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Famine is the extreme scarcity of food, causing starvation, acute malnutrition, disease, and even death. Jesus predicted famine at the end of times. Besides war and earthquakes, other factors like draught, flood, climate changes, natural disasters, plagues, and epidemics can cause famine.

During the Biblical times, the Israelites did not consider nature independent of God’s knowledge. Moses told his people, “The LORD will open up for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give your land rain in due season and to bless all the works of your hands. You will lend to many nations but borrow from none” (Deut 28:12). Hence, rain and good harvest are blessings from God when people keep up a good relationship with Him.

If famine happens, it is a punishment for sinful lives and a warning to resume loyalty to God. Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple includes this: “When the heavens are closed, so that there is no rain, because they have sinned against you, but they pray towards this place and praise your name, and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, listen in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel (for you teach them the good way in which they should walk). Give rain to this land of yours which you have given to your people as their heritage” (1 Kgs 8:35-36).

Famine caused Bible characters to relocate according to the divine plan:

1. Abram temporarily moved from Canaan to Egypt because of the famine. “There was famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, since the famine in the land was severe” (Gen 12:10).

2. Isaac had to go to Philistia. “There was a famine in the land, distinct from the earlier one that had occurred in the days of Abraham, and Isaac went down to Abimelech, king of the Philistines in Gerar” (Gen 26:1).

3. Jacob and his entire family moved from Canaan to Egypt “because the famine has been severe in the land of Canaan” (Gen 47:4).

4. During the time of the judges, a famine caused Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons to move from Bethlehem to Moab (Ruth 1:1-2). Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi, became the great-grandmother of David.

According to the Old Testament concept, famine can happen as part of a divine plan. Seven years of great abundance followed by seven years of famine in Egypt was God’s arrangement to make Joseph the prime minister of Egypt and to save Jacob’s family from poverty. That helped them to settle in the fertile land of Goshen.

When the Israelites had to live in the desert for 40 years, God fed them with manna and quail to save them from starvation (Ex 16:11- 13). God also provided them with water through miracles. That showed the providential care of God for his people, though they had sinned against him.

“In David’s time there was a famine for three years, year after year. David sought the presence of the LORD, who said: There is bloodguilt on Saul and his family because he put the Gibeonites to death” (2 Sam 21:1). Here, famine was a punishment from God. One of the three options God gave to David for his sin was famine for three years (1 Chr 21:12).

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, “a severe famine struck” the country where the younger son moved and spent his money (Lk 15:14). That made him consider returning to his father with repentance.

In the first century A.D., Prophet Agabus predicted a severe famine all over the world under Claudius. Hence, the Christian community in Antioch sent relief to Judaea through the presbyters in care of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).

The Old Testament prophets predicted severe famine at the end of time. Amos had the vision of a famine “Not a hunger for bread, or a thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). “On that day, beautiful young women and young men shall faint from thirst” (Amos 8:13). The idol worshippers “shall fall, never to rise again” (Amos 8:14). Before the fall of the first Temple, Ezekiel prophesied starvation as part of God’s punishment for the sins of Israel (Ezek 5:16-17; 15:7). Jesus also predicted famine before the fall of the Temple and before the end of the world.


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