The 400-Year Famine

Canaan. The Promised Land. The land flowing with milk and honey. For any agrarian society, having fertile and fruitful land means wealth and security. A threat to the land is a threat to a nation’s livelihood. Therefore, land was a fitting reward for God’s obedient people, and the removal from the land a fitting punishment for rebellion. God never made a secret of what would happen in the event of rampant idolatry. Before they ever entered the Promised Land, Moses warned the people of the repercussions for turning their hearts away from the one true God. Deuteronomy 28 contains over 50 verses of the consequences that would await Israel: cursed produce, cursed offspring of the herds, pestilence that would consume the land and the health of the people, enemies that would arise and conquer the land, madness, blindness, and, oppression, just to name a few (Deut. 28:15-68).

God’s steadfast love and patience with His people’s rebellion is staggering through the next several centuries of Israel’s history. It didn’t take more than about 100 years for them to forget all about the Law, yet God continued to show them mercy when the people cried out, sending judge after judge and prophet after prophet who delivered them from oppression, implored them to repent, and warned them of what would come as a result of persistent sin.

Yet they persisted.

Eventually the nation would split, and both kingdoms would be taken into exile. Those in the northern kingdom, known as Israel, would be defeated by the Assyrians. Judah, the southern kingdom, would last a bit longer but eventually would fall to Babylon. The Promised Land would become a shell of what she was, the Temple looted by Nebuchadnezzar and the wall of the city reduced to rubble, while many of God’s people would be deported to Babylon.

Yet none of this was the worst part of God’s judgment of His people. The shepherd-prophet Amos foretold what might just be the most haunting prophecy in all of Scripture:

“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.”
(Amos 8:11)

God told them a famine was coming. Not a lack of rain and poor harvests, but a famine for the word of God. From the beginning, God had spoken with His people. At first, through only the spoken word. Adam, Noah, and Abraham didn’t have access to any written copies of His Word, but God somehow spoke audibly with them. This direct form of communication would continue until Moses came on the scene and wrote what we now know as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

From that point on, the people would always have those five books of words from God, but His revelation was ongoing as well. God inspired numerous authors to pen the history of Israel, psalms, wisdom literature, and, of course, the prophets. For millennia, the people had had communication with God. But one day, it stopped.

No more prophets telling them to repent.

No more prophecies of the coming Messiah.

No more psalms added to the psalter.

Just silence.

For four hundred years.

To put that in perspective, four hundred years ago William Shakespeare had recently died (1616), the Authorized Version of the Bible had recently been completed (1611), and the Mayflower had just landed at Plymouth Rock (1620). Four hundred years is a very long time.

Amos prophetically tells us what it was like during the time of silence:

“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”

The people weren’t ambivalent about not having God’s Word. They were devastated. They were totally lost without it.

Would you be?

But then, after four long centuries of silence, a Word came from heaven.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

The season we’re in the midst of celebrating marks hope for a variety of reasons. But this year, consider the hope of the Word of God. The end of the famine.

Hebrews opens by telling us,

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (1:1-2).

But it gets better. This Son, the author says, “is the radiance of [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” and “upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3).

God not only put an end to the famine, but He gave a better Word. By sending the Word into the world to lavish “grace upon grace” on us, He put an end to the curses in Deuteronomy 28—and Genesis 3.

The Word Made Flesh, better than the angels, better than Moses, better than His law, better than the priests and all their sacrifices, came to “save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25). And because of His new and better covenant, we will never stagger aimlessly looking for the Word of God, because it is written on our hearts:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Heb. 8:10)

This Christmas season, celebrate the Word and the end He brought to the 400-year famine!

Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him!
Christ the Lord!

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