What Is Sowing In Famine?

Sowing in famine is a popularized name given by money preachers to the practice of giving sacrificially when you are in great need. Sowing in famine is a biblical principle.

Unfortunately, prosperity preachers corrupt this principle to raise funds. They have turned it into a heresy–a mixture of truth and error.

Their corrupt version of sowing in famine is popular, but dangerous.

The sowing in famine heresy is a money-making machine for money preachers.

Its popularity comes from your basic Las Vegas fool’s mentality. The gambler’s going to hit it big by doing something desperate.

Its danger comes from the fact that the people trusting in this heresy are those who can least afford to do so. If the trick doesn’t work, they’re in even bigger trouble than before.

Nonetheless, the sowing in famine heresy is a money-making machine for money preachers. Even though it’s almost always a terrible idea for those trying to manipulate a desperate return on their sacrificial giving.

Sowing in Famine Begins With Isaac

There are several biblical examples used by money preachers to convey the principle of sowing in famine. But it all begins with a rather simplistic rendering of a story of Isaac.

To hear the money preachers tell the story, Isaac was in great need, so he sowed a great seed. Simple enough. He tapped into the law of giving and receiving, or sowing and reaping, and was subsequently blessed.

But does the biblical account agree with this pre-school explanation?

The Biblical Version of Isaac Sowing in Famine

The story is in Genesis 26:1-12. It is helpful to separate the story into two parts for proper review.

Part One

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.

Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands;

and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”

So Isaac lived in Gerar.

Genesis 26:1-6

There are several things revealed in this first part of the story that explains the remainder.

  1. First, a famine came upon the land similar to that which happened to Abraham before Isaac was born. Abraham responded by journeying into Egypt, which was not affected by the famine. It was in Egypt that Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister and not his wife, and consequently temporarily lost her to Pharaoh (Genesis 26:1).
  2. Second, the Lord appeared to Isaac and gave him explicit details about what to do about the famine. He was not to go to Egypt, but was to go to the land of Gerar. God also reaffirmed the blessings of Abraham upon him (Genesis 26:2-5).
  3. Third, and most importantly, Isaac obeyed God and stayed in Gerar (Genesis 26:6).

Part Two

We’ll begin by looking at some of the remaining Scriptures before putting it all together:

Now it came about, when he [Isaac] had been there a long time…

Now Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy…

Genesis 26:8, 12-13

To save time, I skipped the Scriptures that talked about Isaac lying to the king about Rebekah not being his wife. The parts of the story that relate to the topic of him sowing in famine is what we’re after. So let’s list them clearly:

  1. First, Isaac was in Gerar for “a long time” (Genesis 26:8).
  2. Second, Isaac sowed in Gerar, “and reaped in the same year a hundredfold” (Genesis 26:12).
  3. Third, the Lord blessed him tremendously until he became very rich (Genesis 26:13).

Explanation of Isaac Sowing in Famine

There is much more involved here than Isaac had a great need, so he sowed a great seed. The truth is we see a man receiving explicit instructions from the Lord, obeying them, and being blessed because of his obedience. Here is what I believe the story conveys:

  1. Isaac finds himself in a crisis of famine.
  2. God appears to Isaac and explicitly tells him not to go to Egypt, but to stay in Gerar.
  3. God further restates the blessings of Abraham upon Isaac.
  4. Isaac responds by obeying God, staying in Gerar, and being blessed.

Isaac Didn’t Desperately Sow in Famine to Get a Miraculous Return

The idea that Isaac’s back was up against the wall and he saw no way out but to give out of his great need is myth.

The truth is the Almighty God had just appeared to him and told him this, “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you…” (Genesis 26:3). He stated other intended blessings also.

Does that sound like some dude pulling his hair out, wondering how he’s going to make it? Some guy desperately trying to hit the spiritual law of giving lottery so he won’t starve?

No, instead of a man giving in desperation, what we see is a man doing the only reasonable thing there was to do once he’d just been told by God face-to-face that he was going to be incredibly blessed if he stayed in Gerar.

He stayed in Gerar and went to work as before, expecting God to keep His word.

What would you have done? What would any of us do? Lie in a hammock all day, waiting for God to do His blessing thing?

No, God wasn’t going to plow Isaac’s land and plant his seed. Nor is He going to write our marketing report or follow up on our sales leads.

If we are going to be blessed, we have to put forth efforts that He can bless. That’s all Isaac did–what any person is expected by God to do.

Isaac Wasn’t Blessed Because He Sowed in Famine

I am aware that I often write or say things that go directly against popular teachings. This is one of those times.

Isaac was not blessed because he sowed in famine. Sowing in famine had little to do with him being blessed.

The foundation of his blessing was not that he tapped into the law of giving and receiving, or sowing and reaping. It was that he obeyed God by staying in Gerar.

