For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, does take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread…
The words "stay and staff are by the prophet referred to the two necessaries of life, bread and water. The judgments of God, in the older time, often came in the form of famine and drought; famine as the result of the drought. It was necessary, and it still is necessary, that men should be made to feel their entire dependence upon God for little things as well as great, for common everyday necessities as well as for special days' gifts and mercies. The necessaries of every day seem to be our right; famine-times remind us that they are always direct Fatherly providings. Entering into covenant with Noah, God promised that while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease, "But the promise concerned the earth as a whole, and cannot be applied to particular portions of it. Seeding time has always been kept; harvesting work has always been done. Where man has not come to aid the operations of nature, God has provided seeding times and seeding ways for himself. In desert districts, where tribes wander, and corn cannot be grown, God makes two plants grow freely, whose fruitage is a harvest of necessaries for the people. Local and temporary failures there have been; but they have been due to special causes acting but locally over certain districts; terrible oftentimes for the sufferings they cause, when men are isolated from their fellows, but ameliorated when men dwell together in brotherhood, and the overplus of one land can be used to supply the deficiencies of another. The chief causes of harvest failure are lack of rain, destruction of growing crops by caterpillar and locust, and war which prevents the proper seeding of the fields. A special cause of famine in Egypt was the failure of the Nile-flood.
I. GOD USES FAMINE TO KEEP UP MEN'S DEPENDENCE ON HIM. A tale is told of a widow woman who had lived for many years rent free in a cottage, through the good will and kindly arrangement of the owner. She lived in it so long that she came to think the place was her own, and quite forgot her dependent condition; so far forgot herself, indeed, as to send a message to her landlord threatening to leave the house if some repairs were not at once attended to. It might have been good for the poor woman to let her feel homeless for a while, so that she might learn to value her mercies. But we, like her, are in great danger of presuming on the goodness of God. We also get the feeling of a right to the things which God freely and graciously bestows. We call them ours. And then the temporary loss of them wakens us to thought; humbles us in the dust; calls upon us to look on the fields, and say, "They are God's, not ours;" and on the sunny skies and genial rain, and say, "They are God's, not ours." "Every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."
II. GOD USES FAMINE AS AN AGENT FOR PUNISHMENT. NO man is able to say of any particular famine, it must be a punishment; but we have a perfect right to say, famine may be a punishment. When God would visit David's sin in numbering the people for his own vain-glorious purposes, he offered him a choice which included" seven years of famine for thy land." In the reign of Ahab the violent adoption of Baalism was visited by a terrible famine for the humbling of the willful king. And still we must keep hold of this truth - all outward calamities may be visitations of Divine wrath. It settles nothing to say that pestilence follows on man's disobedience of sanitary laws; and famine results from deficient government and hindered commerce; and wars spring out of national ambitions. That is all quite true, but we thus deal only with "second causes." God is still the First Cause. We, at least, will not push God out of the world he has made. We will trace his working everywhere. And just as we know he orders our personal circumstances so that they shall be chastisement and correction for our personal mistakes, willfulnesses, and transgressions, so we will be sure that the sins of cities, communities, and nations bring judgments and corrections by public calamities; famine may be the hand of the Almighty raised to smite and humble sinful peoples.
III. GOD USES FAMINE TO KNIT THE LANDS IN BROTHERHOOD. In the older times of famine in Egypt, other nations and tribes were compelled to visit that land to secure their supplies of food, and so everybody became interested in the preservation of peace and kindly relations. The common distress made even hostile tribes forget their enmities. In the present day it is essential to the well-being of every nation that universal peace should be preserved. Every country is interested in keeping a free way for the world's ships over the oceans. War is a calamity. The strong men who are slaughtered on battle-fields, ought to be toiling at the harvests, growing the world's food, carrying it from laud to land, or making the things which should supply the world's ever-varying and multiplied needs. We are dependent, as nations, on one another, and our mutual dependence ought to culture a spirit of brotherhood. England cannot grow from her soil, as at present cultivated, the supply of all her people's needs. Heavily laden grain-ships bring the bounty of other lands for our relief week by week throughout the year; and so intercourse is maintained. We get to know and respect each other; we even, in a sense, sit down at each other's tables; we eat bread and salt together, and so are bound to one another in eternal amity, as are the desert tribes. We eat bread from America, and Russia, and Hungary, and Egypt, and other parts, and at the common feast we cultivate the common brotherhood. And it may be further said, nothing binds men together and breaks down prejudices and enmities like a common trouble. How we are drawn together when a common woe lies upon our town, or upon the community to which we belong! Mutual sympathy and mutual sacrifice make us feel that God has "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth;" and that brothers of the one family, whose Head is the everlasting Father, may well be brotherly and kind. In conclusion, gathering up what has been illustrated and enforced, it may be shown that
(1) famine makes a public testimony for the one, living God;
(2) famine, reaching to affect all classes, makes this testimony everywhere; and
(3) famine becomes everywhere a test of characters and beliefs. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,