Famines and Plagues
Amos 4:6 says,
6 “But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places, yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
Most people today would like to maintain clean teeth. But in biblical times, having clean teeth meant that they had not eaten in a long time. The prophet was speaking of a “lack of bread in all your places.” It appears that Israel had recently experienced a drought and a shortage of food. He attributed this condition to the judgment of God, whose purpose was to cause the people to repent. Yet Israel did not repent as a whole but continued down the same path of disobedience and rebellion.
As we will see later in Amos 8:11, 12, Israel was to experience a greater famine in the future. This greater famine would not be of physical food, but a famine for “the words of the Lord.” When people reject the word of the Lord, they curse themselves with blindness and cannot see the “food” sitting in front of them.
This curse can last indefinitely, even many generations. The only way to break such a famine is to repent, go back to the original problem, and deal with its source. I have found in my own experience that it takes some serious prayer and fasting for God to bring to remembrance one’s original rejection of the word. Without His intervention and revelation, the blindness will continue, because no one can heal his own blindness caused by this curse.
We will comment more on this famine of the hearing the word when we study Amos 8:11, 12. But for now, we should understand that earthly famine, caused by lack of rain, is caused by spiritual problems. Famine is a divine judgment for a nation’s refusal to hear God’s word.
Amos 4:7, 8 continues,
7 “And furthermore, I withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city, and on another city I would not send rain; one part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up. 8 So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water but would not be satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
In the Bible, God always takes the credit for rainfall. Drought is a judgment of the law for disobedience, for we read in Deut. 28:23, 24,
23 And the heaven which is over your head shall be as bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron. 24 The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.
The Dust Bowl
America experienced a “Dust Bowl” during the 1930’s, beginning the year after President Roosevelt presided over America’s bankruptcy in 1933. The big banks, led by the Federal Reserve Bank, foreclosed on the country and took over the government. They immediately began to secularize the country, refusing to recognize the right of Jesus Christ to rule the nation.
The Wikipedia writes about the Dust Bowl, saying,
The Dust Bowl, also known as the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent wind erosion (the Aeolian processes) caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940, but some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years.
At the same time, America has also experienced a famine of hearing the word. The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was just an earthly sign of this greater and deadlier famine that came upon the church.
When Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he prayed in 1 Kings 8:35, 36,
35 When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against Thee, and they pray toward this place and confess Thy name and turn from their sin when Thou dost afflict them, 36 then hear Thou in heaven and forgive the sin of Thy servants and of Thy people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Thy land, which Thou hast given Thy people for an inheritance.
Solomon had read the law and understood it. He knew that drought was a divine judgment for disobedience. This is the position that is taken by all the prophets, including Amos.
So also in our time, America needs to repent of its refusal to recognize the authority of Jesus Christ. The government has usurped the position of Christ and considers itself to be a god, accountable to no one—in spite of the Declaration of Independence telling us that not our government but our Creator has endowed us with certain unalienable rights; in spite of having coins that say, “In God We Trust;” in spite of the presidential oaths sworn on a Bible, and in spite of the courtroom oaths ending with “so help me God.”
These now appear to be relics of a bygone age prior to 1933, and such things are slowly being eliminated in the move toward secularism.
In Moses’ third speech to Israel in the plains of Moab, he prepared the people to receive their promised inheritance, saying in Deut. 11:13-17,
13 And it shall come, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, 14 that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. 15 And He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. 16 Beware, lest your hearts be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. 17 Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good which the Lord is giving you.
Here Moses clearly told Israel that God was the source of rain or lack of rain. Modern science scoffs at this, of course, citing scientific reasons for rain or drought. But such scientists do not recognize the source of science itself, and that is precisely the problem. The problem is compounded when Christians themselves are convinced that secularism is good and that secular scientific opinions are true.
Little has changed since the days of Amos. Just as Israel refused to recognize that God had the right to establish their laws, so also have men rebelled against God to this day.
Applying More Divine Pressure
Amos 4:9 speaks of other ways in which God applied pressure upon Israel to coerce them to be obedient:
9 “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
This is a reference to Deut. 28:22, which says,
22 The Lord will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery heat and with the sword and with blight and with mildew, and they shall pursue you until you perish.
