The presence of God is a major theme in the book of Exodus: God heard Israel’s cry in Egypt. God was with His people at the Red Sea. God journeyed with them in the wilderness. God’s presence appeared majestically at Sinai. God’s presence was manifested in the Tabernacle. Moses knew that what made Israel distinct was God’s presence among them.
Moses proclaimed that they could not move one step without God. What distinguished Israel wasn’t their land (they didn’t have it yet). It wasn’t their wealth (they had been slaves). It wasn’t their culture (it wasn’t fully developed yet). What distinguished them? It was that God was with them. Once again, God’s presence was manifested to the people in a remarkable way. Look at how God solved this particular water problem.
The Lord answered Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take the staff you struck the Nile with in your hand and go. I am going to stand there in front of you on the rock at Horeb; when you hit the rock, water will come out of it and the people will drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites complained, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex.17:5-7)
This story, we see how Israel doubted God’s presence. “Is the Lord among us or not?” they asked (v. 7). They doubted God was with them. But after Moses prayed, God provided water from a rock (Ex. 17:4-6). I tried to keep track of how often the Israelites grumbled against God, broke His commands, worshiped false idols, etc.—but I quickly lost count. Time and again they turned away from God, did whatever they wanted, lost God’s protection, suffered great consequences, returned to God, and begged Him to rescue them. Over and over and over again! Sometimes there were lasting onsequences for their poor decisions, but God showed more grace than was deserved (over and over and over again).
Sin as missing the mark: One aspect of sin is missing the mark of God’s standards set for humanity. Missing the mark isn’t simply making a mistake, but consciously choosing to sin and falling short of God’s glory as a result. We may refer to sin as a failure on the part of humans to live according to God’s standards, but we must recognize this failure is intentional. We miss the mark when we deliberately choose to cast aside God’s purpose for us
And, we might add, He will certainly lead us into the unknown, into uncharted territory, for “the wilderness is a place betwixt and between.” The Wilderness is that place, is life situation, between sickness and health; between grief and comfort; between rejection and acceptance; between doubt and faith.
How, then, shall we transverse our own particular “wilderness,” indeed the many barren times and places of our lives? Not being surprised by the Wilderness is a good place to start. Some Christians are, you know—surprised, that is. Televangelists, among others, would have us believe that, for the “true” Christian, the “born again” Christian (is there any other kind?), all the hardships of this life disappear—financial insecurity, marital discord, poor health and the like. Do not believe it. The Wilderness is real and it awaits us (if indeed we are not already in it).
If we are not surprised by the Wilderness, then we are much better prepared to accept it as a time for deepening our trust in God. The Wilderness remains a time of testing; but that is not in itself a bad thing. The Wilderness affords us the opportunity to allow God to lead us through it and to provide us with the spiritual stamina that we need along the way. It is not hard to trust God when all goes well. It is in the Wilderness that we come to depend upon God for our daily bread, and to learn that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4.4; Deut. 8.3).
Finally, the Wilderness is the proper setting for both reflection and anticipation. At each stage of our journey we can look back and “remember”—one of Moses’ favorite words in Deuteronomy. We can raise our own “Ebenezer” and gladly say, with Samuel, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Sam 7.12). At the same time, we can look ahead to the Promised Land that awaits us, knowing that the Wilderness does not last forever even if it sometimes seems that way.
The wilderness seems permanent. Forty years is a long time in the old sandbox. Even that grand mountaintop experience at Sinai looks like a one-time thing; it is out of the wilderness only to be led right back in. The wilderness is beginning to look a lot like home. But the Wilderness is not home.
“Home” is that place Christ Jesus has gone to prepare for us (John 14.1–3). Meanwhile, we continue on our journey, living a “life beyond redemption but short of consummation.” And when the time comes for us to pass through thevalley of the shadow of death, the God of the Wilderness will see us safely home.
We can all agree that it’s truly a blessed moment when someone makes the decision to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. That person is giving every bit of themselves to Him and it is such a special time.
Today, this 6-year-old has made this incredible choice and he’s standing at the front of the church ready to commit to a Christ-centered life. As the preacher speaks to the congregation, the young boy looks on in delight.
