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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 (Gen 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; Joel 1:4) and by enemies (Dt 28:51); in a city a famine might be caused by a siege (2 Ki 6:25); pestilence often followed in its wake, and the suffering was great.
2. Famines Mentioned:
Famines are recorded in the time of Abraham (Gen 12:10, etc.), of Isaac (Gen 26:1), of Jacob, when Joseph was in Egypt--seven years of famine even in Egypt after seven of plenty (Gen 41:54), which also affected Canaan (Gen 42:1), and, indeed, "was over all the face of the earth" (Gen 41:56); in the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), of David, for three years (2 Sam 21:1), of Ahab and Elijah (1 Ki 17:1; 18:2; Ecclesiasticus 48:2,3), of Elisha (2 Ki 4:38), during the siege of Samaria (2 Ki 6:25), the seven years foretold by Elisha (2 Ki 8:1), in the reign of Zedekiah in Jerusalem when besieged by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Ki 25:3; Jer 52:6; compare 14:1), its great severity is referred to (Lam 5:10; Baruch 2:25); a "dearth" is also mentioned after the return from Captivity (Neh 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 Israel; Josephus, Ant, XX, v); Christ predicted "famines .... in divers places" as characterizing the end of the age (Mt 24:7; Mk 13:8; Lk 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 (Lev 26:19 f; Dt 28:49-51; 2 Ki 8:1; Ps 105:16; Isa 14:30; 51:19; Jer 14:12,15; 18:21, etc.; Ezek 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 Sam 3:1; 28:6; 2 Ch 15:3; Ezek 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" (Gen 41:54b; 2 Ch 6:28; Acts 7:11; 11:28); for "hunger" (Jer 38:9; Ezek 34:29; Rev 6:8); "famines" for "famines and pestilences" (Mt 24:7), "famines and troubles" (Mk 13:8), revised texts.
W. L. Walker
Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'famine'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". - ISBE; 1915.

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