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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Famine

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fam´in ( רעב , rā‛ābh ; λιμός , limós ):

1. Natural Causes

2. Famines Mentioned

3. Divine Relations

4. Figurative Uses

The common Old Testament word for "famine" is rā‛ābh ; re‛ābhōn also occurs (Genesis 42:19 , Genesis 42:33 ; Psalm 37:19 ), and kāphān (Job 5:22 ; Job 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 (Exodus 9:23 , Exodus 9:11 , Exodus 9:32 ), by ravages of insects (Exodus 10:15 ; Joel 1:4 ) and by enemies (Deuteronomy 28:51 ); in a city a famine might be caused by a siege (2 Kings 6:25 ); pestilence often followed in its wake, and the suffering was great.


2. Famines Mentioned

Famines are recorded in the time of Abraham (Genesis 12:10 , etc.), of Isaac (Genesis 26:1 ), of Jacob, when Joseph was in Egypt - seven years of famine even in Egypt after seven of plenty (Genesis 41:54 ), which also affected Canaan (Genesis 42:1 ), and, indeed, "was over all the face of the earth" (Genesis 41:56 ); in the time of the Judges (Rth 1:1), of David, for three years (2 Samuel 21:1 ), of Ahab and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1 ; 1 Kings 18:2 ; Ecclesiasticus 48:2, 3), of Elisha (2 Kings 4:38 ), during the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:25 ), the seven years foretold by Elisha (2 Kings 8:1 ), in the reign of Zedekiah in Jerusalem when besieged by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:3 ; Jeremiah 52:6 ; compare Jeremiah 14:1 ), its great severity is referred to (Lamentations 5:10 ; Baruch 2:25); a "dearth" is also mentioned after the return from Captivity (Nehemiah 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 (Matthew 24:7 ; Mark 13:8 ; Luke 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 (Leviticus 26:19 f; Deuteronomy 28:49-51 ; 2 Kings 8:1 ; Psalm 105:16 ; Isaiah 14:30 ; Isaiah 51:19 ; Jeremiah 14:12 , Jeremiah 14:15 ; Jeremiah 18:21 , etc.; Ezekiel 5:16 , etc.; Amos 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"; Psalm 33:19 , "to keep them alive in famine"; Psalm 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" (Amos 8:11 ; compare 1 Samuel 3:1 ; 1 Samuel 28:6 ; 2 Chronicles 15:3 ; Ezekiel 7:26 ; Micah 3:6 ); by Zephaniah of the destruction of heathen deities (Zephaniah 2:11 ).

The Revised Version (British and American) has "dearth" for "famine" (Job 5:22 ); "famine" for "dearth" (Genesis 41:54 ; 2 Chronicles 6:28 ; Acts 7:11 ; Acts 11:28 ); for "hunger" (Jeremiah 38:9 ; Ezekiel 34:29 ; Revelation 6:8 ); "famines" for "famines and pestilences" (Matthew 24:7 ), "famines and troubles" (Mark 13:8 ), revised texts.


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Famine'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/f/famine.html. 1915.

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