A Famine for the Word of Life
January 11th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
A FAMINE FOR THE WORD OF LIFE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
1-11-81 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness for us in our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas to share this hour with the uncounted multitudes of you who are watching on television and listening on the two radio stations that bear it. The message today is the last in the series on bibliology. Next Sunday we begin the series on God, theology proper. The title of the sermon next Sunday morning will be God and the Reasoning Mind; then the next Sunday, God, the First Universal Fact; then the next Sunday, What is Wrong With Being an Atheist? The next Sunday, He That Cometh to God; the following, Is There a God Who Cares About Me? The next one, The Abounding Grace of God; and the last, The Unfathomable Mystery of the Trinity. That will be the series, the doctrinal series on theology proper, on God. Then that will be followed by the series on Christology, the series on Jesus our Lord.
Today at this hour, the last in the long series on the Bible itself, on bibliology, the message is entitled A Famine For The Word of Life. In Amos, the prophet Amos, chapter 8, verses 11 and 12:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, not a famine of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
A Famine for the Word of God [Amos 1:1]. Amos was a country preacher. He lived in Tekoa, which is by the Dead Sea, in the wilderness of Judea. And God sent him to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, to Bethel, the capital, the king’s court and the king’s chapel, and there he delivered the message of the Lord [Amos 3:8]. The land trembled under the weight of his words [Amos 8:8]. You could not imagine a deeper contrast between what Amos was preaching and the estate of the nation. He was preaching judgment, and the nation was at it highest zenith of prosperity and national strength.
Uzziah was king of Judah, the Southern Kingdom; one of the wisest and ablest administrators Judea ever had. He reigned for fifty-two years [2 Chronicles 26:3]. Jeroboam II was king of Israel, the ablest general Israel ever had. He reigned for forty-one years [2 Kings 14:23]. The kingdoms were stable and those leaders had brought their people to a national affluence never seen before. They had recreated the Solomonic glory in Judah and in Israel. The people were marvelously and aboundingly blessed. Amos refers to the fact that they have summer homes and winter homes [Amos 3:15]. He refers to their ivory palaces; he speaks of the ivory couches upon which they rest [Amos 6:4]. He describes the unbounding, overflowing optimism of the nation, “Tomorrow will be a better day than today!”
And “the day of the Lord,” which Amos says is a judgment of God [Amos 5:18-20], the day of the Lord to them was one without evil or interference from heaven. All of that in 760 BC; and in 722 BC, a few years later, the nation was destroyed forever! [2 Kings 17:5-6] Never was there a prophet again in Israel, and never did the nation rise anymore.
As I think of the abounding optimism and blindness of those people to the judgments of Almighty God; as I think of them and their illimitable prosperity and optimism, I think of America and America’s leading, far-famed liberal preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick, in the thirties. I went to hear him in New York City. He was riding the crest of liberal, theological popularity: “No more war—never! No more bloodshed—never! The millennium is at hand; peace and prosperity are becoming universal.” That was the preaching of Fosdick and all of the little Fosdicks who followed after him in their pulpits. That was in the thirties; and in 1939, Hitler unleashed his dogs of war on the whole world and bathed the earth in human blood. That is the judgment of Almighty God!
So in the days of Amos, when the nation was at its highest peak of prosperity and strength and stability, God took that country preacher in the wilderness of Judea, and sent him up to Bethel, and there he delivered the Word of the Lord [Amos 3:8]. And as he preached, he delivered four judgments of Almighty God. The first is found in Amos 5:27, “Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts.” And he repeats that judgment in the seventeenth verse of the seventh chapter: “…And Israel shall surely go into captivity forth out of his land” [Amos 7:17]. The first judgment of Almighty God upon Israel is that, they will go into slavery, into exile, and into captivity.
