Lack of food is not a peculiarly modern problem; it was a fearsome prospect even in ancient times. There were acute and extended food shortages in the Old Testament era, including the patriarchal age, the epoch of the great King David, and the time of the prophets (Elisha and Elijah among them). Famine in the Bible is not simply a perturbing phenomenon of the past, however; Jesus speaks as well of great famines as a sign of the end time (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11).

One distinguishing factor of present-day famine is its colossal dimensions. At the very least, this year one million a month (some estimates run up to 25 million) will die of starvation.

There is an even greater difference than the burden of numbers, however, between famine in the past and in the present. While the Bible records such contributing causes as natural disasters, enemy invasions, and the ravages of war, never does it view famine as a mere happenstance. The Bible as a whole sets famine within the context of God’s creation and rule of all nature; famine is in the service of providential or judgmental divine purpose.

The psalmist knew that food is God’s gift: “Thou preparest a table before me.…” This by no means signifies that suffering is always an evidence of personal culpability or affluence a mark of righteousness. Scripture states, however, that in sending famine God may judgmentally warn against moral rebellion and spiritual decline, expressing anger over prolonged indifference (2 Kings 8:1, 2) and calling for renewed obedience. But that is not all. Through famine, God has often providentially shaped the larger fortunes of his followers: it pushed Abraham and Isaac into Egypt, lifted Joseph to prominence there, and eventually brought all the ...

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