The Great Famine
Whenever a person rejects the word of the Lord, or any portion of it, that person blinds himself to the revelation of that rejected word. For example, believing the evil report of the 12 spies blinded Israel to the revelation of the Jubilee. By rejecting Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Jews as a whole became blind to the New Covenant through which men could learn the purpose of the Jubilee.
All spiritual blindness, of course, really began with Adam’s sin in the garden. For this reason, blindness is a world-wide condition, not limited to Israel and Judah. So Isaiah 25:7 speaks of “the veil which is stretched over all nations.”
Blindness Causes Famine
The Apostle Paul tells us that this veil is the Old Covenant (2 Cor. 3:14, 15). Those who put their faith in the Old Covenant method of salvation (by the will of man, man’s vows, or by works) show evidence of such blindness.
In the Law of Tribulation (Lev. 26 and Deut. 28), we read how God vowed to judge Israel’s lawlessness by famine, sickness, and the sword. “The trees of the land will not yield their fruit” (Lev. 26:20). “You will eat and not be satisfied” (Lev. 26:26).
In the Song of Moses, which deals largely with divine judgment upon the disobedient nation, we read in Deut. 32:24, “they will be wasted by famine.” The actual outworking of this judgment has turned out to be more than just a lack of food. The prophet Amos tells us in Amos 8:11, 12,
11 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. 12 And people will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”
It is bad enough to live through a famine, which comes and goes relatively quickly. Amos, however, spoke of a long-term famine of “hearing the words of the Lord.”
The Slow Eradication of Famine
When the house of Israel was deported far north to be resettled in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the famine of the word truly began. Separated from the temple, few of them had access to any portion of Scripture. Teaching was reduced to a minimum.
As time passed, this famine only increased. When Assyria fell to the revolting Babylonians, the Israelites began to migrate west into the northern part of Asia Minor (now Turkey). Many went north through the Dariel Pass through the Caucasus mountains into Europe. The farther they moved, the less opportunity they had of hearing the word of God.
At some point in His ministry, Jesus sent His disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5, 6). It appears that Peter went north to “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” where he made friends with some of the Israelites in that region, for we find him writing to them later (1 Peter 1:1, 2).
Peter reminded them of the promises to them that were written by the prophet Hosea. 1 Peter 2:9, 10 says,
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession… 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
These prophetic promises were given to Israel in Hosea 2:23. Though they certainly apply to others as well, we cannot exclude the lost Israelites among them. The point is that after the death and resurrection of Christ, the famine of hearing the word began to abate. When the Jews began persecuting the Christians in Jerusalem, the church was scattered (Acts 8:1). This was how God sent the word to others, including the Israelites of the dispersion.
A few centuries later, the Emperor Constantine put an end to the persecutions, and by the end of the fourth century, Rome officially became a Christian Republic. The so-called “Three Cappadocian Fathers,” who came from places that had been settled by the dispersed Israelites many centuries earlier, were among the most prominent leaders of the fourth-century church. These were Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, his younger brother, Gregory of Nyassa, bishop of Nyassa, and their close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus, patriarch of Constantinople. Peter had written to their spiritual fathers in the first century, and his letter had borne good fruit.
The famine of the word seemed to be ending, at least for those who had remained south of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. But many of the dispersed Israelites had immigrated north and were outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire. By the time the gospel reached them, Rome was already in decline, and corruption was spreading fast within the church itself.
By the time the gospel spread throughout Europe, where the bulk of the Israelites had immigrated, the church had long since lost the understanding of the New Covenant. The church had degenerated into just another religion ruled by men, rather than by Jesus Christ. It was, by then, a full-blown manifestation of the reign of King Saul, whom the people had crowned to replace the direct rule of God (1 Sam. 8:7).
As the Roman Empire declined and was invaded by wave after wave of so-called “barbarian tribes,” education and literacy declined, fewer and fewer people were able to read the Scriptures, and the church descended into the Dark Ages. The famine increased further when the church began to forbid people to read the Scriptures for themselves. Even priests were often illiterate, having memorized only the liturgy by which they might perform the rituals of religion.
After a thousand years of this, the printing press was introduced to Europe from China. The Gutenberg Bible (in German) was printed and published in 1452. This new and inexpensive way of reproducing the Bible began to bring the famine of the word to an end.
