Scripture records several famines in Palestine, and the neighboring countries, Ge 12:10; 26:1; Ru 1:1; 2Ki 6:25; Ac 11:27. The most remarkable one was that of seven years in Egypt, while Joseph was governor, Ge 41. It was distinguished for its duration, extent, and severity; particularly as Egypt is one of the countries least subject to such a calamity, by reason of its general fertility. Famine is sometimes a natural effect, as when the Nile does not overflow in Egypt, or rains do not fall in Judea, at the customary season; or when caterpillars, locusts, or other insects, destroy the fruits. But all natural causes are under the control of God; and he often so directs them as to chastise the rebellious with want, 2Ki 8:1-2; Eze 6:1; Mt 24:7. The worst famine is a spiritual one, Am 8:11.
The first mentioned in Scripture was so grievous as to compel Abraham to go down to the land of Egypt (Ge 26:1). Another is mentioned as having occurred in the days of Isaac, causing him to go to Gerar (Ge 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 (Genesis 41-45).
Famines were sent as an effect of God's anger against a guilty people (2Ki 8:1-2; Am 8:11; De 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 (Ac 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.
Often sent as visitations from God for sin. 2Ki 8:1; "the Lord hath called for a famine" (Ps 105:16), as a master calls for a servant ready to do his bidding. Compare Mt 8:8-9; contrast Eze 36:29. So associated with pestilence and the sword (1'>2 Samuel 21; 1 Kings 17). The famine in Ru 1:1 was probably owing to the Midianite devastation of the land (Judges 6), so severe in the Holy Land that Elimelech had to emigrate to Moab, and Naomi his widow returned not until ten years had elapsed. Isa 51:19; Jer 14:15; 15:2; Eze 5:12. Defects in agriculture, in means of transit, and in freedom of commerce through despotism, were among the natural causes of frequent famines anciently.
Failure of the heavy rains in November and December in Palestine (Ge 12:10; 26:1-2), and of the due overflow of the Nile, along with E. and S. winds (the N. wind on the contrary brings rains, and retards the too rapid current) in Egypt, the ancient granary of the world, often brought famines (Ge 41:25-36,42). Abraham's faith was tried by the famine which visited the land promised as his inheritance immediately after his entering it; yet though going down to Egypt for food, it was only "to sojourn," not to live there, for his faith in the promise remained unshaken. A record of famine for seven years in the 18th century B.C. has been found in China, which agrees with the time of Joseph's seven years of famine in Egypt.
One of God's 'four sore judgements' which He in past times brought upon the earth, and which He has foretold will again be sent as a punishment. The most severe famines recorded in scripture are the two of seven years' duration, one in the time of Joseph, and the other in the days of Elisha. Ge 41:27-57; 2Ki 8:1-2: cf. Eze 14:21; Mt 24:7; Lu 21:11; Re 18:8. In speaking of the tribulations that will come upon Israel before the remnant of them are brought into blessing, Amos prophesies that there will be a famine of the 'words of Jehovah.' When judgements are falling on them, they will seek for some word from God for guidance and comfort; but will not find it: God will for a time leave them in darkness and perplexity. Am 8:11-12.
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,
the second in the days of Isaac,
seq. We hear no more of times of scarcity until the great famine of Egypt, which "was over all the face of the earth."
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.H. 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
affords another instance of one of seven years. In Arabia famines are of frequent occurrence.