“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:6)

It is painful to read the minor prophets of the Old Testament. They may be small in volume, but there is nothing “minor” about their message. In chapter after chapter the prophets of God cry out against the sins of His people, indicting their ease and luxury, their indifference and even outright scorn for the Law of God, and their easy compromises with the surrounding pagan cultures. They warn of judgment to come if the people do not return to the Lord and His Word.

It’s not as though the people of Israel and Judah weren’t religious. Indeed, they were very religious, attending faithfully to their sacrifices and services of worship, and keeping all the required feasts. Sure, they abused the Sabbath with all manner of commercial and private concerns, but only after they had participated in worship. What did it matter what they did with the rest of the day?

But God despised their worship and sent His prophets to tell the people that He was not pleased and did not accept their self-centered offerings to His holy name (Amos 5:21-23). Israel’s problem was that it never learned to love God supremely; the people simply could not find contentment with God as their chief possession. With but a few notable exceptions, they were unable and unwilling to nurture heart-felt passion and zeal for the Lord and His Law. Thus, they were easy prey for whatever diversion or distraction appealed to their baser natures.

So God raised up prophet after prophet to confront the people with their sin and call them to revival and renewal in Him. Their messages are harsh, even frightening, and filled with all the kind of dire stuff that contemporary seeker-friendly preachers steer away from with all their might. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament, after all, were not very popular, either with the people or with those in power.

But the prophets were not the only warnings God sent to His people. By means of a wide variety of circumstances God sought to get the attention of His wayward people and turn their hearts to Him again. Even God seems astonished, as we listen to Him speaking through Amos, at Israel’s failure to heed these many warnings.

God's Warnings to Israel
In Amos 4:6-11 we can discern four different kinds of circumstances that God sent to His people in an effort to call them back to Him. In God’s mind, each of these should have been sufficient to get the attention of the people. Apparently, however, no one was listening.

Want (v. 6): The first circumstance by which God sought to call Israel back to Himself was want. “Cleanness of teeth” and “lack of bread” fell on every city. There just wasn’t enough food to satisfy the appetites of the people, who either went hungry or learned to feast on dung or their own children. Over and over God had testified to His people that He was the Lord of the harvest, the Provider of all their abundance. He had warned them, way back in Moses’ day, that, should they ever depart from Him, He would hold back His blessings from their flocks, fields, and barns. Israel’s periodic bouts with famine were intended to evoke repentance and return to the Lord, but nobody seems to have been listening.

Unequal blessing (vv. 7, 8): Occasionally, God would distribute His blessings to the nation unequally, sending rain to one city while allowing others to experience drought. Then the rain-drenched cities would be overwhelmed with thirsty refugees, with the result that there would not be enough to satisfy anyone, and everyone went thirsty. God meant His people to understand that He who controlled the rains and the floods was trying to get His people’s attention; but nobody seems to have been listening.