[May 23]—Famine

Amos 8:1-14

            I love bananas; in fact, they’re my favorite fruit. They’re quick and easy to peel in the morning for an addition to breakfast when I’m running late. Of course, in summertime I have to eat them right away. Otherwise, they turn brown fast and aren’t worth eating. Once a fruit is ripe, it’s time to eat it in a hurry.
            And the time was ripe for Israel. He'd sent his prophets, including Amos, to warn them to come back to him, and their response had ranged all the way from indifference to violent hostility.
            You can’t see it in English, but there’s a pun in vs. 2: The Hebrew word קֵץ (qets, “end”) and קָיִץ (qayits, “summer fruit”) sound almost the same (per the NET Bible study notes). This is why the NIV translates the verse as “The time is ripe,” (trying to capture the pun), while the more literal NASB translates it as “The end has come.”
            Harvest time was supposed to be a time of celebration: rejoicing, parties, revelry, singing, feasting, etc. Instead, the upcoming “Day of the Lord” would bring the exact opposite: mourning, funerals, famine, and silence. He would figuratively turn their “noontime” into full darkness.
            Why? Some of this he’s hinted at before, but here he gets very specific, painfully so. They were waiting for the Sabbath to be over so that they could get back to their businesses. This alone was a bad sign: They saw the Sabbath as a burden instead of a chance to refocus themselves on their relationship with the Lord.
            And of course these business practices were less than honest. In a nigh-perfect picture of religious hypocrisy, they observed the Sabbath, and then eagerly returned to the practice of cheating people. Like a lot of merchants, they used “dishonest scales,” which meant they had one set of weights for buying and one for selling, a practice which God loathes (see here for more on this). They manipulated markets specifically so they could cheat people. They sold “the sweepings with the wheat,” which meant they’d mix in chaff from the floor along with their wheat in order to—once again—cheat people.
            Whether or not Amos is being literal when he says they “[buy] the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” isn't totally clear. Either they were involved outright with the slave trade (which would be abominable), or they simply were cheating the poor and treating them as objects to be exploited.
            And what was the attitude behind all this? We’ve discussed this before, but let me summarize a very important principle that they had forgotten: People are more important than things. All the money and material possessions in the entire world are not worth one human life.  This was something they’d obviously disregarded.
            There’s one major consequence of their sin which I’d like to address from vss. 11-14. As part of their punishment, the Lord threatened another famine, but a different one than they’d experienced before. It wouldn’t be a physical famine but a spiritual one: “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” He’d withdraw access to his word from their lives, and they’d desperately and futilely seek it from coast to coast.
            This bears some thought. They had access to his word. They had the Torah. They had the prophets. But as we mentioned above, they'd rejected it. And then the really really bad times would come, and then they’d be interested in hearing what God had to say. And they wouldn’t find it.
            This is a principle we’ve seen multiple times in Scripture. If God reveals something to you, you need to respond positively to it--now. If you don’t, if you ignore it, then don’t expect him to say anything further later on when you’re ready to listen. See here for how I relate this to John the Baptist, for example.
            So to sum up, I need to A) remember that people are always more important than things, and B) listen to what God tells me the first time he says it. 

Father God, please give me listening ears and a soft heart when you’re speaking, and let me see the people around me as you see them. 

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