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Dictionaries :: Famine

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Easton's Bible Dictionary


The first mentioned in Scripture was so grievous as to compel Abraham to go down to the land of Egypt (Gen 26:1). Another is mentioned as having occurred in the days of Isaac, causing him to go to Gerar (Gen 26:1,17). But the most remarkable of all was that which arose in Egypt in the days of Joseph, which lasted for seven years (Gen. 41-45).

Famines were sent as an effect of God's anger against a guilty people (2Ki 8:1,2; Amo 8:11; Deu 28:22-42; 2Sa 21:1; 2Ki 6:25-28; 25:3; Jer 14:15; 19:9; 42:17, etc.). A famine was predicted by Agabus (Act 11:28). Josephus makes mention of the famine which occurred A.D. 45. Helena, queen of Adiabene, being at Jerusalem at that time, procured corn from Alexandria and figs from Cyprus for its poor inhabitants.

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


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 (Ge 42:19,33; Ps 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 (Ex 9:23,11,32), by ravages of insects (Ex 10:15; Joe 1:4) and by enemies (De 28:51); in a city a famine might be caused by a siege (2Ki 6:25); pestilence often followed in its wake, and the suffering was great.

2. Famines Mentioned:

Famines are recorded in the time of Abraham (Ge 12:10, etc.), of Isaac (Ge 26:1), of Jacob, when Joseph was in Egypt-seven years of famine even in Egypt after seven of plenty (Ge 41:54), which also affected Canaan (Ge 42:1), and, indeed, "was over all the face of the earth" (Ge 41:56); in the time of the Judges (Ru 1:1), of David, for three years (2Sa 21:1), of Ahab and Elijah (1Ki 17:1; 18:2; Ecclesiasticus 48:2,3), of Elisha (2Ki 4:38), during the siege of Samaria (2Ki 6:25), the seven years foretold by Elisha (2Ki 8:1), in the reign of Zedekiah in Jerusalem when besieged by Nebuchadnezzar (2Ki 25:3; Jer 52:6; compare 14:1), its great severity is referred to (La 5:10; Baruch 2:25); a "dearth" is also mentioned after the return from Captivity (Ne 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 (Ac 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 (Mt 24:7; Mr 13:8; Lu 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 (Le 26:19 f; De 28:49-51; 2Ki 8:1; Ps 105:16; Isa 14:30; 51:19; Jer 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 1Sa 3:1; 28:6; 2Ch 15:3; Eze 7:26; Mic 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" (Ge 41:54; 2Ch 6:28; Ac 7:11; 11:28); for "hunger" (Jer 38:9; Eze 34:29; Re 6:8); "famines" for "famines and pestilences" (Mt 24:7), "famines and troubles" (Mr 13:8), revised texts.

Written by W. L. Walker

Torrey's New Topical Textbook

Famine: Sent by God

Psa 10:16

Famine: Often on Account of Sin

Lev 26:21,26; Lam 4:4-6

Famine: One of God's Four Sore Judgments

Eze 14:21

Famine: Caused By

God's blessing withheld

Hsa 2:8,9; Hag 1:6

Want of seasonable rain

1Ki 17:1; Jer 14:1-4; Amo 4:7

Rotting of the seed in the ground

Joe 1:17

Swarms of insects

Deu 28:38,42; Joe 1:4

Blasting and mildew

Amo 4:9; Hag 2:17

Devastation by enemies

Deu 28:33,51

Famine: Often Long Continued

Gen 41:27; 2Ki 8:1,2

Famine: Often Severe

Gen 12:10; 1Ki 18:2; Jer 52:6

Famine: Expressed By

Taking away the stay of bread, &c

Isa 3:1

Cleanness of Teeth

Amo 4:6

The arrows of famine

Eze 5:16

Famine: Often Accompanied by War

Jer 14:15; 29:18

Famine: Often Followed by Pestilence

Jer 42:17; Eze 7:15; Mat 24:7

Famine: Things Eaten During

Wild herbs

2Ki 4:39,40

Ass's flesh

2Ki 6:25


2Ki 6:25; Lam 4:5

Human flesh

Lev 26:29; 2Ki 6:28,29

Famine: Provisions Sold by Weight During

Eze 4:16

Famine: Suffering of Brute Creation From

Jer 14:5,6

Famine: Caused

Burning and fever

Deu 32:24

Blackness of the skin

Lam 4:8; 5:10

Grief and mourning

Joe 1:11-13


Gen 47:13

Wasting of the body

Lam 4:8; Eze 4:17


2Ki 7:4; Jer 11:22

Famine: God Provided for His People During

1Ki 17:4,9; Job 5:20; Psa 33:19; 37:19

Famine: Instances Of, in Scripture

In the days of Abraham

Gen 12:10

In the days of Isaac

Gen 26:1

In the days of Joseph

Gen 41:53-56

In the day of the Judges

Rth 1:1

In the reign of David

2Sa 21:1

In the reign of Ahab

1Ki 17:1; 18:5

In the time of Elisha

2Ki 4:38

During the siege of Samaria

2Ki 6:25

Of seven years foretold by Elisha

2Ki 8:1

In the time of Jeremiah

Jer 14:1

During the siege of Jerusalem

2Ki 25:3

After the captivity

Neh 5:3

In the reign of Claudius Caesar

Act 11:28

Before destruction of Jerusalem

Mat 24:7

Famine: The Jews in their restored state not to be afflicted by

Eze 36:29,30

Famine: Illustrative Of

A dearth of the means of grace

Amo 8:11,12

Destruction of idols

Zep 2:11

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1 Strong's Number: g3042 Greek: limos


is translated "hunger" in Luk 15:17; 2Cr 11:27; elsewhere it signifies "a famine," and is so translated in each place in the RV; the AV has the word "dearth" in Act 7:11; 11:28, and "hunger" in Rev 6:8; the RV "famine" is preferable there; see Mat 24:7; Mar 13:8; Luk 4:25; 15:14; 21:11; Rom 8:35; Rev 18:8.

Smith's Bible Dictionary


In the whole of Syria and Arabia, the fruits of the earth must ever be dependent on rain; the watersheds having few large springs, and the small rivers not being sufficient for the irrigation of even the level lands. If therefore the heavy rains of November and December fail, the sustenance of the people is cut off in the parching drought of harvest‐time, when the country is almost devoid of moisture. Egypt, again, owes all its fertility to its mighty river, whose annual rise inundates nearly the whole land. The causes of dearth and famine in Egypt are defective inundation, preceded, accompanied and followed by prevalent easterly and southerly winds. Famine is likewise a natural result in the East when caterpillars, locusts or other insects destroy the products of the earth. The first famine recorded in the Bible is that of Abraham after he had pitched his tent on the east of Bethel (Genesis 12:10) the second in the days of Isaac (Genesis 26:1) seq. We hear no more of times of scarcity until the great famine of Egypt, which "was over all the face of the earth." (Genesis 41:53-57). The modern history of Egypt throws some curious light on these ancient records of famines; and instances of their recurrence may be cited to assist us in understanding their course and extent. The most remarkable famine was that of the reign of the Fatimee Khaleefeh, El‐Mustansir billah, which is the only instance on record of one of seven years duration in Egypt since the time of Joseph (A.D. 457‐464, A.D. 1064‐1071) Vehement drought and pestilence continued for seven consecutive years, so that the people ate corpses, and animals that died of themselves. The famine of Samaria resembled it in many particulars; and that very briefly recorded in 2 Kings 8:1-2 affords another instance of one of seven years. In Arabia famines are of frequent occurrence.


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