famines in the Bible

widespread, severe scarcities of food

The first famine mentioned in Scripture was so grievous that it compelled Abraham to go down to the Philistine land of Egypt (Genesis 12:10).

Another is mentioned as having occurred in the days of Isaac, causing him to go to Gerar (Genesis 26:1, 17), where he became rich and powerful.

The most remarkable famine of all was the one that arose in Egypt in the days of Joseph (son of Jacob), which lasted for 7 years and was extremely severe (Genesis 41-45). As a result of Joseph’s wisdom, he amply prepared the nation in advance and saved numerous lives, including that of his large family in The Promised Land.

The biblical woman Naomi experienced a famine in the days when judges ruled in Israel, causing her family to move to Moab, where her son married Ruth. She returned to Israel with her daughter-in-law after the famine was over, following the death of her husband and sons (Ruth 1).

During the days of David, there were 3 consecutive years of famine due to King Saul and “his bloody house” who wrongly slew the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:2, 5) in violation of the Israelite covenant with them (Joshua 9:3-27).

Years later, King David and his land were punished by God with 3 years of pestilence and famine, killing 70,000 men of Israel, due to David’s sin of taking a census against God’s command (1 Chronicles 21).

There were severe famines in Samaria (1 Kings 18:2; 2 Kings 6:25).

God called for a 7 year famine during the days of Elisha (2 Kings 8:1).

Famines were sent as an effect of God’s anger against a guilty people (2 Kings 8:1-2; Amos 8:11; Deuteronomy 28:22-42; 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Kings 6:25-28; 25:3; Jeremiah 14:15; 19:9; 42:17, etc.).

Some city-wide famines were caused by enemy seiges. For example, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sealed off Jerusalem with his surrounding army for years, until the city ran out of food (2 Kings 25).

A famine was predicted by the Christian prophet Agabus (Acts 11:28).

The historian Josephus makes mention of the famine which occurred 45 A.D. Helena, queen of Adiabene, being at Jerusalem at that time, procured corn from Alexandria and figs from Cyprus for its poor inhabitants. (The ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus—born Yosef ben Matityahu—was the author of Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War (chronicling the Great Jewish Revolt of 66–70 AD).)

Jesus Christ prophecied that during the last days before His second coming,

…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. —Matthew 24:7 ESV; also see Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11

…death, and mourning, and famine… —Revelation 18:8

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