God owns not only the rain, but also the hot wind, mildew, and caterpillars. God has many agents by which to inflict judgment upon a rebellious people. Another prophet spoke of such judgment many years later. Hag. 2:17 says,
17 “I smote you and every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew, and hail; yet you did not come back to Me,” declares the Lord.
Haggai was speaking to the remnant of Judah and Benjamin that returned to the old land after spending 70 years in Babylon. Human nature had not changed, even after a long captivity in a foreign land.
Amos 4:10 says,
10 “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, and I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
The ten plagues upon Egypt are well known. Amos does not specify which plague had come upon Israel, but it shows that God is no respecter of persons. The same plagues that came upon Egypt can be used to judge Israel.
The “plague” here is translated “death” in the Septuagint (Greek). They understood this as being the tenth plague, where the first-born sons were killed on the night of that first Passover. This fits with the next sentence, where God says, “I slew your young men.”
Amos 4:11 continues,
11 “I overthrew you as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
Here Amos points back to the example of the fiery judgment that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their perversity (Gen. 19:28, 29). Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was snatched out of Sodom at the last minute, like a firebrand out from the blaze.
All of this judgment and divine pressure had little or no effect upon the hearts of the Israelites. In fact, threats of judgment have never been very effective in turning the hearts of those who do not love God. In reality, judgment serves only to embitter the people, as most think that they are being abused by God. Like unruly and immature children, they do not understand that their heavenly Father judges them in order to correct them. Without that correction and discipline, such children will never mature to be happy, productive, and fulfilled adults.
Since the beginning of time, men have cursed God for His righteous judgments, for they believe that they have the right to sin—even if that sin soon enslaves them and brings them misery. Fear of judgment may help change men’s behavior, but in the end, only a revelation of the love of God has the power to change hearts.
This revelation will be given to all men at the Great White Throne judgment, where “every knee will bow” and “every tongue will swear allegiance” to Him (Isaiah 45:23). At the same time, “all who were angry at Him will be put to shame” (Isaiah 45:24), for at that final judgment, they will finally understand that their anger was unjustified.
Throughout history, the judgments of God have fallen upon deaf ears, because men’s hearts were too hardened to receive the revelation of their heavenly Father’s love. Only a few have received this revelation in the present age, but all will know it in the age to come. Then they will know that the baptism of fire is not to be feared but embraced as a cleansing fire that saturates us with the nature of Christ.
For a fuller study of the fire of God, see my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.
Preparing to Meet God
Amos 4:12, 13 concludes,
12 “Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” 13 For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, the Lord God [Yahweh Elohim] of hosts is His name.
Many fiery sermons have had as their text, “Prepare to Meet Thy God,” treating Amos’ statement as a threat. This is not a threat, however, but a call to repentance. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary gets it right, saying in its notes,
12. This will I do. Amos dramatically predicts the final punishment, without actually describing what it will be. Prepare to meet thy God. This is not a challenge for Israel to be prepared to endure punishment but a call to repentance (LXX has call upon thy God.) Every prophecy of judgment is an exhortation to repentance. 13. He that formeth. Amos again declares that the forces of nature are a revelation of the majesty of God.
Indeed, if this were meant as a threat, Amos failed to describe the judgment. He only speaks of the majesty of God as the Creator of all forces in nature. He was admonishing them to repent and to prepare their hearts to meet their loving Creator. The climax of his so-called threat is to remind them of the name of “the Lord God of hosts,” that is, Yahweh Elohim of all heaven and earth.
Those who read this expecting a climactic thunder of divine wrath are left disappointed and perhaps confused, for Amos only introduces them to the God of Creation, who alone “declares to man what are His thoughts.”
So to paraphrase Amos’ prophecy, he tells Israel that all of the judgments of the law did not have the result that God wanted to see. Withholding rain failed. Sending scorching heat failed. Mildew and caterpillars went unheeded. Sending the last plague of Egypt upon Israel did not turn their hearts. Even overthrowing them like Sodom and Gomorrah failed to bring Israel to repentance.
