from a superpower to economic collapse in one single generation.

Who do you think did that? Losing your wealth and freedom is a harsh punishment, one that is hard to bear for any nation whether they are pagans like Rome, or the chosen people of Israel. Losing your job, losing your money, losing your power, losing your freedom, that's a harsh punishment, no matter who you are.

But Amos mentions one punishment that God reserves only for believing nations, and that's a punishment that would make a loss of wealth or freedom pale in comparison. In Amos chapter eight, Amos says that God is saying to the nation,

10"Then I will turn your festivals into mourning
And all your songs into lamentation;
And I will bring sackcloth on everyone's loins
And baldness on every head.
And I will make it like a time of mourning for an only son,
And the end of it will be like a bitter day.
11"Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord God,
"When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the Lord.
- Amos 8:10-11

That's a very unusual punishment being spoken of here by Amos. The threat here is that God would no longer send them prophets and teachers, no one to bring them the divine Word of God. Some 60 years later, the Northern Kingdom, thinking that it was invincible, was ravaged by its northern enemy Assyria, and its people forever spread out and intermingled among the heathen nations, never to be a kingdom and never to be a believing nation again.

That was their punishment. My single point this morning is that if it could happen to them, it could happen to us. He has the power to do it. We are a believing nation. I'm not one for conspiracy theories, UFOs, or the idea that the CIA is behind everything.

I'm not big on that. And I'm not promoting the end of the world scenarios, like some preachers do that you hear. I'm only pointing out the glaring similarities between that believing nation in Amos's day and our believing nation today.

They had peace from their enemies until the Assyrians destroyed that peace forever. Well, we were at peace until 9/11, and continually now under the threat of terrorism that follows us. They, at the height of economic growth, until they lost everything and were dragged into slavery.

We were enjoying a financial bubble until the economy crashed with COVID. Imagine, (snaps fingers) just like that. They had an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and we have rich Wall Street bankers and traders walk away with millions of dollars while regular people are thrown out of work and their homes and their pensions are lost.

Their justice system was oiled with money to favor the rich and powerful, and as we have seen in the last couple of months, we have movie stars and politicians walk away from crimes with only a slap on the wrist, and how do they do that? Money does that.

Influence in the right places does that type of thing. Their religion was becoming more and more secularized in Amos's day, and now we have a new President who chooses, who rather claims to be a believing Catholic, but is a passionate promoter of government-sponsored abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and an enthusiastic supporter of the gay lifestyle.

I mean, the head of the nation is the chief cheerleader for these two types of activities in our culture. One other important similarity between them and us is that God held them as the chosen people responsible for the teaching and the witnessing of his Word for their own nation, and for those around them.

They were the light unto the Gentiles. And in the same way, we, by virtue of our wealth and easy access and knowledge of God's Word have been enabled to powerfully establish Christianity in the United States and spread the Gospel to all nations.

Perhaps as a nation, we should learn a lesson from the the rain storm and the flooding that occurred in Pakistan just several years ago. They had a few days of rain, and 25% of the entire country was devastated.

20 million people were left completely homeless without food or work or medical assistance, clothing, cars, nothing. One little rain storm, one little rain storm, and the economy and the infrastructure of an entire country is set back for decades.

Now I ask you, I ask you this. What makes you think that this could not happen to us? One little storm, one simple pandemic. Oh, wait we're in the middle of that, aren't we? Don't you think God could shut us down, could take away our power, could ruin our economy, could make us prisoners of something if he really wanted to? It's just a single invisible virus and look at what it's done, all the damage it's done.

Imagine how badly God could hurt us, I mean, if he really tried. Now, just think for one more moment on this. Is it not possible that we could also lose our privileged position of foremost Christian nation, just as the northern nation of Israel lost their privileged status as God's people? Oh, it's not that the Word would lose its power.

It's not that the Gospel would no longer be preached, or the church would be annihilated. No, no. The Bible promises us that these things will never happen. The gates of hell will never prevail against the church.

No, no, no. What we need to be concerned about is that we lose the privilege of being the ones who lead in the production of his holy Word, that we lose the honor of being the ones who provide the most resources and manpower for the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.

You might not feel it, but we feel it. Hal and I feel it. We get these little, see this publishing error here? We're already feeling the effects of this as Amazon, we're on many different platforms, YouTube and all that. We're also on the Amazon platform. You can type in BibleTalk and you can watch BibleTalk on Amazon Prime. Well, Amazon is in the process of removing our BibleTalk teaching material from their Amazon Prime platform, and they say it's due to legal issues.

This is what we received from them. We've de-listed, like my series on Isaiah. We got a notice from them, "We've de-listed this, we've removed this, and we don't accept any more of this teaching on Isaiah, and this is the reason why, current licensing guidelines. Legal gobbily gook, and look what it says at the bottom. "All reviewed decisions are final and this title may not be resubmitted or appealed."

