The first mentioned in Scripture was so grievous as to compel Abraham to go down to the land of Egypt (Gen. 26:1). Another is mentioned as having occurred in the days of Isaac, causing him to go to Gerar (Gen. 26:1, 17). But the most remarkable of all was that which arose in Egypt in the days of Joseph, which lasted for seven years (Gen. 41-45).
Famines were sent as an effect of God's anger against a guilty people (2 Kings 8:1, 2; Amos 8:11; Deut. 28:22-42; 2 Sam. 21:1; 2 Kings 6:25-28; 25:3; Jer. 14:15; 19:9; 42:17, etc.). A famine was predicted by Agabus (Acts 11:28). Josephus makes mention of the famine which occurred A.D. 45. Helena, queen of Adiabene, being at Jerusalem at that time, procured corn from Alexandria and figs from Cyprus for its poor inhabitants.
In the whole of Syria and Arabia, the fruits of the earth must ever be dependent on rain; the watersheds having few large springs, and the small rivers not being sufficient for the irrigation of even the level lands. If therefore the heavy rains of November and December fail, the sustenance of the people is cut off in the parching drought of harvest-time, when the country is almost devoid of moisture. Egypt, again, owes all its fertility to its mighty river, whose annual rise inundates nearly the whole land. The causes of dearth and famine in Egypt are defective inundation, preceded, accompanied and followed by prevalent easterly and southerly winds. Famine is likewise a natural result in the East when caterpillars, locusts or other insects destroy the products of the earth. The first famine recorded in the Bible is that of Abraham after he had pitched his tent on the east of Bethel, (Genesis 12:10
) the second in the days of Isaac, (Genesis 26:1
) seq. We hear no more of times of scarcity until the great famine of Egypt, which "was over all the face of the earth." (Genesis 41:53-57
) The modern history of Egypt throws some curious light on these ancient records of famines; and instances of their recurrence may be cited to assist us in understanding their course and extent. The most remarkable famine was that of the reign of the Fatimee Khaleefeh, El-Mustansir billah, which is the only instance on record of one of seven years duration in Egypt since the time of Joseph (A.H. 457-464, A.D. 1064-1071). Vehement drought and pestilence continued for seven consecutive years, so that the people ate corpses, and animals that died of themselves. The famine of Samaria resembled it in many particulars; and that very briefly recorded in (2Ã‚Â Kings 8:1,2
) affords another instance of one of seven years. In Arabia famines are of frequent occurrence.
- fam'-in (ra`abh; limos):
1. Natural Causes
2. Famines Mentioned
3. Divine Relations
4. Figurative Uses
The common Old Testament word for "famine" is ra`abh; re`abhon also occurs (Gen 42:19,33; Ps 37:19), and kaphan (Job 5:22; 30:3), all meaning "hunger" and "famine"; in the New Testament the word is limos, meaning primarily "failure," "want of food."
1. Natural Causes:
In early times, especially in lands dependent on their own productions, famines were not infrequent. They were generally caused by local irregularities of the rainfall, by destructive hail storms (Ex 9:23,11,32), by ravages of insects (Ex 10:15; Joel 1:4) and by enemies (Dt 28:51); in a city a famine might be caused by a siege (2 Ki 6:25); pestilence often followed in its wake, and the suffering was great.
2. Famines Mentioned:
Famines are recorded in the time of Abraham (Gen 12:10, etc.), of Isaac (Gen 26:1), of Jacob, when Joseph was in Egypt--seven years of famine even in Egypt after seven of plenty (Gen 41:54), which also affected Canaan (Gen 42:1), and, indeed, "was over all the face of the earth" (Gen 41:56); in the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), of David, for three years (2 Sam 21:1), of Ahab and Elijah (1 Ki 17:1; 18:2; Ecclesiasticus 48:2,3), of Elisha (2 Ki 4:38), during the siege of Samaria (2 Ki 6:25), the seven years foretold by Elisha (2 Ki 8:1), in the reign of Zedekiah in Jerusalem when besieged by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Ki 25:3; Jer 52:6; compare 14:1), its great severity is referred to (Lam 5:10; Baruch 2:25); a "dearth" is also mentioned after the return from Captivity (Neh 5:3); when the city was besieged by Antiochus Eupator (1 Macc 6:54), after the death of Judas (1 Macc 9:24), when Jerusalem was besieged by Simon (1 Macc 13:49), in the time of Claudius (Acts 11:28, in his reign there were frequent famines, one of which in 45 AD severely affected Palestine; Josephus, Ant, XX, v); Christ predicted "famines .... in divers places" as characterizing the end of the age (Mt 24:7; Mk 13:8; Lk 21:11); in the siege of Jerusalem by Titus a terrible famine raged, the consequences of which to the people have never been surpassed.
3. Divine Relations:
Famines are frequently said to be sent as punishments sometimes threatened as such (Lev 26:19 f; Dt 28:49-51; 2 Ki 8:1; Ps 105:16; Isa 14:30; 51:19; Jer 14:12,15; 18:21, etc.; Ezek 5:16, etc.; Am 8:11; 2 Esdras 15:5,49; 16:19; Tobit 4:13; Ecclesiasticus 39:29; 40:9).
The righteous or godly should be preserved by God in time of famine (Job 5:20, "In famine he will redeem thee from death"; Ps 33:19, "to keep them alive in famine"; 37:19, "In the days of famine they shall be satisfied"); this was a special mark of the Divine favor and power.
4. Figurative Uses:
A famine is used by Amos to indicate the absence of Divine communications as a punishment that should come on the people, a "famine .... of hearing the words of Yahweh" (8:11; compare 1 Sam 3:1; 28:6; 2 Ch 15:3; Ezek 7:26; Mic 3:6); by Zephaniah of the destruction of heathen deities (2:11).
The Revised Version (British and American) has "dearth" for "famine" (Job 5:22); "famine" for "dearth" (Gen 41:54b; 2 Ch 6:28; Acts 7:11; 11:28); for "hunger" (Jer 38:9; Ezek 34:29; Rev 6:8); "famines" for "famines and pestilences" (Mt 24:7), "famines and troubles" (Mk 13:8), revised texts.
W. L. Walker