Therefore—because all of these judgments failed to turn the hearts of the people—“Prepare to meet your God,” not to receive increased punishment, but to have a direct encounter with the Yahweh Elohim of hosts. He is the One who formed the mountains and created the wind. He is the only One who can declare, or reveal, His thoughts to men, so that they may know the mind of God.
Beholding Him will transform us into His image (2 Cor. 3:18).
Names Reveal Nature
With that, Amos introduces Israel to “The Lord God of hosts.” The implication is that they need to know His name, because His name is His nature. Names reveal nature. The Israelites already knew His name, technically speaking, but they did not know His nature or His mind. In fact, many have known the sacred name, but not His nature/mind.
Men’s names were often changed or altered to reflect events that changed their nature, their position, or their circumstance in life. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham to make it possible for him to produce the heir of the promises of God (Gen. 17:5). Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah for the same reason (Gen. 17:15).
In both cases, the Hebrew letter hey was inserted into their names, signifying the breath of God, or the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, it was not possible to bring forth the promised son, and this foreshadowed not only the virgin birth of the Son of God, but also the begetting of all of the sons of God.
Jacob’s name was changed to Israel when his nature and understanding was changed by the revelation of the angel whom he had wrestled (Gen. 32:28). His new name became a testimony that he was an overcomer, one who understood that God was sovereign, for Israel means “God rules.” Jacob believed, but Israel knew God’s sovereignty.
Joseph’s name was changed when he was elevated to a position of rulership, fulfilling his early dreams about his brothers bowing to him (Gen. 37:9, 10). So Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name, calling him Zaphenath-paneah (Gen. 41:45), “hidden treasure.” As the carrier of the birthright, he was a prophetic treasure hidden in the field (Matt. 13:44), that is, he was hidden in the world (Matt. 13:38).
Names are important because of their revelation. Hence, we ought to study names, including the names that God has called Himself. So we find that the name of Yahweh alone takes ten distinct forms to express His full nature.
1. Yahweh-elohim (God of power)
2. Yahweh-jirah (provider)
3. Yahweh-rapha (healer)
4. Yahweh-nissi (my banner)
5. Yahweh-m’kaddesh (sanctifier)
6. Yahweh-rohi (my shepherd)
7. Yahweh-shalom (peace)
8. Yahweh-tsidkenu (righteousness)
9. Yahweh-Sabaoth (of hosts)
10. Yahweh-shammah (presence, being there)
The Lord God of hosts is referenced by Paul in Eph. 3:14 and 15,
14 For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
The “hosts” include “every family in heaven and on earth.”
Furthermore, to know His name is “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). When all things are put under the feet of Christ and all creation is reconciled, then it can be said that every family in heaven and on earth will know the love of God. Only Jesus can reveal this love to those who currently do not know Him as they ought.
Amos’ Call to Repentance
Amos tells Israel that because they refused to repent, even in the face of divine judgment, they should prepare to meet their God face to face. Only this experience could truly change their hearts and cause them to conform to His image. Relatively few in each generation have had such revelation, and these are known as the remnant of grace (Rom. 11:5). But in the end, the promise of God, is expressed by the New Covenant, saying, “all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them” (Heb. 8:11).
Most of the people, of course, will live and die without ever coming to know Him. But they will all meet Him at the Great White Throne, and every tongue will swear allegiance to Him (Isaiah 45:23). Paul quotes this, saying in Phil. 2:10 and 11,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess [exomologeo, “profess that one will do something, promise, agree, acknowledge openly and joyfully”] that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Such a profession of faith in Jesus will be acknowledged by the Yahweh-elohim of hosts. Their confession that Jesus Christ is Lord can be made only by the Holy Spirit, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:3. Hence, this confession of faith, the same that was uttered by Peter in Matt. 16:16, will begin a new way of life for the vast majority of humanity that never knew God in their previous life on earth.
They will still have to go through the maturing process of the baptism of fire, called “a river of fire” in Dan. 7:10 and “the lake of fire” in Rev. 20:14. They must yet submit to the judgments of the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2, KJV), even as the believers throughout the centuries have done by receiving the baptism of fire. But in the end, as Paul says in Rom. 8:21, “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
The promise of the New Covenant is the promise of God to save the earth (Gen. 9:17) and to make all men His people and to be their God (Deut. 29:12-15).