Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 22, 1961
NUMBER 8, PAGE 5,13b

A Famine In The Land

Jerry C. Ray, Irving, Texas

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord Jehovah, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Jehovah. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the North even to the East; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of Jehovah, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst." (Amos 8:11-13)

The prophet speaks of a time, at that time future, when God would send no more the prophets, His spokesmen, to His children to reprove and instruct them. This time when there should be no inspired men among them is compared to a famine.

It is a terrible thing when people perish for want of food, but how much more terrible would it be for people to perish when there is abundant food at hand? The prophet, Amos, speaks of a famine when there would be no messengers from God, but how much more grievous a famine when there is revelation from God, but man will not take time, nor manifest enough interest to read and heed the voice of Jehovah! The Jewish Targum mentions a tradition of such a famine:

"God has decreed ten grievous famines to take place in the world, to punish the inhabitants of the earth, before the coming of Messiah the king. The first in the days of Adam; the second in the days of Lamech; the third in the days of Abraham; the fourth in the days of Isaac; the fifth in the days of Jacob; the sixth in the days of Boaz, who is called Abstan (Ibzan) the just, of Bethlehem Judah; the seventh in the days of David, king of Israel; the eighth in the days of Elijah the prophet; the ninth in the days of Elisha, in Samaria; the tenth is yet to come, and it is not a famine of bread or of water, but of hearing the word of prophecy from the mouth of the Lord; and even now this famine is grievous in the land of Israel." (Clarke's Commentary, Vol. II, p. 192)

It is interesting to note that such an attitude did exist in the time of our Lord, and he rebuked the lawyers of his time, "for ye took away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered." (Lk. 11:52)

But such a condition was not peculiar to Jesus' time. The history of the Jewish nation is but a vivid, running commentary on this point. The book of Judges, in particular, is a book of cycles. The Jews would turn from God; God would allow the nations around them to conquer and oppress them; the Jews would then turn in penitence to God; and God would raise up a Judge to deliver them. But after the Judge died the cycle would begin again.

One of the saddest passages in the word of God is found in 2 Kings 22:8, "And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shapan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of Jehovah." Imagine the neglect of God's people to allow the book of God to be lost in the house of God!

Such a famine existed at the close of the first century, and in the succeeding years, when the Lord's people turned from the Lord's Word and corrupted the organization, the work and the worship of the church. From this apostasy came the Roman Catholic Church.

During the Dark Ages the famine flourished through the Roman Catholic Church, with its human traditions and commandments, and the Bible virtually became a forgotten book. The Roman Catholic Church's attitude toward the Bible is best stated by this excerpt from an address by the cardinals in the church to Pope Pius III, which is preserved in the National Library of Paris, folio No. 1068, Vol. 2, pp. 650-651:

"Of all the advice that we can offer your holiness we must open your eyes well and use all possible force in the matter, namely to permit the reading of the Gospel as little as possible in all the countries under your Jurisdiction. Let the very little part of the Gospel suffice which is usually read in mass, and let no one be permitted to read more. So long as people will be content with the small amount, your interest will prosper; but as soon as the people want to read more, your interest will fail. The Bible is the book, which more than any other, has raised against us the tumults and tempests by which we have almost perished. In fact, if one compares the teaching of the Bible with what takes place in our churches, he will soon find discord, and will realize that our teachings are often different from the Bible, and oftener still, contrary to it."

Upon this scene came John Wycliffe (1320-1384), determined to give the English speaking people the Word of God in their own language. His hand-copied version of the Bible (Purvey-Revision) sold for $150.00 per copy and Foxe tells that a whole load of hay was paid for the use of a complete New Testament for one day. (General Biblical Introduction, H. S. Miller, p. 328). Forty-four years after the death of Wycliffe, upon the orders of Pope Clement VIII, the bones of Wycliffe were dug up, burned and thrown into the River Swift.

After Wycliffe came William' Tyndale (1484-1536). In Wycliffe's time it took a scribe 10 months to produce a copy of the Bible, but with the invention of the printing press William Tyndale gave the world the first printed English Bible. Tyndale's life was one of persecution inflicted by the Roman Catholic Church because of his work of translation. On one occasion a disputant said, "We were better without God's law than without the Pope's," to which Tyndale replied, "I defy the Pope and all his laws; if God spares my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest." (Miller, Ibid., p. 334) On October 6, 1536, he was strangled and burned at the stake.

The Roman Catholic Church was very successful in keeping the Bible from the people. So much so, that Martin Luther, the great Reformer, was 20 years old before he ever saw a copy of the Bible! (J. W. Shepherd, The Church, The Falling Away, and The Restoration, p. 91).

But through the work of Luther, Wycliffe, Tyndale and many others the "famine" of the Dark Ages was stayed. And yet today we are in the midst of another famine. Ours is more grievous in that we live in a country of freedom where a New Testament can be bought for as little as 35 cents and yet people are appallingly ignorant of God's Word. In the very midst of plenty, the people perish in this famine! And this famine has not missed the Lord's people; for they perish for lack of knowledge also. We must turn our minds back to the Word of God. We search its sacred pages for the Words of Life.

Frederic W. Cropp, president of the American Bible Society, once received a letter asking the question: "What do you recommend for keeping the leather on the back of my Bible from becoming stiff, cracking and peeling?" Mr. Cropp replied, "There is one oil that is especially good for the treatment of the leather on a Bible. In fact, it will insure that your Bible will stay in good condition. It is not sold on the market but it may be found in the palm of the human hand!" Christian, wipe the dust off of that Bible of yours, study it and teach others also, for in doing this you can save your soul and the souls of others. Let us rise up and stay the "famine in the land."