The second judgment of God upon Israel, denoted by the prophet Amos, is found in the seventh chapter and the [ninth] verse: “And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with a sword” [Amos 7:9]. The first judgment of God is Israel shall go into captivity [Amos 5:27, 7:17]. The second judgment of the Almighty is desolation and waste [Amos 7:9]. The third judgment of Almighty God is found in chapter 8, verse 3, “And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence” [Amos 8:3]. The first judgment, slavery and exile; the second judgment, waste and desolation; and the third judgment, death on every side; dead everywhere! And those few who still remain cast forth the dead bodies in astonishing silence.
The fourth, and the last judgment, is in an altogether different category. The first of slavery [Amos 5:27], the second of desolation [Amos 7:9], the third of death [Amos 8:3]; then the fourth, climactic:
Thus saith the Lord, I will send a famine in the land,
a famine not of bread, nor thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
They shall wander from sea to sea, from the north to the [east], they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord,
and shall not find it.
What do you think about that? Do you think in a judgment of Almighty God, of slavery, and of desolation, and of death, that the climactic and awesome and final one would be a judgment of famine for the Word of God? [Amos 8:11]. What do you think about that? We cannot but pause before it. In Psalm 74, verse 9, the lamentable cry of the psalmist Asaph: “We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there any among us anymore that knoweth how long” [Psalm 74:9]. What an awesome judgment it is among a people when God doesn’t hear, when God passes us by. One of the solemn refrains in Amos—you will find it again and again—in chapter 7, verse 8, “I will not again pass by them any more” [Amos 7:8]. You will find it again, typically so, in chapter 8, verse 2: “I will not again pass by them anymore” [Amos 8:2].
Do you remember the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven? That judgmental note, “ta, ta, ta—TAH!” Do you remember that? And all through that Fifth Symphony, that resounding judgment? It sounds to me, like Almighty God, “da, da, da—DAH!” That’s exactly the way it is with the Lord God about Israel, “I will not pass them any more [Amos 7:8]. There will be no more prophets [Psalm 74:9]. There will be no more answers from heaven. There is no word of God anymore” [Amos 8:11]. What an awesome judgment!
When Saul went to the witch of Endor—a thing interdicted in Israel on the pain of death [Leviticus 20:6; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14]—when Saul went to the witch of Endor, he begged for the rising up of the dead prophet Samuel [1 Samuel 28:7-11]. And out of deference, in a judgment upon Saul, God raised the apparition and the spirit of Samuel [1 Samuel 28:12-14]. Do you remember the cry of Saul? Great God, what a cry! He said, “I am sore distressed; and the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me, and will not answer me, and there is not any prophet,” and there is not any word from heaven, “and I do not know what to do” [1 Samuel 28:15]. And Samuel’s voice:
Because of your disobedience God hath judged you.
And tomorrow, at this time, you and your sons will be slain.
And all Israel will be handed over into the hands of the Philistines.
[1 Samuel 28:18-19]
Can you imagine a cry like that? “I am sore distressed, and I am pressed on every side, and God has departed me! And there is no answer from heaven and I do not know what to do! And I do not know where to turn” [1 Samuel 28:15].
The final and climactic judgment from God, upon Israel [Amos 8:11-12]; could we pause and look at that just for a moment? The first judgment was slavery, and exile, and captivity [Amos 5:27, 7:17]; but what are slavery and exile and captivity if God is with us? John, the sainted apostle, was exiled to the barren, rocky island of Patmos, there to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9]. But while he was on the isle of Patmos, he heard a great voice, as of a trumpet, and he turned to see the voice that spake unto him. And there stood, in all of His meridian glory, the raised and immortalized Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:10-16]. And when he fell at His feet as dead, the Lord put His right hand upon him as He had many, many times in the days of His flesh, and said to him: “Fear not, fear not, I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore . . . and I have the keys of Hell and of Death” [Revelation 1:17-18]. What is exile, or slavery, or captivity, or imprisonment if God is with you? It is being without God that makes slavery an awesome judgment from the Almighty.
The second one was desolation; waste, loss [Amos 7:9]. But what are fire, and flood, and desolation, and loss, if God is with us? Job sat in an ash heap [Job 2:8], and cried so pitifully and piteously. ”Naked came I forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of he Lord” [Job 1:21]. What does it matter if fire, or flood, or waste, or disaster, or destruction takes away everything we posses, if only God is with us?
