Famine is a recurring theme in the Bible. Abram and his family went to Egypt because there was a severe famine in Bethel (Gen 12:10); Isaac also went to the Philistines because of a famine (Gen 26:1). Joseph became Pharaoh’s viceroy because he predicted and advised on how to manage seven years of great famine in Egypt, which soon came (Gen 41:27–36). Israel’s sons went to Egypt because the same famine spread to Canaan (Gen 42:5). Ruth’s father-in-law and Naomi went to Moab because there was a great famine in Bethlehem in Judah (Ruth 1:1). During David’s reign, famine persisted for three successive years (2 Sam 21:1). Famine occurred in Elijah’s (1 Kgs 18:2) and Elisha’s lifetimes (2 Kgs 4:38).
In the New Testament, Agabus prophesied a severe famine over the entire Roman world (Acts 11:28). Paul was involved in rescuing those affected by this famine (Gal 2:10) and instructed churches in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia (Rom 15:26) to do the same (1 Cor 16:1–4).
Even before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP), told the UN Security Council that “2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II” because of the wars in Syria and Yemen, locust plagues in Africa, and natural disasters and economic crises in Lebanon, the Congo, Sudan, and Ethiopia.1 The same WFP announced that, due to the pandemic, the number of people who would face severe famine would balloon to 265 million from the current 135 million.2
The prime minister of Singapore has promised the country there is plenty of food supply and no need to panic buy or hoard food. But, just in case, if famine does plague Singapore or its neighbouring countries, or when it strikes anywhere else that needs our help, what are believers’ responsibilities?
Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 16:1–4 give us three principles. First, preplan and collect funds “on the first day of every week” (v. 2a). Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to wait until he arrived for them to start gathering the funds (v. 2c). They needed to preplan and gather funds. The same is true of us now—let’s start a ‘famine plan’ immediately!
Second, each person is obligated to give from what they have treasured or stored up (v. 2b). Paul used the verb thesaurizo, saving up treasure! Gordon Fee cautions us against thinking this is “income” which “is probably a bit too modern, especially for a culture where a number of the community were slaves and had no ‘income.’”3 What we consider treasure or what we’ve stored up for a rainy day—God wants that for the poor and needy.
Third, entrust the money to trustworthy people and organizations: “[Send the gift with] the men you approve” (v. 3). Often, there is news of Christian organizations that are plagued with corruption, embezzlement of funds, and large overhead costs. Avoid such organizations; instead, use every penny to feed the poor. Employ volunteers.
God cares for the poor (Prov 17:5; 22:2, 22–23) and wants us to care for them. He has shown us, Christians, what is good and what he requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy [i.e., give to the needy] and to walk humbly” with our God (Mic 6:8).
What contingency plan for famine do you, your church, or your organization have?
3Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1st ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 814.