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 (Genesis 42:19,33; Psalms 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 (Exodus 9:23,11,32), 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 (Ruth 1:1), of David, for three years (2 Samuel 21:1), of Ahab and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; 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 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; Deuteronomy 28:49-51; 2 Kings 8:1; Psalms 105:16; Isaiah 14:30; 51:19; Jeremiah 14:12,15; 18:21, etc.; Eze 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 Samuel 3:1; 28:6; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Ezekiel 7:26; Micah 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" (Genesis 41:54; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Acts 7:11; 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.

W. L. Walker

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'FAMINE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.