You can almost feel the joy and excitement that he has as he wants to be washed in the water. But I think the boy got a little bit too excited because as the preacher was about to place a washcloth over the boy’s face, he decided he couldn’t wait any longer.
The 6-year-old shouts “I’m gonna do it!” and holds his nose and plunges into the water. He reemerges with a triumphant shout and the whole congregation erupts into laughter.
Even the pastor wasn’t quite sure what to do next. But I do know that this is going to be a baptism that this church never forgets. This little guy was certainly moved by the Spirit!
Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The prophet Amos prophesied during the final days of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It was a time of great military power. It was a time of great economic prosperity. It was a time of peace, joy, and happiness for most people.
Amos comes to them with a message of condemnation. His message to them is one of judgment and condemnation. His message exposes the true spiritual condition of the nation. They are wealthy and they are powerful, but they are spiritually destitute. They are enjoying peace, safety, and prosperity, but they are in the midst of a spiritual drought and do not even recognize it.
Amos preaches to them a message that lifts the lid off their hypocrisy. This message lets the people of Israel know that a time of terrible judgment is coming upon their land. He wants them to know that a destructive famine is about to fall on their land.
When I read the book of Amos, I can see a lot of parallels between the conditions in Israel then and the condition of our world today. It is true that we are not as prosperous as we once were, but we are still richer than 99% of the rest of the world’s population. We are not a strong militarily as we used to be in this nation, but we are still the world’s lone superpower. Yet, in the midst of our peace, our prosperity and our endless pursuit of personal happiness, we are in the midst of spiritual drought and we do not even recognize it. Let’s notice the lessons that Amos teaches us in these verses because they have something very important to say to us! Whether we know it or not, we are in trouble and this passage has some much-needed warnings for us today.
A CATASTROPHE DECLARED
God says that there will be “a famine in the land.” A physical famine is a time when there is no food for the people. Famines throughout history have taken the lives of untold millions of people.
It was a famine that caused Abraham to leave Canaan and go into Egypt in search of food. It was famine that caused Isaac to do the same. It was a famine in Egypt that brought Israel into Egypt during the days of Jacob and Joseph. According to the book of Revelation, the last days will also be marked by times of famine and starvation, Rev. 18:8.
God says, “Behold.” “Pay attention!” “Listen up!” “Hear what is being said!” He wants these people to know that a famine is coming. There will be no reprieve. There will be no second chances. A famine is coming and it cannot be avoided.
Famines are terrible, but we can’t really identify with that. We have never been in a famine. Most of us have food enough and to spare. We are totally strangers to physical famine. Thank God for that. But, the Lord has more to say about this famine.
THE CHARACTER DECLARED
God tells us that this famine will not be a famine in which there is a lack of food or water. This famine will be a famine “of the hearing of the Words of the Lord.” The people will have food. they will have water. They will not, however, enjoy the great blessing of hearing the Lord speaking to them any longer.
Amos is not talking about a physical famine where there is a lack of material things. He is talking about a spiritual famine in which the Word of God cannot be found.
God’s response is to give them what they want. They are sick of the Law, so He withholds it from them. They are fed up with His Word, so he feeds them silence. They no longer desire to hear His truth, so He obliges them by taking it away from them.
This is a terrifying thought! The great English preacher George Whitefield said this, “As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, and unskilful guides.”
And so it is when people refuse to heed the Word of God, He will take it away from them. Jesus said it this way, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath,” Matt.13:12.
Jesus also said this about the Word of God when Satan on the Mount of Temptation challenged him. “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” Matt. 4:4. If any people are going to survive and thrive, they must be able to get a word from the Lord. When people refuse to hear the Word of God, God will give them His silence in Judgment. That is a judgment greater than any other.
Of course, there are times when people have the truth, but refuse to hear it. Paul wanted Timothy that such days were coming to the church, 2 Tim. 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
We are living in those days right now! The Word of God is being preached, but people would rather listen to fables. Some men of God are entering the pulpits of the land and they are preaching the Word of God in power and glory, but people are turning a deaf ear to the truth they are preaching. When that happens, God will allow them to go their own way. He will allow them to reject His Word He will allow them to starve to death spiritually. If they reject His truth, there will be no more Words from God, and they will shrivel up and die spiritually.
