BibleTools

Topical Studies

 A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


What the Bible says about Famine
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 47:14

In just seven years—the seven years of famine—the Egyptians saw their freedoms and economic prerogatives fly away and their lifestyles change dramatically. The first listed casualty of this famine-triggered tribulation was monetary.

The Egyptians were not a bunch of degenerate Bedouins living on the edge, caught in the backwaters of civilization, and laboring under some inefficient and very limiting bartering system. Nothing like that! Rather, as one of the chief nations on the earth at the time, theirs was a complex society with some sort of monetary system. That monetary system completely collapsed due to the repeated crop failures in Egypt.

Joseph's response was to sell Egypt's grain on the spot market. All transactions were cash-and-carry. There was no credit. What occurred was, effectively, centralized control of the money supply. The government came into ownership of all the money, and the people had virtually none at all.

Charles Whitaker
The Other Great Tribulation

Genesis 47:18-20

Many people conceive of ancient Egypt as having a small ruling aristocracy, a priestly caste, and a military class, and then millions and millions of slaves. Yet, that is not how it was at all—at least not before this tribulation. What we witness in the story of the seven years of famine is instead a picture of a free people who became slaves, selling their livelihoods, their land, and finally themselves to the government. The tribulation of that day was so great that the Egyptians literally "sold the farm" to Pharaoh.

Charles Whitaker
The Other Great Tribulation

Leviticus 20:22

This verse concludes a section devoted to a variety of sexual sins, stating a major result or penalty of breaking the seventh commandment. This is the Bible's way of saying that when a society unrestrainedly breaks God's laws, nature will rise up as an enemy and make it impossible to live in the land. The inhabitants will be uprooted and thrust out—but not before many die in famine, war, and natural disasters. The natural process of sin will bring that nation to its knees and humble it before the world.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)

Amos 8:11-12

God says that He will soon send a peculiar famine—not a typical famine of food or water, but a far more destructive one. It strikes at the heart of His people, causing the very fabric of society to unravel.

Notice first that it does not say that it will be a famine of the word of the Lord, but a famine of hearing. God's words will still be available, but it will be rare that those words will be heard. The truth will still be obtainable; His inspired messages will still be accessible. However, as a curse on the land, God will cause truth not to be heard.

This "hearing" is far more than just being aware of words or concepts. It is a hearing that includes focused, careful attention that, taken to its logical conclusion, ends in obedience. The kind of hearing that will be in such short supply is one that causes right action—in fact, the Hebrew word is often translated as "obey." This famine causes God's words not to be heard, and the result is that sin and disobedience flourish—which are a reproach to any nation (Proverbs 14:34). It is a tremendous curse, because without having God's words as guidance—without the light of truth—the nation will be like a blind man, stumbling around and not comprehending why he keeps falling (cf. Deuteronomy 28:29; Isaiah 29:9-10).

This is an unusual curse. It is not like a physical famine, which everyone recognizes as a tragedy. Most of those who are struck by this famine will probably not recognize that it is a true calamity. A famine of hearing the truth will seem like a relief to many, because no voice is calling them into account or prompting them to think about eternity.

However, even though this famine may give the impression that a burden has been lifted, the reality is that without divine instruction, the nation can only stagger toward eventual destruction. Truth is a blessing, but God has every right to withhold it, just as He withholds rain when His people turn from Him. People may be vaguely aware that things are breaking down, that life seems to have a lot more tragedies, and that nothing seems to work as it once did, but they will not make the connection between their hardships and their spiritual deafness.

David C. Grabbe
A Subtle Yet Devastating Curse

Matthew 24:12-13

The Bible shows us the damage caused when God's people do not believe how special we are to Him. How do we keep our love from going cold? We must go to the source to replenish it. Where is that source? Where does real love come from? The answer is found in I John 4:19: "We love Him because He first loved us."

The next verse, Matthew 24:13, reinforces this thought: "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." Jesus sets up a contrast. Verse 12 describes people without faith in God's love for us growing cold and not enduring. In verse 13, "but" suggests that those with faith in His love will endure and be saved.

