Today, I want us to continue to look at the “firm foundation” that we are told about in God’s Holy Word. The emphasis of the note this week is about God’s Word itself. In his book titled “God Has Spoken”, written by J.I. Packer in 1965, the author takes us to Amos. There is a passage in Amos, that tells us we should not take for granted our accessibility, use, proclamation and hearing of God’s Word.
Amos 8:11-12 (NIV)
“The days are coming”, declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”
Eight centuries before Christ came to earth as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, the northern kingdom of Israel was in a confident mood. True, moral standards had crashed, little honesty was left in business, poor people were badly treated, and the upper-class lived and did as they pleased. There was a trade boom on, money was flowing into the country, and society as a whole was affluent, with a majority basically saying “we never had it so good”. How could anyone be worried in such prosperity? Also, Israel had a national faith. Figures for church attendance were high. Public worship in the kingdoms religious center of Bethel, with rich ritual and fine music, was a recognized part of community life. Relying on their great religious heritage, Israel did not doubt that God was on her side and would see her through all that the future might bring.
Into this complacent community of Israel God dropped a bombshell in the shape of farmer Amos, a prophet from Judah that God sent to Israel to preach and proclaim His Word. Amos came storming into Samaria as a prophet of doom for Church and nation. Amos told them God was about to judge His people. The wheel of retribution was already spinning, and would soon go faster. Recent disasters noted in Amos such as a drought, a bad harvest, an epidemic, and an earthquake, had shown God’s displeasure clearly enough, and these were only a beginning. Soon the whole nation would be enslaved and deported. (This happened fifty years later, under the Assyrians as recorded in 2 Kings 17.) While all that sounds terrible, they are not the worst thing that is going to happen to them.
Are there any similarities between what seems to be going on in Israel who Amos is prophesying to and the United States where we currently live? The country had been flourishing. Free worship in the houses supposedly dedicated to God was prevalent. This worship though was not true worship if you read the book of Amos. The people enjoyed their worship services and were very well entertained. On the one hand there is prosperity for many. On the other hand, there is hunger and poverty for others. As bad as the poverty and hunger and the disasters sound, the prophecy identified in our focus passage from chapter 8 is even worse. People will search far and wide, through every source or method possible to try to hear a word from God but they will not find or hear one. The streams of revelation from God are going to dry up. The Word of God would be lost to them. And this is not just a “one-off” from Amos. Isaiah delivers a very similar prophecy in Isaiah 6 as he prophesies to the southern kingdom of Judah some 100 years later. This drying up of revelation from God was and is a real thing for nations, groups, and individuals, even today. God is longsuffering but there simply comes a point where He turns off the revelation if it is not being heard and used. That is the famine you want no part of.
You may not agree that there are similarities between what Amos was seeing and what exists now in our country. You may acknowledge there are some cultural and economic and physical similarities but there could never again in our country be a possibility of “The Lost Word” of God, could there? We have easier access to the Bible than ever before in history. There are more translations and paraphrases of the Bible than ever, and not only in print, but accessible on your phone. Someone even sends you a daily scripture and note of encouragement on your Bible app. You even get a note of encouragement from the Bible through groups you align with on social media. I want to challenge you today that while you may have access to some of these things (even though in some countries people do not have such access), are you really “hearing the Words of the Lord”? Think back to the note at Christmas about the shepherds. We said the shepherds “heard well”. With the access we have to printed, readable and even digitized audible scripture, are we hearing the Word of the Lord? In our churches and from our pulpits in this nation, are we hearing the Word of the Lord or is the message basically stories and encouragement, man’s philosophy if you will? How prevalent is true revelation from God in your life?
One thing that has crept into many churches across the world and in our own land is something that is debated regarding the “inerrancy” of scripture. This battle has raged for a very long time. The smarter we seem to get, (or believe we are getting), the more we tend to argue about whether the Bible is truly a Word from God. Many now say it is just a word from men long ago and their opinions of what they believed God wanted us to hear. Is it the Words of God or just history and what some today claim is all one-sided history? If you do not believe it is truly a Word from God and instead it is just history then you also likely believe it is full of errors or just opinions. If that is what you believe then you will not receive the revelation and life contained within it. For example, if you do not believe in the “virgin birth”, what else in God’s Holy Word do you also not believe? Look at the things in our culture today that society argues about that none of us would have dreamed possible as “up for interpretation” just 50 years ago. It is just a hop, skip and a jump from there to not believing Jesus was the Son of God, the One who gave Himself up willingly as a sacrifice for your sins and then rose again in three days, after which He ascended back to the Father’s right hand where He remains today, making intercession for us until the appointed day by the Father of the Son’s return to earth in glory. (Sorry for the long sentence but it is there, all connected, in order to emphasize the point.)