A Turkish woman in a hospital in Konya, ancient Iconium—where Paul preached on his first missionary journey [Acts 14:1-5]—a Turkish woman, in that hospital, was singing this song:
Trample upon me, yea, tread on my head.
Consume me with terror, Thou judge of the dead.
If only, O God, I thus, Thee may know.
And Thee once behold, while I tarry below.
Throw me like Abraham, into the fire.
Like Moses, withhold from the land I desire.
If only, O God, I thus, Thee may know.
And Thee once behold, while I tarry below.
Hang me like Jesus, upon the rude tree.
Or a beggar, like Lazarus, through life I would be.
If only, O God, I thus, Thee may know.
And Thee once behold, while I tarry below.
[quoted in The Moslem World, Samuel M. Zwemer, 1920]
It is nothing if God is with us. The last judgment was death [Amos 8:3]; but what is death if we have the promise of the presence of God standing by? When they stoned Stephen, he looked up into heaven. And there when heaven opened, he saw Jesus the Son of God, standing on the right hand of Glory ready to receive His first Christian martyr [Acts 7:55-56]. Everywhere in the Bible, universally without exception, Jesus is always seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high. In that one place He stands. Why? To receive His first Christian martyr into glory; what is death if God is there? If the Word of the promise of the sacred page is with us to comfort and strengthen our souls? I don’t know a more sublime passage of human literature then the last words of the apostle Paul wrote to his son in the ministry, Timothy, “I am ready to be offered up, the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6]. Nero’s executioner’s ax is waiting at the Mamertine prison door.
I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course:
Henceforth there is laid upon me a crown of righteousness,
which the Lord… will give to me: and not only to me, but unto all those that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:7-8]
It is a triumph: our greatest and finest hour of victory will be that day when the trumpets blow on the other side of the river and God’s saint has gone home. What is it to die if God is with you?
Death is grim, and fierce, and awesome, and terrible only if God is not near; if there is no word from heaven [Amos 8:11-12]; if there is no promise from above; if there is no assurance that a quiet, sweet, welcoming hand is extended to us beyond the darkness of that deep and midnight grief. And that is the tragedy that is overwhelming our modern world. We have turned aside from the Word, which is the living water of life and have hewn ourselves our cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water. We have exchanged God’s Book for a textbook on humanism. We’ve turned aside from the living Word of the living God, and have followed blind, and adventitious, and fortuitous systems.
Our prophets today are not Moses, and Paul, and John. We have exchanged them for Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. More and more, our entire world is swept away by the textbooks of humanism, false intellectualism, pseudo-science, secularism, materialism, all of the things that grip our modern life—leaving God out of the equation; and we see the evidence of it on every hand.
Out of our daily newspaper, I read this: a man is criticizing another man for quoting from the Bible. And he says quoting from the Bible to substantiate his position is idiocy. “That is a grievous mistake; research would have shown that the Bible was written at unknown times, by unknown authors, and assembled in the fourth century at Nicaea. And the writings of the Bible can be given no historical credence today. To believe in Christ as actually having existed, one must believe that these late writings are divinely inspired. That is a gulf you can bridge. Surely, we should forget the myths and legends of the Bible, or merely accept them as such.”
And swept away by the liberal, theological position of the modern academic community, ministers of the gospel stand in the pulpits and refer never at all to the Holy Word of God. I copied this from the Dallas Morning News, “Ministers of the gospel got a suggestion from editor Ernest Joiner in the Ralls Banner, who reported that he had bought a Bible. ‘It cost $14.95,’ he wrote. ‘It has seven hundred seventy-three thousand, six hundred ninety-two words in it, and it is such interesting reading. We are considering asking ministers of our acquaintance to base a Sunday sermon on it one day, when there is a lull upon the congregation from an overdose of economics, labor, statistics, soil conservation, politics, and the lagging subscription campaign.’”