What happened over the past decade or so is nothing compared to what is ahead for some of us. The time of Jacob's trouble will be terrible. Many will face famine, pestilence, and persecution. Friends and family may turn on us. Church members will die. When all this happens, there may be no physical evidence to see how much God loves us. How will we endure those times? We will, but only if we absolutely believe in how special we are to God, how much He loves us. That is the faith we will need to endure any trial.

Pat Higgins
Faith to Face Our Trials

Acts 7:11

The Greek words are the same as in Matthew 24, but obviously, the great tribulation suffered by Egypt in Joseph's time is not at all the same as the future Tribulation that Christ mentions in Matthew 24. The use of identical language is, of course, not accidental and begs our attention.

Stephen says that Egypt and Canaan suffered greatly from two things: first, from "famine," and second, from "great trouble." The sense of the Greek is that the famine, the lack of food, caused the great trouble that Stephen speaks of here. The tribulation does not stand alone. J.B. Phillips translates Stephen's statement as, "Then came the famine over all the land of Egypt and Canaan which caused great suffering."

The tribulation of which Stephen speaks went beyond the famine itself. After all, the people, because of Joseph's planning, did have access to some food. Apparently, there was not mass starvation at this time in Egypt. What form did this famine-induced great tribulation take in Egypt? Today, we would say that the famine caused economic, social, and political upheaval. "Upheaval" is a slightly weak word—in fact, the word "revolution" is more accurate.

Charles Whitaker
The Other Great Tribulation

Revelation 5:1-4

Scripture contains another sealed scroll that rarely receives a second glance, yet it more closely resembles the scroll John agonized over than the scrolls of Ezekiel and Zechariah.

In Jeremiah 32:6-15, just before the siege of Jerusalem, God instructs Jeremiah to perform an act as a sign that the Jews would return to the land. This passage is about inheritance and redemption of property, in which Jeremiah is the kinsman-redeemer, similar to Boaz (Ruth 4:1-11). At God's direction, Jeremiah pays the purchase price, signs and seals the deed, and performs it all in the presence of witnesses.

Verse 11 refers to the purchase deed in the singular but later describes it as “boththat which was sealed . . . and that which was open.” These title deeds consisted of duplicates. One copy was left open so the contents could be read by any interested party, while the second copy was sealed to ensure that no tampering could be done. When it was time to buy back the property, the sealed copy would be unsealed to verify the original agreement. The only person with authority to unseal the deed, however, was the rightful owner—the one redeeming the property.

Consider how this applies to the scroll of Revelation 5. In type, it is not merely a prophetic scroll of judgment but a sealed title deed! Its sealing is not due to its contents being truly secret since the majority of its contents can be found in other places. God's prophets warn about religious deception; wars; famines; pestilences and earthquakes; the deaths of God's servants; great signs in the heavens; and the future Kingdom. In other words, in the words of the prophets, we already have the open deed, though it is fragmented and not in time-sequence. The essence of what John sees as the seals are opened has not been completely hidden from human knowledge; the prophets have already, at least in part, spoken of each of them.

Also, we have Jesus' testimony in the Olivet Prophecy, of which the Revelation scroll is essentially an expansion, particularly regarding the Seventh Seal. The two prophecies describe the same judgment events in the same order. In type, then, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, including the Olivet Prophecy, is like the open deed that we can consult at any time.

Thus, the Revelation scroll remains sealed until the right time for a different purpose—not because of wholly secret contents, but because the seals denote that only the one claiming the property at issue is legally allowed to open the scroll. John sees the scroll in the Father's right hand because the time has come to release the seals. It is time for the property to be redeemed and the proper ownership to be legally determined. With the sealed scroll in the Eternal Judge's right hand, a strong angel—an officer of the court, so to speak—issues a challenge for the worthy party to step forward and claim what is his.