Jesus and His apostles taught a definite doctrine regarding the nature of Scripture. This doctrine appears in such statements as ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35); ‘it is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law’ (Luke 16:17); ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’(2 Timothy 3:16); and it appears also in the designation of the Old Testament as ‘the very words of God’ that was given to the Jews (Romans 3:2 and Acts 7:38).”
New Testament faith was marked by a fierce belief, dogmatic if you will, that the words of the Old Testament writers, and of Christ and His Apostles, were words from God. An astounding passage on this to me is 2 Peter 1:19-21. There the Apostle Peter, as only He could do, tells us in very emphatic language that the prophets and Apostles words do not originate in human will. They are the very Words of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. He tells us to “pay attention to it for it is as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”. Read that entire passage from your Bible. God’s Word, this Word that Peter and others refer to actually pierces into dark places. It causes the day to dawn in the spirit and causes faith in Jesus Christ to rise in your heart.
If you do not believe that the Bible is literally the very Words of God, then you probably do not know the joy of reading the Bible and hearing from Him through it. You likely do not know the overwhelming excitement of experiencing personal revelation through that study. You may not even experience revelation when these very Words from God are shared from the pulpit of the church you attend. Referencing back again to what we covered at Christmas regarding the shepherds, are you so focused on who it is that is preaching or sharing these very Words from God via the Bible, that you really do not hear well. Are you so distracted by your surroundings that you do not hear well? Are you thinking about what you are going to do the rest of the week or after church which causes you to not hear well? The shepherds, on the night Jesus was born, told many about what they had seen and heard from the angels. It was something they had waited for all their lives. It was something the whole nation had waited for more than 800 years. Even with all that background, these people whom the shepherds told this magnificent good news to, paid no attention to it. It was “shepherds” bearing this news, the lowest of the low class. They saw the shepherds were excited, but the message did not excite these the shepherds told. No one else received revelation from what the angels had proclaimed, literal Words from God, except for Mary. She cherished or treasured what was said. She received revelation from the words. Only the shepherds and Mary heard well. Do you truly treasure God’s Word?
I want to beg or implore you today to reflect upon or reassess what you believe about the Bible and your approach to it. The early church believed it was truly the Word of God. As Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa declared in the early fifth century, “What the Bible says, God says”. God gave us His Words via the Bible, passed down for centuries, as that love letter from Him that we talked about in our note on “Look unto Jesus”. He gave us His Words to introduce us to His Son. He gave us His Words, making us in His image above every other creature on earth, because He wants us to be friends with Him. Yes, you read that right. He wants to be your friend. He is more than that as He is God Almighty and all of the other names applied to Him through scripture. He is also your adoptive Father and Jesus is your adoptive brother but the relationship is still more than that. It is a relationship where They want to talk to you. They want to have fellowship with you – now! They will do this through the Holy Spirit but the Holy Spirit most often does this through His Holy Word. His Word was not just meant for “back in those times”. His Word is timeless just as God Himself is timeless, actually sitting “above or outside time”, seeing the beginning, the present, and the end simultaneously. What He says applies for then and now and endures forever.
Do not become someone who is caught unaware and off guard when the “famine for hearing a Word from the Lord” comes near you. Begin today if you have not already, to dive into God’s Word and “hear well”. Pray for your pastor that God shares revelation with Him that He can then powerfully share with you and then “hear it well”. We know many will sadly only even attempt to hear a Word from the Lord via Sunday morning church attendance or Sunday Morning Facebook Live worship from home. Pray that your pastor shares from God’s Holy Word and that these “Words that the Bible says, which God literally is saying” are heard well by those only hearing it on such a very infrequent basis. Pray that your pastor and other pastors around the world recognize the awesome privilege that is theirs to actually speak for God, expounding upon and applying God’s Word. Pray that your pastor and teachers will be able to inculcate – a word describing a teaching method used by Bible teachers that means “to teach and impress by frequent repetitions and admonitions”. May we teach these very Words of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Read well brothers and sisters. Hear well while you read and enjoy revelation from God, the God of all heaven and earth who amazingly wants to be your friend and walk and talk with you through His Word just as He did with Adam in the garden. May you never experience a famine for the “Words of the Lord”.