Hunger in the Midst of Plenty
A famine of hearing the word was to come upon the Israelites as a penalty for refusing to hear the word. Isaiah said essentially the same thing in Isaiah 28, where he tells how the people had refused to hear his prophecies when spoken plainly in their own language.
The penalty was that God would speak to them in a language which they did not understand. Isaiah 28:11, 12 says,
11 Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue. 12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” and “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.
This passage was used by the Apostle Paul in his discussion of the spiritual gift of tongues (1 Cor. 14:21). He explains that because the carnal mind refuses to hear the word of God in plain language, God often sends the message in another tongue, which needs interpretation.
Hence, Paul says, “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers.” Prophecy is for believers, Paul says, because they have ears to hear. Therefore, tongues should not be forbidden, but it is better to prophesy (in a known language).
When God speaks in an unknown tongue, there is an element of divine judgment in it, based upon the law in Deut. 28:49. In the personal application of this law, the carnal (soulish) mind cannot comprehend the things of God, because it cannot discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).
For this reason, God’s judgment condemns the flesh and speaks to it in an unknown tongue. To understand the word being spoken, the carnal mind (soul) must submit to the spirit (inner “spiritual man”) to receive interpretation and instruction. By its submission, the soul is taught to depend upon the spirit of man through whom the Holy Spirit works and speaks.
The purpose of the “famine,” then, is to cause the soul to hunger. The soul in tribulation is motivated by hunger to learn how to come into a place of satisfaction or “rest.” It is forced to acknowledge the supremacy of the spirit in order to hear the word of God.
In other words, Bible study by itself, without inspiration from the Holy Spirit coming through the spirit of man, has limited value and cannot bring anyone into God’s rest.
Fainting from Thirst
The famine causes even young people to faint. So after speaking of this famine, the prophet continues in Amos 8:13,
13 In that day the beautiful virgins and the young men will faint from thirst.
God is always speaking. His voice speaks throughout the whole earth in the silent stars and constellations as well as countless other venues (Psalm 19:1, 2, 4). It is like being in the middle of an ocean where a man may lament, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!” Yes, the water of the word is everywhere, but without the ability to hear, “the young men will faint from thirst.”
The Guilt of Samaria
Amos 8:14 says,
14 As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria, who say, “As your god lives, O Dan,’ and ‘As the way of Beer-sheba lives,’ they will fall and not rise again.
The Hebrew word translated “guilt” is ashma. The guilt itself is represented by the main idol of Samaria, called Ashima, mentioned in 2 Kings 17:30. Some prefer to read this verse to say, “those who swear by Ashima of Samaria.”
While some swear by Ashima, others swear by the golden calf in the city of Dan, which Jeroboam built in 1 Kings 12:28, 29). Still others swear by “the way of Beer-sheba,” referring to the pilgrimages made to the pagan shrine in Beer-sheba.
All who swear allegiance by those idols “will fall and not rise again.” In other words, they will die of hunger and thirst with no one to give them a drink.
This does not mean they die with no hope of resurrection. All of the dead will arise in the general resurrection when summoned to the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11, 12).