Understanding this scroll answers why John wept so much: He was looking at the title deed of all things! God is praised for creating “all things” (Revelation 4:11), and He has appointed the Son as heir of “all things” (Hebrews 1:2). However, the world and its inhabitants are presently in Satan's hand. He currently holds the property in question, having the whole world under his sway (I John 5:19).

Thus, the ownership of the creation and the whole purpose of Elohim in creating humanity in God's image are hanging in the balance—and nobody is found who could claim it. The weight of what it would mean for the deed to go unredeemed—for the world to continue with Satan as its ruler—must have overwhelmed John.

Having paid the ultimate purchase price for His property, the Lamb alone is worthy to open the sealed deed. The Lamb even provides His own witnesses to testify of His eligibility—His claim on His property—throughout His earthly ministry (John 1:6-8, 15); after His death (Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39; 13:31; 14:17; 22:15; 23:11); in every martyr willing to die for his Kingdom and King (Revelation 6:9-11); and in two final witnesses of the Lamb's right to all things (Revelation 11:3-13).

David C. Grabbe
Worthy to Take the Scroll

Revelation 6:5-6

This is a picture of scarcity of grain during a time when olive oil and wine are abundant. The grain must be measured very carefully, and it is sold at about twelve times its normal price. At the same time, growers are commanded not to reduce the production of oil and wine, items which most would consider to be luxuries. It seems that the common folk would spend all their living on grain to fend off starvation and have nothing left over for the finer things, while the rich would continue to live comfortably and make money on the inflated grain prices. The Third Seal describes scarcity in the midst of prosperity; the rich get richer as the poor get poorer.

Such a situation is not hard to imagine in our fast-paced, greedy world. Amos shows the rich "[selling] the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals" (Amos 2:6). Many businessmen have no qualms about taking advantage of a situation, as long as they are guaranteed to make a profit. We should not be surprised when food prices escalate sharply after a mediocre harvest.

God is not capricious; He does nothing without a purpose. He says that He sends these droughts, floods, diseases, insects, and famines to warn us and cause us to return to Him (Amos 4:6-9). Our God wants us to receive blessings, not curses, but sometimes He must get our attention and point us in the right direction when we go astray.

But Israel is stubborn and rebellious (Jeremiah 5:23). The people fail to see that their sins have caused these curses to fall upon them (verses 24-25). In fact, Israel loves to dwell in sin (verses 26-31)! Thus, God must punish them to make them obedient to His laws—laws that will make them prosperous and happy.

Hunger is a method that hits home quickly, and God will try to use this curse effectively:

Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the short measure that is an abomination? Shall I count pure those with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? For her rich men are full of violence, her inhabitants have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. Therefore I will also make you sick by striking you, by making you desolate because of your sins. You shall eat, but not be satisfied; hunger shall be in your midst. . . . You shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread the olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; and make sweet wine, but not drink wine. (Micah 6:10-15)

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Your Land Shall Not Yield Its Produce

Revelation 6:5-6

A primary means of repression throughout history has been economic in nature. If a person or a group can be kept at the subsistence level—that is, financially able to afford only the bare necessities of life—he or it can be controlled. For instance, a man who must work from sunup to sundown to make enough to feed himself and his family does not have time to further his education, start a business, travel to see how others live, or collude with neighbors to rebel against his rulers. Essentially, such a person is a slave, a serf, a pauper, and those in authority have little trouble holding his nose to the grindstone day after day after day. Either he plods on, or he and his dependents starve.

Westerners usually think of famine in terms of mass starvation in remote, Third World countries. In our mind's eye, we see stick-thin, little children with distended bellies and bones clearly visible under their skin, flies buzzing around their gaunt, staring faces. We imagine interminable lines of such people, bowl or cup in hand, waiting to receive their daily ration of grain or milk. Others we envision lying in the dirt without the strength even to walk.