Hal has tried many times to write to their, you know, their censor board or whatever, and say, "Okay, what's wrong with what we have published? What we've put on there, tell us what's wrong. Is it the title? Is that the topic? You know, what's wrong? What have we done wrong to violate your principles?" And the answer comes back, "No, no, no, no, no, no. We don't have to explain to you what's wrong. We're not going to do that." They say in the end, it's final. "We decided it's final. You're gone. See you, bye."

I remember one sermon they de-listed a few months ago, and the title of the sermon was "A Father's Love," and it was a sermon about the prodigal son, and they'd de-listed it because it didn't meet their criteria. Thinking, what? A father receives back and forgives his prodigal son. You have a problem with that? What's that about? And so they, I mean, thankfully, we have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of videos and series and all kinds of things, so it's taken them a long time to kind of, you know, they don't do it all in one shot.

They've de-listed the Isaiah and they knock off a couple of sermons every week but we know what they're doing. We know it's because they don't want religious programming, and we, BibleTalk, we are the largest provider of that kind of material on Amazon. So we're the first to get the heave-ho.

So remember, maintaining these blessings is not dependent on strong economies or strong armies. Maintaining our status as a Christian nation is dependent on our faith and the will of God.

In their time and in their context, the Northern Kingdom could not ever imagine how they could lose everything, including their free access to the Word of God, but a scant (snaps finger) 60 years later, their nation was in ruins and the only access to God's Word was what they could remember being taught.

That's all they had. Again, I'm not a prophet and I'm not predicting or even suggesting what God will or will not do. All I'm saying is that we should be very careful to take note of the fact that he can humble nations and he can create a situation where a spiritual famine comes over the land, and believe me, Lise and I, we know how this works and what it feels like.

We, our family comes from such a place where people perish for the lack of knowledge, and we can tell you that it is possible for an entire people to go from knowing God, to being totally ignorant of him in a single generation.

We come from Quebec. When I was a young boy, everyone in the province was Catholic. 90-plus percent of the people in Quebec were Catholic, and they went to church and they believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

And you think some churches, why, we're really doing good. We had to add a second service, and that's true, adding a second service means you're growing numerically. In Quebec, when I was a boy, at the church, I mean, there were hundreds and hundreds of Catholic churches in the city.

It was the only game in town. You had a Mass, okay, a service. You had one at eight o'clock in the morning, eight a.m., nine a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, and one at five Sunday night and one at five Saturday night to accommodate everybody who was coming to church.

That's when I was a boy. Today, less than 10% of the population attends church and the majority of the population rejects Christianity. There are more people going to mosques and temples than New Testament churches in Quebec in one generation, in our lifetime.

So please, I know from personal experience what it feels like and what it looks like for a nation to be a believing nation, to being a completely godless nation, one single generation. As a preacher who comes from the north and who now preaches to a southern audience, here's what I encourage us to do to avoid the famine of the Word.

Number one, let us use our freedom to guard what is righteous about this nation. In Israel, it was the king's duty to lead the people into righteousness. Jeroboam and many of his predecessors failed at this, and the nation paid the price.

In a democracy, this responsibility in the hands of the people, because they have the freedom to choose which leaders they will have, and this is a gift from God. You don't believe that, travel around the world a little bit and see how many people have the freedom to choose their leaders.

It was through the democratic process that laws and policies that are anti-God and anti-Christian came to be. Reversing this process can only be achieved in the same way. The work of the church is to preach the Gospel and to witness against the sin of the world and to warn of the judgment to come, not to create public policy or laws.

That's not our job. That's the work of politicians and writers and lobbyists and teachers. But those who are Christians can have an influence in creating a righteous environment in our nation. Use your freedom to guard and promote what is righteous in our nation by voting for those who support Christian ideals or running for office yourself, or making your opinion known.

I mean, when the potential leader of a nation stands up and says, "If elected, I will promote abortion, I will promote gay rights, I will promote all types of godless activity," how can a believer support that? I haven't figured it out, and I have not heard a good argument to defend that action.

They tell us that less than 50 or even 40% of the people vote in elections, usually. I wonder what percent of Christians vote when it's time, and what difference it would make if 80 or 90% of all Christians voted their faith instead of their party or their pocketbooks.

In the end, we're responsible for the leadership we have, and we're accountable for it as well. Remember that. We're responsible for it, and we are accountable. God will hold us accountable for who we put into office.

Another way to avoid the famine of the Word. Let's get back to the Bible, shall we? I come from a place where no one knows the Bible, no one. Children are never taught it. Teens ignore it. Adults reject it.

Their hearts are as hard as a rock. They live in darkness and their society is in decline year after year. One of the reasons that Lisa and I came back in 2010 after seven years of working in Montreal was that like Lot in the Old Testament, my soul, our soul was oppressed by the ungodliness that we saw around us each and every day.

