Monday, February 20, 2023
“And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread” (Genesis 41:53,54 KJV).
What is a “dearth?”
Upon encountering an archaic or unfamiliar term in our King James Bible, we have three options to overcoming the obstacle. Firstly, we can throw up our hands, shedding tears and shouting, “Poor translation!,” and proceed in our arrogance to correct the text because we presume we know more about the English language than our English Bible does. This is quite tempting, for it is extremely easy to do (and, thus, done repeatedly). Secondly, we can use a dictionary to learn a new vocabulary word and its meaning. This is a little more difficult, for it requires effort to flip pages. Lastly, we can scan the surrounding Bible words or verses for “context clues.” This is the most challenging, as the Scriptures become the final authority (and our flesh will not submit without a bitter protest!).
“Dearth” is definitely not in our everyday speech, but its strangeness should not discourage us. Seven years of “dearth” are contrasted with seven years of “plenteousness” (today’s Scripture). You do know what “plenty” means, yes? “Dearth” is just the opposite. Whereas there was abundant food (“bread” being generic), there is now a scarcity of food—a famine. “Dear” is an obsolete English word meaning “difficult to obtain,” and the “–th” suffix added to the end suggests “a quality or condition.” We have therefore broadened our understanding: “dearth” (rhymes with “birth”) indicates “the state of food shortage.”
If you back up even further in Genesis chapter 41, you will see seven years of “great plenty” are to be followed by seven years of “famine” (verses 29-31). Having confirmed our deduction as being sound, we now have a key to interpreting related verses—2 Kings 4:38, 2 Chronicles 6:28, Nehemiah 5:3, Jeremiah 14:1, Acts 7:11 (Stephen quoting Genesis above), and Acts 11:28. Indeed, what a rewarding course we have taken by using the Bible’s built-in dictionary we have been given.