Bible Question:

Amos 8:11 - What is the famine for hearing the words of the Lord?

Bible Answer:

What is the meaning of the famine for hearing the words of the Lord in Amos 8:11? In order to understand this expression, we must understand the context — what was written before and after Amos 8:11. So, let us discover the meaning of this phrase.

Famine For Hearing the Word of the Lord

Message of Amos 8

The book of Amos is a prophecy against the northern nation of Israel announcing pending judgment (Amos 5:1) because the nation had abandoned God. In Amos 7:15 the prophet tells us that God told him to prophesy to “My people.”  Amos 7:16 reveals that the nation was not interested in hearing from the Lord. In fact, Israel was opposed to prophesies that were negative against the nation. It was a nation that wanted to hear pleasant words.

The reason for the coming judgment and the punishment that will occur is described in Amos 8. The chapter starts by speaking of a “basket of summer fruit” which symbolized Israel as being a ripe for judgment. Verse 2 states,

. . . And  I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” Amos 8:2 (NASB)

That is, the rebellious and idolatrous Israel was doomed for punishment. Punishment was coming and it was unavoidable. Their sins were too great. In verse 3, God summarizes the pending punishment as songs of the palace that would stop and corpses that would be everywhere.

The songs of the palace will turn to wailing in that day,” declares the Lord GOD. “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.” Amos 8:3 (NASB)

Then God proceeded to list their sins in verses 4-10. Verses 11-14 describes the horrors of the punishment that would follow.

Meaning of “Famine For Hearing the Words of the Lord”

Therefore, Amos 8:11 is part of God’s description of judgment upon the nation of Israel. Verse 11 contains the phrase “famine for hearing the words of the Lord” that we want to understand.

“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 (NASB)

The first act of punishment listed is that God would send a famine. But the famine was not one of no food or no water. The people would not suffer from a lack of food or water. Instead, they would suffer due to a famine of not hearing the words of the Lord. That is, they would not hear the words of Scripture which God wrote. The judgment would be an act of God withholding prophecy. There would not be any prophets. God would not communicate through a prophet.

1 Samuel 28:6 is an example of Amos 8:11. In this passage we discover that God would not communicate to Saul through a prophet.

When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. 1 Samuel 28:6 (NASB)

The message of Amos 8:11 is that God sovereignly punished the nation of Israel by refusing to communicate to the nation. Why did God refuse? The nation had already completely abandoned God. Therefore, He sealed them in their abandonment and future punishment was coming. The Assyrian Empire would come, defeat the nation and disperse most of the citizens to other nations.


The message of Amos 8:11 is a warning! Today we do not have prophets or apostles since Jude 3 tells us that the faith “was once for all handed down to  the saints.” The faith was given through the prophets and the apostles in written form. We call it the Word of God or the Bible. Since the faith was “once for all delivered” we are not expecting anything additional to be added to the Bible – nor should we.  The last apostle wrote the last book of the Bible. The Bible is complete!

Therefore, how does Amos 8:11 apply to us today? The answer is that the Bible is not being taught in depth as it should be.  Many sermons are filled with stories, personal illustrations and humor. It is rare that details of a verse are explained so that believers understand all the verse says. Often pastors are more interested in application than explaining the meaning of what God said. During a sermon the passage is often just summarized. Then the pastor illustrates it and urges people to action. Often the application is not even taught in the passage.

As a result, people cannot understand how the application came from the Bible passage. How the pastor arrived at the application seems to be a mystery. Often people think the pastor has a “great insight.” The truth is he had a message he wanted to teach and used the passage only as a starting point. It is not uncommon for the teacher to not even  understand the meaning of the passage. As a result, people have been trained to think that application is the meaning of the Bible verse. Verse-by-verse expository teaching of the Word of God is difficult to find these days. Some pastors have been accused of teaching a seminary class because they are explaining the meaning of every chapter, verse and some words. Application is the norm today. Typically, we are not teaching for spiritual maturity. Today at times pastors emotionally encourage the faithful to some type of action that is not even found in the passage. But it is an application that he is eager to deliver. As a result, there is a famine for hearing the words of God today.

Many pastors and teachers are increasingly like the priests described in Hosea 4:6 who were teaching, but they were not teaching the knowledge of the Lord.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being My priest.
Since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children. Hosea 4:6 (NASB)

Notice the verse says that the priests had rejected knowledge and had forgotten the law of God. The priests themselves were not interested in studying the Law. As a result, they did not teach the Scriptures and the people were “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” It was a sign of pending judgment. The same is true for us today. Judgment is coming.

Suggested Links:

Bible Teaching For Spiritual Maturity
A Call: Teach The Bible
Are You Spiritually Mature?
Book of Amos