THE CAUSE DECLARED
It is worth noting that this famine does not have a natural cause. In fact, God takes full responsibility for this famine, v. 11. God says, “I will send a famine in the land.” The direct cause of the famine is the wrath of God. God is fed up with they disobedience. He is sickened by their failure to heed the voice of His prophets. Thus, God will send them silence. He will send them judgment. He will stop speaking to them, and even when He does speak, they will not be able to hear it!
We seem to have the idea that people are just walking around in the world and they are just waiting on God to speak to them. When He does, they will respond to His voice and run to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth! The fact is, a man cannot hear God until He is given ears to hear.
Notice the words of Jesus when He was teaching His disciples the reason He spoke in parables, Ill. Matt. 13:10-17. The ability to hear from God is a gift from God. We hear when He opens our ears, and not before. In 1 Cor. 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth, not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
So, God is the instigator of the famine that is coming. He sends it upon the people because of their sins They were wicked at heart. They were dishonest in business. They were guilty of exploiting the poor. they were guilty of idolatry, and God judges them for all these things and more.
This passage stands as a warning to our generation. We are blessed in our day to have an abundance of good, biblical preaching. There are preachers all around our area who are preaching the truth to the people of God. When that truth is heard and heeded, God will bless His people in great spiritual ways. When that truth is rejected, god will abandon them to their choice.
When people refuse to hear the Word of God, that Word will be removed from them. Either God will stop speaking to those people, or He will take away their ability to hear Him speak. He will either give them silence, or He will be speaking to those around them while they sit in the midst of a divine famine, hearing nothing from the Lord.
THE CONSEQUENCES DECLARED
When this famine comes it will produce restlessness and weariness. The people will run from place to place looking for a substitute for the Word of God they are no longer hearing. They refused the hear the Lord when He spoke to them, and now His silence has left them spiritually famished. So, they run from here to there looking for some substitute to fill the void in their heart.
They are not looking for the truth; they are looking for a placebo. They are looking for spiritual saccharine to replace the sweet voice of the Lord they are no longer receiving. They become spiritually restless as they go from place to place, from activity to activity, from thins thing to that thing, always looking for something new. When all they really need is to stop and pay attention to the Word of God that has already been given to them.
This restless activity produces weariness, v. 13, which causes the strongest in the population to become discouraged and quit. They get so fed up searching for substitutes that never satisfy that they simply stop looking. They faint and they give up spiritually.
I would submit to you that this is an accurate picture o our modern world. Many in our world have turned a deaf ear to the Word of God. Because of that, God has stopped speaking too them. They go to church, but they cannot hear His voice. They become disillusioned with the deadness of fundamental religion, and they drop out. They saw their parents profess one thing and live another, and they got fed up with the hypocrisy. They got tired of the staleness of way the things have always been and they closed their ears and their hearts to the voice of God. But, there is an itch inside them that they cannot scratch. They are not satisfied.
So, they run to the church where there are no standards of separation or dress. They run to the church where the preacher only preaches sermons that are culturally relevant. They run to the church where the preacher preaches sermons that do not challenge them to a deeper spiritual walk with God. They run to the church where they no longer have to listen to the old hymns and the old songs, but they can get caught up in the beat of some contemporary song. They go to the place where they can come as they are and leave just like they came. They look for the place where everything is about them, their needs and their feelings. They run themselves to death running away from the very thing that will give them exactly what they are looking for: the Word of God.
You see, we are living in a time when old-fashioned churches are dying. Churches that exalt the expositional preaching of the Word of God are seen as dinosaurs in our world. We are out of step with the times. We are out of touch with the needs of people. People want to be entertained. They do not want to be preached to. People want to feel good; they do not want to be challenged about their spiritual life. Most people do not want to be bothered by all that, “Bible stuff.”
And, God obliges them! He sends them exactly what they want. He sends them a famine of hearing His Word. He closes His mouth and He stops their ears and they receive nothing from Him at all. That is a horrible place to be. But, that is where we are! It is a catastrophe, but it is true, there is a famine in the land!