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FAMINE (רָעֵב, H8279, λιμός, G3350). Rā'āb and limós are tr. “famine”—an acute and prolonged lack of food almost always in Eng. VSS, but in a few cases they are rendered “dearth” or “hunger.”

In the Bible famine is never regarded as a mere accident of nature, for God is the Creator and Ruler of all natural powers. Famines form part of God’s ordering of the lives of His people, as with the journeys of Abraham and Isaac to Egypt (Gen 12:10) and the meeting of Naomi with Ruth (Ruth 1:1). By means of a famine God raised Joseph to a position of authority in Egypt and brought all the families of Israel into that land (Gen 41-47).

The usual stated purpose of famine, whether actual or threatened, was the judgment of God: to warn (1 Kings 17:1), correct (2 Sam 21:1), or punish His people or the heathen (Jer 14:12, 15). Jesus predicted famines as a sign of the end of the age (Matt 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11).

The prophet Amos used the word in a fig. sense when he says that in Israel there would be “a famine...of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(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:

3. Divine Relations:

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).