But there is another kind of famine, not as severe but ultimately just as calamitous. It is the famine of protracted undernourishment, one that weakens the body, making it sickly and short-lived, and crushes the spirit, causing hopelessness and apathy. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 4:9, "Those slain by the sword are better off than those who die of hunger; for these pine away, stricken for lack of the fruits of the field."

It is such a long-term hunger that appears in Revelation 6:5-6. No matter if it is the result of war, oppression, drought, or flooding, famine is a terrible scourge, and sadly, has claimed millions of lives over the centuries. This is the work of the third horseman, the rider of the black horse.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Four): The Black Horse

Revelation 6:5-6

The apostle John's description of this third horse and horseman is once again spare, as he provides us only two pertinent details: the black color of the horse and the rider's pair of scales. Both of these details, though, point to an overall interpretation of famine, which verse 8 verifies by saying this rider has power to kill "with hunger." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also names this seal as "famine" (Matthew 24:7).

We moderns tend to consider black to be the opposite of white, so to us, black is the color of evil, personified in the almost totally black costume of Darth Vader in Star Wars. The ancients made no such symbolic contrast (but see Matthew 5:36), although they did see symbolic opposites in darkness and light. Biblically, black is not the color of sin but simply an object's true color. Black, blackness, and blacker are found 23 times in the Bible, describing the sky, hair, cloth, marble, skin, night, ravens, cumin, and horses. In each occurrence, blackness appears to be a synonym for "darkness."

This does not mean, however, that the color black holds no symbolic meaning. It certainly has overtones of foreboding. Specifically, the Israelites used black to signify the mournful and unhealthy mien of those enduring scarcity, want, and famine, particularly as a judgment from God. Notice:

» Jeremiah 14:2: Judah mourns, and her gates languish; they mourn [literally, are black] for the land, and the cry of Jerusalem has gone up.

» Lamentations 5:10: Our skin is hot [literally, black] as an oven, because of the fever of famine.

» Joel 2:6: Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color [literally, gather blackness].

» Nahum 2:10: She is empty, desolate, and waste! The heart melts, and the knees shake; much pain is in every side, and all their faces are drained of color [literally, gather blackness].

To a Hebrew, the black horse of the third seal would picture the illness and dearth of a famine, specifically the dirt and squalor of those who had nothing.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Four): The Black Horse

Revelation 6:5-6

Clearly, this third seal pictures famine stalking the land (see Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:11). Biblically, the color black—unlike our modern conception of it as the color of evil, as opposed to white—signifies mourning and ill health as a result of scarcity (see Jeremiah 14:2; Lamentations 5:10; Nahum 2:10; all of which, in Hebrew, describe people's expressions, skins, or faces as "black" due to want). This is in keeping with another use of black or darkness in Scripture: as a sign of God's judgment for sin (Zephaniah 1:15; Joel 2:2).

The pair of scales, of course, suggests similar things, adding an economic element, as grains or other foods would often be weighed for sale. Scales could also be used, as is likely intended in the third seal, to ration food during a time of scarcity. In the vision, a denarius represents a laborer's daily wage, and a quart of grain equals a person's daily nutritional requirement. The third horseman, then, portrays a scenario of hunger and suffering, when the powers that be tightly control the meting out of staple foods at highly inflated prices.

Finally, there is the curious phrase, "do not harm the oil and the wine." Commentators have been debating the meaning of this command for centuries. It is clearly spoken by God, sitting among the four living creatures, and just as He sets the famine prices of grain, He also decrees that oil and wine be spared any harm. How are we to understand this?

Olive oil and wine are not luxury items, as many take them to be; in the Mediterranean world, they are important supporting elements of the common diet (see Deuteronomy 7:13; Hosea 2:8; Haggai 1:11; etc.). However, while they provide supplementary nutrition, people cannot subsist on them alone. Thus, they are secondary food items, and in the prophecy, they remain plentiful. This leads to two possible conclusions:

1. God is limiting the severity of famines, as "the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6) and "these are the beginning of sorrows" (verse 8); or more likely,

2. He is indicating a measure of disparity and irregularity in these famines. Some foods will be scarce, while others are abundant. Some people will be sorely affected, while others will hardly suffer. Some areas will be hit hard, while others feel little impact.

