Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Isaac, Rebekah, and Famine

Famine and Drought

Gen 26:1 “And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, unto Gerar.”

Famines were serious business in Biblical times, indeed up until recent times they could devastate an entire population. Developed countries have rarely seen starvation deaths, in the US we no longer tally them. With the ability to can and freeze foods for long term storage, and for one country to supplement the shortages of another, famines have been nearly eliminated in these countries. Sadly, we have not been able to carry that to the underdeveloped countries, perhaps when we give up on the monies we foolishly spend on war, politics, and feel-good causes, we can begin caring for God’s people and eliminate starvation worldwide.

In Biblical times things were much different, everything was co-dependent and long-term storage was practically non-existent in all but the largest countries (in fact, countries did not exist as anything more than an alignment of tribes for mutual protection). Egypt, Babylon, and Mesopotamia were among the few real countries in the area, and they were barely able to store food for bad times. Isaac, Rebekah, their family and servants were all there was to pre-Israel. They had no grain storage beyond the urns used to keep the current year’s crops and whatever remnant was left from the prior year (kept for seeding the next crop). When hard times hit Abram he took his people and moved to Egypt to wait out the famine. Now, however, God has told Isaac not to go to Egypt but seek help from the Philistines, with the promise of land if he obeyed. Thus they settled in the area of Gerar in the Gaza plains, an area about 10 miles from the Mediterranean.

Imagine what a famine meant to Isaac and his people. Crops dried up, so there was little available for bread, food, or livestock. Grains could be stored for years if you had the facilities; fruits could be dried and kept for a while, but again had to be stored somewhere. Livestock, the primary source of protein, was a different story. Sure, you could dry meat but that meant killing the animal, which could not be quickly or easily replaced. If you kept the animal for breeding or future food they had to be fed and watered, and they could consume a lot of your water and grain.

Dry periods in the Middle East could last a long time (Elijah’s went three years), a small tribe like Isaac’s could not last that long. Even with stringent rationing, a year, half a year, even three months, was a long time for such a small group. And, there is something else to consider – war. If Isaac was hit by this famine then so were the other people around him. One of the major causes of war is resources, if your resources are running low and your neighbor seems to be better off then you have two options: seek their assistance, or go to war with them, hoping to add their resources to your own. If your the one with better resources during a famine then you have to be on the lookout for invading armies. Fact of life, even today.


 

Postscript.

In Revelation John tells us that there will be a worldwide famine. Crops and rivers will dry up, livestock will perish, and a third of humanity will die. There will be no place for the nations to turn for help for we will all be victims of this famine. All of our stores will be consumed before it is over, and there will not be enough left to feed everyone, much less store up again for the future. This is why John gives us Jesus’ words: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever”, and again, “whoever drinks of the water I give him will never thirst; but the water that I give will be in him a well, springing up into everlasting life.” What we have on this earth is fleeting, and can be taken away without even a moment’s notice, it is towards eternal life that we must direct our attention.

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