Lack for Supply: Famine in Scripture’s Storyline

In Scripture’s storyline, God uses famine to direct his people and advance His redemptive plans. Abraham went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan (Gen 12:10-20) and Isaac was forced to go to the land of the Philistines because of a famine in Canaan (Gen 26:1-11). In Deut 28:48, Moses warned the people that if they were unfaithful to God in the Promised Land, God would bring famine upon the land. Ruth, the Moabite who would become the grandmother of King David, came into the line of Abraham’s descendants because Elimelech’s family came to Edom for food when there was a famine in Canaan (Ruth 1:1; 4:17). God used famine in the Promised Land during the ministries of Elijah (1 Kings 18:2) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:38) to display His power of provision through them, beckoning Israel to return and be faithful.

Early in the ministry of the apostle Paul—while he was ministering in Antioch—a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem “and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world” (Acts 11:28).  These (predominantly Gentile) believers took up a collection for the saints in Judea, “sending it to the elders (in Jerusalem) by the means of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:30; see Acts 12:25; Gal 2:10). In Paul’s second and third missionary journeys, he employed the Gentiles in famine relief—especially for the Jewish Christians of Judea—as a means of bridging the gap between the two nations. Scripture’s storyline—in accord with the Abrahamic covenant in Gen 12:1-3—finds its fulfillment in all nations together worshipping Israel’s God through Jesus Christ. Paul’s travel plans and administration of famine relief are a fitting conclusion to the book of Romans, his most thorough reflection on the storyline of Scripture:

“I am traveling to Jerusalem to serve the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to Jews in material needs…

     Now I implore you, brothers, through the Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to agonize together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf: that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Rom 15:25-27, 30-31; see 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9).

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