“Look, the days are coming — this is the declaration of the Lord God — when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Did you ever get separated from your parents when you were a kid? I’ll tell you a story of my own in just a second, but there are few things that feel scarier than that. This fear is not rooted primarily in the thought of what could happen to you without them nearby, but rather in something entirely simpler than that: being alone. We weren’t made to be alone. Being separated from people is scary. Feeling separated from God should be even more so. He obviously thinks so in light of what He says to the people here.
When I was in third grade my family went to Disney World for the first time. I was of course really excited, but there was a small problem. I didn’t like roller coasters and the rest of my family did. For most of the park this didn’t matter. But when it came to Splash Mountain, they all really wanted to ride.
Now, before I tell you this next part, keep in mind this was a very different time in our culture than where we are today. Both my mom and my dad wanted to ride the famous ride with my sister. So, they found a bench right out in front of the entrance, made sure I knew where the closest bathroom was since the line was long, and went to go have fun. I know, I know, parents today would never dream of doing something like that, but again, this was a different time.
I waited at the bench for a while and did just fine. I was rocking a neon green and orange fanny-pack that had everything I needed in it: a book, a snack, and a picture of my family in case I got lost. Eventually, though, nature called and I made my way over to the pre-designated restroom. When I came back, though, the wheels fell off.
I wasn’t sure which bench it was anymore. Was it this one? Or was it that one over there? How would they find me if I wasn’t on the right one? What if they had come off the ride while I was away at the restroom and had gone looking for me? I walked back and forth a few times as the sense of panic began welling up in my chest. Finally I got the nerve to approach an employee.
Much credit goes to Disney and their employee training. This one calmly listened to me, and then gently escorted me to the start of the ride in order to start looking there. As it turns out, my parents had not come off the ride and gone looking for me. When we got up to the end of the ride, they were the very next people coming off of it. We were reunited and everything was fine again.
For a few moments there, though, I felt the sheer terror of being alone. Have you ever felt something like that before? It’s not a pretty thing. Feeling that way by happenstance is bad enough. Being made to feel that way would surely be considered an act of great cruelty. To use something like that as an act of discipline would be extreme to the point of unthinkable. Right? Well…maybe.
Let’s say you have a child who is absolutely determined to go off on her own. Every time she sees an opportunity, she separates herself from her parents. What are those parents to do? Well, one option—and please don’t hear me actively advocating for this; I’m merely saying that given the right child and the right set of circumstances it is an option—would be for loving and watchful parents to let her feel truly alone and separated from them for a time. The odds are good that when she gets what she wants, she’ll only enjoy it for a short time before she realizes that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
For the people of Israel, they had been intentionally separating themselves from the words of God for a long time. They had been willfully rejecting the Law. In the following verses, we see this tragic interaction between Amos and one of the false prophets at Bethel actively telling him to go away and quit telling them what he thinks he hears from God.
God has been faithful, though, and has over and over again sought to convince them that they really do want to listen to what He has to say. But they just won’t listen. They won’t listen and so God finally announces that He’s going to go with the nuclear option. If they don’t want to hear from Him anymore, then He’ll stop talking to them. They won’t get any more words from Him.
Now, maybe that sounds like the reaction of a jilted lover—If you won’t talk to me, I’ll just quit talking—but I assure you it is much more than that. God’s words are the words of life. All life comes from Him. Where He speaks, He speaks words intended to share that life with us. Where His words are not welcome, life will soon be scarce. And that doesn’t mean people will physically start dropping dead when He quits speaking (although our refusal to listen to Him very often results in our embracing behaviors at a personal level and policies at a cultural level which lead to physical deaths), because there are many ways for death to reign in a culture.
So, what does this mean for us? Well, as has become a bit of a refrain as we have worked our way through the prophets, we are not Israel and so what applies directly to them probably doesn’t apply directly to us. Their national relationship with God was very different from ours. They didn’t have anything like the church which possesses to share the words of life for all who care to hear them.
But, whereas their whole culture was defined by the words of God in the Law, ours has never been in any kind of an official capacity and is less so unofficially all the time. That means we who would count ourselves followers of Jesus live in the context of a culture that is in a perpetual drought of the words of God except where we proclaim them. We absolutely cannot let that state of affairs remain anywhere we can help it taking hold.
Where God’s words are unknown today, it is because we have not proclaimed them there. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Even in our formerly Christianized nation there are many who not only do not know, but have not heard the name of Jesus. Israel faced this as a punishment and it destroyed them. Let us be absolutely certain we are not leaving the people around us—our neighbors—in a similar state. Let us share them with love and gentleness, but a bold diligence that makes sure they are heard. The fate of the world around us depends on it.