When the common people were able to read the Bible for themselves, they soon saw the huge discrepancy between church teaching and the revelation of God. The church then became alarmed and issued numerous threats of excommunication against anyone caught reading the Bible without the “aid” of a priest.
But the Protestant movement survived, and the various Bible Societies sprang up in the late 1700’s to propagate the word of God. Out of this came the missionary movements of the 1800’s, and it seemed that the famine of hearing the words of the Lord had ended.
Unfortunately, there was still a lot of blindness in the people, caused by the Old Covenant mindset which acted as a veil upon their minds and hearts.
This was most apparent in the New World in the treatment of the native populations. To be fair, there were many good Christians, especially from the Puritans and Quakers in the north, who kept their word and treated the Native Americans with respect. However, in the end they were outnumbered by those who were more carnally minded, and the US government, while claiming to be Christian, broke most of its treaties with little or no remorse.
The Sin of Saul Brings Famine
Saul reigned 40 years, and David reigned another 40 years after him. Toward the end of David’s reign, long after Saul was dead, God sent a famine upon Israel for three years (2 Sam. 21:1). David finally enquired of the Lord to see why his nation was under divine judgment.
God told him that “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
Years earlier, Joshua had made a covenant with the Gibeonites. Joshua 9:15 says,
15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.
When anyone obligates himself by oath or covenant, the law of God holds him to his word. Hence, when Saul broke that covenant and put some Gibeonites to death, God sent a famine upon the land of Israel.
Yet God withheld this judgment until the end of David’s reign. I believe this was because David had the heart to resolve the problem, whereas Saul did not. If God had brought the famine to Israel in the days of Saul, that famine may have never ended, because Saul did not understand that he was violating the law of God by persecuting the Gibeonites. So God in His mercy, brought famine during David’s reign.
The Gibeonites demanded that seven of the sons (family) of Saul be turned over to them for execution (2 Sam. 21:7). That implies that Saul had killed seven of the Gibeonites.
David complied with their demand, and the famine ended. This story shows how important it is to honor national commitments and treaties. The US government failed to honor most of its treaties, and so the famine of the word has blinded the people to the present time.
That famine, I believe, had the potential of being broken in the early 1900’s when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place. These were the early days of the revival of the feast of Pentecost. They had an opportunity to repent of the sin of rejecting the direct rule of God, the same sin that brought Saul to the throne many years ago.
But the Pentecostal movements organized into denominations in 1909-1912, and so the sin of Saul was perpetuated. Christians still wanted to be ruled by men, and so the main problem of Saul’s reign continued for another century. Likewise, the famine of the word continued, so that it could be resolved by the overcomers (“David”).
It is only now that the famine, prophesied in Amos 8:11, 12, is being lifted. The Old Covenant veil is now being removed. Blindness is being healed. The legalism in the church is being replaced by lawfulness. The lawlessness (anomia), so common among Christian miracle workers, is being exposed. Jesus warned in Matt. 7:21-23,
21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (anomia).
Jesus says that God is far less impressed with miracles than we are. God does not measure our spiritual maturity by the number of miracles we do, but by our compliance and agreement with His laws.
Two Types of Obedience
There is only one God and one law, but there are two types of obedience. Old Covenant obedience comes from fulfilling the vows of men, particularly the vow in Exodus 19:8, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” The law will hold all Old Covenant believers accountable to their vows if they fail to obey all of God’s commandments.
The other type of obedience is that which is of faith. This is New Covenant faith, where men place their faith in God’s vow to men. The law holds God accountable to fulfill His vows, and our faith is in His ability to keep His promises. The great example is seen in Abraham, who was “fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.”
A New Covenant mindset sees the Ten Commandments as the Ten Promises of God. When God says, “You will not covet,” we see this as a promise of God, for He has obligated Himself to work in our hearts so that we will not covet.
In other words, New Covenant obedience is seen as evidence of God’s ability to fulfill His vow—not as a man-made attempt to fulfill our own vows to God. It is just a different perspective, even if it is based upon the same law.
By rediscovering the meaning of the New Covenant, we may refine our faith and remove the veil of blindness, revealing His face, so that we can be transformed into His image.