2 Peter 2:7. I just couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't take speaking to a nation that had a heart as hard as a rock. Basically, I was sick. I was worn out by the disbelief and the absolute worldliness of that place.

Well, this place has heading in that direction, because in a thousand little ways, it is letting go of God's Word in daily life. For example, people don't read their Bibles each day as they once did, and members neglect Bible class on Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings more and more.

Sure there's COVID and I get that, but long before COVID came, there was tee-ball and there was soccer and there was baseball and there was football, and there was a time where a coach wouldn't put a practice on a Wednesday night, and they wouldn't schedule games on a Sunday morning.

There was a time, but now that's all gone. You got to make a choice. I remember the hardest thing having to tell Paul when he was a teenager and showed great promise and skill as a hockey player, and he was called up to a traveling team and everything, and they told us, "Oh yeah we practice at night and we practice, and then we go away for the weekend, so during the season, forget church.

There's no church." And we had, we had to sit down and have a little talk and say, "Sorry, the championship game falls on a Sunday. Okay, maybe. But that there's no Sunday, there's no church because you're on a travel team.

Sorry, buddy." And I was sorry, and he was, too, but he survived. I think he survived very well. Sports and just busy-ness are becoming more important than Wednesday church or Sunday church. We think nothing of skipping Sunday morning worship and many have virtually abandoned Wednesday and Sunday evening for what? Simply to participate in worldly things.

Do we not understand as Christians that our first responsibility is the adoration of God? Everything else is secondary. Yeah, we got to eat. Yeah, we got to take care of the lawn. Yeah, of course. We got to get the car fixed and get the kids educated.

Of course. But do we not realize, as Christians, adoring God is our first priority? It's a privilege Many use the COVID pandemic excuse, and they tell themselves that when this is all over, we'll get back to normal for worship and giving and personal service to the Lord's church.

We're on a break, we're on a lockdown. But we're not on a break. We as Christians are in a period of spiritual testing and refinement. I said it last week, I'll say it again. When this is all over, you're going to ask yourself, how did I do during the COVID thing? How did I do? Did I worry? Did I wring my hands? Did I become less spiritual, less devoted to the Lord, less serving, less giving, less adoration? The test is how faithful and how fruitful can we be despite the mask, despite the social distancing, despite the disruptions to our schedules and our routines.

Yes, it's hard being faithful and spiritually productive these days, but that's the point of testing, and evaluation to test your faith, not to provide an excuse for being unfaithful or unmotivated or unkind or lukewarm.

This last year has been a test and sample of what it's like to have less of God's Word or God's Word less easily accessible, and when the test is over, how do you think you'll have performed? How did you respond to the circumstances and to the test? Did you panic? Did you lose your spiritual focus? Did you use the test as an excuse to slack off? Or did you see this for what it is, a diversion, a test, and stood firm and remained faithful, even became more faithful.

Then finally, number three. Let's use our prayer life to plead for this nation. As fun as it might be, it's not flag-waving or fireworks or zealous nationalism that will preserve America's favorite position economically, militarily, or spiritually.

It will be the continued prayers of the saints in Christ and their righteous lives that will protect us from the nation's sins and failures. Righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34). Not armies or the stock market or one party over another party.

God can exalt our nation economically or in any other way that he desires, no matter who leads. He waits to see how his people within the nation will honor him. Well, I got news for you. That's us, folks.

That's us. It's no coincidence that as the people have turned away from God in general and we as Christians have grown lukewarm in service and in giving and in worship and especially Bible study, this nation has drifted away from its Christian roots, helped along by government policies, the entertainment industry, and social media.

They're not on our side. They're not on our side. They're out to destroy us. The way back, however, doesn't begin in Washington or Hollywood or Facebook. The way back begins right here, right in this place.

We help our nation avoid a famine of the Word by committing ourselves again to prayer and worship and Bible study right here in Choctaw, America. These are not things that will be reported on the news.

We're not going to receive any 15 minutes of fame for our efforts, but the God who exalts a nation, the God who saves an entire people because he finds 10 righteous men among them, that God will bless us and have mercy on the many because of the faithfulness of the few.

So the invitation this morning is about change. You change your mind and choose to believe in Jesus, or you change your mind and choose to obey God's Word to be baptized or to be restored from sinful behavior.

This morning, in addition to these things, I call on you to change your mind and attitude towards God's Word and its place in your life. Change your mind about reading it regularly. Change your mind about attending regular Bible study each and every time we have one.

Change your mind about obeying what it calls on you to do this very day. And I pray that this change will lead you to come forward or to come back tonight, or to be here on Wednesday or next Sunday. Whatever the change is necessary in your life to change the direction of this nation, I pray that you will make that change today.

If you need to respond in any way to our lesson this morning, then we encourage you to do so as Johnny leads us in a word of song.

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