Just typical! And God looks down upon this world and there is a judgment day coming. I have quoted from an evangelist, the most famous that ever lived, Billy Graham. I am quoting from an agnostic, H. G. Wells; from an atheist, George Bernard Shaw; and from the most distinguished journalist in the world today, the British Christian, social critic, Malcolm Muggeridge.
Billy Graham: “Man is on a collision course, probably heading into a third world holocaust, which might well destroy humanity between now and year 2000.” The agnostic, H. G. Wells, the brilliant, English historian and social critic: “The end of everything we call life is at hand and cannot be evaded.” I quote from George Bernard Shaw, the Irish dramatist and essayist. At the close of his life—he died in 1950—at the close of his life, he wrote, “The science to which I pin my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of the human race.” And last from Malcolm Muggeridge, “We live in a world of scientific achievement and gross materialism. We have sown the wind of egotistic humanism, and God help us, we are reaping the whirlwind.” As though, as though the scientific advancement that bring to us the gadgets we enjoy in life could save us. As though the psychoanalytical processes and approaches of a Sigmund Freud could save us. As though all of the changing of the political machinery of capital and labor in Karl Marx’s Das Kapital could save us! Our world is increasingly bankrupt as we grope with super military leaders, and totalitarian dictators, and a thousand other panaceas that lead us into ultimate and abysmal despair.
What we need, in the face of the famine for the Word of God [Amos 8:11-12], is to rediscover the word and the message of the prophets and the apostles of the Lord God for our souls, for our lives, for our houses and homes, for our nation, for the nations of the world, for the peoples of all humanity. And what a glorious vista of hope that such a thing could ever be: a return to the Word and the message of the Lord.
Do you remember reading in the life of good King Josiah? In repairing the temple, Hilkiah the high priest and Shaphan the [scribe] came to the king and said, “We have found the Word of the Lord, we have found the Book of God!” [2 Kings 22:8, 10]. And it brought a great revival that spared Judah from the awesome judgment that fell upon Jeroboam [2 Kings 23:1-7].
When I was pastor in Oklahoma, Governor Marlin, erected a marvelously impressive bronze statue in his home city of Ponca City. It is of a glorious, pioneer woman. And standing there looking at that remarkable piece of sculpture, your heart could not but be moved as looking at that pioneer woman: with one hand she is holding the hand of a child, and with the other hand she is cradling the Word of God. This is our hope, this is our salvation, this is our promise, this is the way; as God says, “You will hear a voice from behind you saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” [Isaiah 30:21].
Whether it is the living Word, “Christ,” or whether it is the living Word, “the Bible,” both are called the Word. When I exalt the living Word, I glorify the written Word. If I dishonor the written Word, I do disparaging disgrace to the living Word. Lord God, send us an abounding manna from heaven [John 6:27]. Not a famine for the Word of life [Amos 8:11-12], but angel’s food, God’s revelation, our hope and promise, now and forever [John 17:17]. May we stand together?
Dear God, in a day of the clamorous voices of ten thousand false philosophies, a humanism that blots Thy name out of the very life of a nation; of a secularism and materialism that lives as though God didn’t exist and this world would last forever, O Lord, in the midst of the darkening clamor, may we hear the voice of the Lord, written on the page. Dear Lord, listening, may God find a responsive heart; may it be a new day for us—a glorious beginning again.
While our people pray and stand before God, in the quietness of this moment of appeal, in the balcony round, in the throng on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, giving your heart to God, deciding for Christ, coming into this dear church, and welcome. Of the multitude of you, who on radio and on television, have listened to this message, may the famine of the bread of life be turned into the bounding abundance of God feeding us, the Lord caring for us, the Lord saving us. And you there where you are, to give your heart to God, your life to Christ; welcome. And on this lower floor and in the balcony here in this sanctuary, down one of those stairways, down one of the aisles, “Here I am pastor, and here I come.” And bless you already here at the front.
Thank Thee, Lord, for the answered prayer and for the sweet harvest that You will give us now, in Thy wonderful and saving name, amen.
And while we sing and while we make appeal, “Here I am pastor.” Our men welcome you; angels welcome you, come.