It was a harsh indisputable fact. There was a famine in the land. Ironic it was, too, for the referenced
area is clearly stated to be Bethlehem-judah, ‘the house of bread,’ where the residents were known as
Ephrathites, i.e. those from Ephratah. This was another name for Bethlehem which means ‘fruitfulness.’ The
harsh irony of life is that want and barrenness, like an insidious mould knows no bounds, often finding it’s way
even into the house of bread.
When faced with a daunting and bleak future, even true worshipers don’t always make the best of
choices. Nor are the events forcing the choosing necessarily of their own making. Henry W. Longfellow said:
Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall.
The Targum (an ancient Aramaic paraphrase or interpretation of the Hebrew Bible) says: “God has
decreed ten grievous famines to take place in the world, to punish the inhabitants of the earth, before the coming
of Messiah the king. The first in the days of Adam; the second in the days of Lamech; the third in the days of
Abraham; the fourth in the days of Isaac; the fifth in the days of Jacob; the sixth in the days of Boaz, who is
called Abstan, (Ibzan) the just, of Beth-lehem-judah; the seventh in the days of David, king of Israel; the eighth
in the days of Elijah the prophet; the ninth in the days of Elisha, in Samaria; the tenth is yet to come, and it is
not a famine of bread or of water but of hearing the word of prophecy from the mouth of the Lord; and even
now this famine is grievous in the land of Israel.”
Ten famines, three, or five. It matters little, for the famine that restricts your table is the one of greatest
meaning to you. In the story of Ruth, Naomi’s husband Elimelech decided to sojourn–to visit temporarily–in
Moab. He was merely going where there was plenty; not to dwell there, but to sojourn for a short time, until the
famine was over. He just wanted to provide for his own. Alas, however, when one decides to move away from
the house of bread–even if only to sojourn–the stay will be longer than ever anticipated. Not to be forgotten is
the stunning truth that Elimelech and Naomi were fleeing from a famine in the land of Canaan…the land
flowing with milk and honey.
In this Christmas season of gifting, we are made to wonder where will the provision come from…for
food first, then an exchange of gifts. Amidst the tinsel, trinkets, and toys, we must not lose sight of the fact our
God is unwavering in His care of us. His watchful eye never closes in sleep or slumber. In time of plenty or in
times of famine God knows the content of your table, and your purse. This is the God that feeds the ravens. By
the way, this is the God that sent the ravens to feed Elijah, who eventually was used to declare an end to a 3½
year long drought causing famine.
Jesus himself addressed this matter with his disciples. “And he said unto his disciples, ‘Therefore I say
unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. Life is
more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which
neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.’”
If all would have done as Elimelech Canaan would have been bereft of its people. So it is in the
kingdom of God. A good question to ask oneself is, “If everyone in this church were just like me, what kind of
church would this church be?”
In all of our gifting, we should remember the FOOD HAMPER, and CHRISTMAS FOR CHRIST…two
functions of the church at Christmas-time. Feeding the hungry and spreading the gospel are famine ministries!