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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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FAMINE . In Palestine, famine is usually due to failure of the rainfall ( Leviticus 26:19 , Amos 4:6-7 ). Both crops and pasturage depend on the proper amount falling at the right time, the ‘early rain’ in Oct. Nov., the ‘latter’ in March April. Its importance and uncertainty caused it to be regarded as the special gift of God ( Deuteronomy 11:11; Deuteronomy 11:14 ). Accordingly famine is almost always a direct judgment from Him ( 1 Kings 17:1 , Ezekiel 5:1-17 , and continually in the Prophets; James 5:17 ). Hence we find it amongst the terrors of the eschatological passages of NT ( Mark 13:8 , Revelation 18:8 ). The idea is spiritualized in Amos 8:11 ‘a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.’ In Egypt, famine is due to the failure of the annual inundation of the Nile, which is ultimately traceable to lack of rain in the Abyssinian highlands of the interior.

Crops may be destroyed by other causes hail and thunder-storms. (Exodus 9:31 , 1 Samuel 12:17 ); locusts and similar pests ( Exodus 10:15 , Joel 1:4 , Amos 4:9 ). Further, famine is the usual accompaniment of war, the most horrible accounts of famines being connected with sieges ( 2Ki 6:25; 2 Kings 25:3 , Jeremiah 21:9 , Lamentations 4:10 ).

These passages should be compared with the terrible description of Deuteronomy 28:49-57 , and with Josephus’ account of the last siege of Jerusalem ( BJ V. x. 3). So in Revelation 6:5 scarcity, connected with the black horse, follows on bloodshed and conquest; but a maximum price is fixed for wheat and barley, and oil and wine are untouched, so that the full horrors of famine are delayed. A natural result of famine is pestilence, due to improper and insufficient food, lack of water, and insanitary conditions. The two are frequently connected, especially in Ezk. and Jer. ( 1 Kings 8:37 , Jeremiah 21:9 , Luke 21:11 [not Matthew 24:7 ]).

Famines are recorded in connexion with Abraham (Genesis 12:10 ) and Isaac ( Genesis 26:1 ). There is the famous seven years’ famine of Genesis 41:1-57 ff., which included Syria as well as Egypt. It apparently affected cereals rather than pasturage, beasts of transport being unharmed (cf. per contra 1 Kings 18:5 ). The device by which Joseph warded off its worst effects is illustrated by Egyptian inscriptions. In one, Baba, who lived about the time of Joseph, says: ‘I collected corn, as a friend of the harvest-god, and was watchful at the time of sowing. And when a famine arose, lasting many years, I distributed corn to the city each year of famine’ (see Driver, Genesis , p. 346). Other famines, besides those already referred to, are mentioned in Ruth 1:1 , 2 Samuel 21:1 . The famine of Acts 11:28 is usually identified with one mentioned by Josephus ( Ant. XX. ii. 5, v. 2), which is dated a.d. 45. But famines were characteristic of the reign of Claudius (Suetonius mentions ‘assiduae sterilitates’), so that the exact reference remains uncertain.

C. W. Emmet.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Famine'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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