“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. People will stagger from sea to sea and roam from north to east seeking the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever made someone so mad that they wouldn’t talk to you? That’s a rough place to be. If they’re yelling and screaming, at least they’re engaging with you about it. You can work with that. But silence? You feel cut off. You don’t know what they’re thinking. Eventually you start to get desperate for something, anything from them. The longer the silence stretches on, the worse it gets. This is the kind of judgment Amos describes here, and it sounds pretty terrible indeed. Let’s talk about it.
This is another judgment whose fulfillment we can point to rather directly. But this judgment, unlike the one we talked about yesterday that fell on Jesus, was going to fall on us. And it was going to fall on us (well, on Israel) hard. God had tried everything He could think of to get the people’s attention. He was like a parent starting to wrack His brain for other ways He could get through to His rebellious children that the path they were walking was not going to end how they were expecting.
Gentle warnings hadn’t worked. Sterner warnings fell on deaf ears. Small disasters never got them to look up for long. Major disasters only seemed to make them double down on their folly. He would bring the harshest punishment on His own Son to blaze a new path to life for those who wanted to walk it, but not nearly everyone would. What else could He do? The only thing He had left is what He describes right here. He would simply stop engaging.
At first, they probably wouldn’t even notice the silence. They were so used to ignoring His voice that it had fairly well faded into the background for them. After a while though, like when you try to sleep in a quiet hotel room without a fan running, the silence itself would start to grow louder. Then it would be deafening. Just like a blind person’s sense of hearing becomes incredibly acute to compensate for their lack of seeing, as the people stopped experiencing the Lord’s presence through other means, their spiritual ears would become incredibly attuned to the sound of His voice. They would be intensely listening for even the faintest whisper, just a breath of a word from Him would be enough to satisfy their growing hunger. But they wouldn’t hear Him. He wasn’t going to speak at all. Not a word until they were finally ready to listen.
And again, we know God did this. For 400 years the people didn’t hear a word from Him. Once Malachi finished His prophetic work, He went completely silent on the people until John the Baptist came wandering out of the wilderness proclaiming a message of repentance in order to be prepared for God’s coming Messiah. It’s no wonder John’s star took off like a rocket. He was the first genuine and new word from the Lord the people had heard for centuries. How ironic it is that in their rush to take in everything John said because of their desperate hunger for God’s word that they ignored and rejected Jesus, the one about whom he was speaking.
Today, with God’s word available literally at our fingertips almost every second of the day, we really can’t imagine the kind of silence the people of Israel as a whole endured as an act of judgment from Him. And yet, we can perhaps personally point to times when we felt like God had gone silent in our lives. He may have been speaking in the lives of the people around us, but it felt like we were living under something like the Cone of Silence from Get Smart. His words were always just where we couldn’t quite make them out.
Depending on just how in tune we are staying with Him generally, we may not notice something like that at first, just like when you miss a meal, you’re not always hungry right away. But eventually the silence becomes louder and louder until it starts to drown out all the other sounds around us. We start to become desperate to hear anything from Him that might help us make sense out of the situation we are facing.
In those times, we naturally start to ask questions about why God is silent. Is the problem on His end or ours? How can we get to where we can hear Him again? Here are a couple of things to consider.
First, it could be that we can’t hear God’s voice because we aren’t really listening. He doesn’t move fast like we do. And He’s not one to make a big scene to get attention (yes, there are some notable exceptions in the Scriptures, but those are just that: exceptions). If we want to hear from the Lord, we have to learn to move at His pace and listen at His volume. That means slowing down and turning down the various sources of noise in our lives.
Second, our lack of hearing may be the result of God’s not speaking. And the reason He isn’t speaking is because He’s already spoken and He’s not particularly fond of repeating Himself. If God has told you something to do and you haven’t done it, you shouldn’t expect to hear more from Him until you’ve done the first thing. Think back through what instructions or commands you have felt impressed to obey but haven’t yet obeyed. Once you’ve gone back and put that into practice, then He will be able to share some new things with you.
Third, if God seems silent, that may be an indicator that you have an ongoing issue of sin in your life such that He’s using silence like He did with the people of Israel to get your attention. Your noticing His lack of speaking could be the first step on your journey of repentance. But you have to actually complete that journey if you are going to be able to hear from Him again. Sin separates us from God. Repent of whatever it is you are doing that is taking you away from Him, and return with Him to the path of righteousness. He loves to walk and talk with His servants in the cool of the day. If that’s not happening, it’s not because He’s quit doing it. It’s because we have.
God is pretty big on communication. If you feel like He’s not doing that, go through this rubric. My guess is that one of these is the reason. Get things straightened back out, and you’ll start hearing from Him again.