This second conclusion suggests human involvement, a wild card in every circumstance, which would fit well with the first two seals. Unlike simple natural disasters, religious deceptions and wars require the decisions and actions of people to bring them about. God hints at a human element in all these disasters, including famine, that occur down through the centuries to remind us of our culpability in them. When man governs without the guidance of God, catastrophe and destruction are not far behind.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Scarcity Amid Plenty

Revelation 6:6

After describing the black horse and its rider, John hears "a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine'" (Revelation 6:6). Among the Four Horseman, this is an unusual departure; nothing else is said to or about them save in this verse. Being so set apart, the words are doubly significant.

Who speaks these words? John simply says "a voice." Literally, the Greek is "like a voice," which can be stated as "what seemed to be a voice." The only clue we have is that it comes from "in the midst of the four living creatures." Revelation 4:6 provides the answer: "And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures. . . ." (see Ezekiel 1:4-28). The language suggests that the creatures were situated around the throne, one creature in the middle of each of the four sides. The voice coming from the midst of these creatures must have come from the one sitting on the throne! God Himself utters these words!

What He says is a common marketplace call of a merchant shouting out the price of his wares. He is setting relative values for both wheat and barley, with wheat being three times as valuable as barley. However, His price is highly inflated! The "quart" here is choinix in Greek, which is roughly equivalent to our quart, the amount of grain that a normal man needs each day to survive. In ancient times, though, a denarius would buy eight to ten quarts of wheat, not one! Obviously, these are disaster prices.

The "denarius" was equal to an ordinary worker's daily wage, as Jesus illustrates in His Parable of the Laborers (Matthew 20:1-16). These prices, then, give a person an unenviable choice. If he is single, he can buy the more expensive, more nutritious wheat, yet have nothing left over, or he can buy the cheaper, less nutritious barley and save the remainder for the next day or so. However, if he is married and has children, he can choose only the barley because he needs more than one quart of grain for his family's subsistence. None of these choices really allows the person either to get ahead or to stay healthy, especially if he has dependents.

God also commands, "Do not harm the oil and the wine," which is a puzzler to scholars. To whom is God speaking—to the horseman or to people in general? It seems to be directed at the horseman, as he is the direct cause of the scarcity. Thus, the staff of life will be in such short supply as to need to be rationed or sold at extortionate prices, but oil and wine will be relatively untouched. Why?

Many commentators consider oil and wine to be luxury items, but this is false. In ancient times, olive oil and wine were staples of the Mediterranean diet along with grain, as Deuteronomy 7:13 and 11:14 indicate (see also II Chronicles 31:5; 32:28; Nehemiah 5:11; Hosea 2:8, 22; Joel 1:10; Haggai 1:11). A person, though, cannot live on oil and wine as he can on grain, yet, as science is just now discovering, they do provide additional and necessary nutrition. These items are available during the third horseman's rampage, but the average man will not have the means to purchase them, since all his money is being spent on flour for bread!

What is God picturing then? The key is to remember that this "famine" is ongoing just as the wars and rumors of wars of the second horseman and the deceptions of the first horseman are. There are occasional lulls of plenty, but the experience of history is that most of the time, the ordinary individual is just getting by. Just as God predicted in Genesis 3:17-19, he labors and toils to eke out a miserable living only to die, worn out and broken in a few, short years. The third horseman's job is to follow his red brother's devastating wars with oppression, corruption, and scarcity so that men stay weak and poor and many die.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Four): The Black Horse


Find more Bible verses about Famine:
Famine {Nave's}
Famine {Torrey's}
 




The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment

The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment

Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 150,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.

Email Address:

   
Leave this field empty

We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.
 A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
©Copyright 1992-2020 Church of the Great God.   Contact C.G.G. if you have questions or comments.
Share this on FacebookEmailPrinter version
Close
E-mail This Page