Today I was reflecting on a book I happen to enjoy reaching where the theme of ravenous hunger is one that is often reflected on, a literary essay I may write another time, hopefully soon. In thinking about this, though, I was reminded that similar themes run through the book of Amos, the idea of ravenous hunger and famine. I may save a more thorough exploration of the subject for another time, but in the meantime I thought it would be worthwhile to at least discuss one of the passages that relates to this theme, in Amos 2:6-8:
““For three transgressions of Israel, and for four,
I will not turn away its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for silver,
And the poor for a pair of sandals.
They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor,
And pervert the way of the humble.
A man and his father go in to the same girl,
To defile My holy name.
They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge,
And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.”
It is easy to poke fun of people for ravenous hunger. I have joking conversations with friends where I talk about my own ravenous thirst for water, or my ravenous hunger (a quality which, apparently, is one shared by many of my people, as Americans are known for large portion size around the world and gluttonous eating), or my ravenous hunger for books. It was indeed the ravenous hunger for books that was one of the first things I was able to relate to in the novel in question–A Little Princess, about which I have written several times for those who are interested in such matters. Yet this particular passage speaks of a ravenous hunger which is not easy to excuse, namely the ravenous hunger for the dust of the earth that is on the head of the poor.
When we think of ravenous hunger, we tend to think of people whose longings and desires are so intense that they lose some of their humanity as a result of their obvious and insatiable hunger. We think of a poor beggar ravenously eating food that is offered to him or her as if they were a starving hyena. We think of someone who is so thirsty for someone that they cannot seem to help themselves but paw after and fawn after someone whom they find attractive. We think of someone who is so greedy for money that all that they can talk about is their investment portfolio or their side hustle or their hopes in cryptocurrencies or insider trading to earn them fantastic amounts of money that they will spend on whatever their heart desires.
Yet these hungers, however shameful they may seem to us, are all hungers that are at least easy enough to understand. Most of us know what it is like to hunger, to go without food, whether because of poverty or long hours of work, or experience in dieting and fasting, that prevents us from eating at the moment our hunger begins. We can at least begin to empathize with someone whose bloated belly, empty of anything except for gas, cannot refrain from scarfing down something that will, for however short of a time, ease the hunger pangs inside. Most of us have felt the hunger and the longing for love, affection, approval, respect, and other ways that people show that they care for us, and can have a high degree of empathy for those whose longings for such things outweighs their sense of dignity. Similarly, most of us have at least pondered how having more money in our lives could make certain realities easier to deal with, certain choices less painful, even if we are not consumed with greed.
Panting after the dust that is on the head of the poor, though, is not a desire that it is easy to understand. The longing to rob everything from someone, to exploit them to such a degree that we leave them with nothing, is not something that is easy to relate to or understand. Most of us, I think, would prefer to satisfy our own longings in such a way that does not destroy others. If we may be careless and heedless in not always considering what other people have to deal with, I do not think most of us deliberately seek out to harm others. Those who do, who have within their dark hearts a passionate hatred for the well-being of any group of people simply on the basis of their identity, are rightly considered monsters. Such monsters exist, and have existed for a long time, those who seek not only to devour what belongs to others but to seek power to exploit others to a level that denies humanity and dignity to those whom we have already taken advantage of.
What we hunger for and long for and how that hunger relates to how we treat others in large part shapes and determines our character. If we think that we hunger for justice but in fact hunger for the selfish destruction of other people so that we may think ourselves to be righteous and powerful, our hunger is not a righteous one but is in fact monstrous. If we are at all reflective of ourselves and our natures, we can see how it is that our hunger is shared in distinct ways by those around us. We may hunger for different things, but in the same way and to the same degree, and with the same benign desires that all bellies and hearts and minds should be made full. Such hungers can ennoble us, provoke us to be more generous-hearted and more thoughtful and understanding towards others. Yet to the extent that our hungers are darkened into a desire to devour others and bring them to destruction, our hungers cut us off from others, become competitive desires that lead us to both deny the humanity of our rivals and enemies and also to become less human ourselves, to become something more bestial in nature, and something that God may find it necessary, at length, to destroy from the face of the earth.