Whether in connection with climate or siege, famine was clearly one of the worst experiences in the ancient world (1 Kings 8:37). The purchase of food would first consume all a person’s precious metal, then livestock, and finally even the land they relied on the produce food, putting its former owners into virtual servitude (Gen 47:13-22). Jeremiah vividly describes the circumstances in which hunger pangs could no longer be endured in silence but were given
voice in the moans and groans emanating from the starving people who staggered from one location to the next looking for water with the little strength they had left (Jer 14:1-3; Amos 4:7-8). “Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack, of food from the field” (Lam 4:9).
When the Bible emphasizes the experience of famine, it does so in two settings. First, God used the rigor of famine to see if those experiencing it would trust him (Psa 33:18-19; Rom 8:35). In Genesis, three members of the same family line were confronted by famine and a faith decision. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-father, son, and grandson-had been told that the spiritual survival of their world depended on them remaining in the Promised Land; yet each was confronted by a famine that threatened their lives if they stayed (Gen 12:10; 26:1-2; 43:1-3). Should they stay or should they go? While Abraham and Isaac both trusted the hope that water-rich Egypt offered, it was Jacob who demonstrated true faith in the face of famine. Driven from Canaan by famine and drawn to Egypt with the hope of reunion with Joseph, he hesitated at the border of Canaan until the Lord signaled his approval for departure (Gen 46:1-5).