So if we absolutely must speak in terms of laws, as prosperity preachers love to do, we should speak of the law of obedience.

This man wasn’t blessed because he sowed in famine. He was blessed because he stayed in Gerar, and incidentally while in Gerar, he sowed in famine.

What’s the alternative? God orders Isaac to stay in Gerar, and promises to bless him if he obeys. But Isaac decides, “No, I think I’m going to move to Austin, Texas. I hear they’ve got some serious music going on over there!”

Do we believe this man could’ve gone to Austin in disobedience, sowed in famine, and receive a hundredfold return? The promise of blessing was stipulated upon him staying in Gerar.

So glad I can obey God on my terms!

Do. Not. Forget this.

Don’t believe money preachers. Your blessings have little to do with you tapping into so-called spiritual laws. Money preachers love the spiritual laws angle because they believe they can manipulate God through their use.

This is much like witches and shamans and voodoo priests believe they can manipulate demons through their dark arts.

Here’s another example.

Remember the prophet Elijah hiding in the woods from Jezebel during a time of drought and famine? The Lord had told him, “And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kings 17:4).


God promised Elijah He would give him water and food, but only in a specific place–there. Elijah would have suffered needlessly and maybe even died had he decided to choose his own place to believe God.

My brother and sister, it makes no difference what your favorite preacher says, your success in life does not depend upon you becoming a master manipulator of spiritual laws.

It has everything to do with you diligently hearing and obeying the voice of God.

Did Isaac Really Sow in Famine?

Isaac may have sowed in famine. But did you know the Bible doesn’t say one way or the other whether he did so? It’s a conjecture, a guess that he sowed in famine. And, hey, why not? This version’s a great money-maker!

Actually, what the Bible does say is there was a famine. Then it says, “And it came about that after he had been there a long time…” (Genesis 26:8).

It then says that after this long time, “Now Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold” (Genesis 26:12).

You know what I’m about to ask. How long is long? Two months? Six months? A year? Was the famine still there? We don’t know because God didn’t tell us. 

So, surprise, surprise.

We don’t know that Isaac even sowed in famine. All we biblically know is there was a famine, but after a long time Isaac sowed.

Here’s a thought: What if Isaac sowed because the famine was over? That messes up that whole money-making scheme!

Should Christians Sow in Famine?

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (Matthew 4:7)
Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

When raising funds, preachers are slow to admit to those in great need the dangers inherent in sacrificial giving. Yet, they are quick to instruct Christians to give despite their present crises.

They have an assortment of self-proclaimed justifications for handing people shovels who are already in deep financial holes:

  • If you love God, you’ll give no matter what.
  • If you don’t give, you’re only making things worse on yourself.
  • If you give, things will get better.

These, generally, are the categories under which their exhortations fall. They also use these for their money tithe system.

Although for that one, they’ll throw in a curse, a bad attitude, discrimination, and possible ex-communication.

Hey, business is business.

Nonetheless, we can’t let the money motives of heartless manipulators cheat us of opportunities to prove our love during a trial of great need.

Plus, there is such a thing as releasing great blessings by giving when we are in great need.

But when it comes to giving out of our need, we need to ignore the pressure of cold-hearted preachers. For they will push us over a financial cliff in the name of righteousness.

Instead, we must follow the guidance of the Scriptures. This will cause us to give in our need according to our love, faith, and wisdom, or as the Holy Spirit leads.

When Christians Should Not Sow In Famine

The poor person who sacrifices greatly to give to God in the hope that hundredfold riches will inevitably result will find that the only one guaranteed to prosper because of his action is the preacher who receives his financial sacrifice.

God is not a system. He can not be manipulated.

Therefore, you must be careful you aren’t led to believe if you give sacrificially, God is obligated to give you a financial miracle. That would qualify as tempting God. God isn’t obligated to meet your deadlines.

Sowing in Famine and Strategic Testimonies

Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

Preachers shrewdly tell us of testimonies of others who gave out of their need and were extraordinarily blessed. Of course, they were blessed before the crisis deadline.

Yet for every one person who can testify that sacrificial giving opened the floodgates of financial blessing, a hundred can testify that unwise sacrificial giving added to their misery.  

This is a fact that many preachers will not publicly discuss. It could hinder their cash flow. And in many ministries cash flow is number one on the agenda.

The show must go on!

Christians Should Not Sow In Famine With Bill Money

It is a shame that preachers are often so greedy and heartless that they’d tell poor Christians to give the church their bill money.

I know there are folks who find money for vacations and boats and large homes and other luxuries, then cry poor-mouth when it comes time to support the work of God.

These people aren’t poor. They have money and choose to spend it on luxuries. I’m talking about those with only a little money coming in relative to their natural obligations.

For instance, $50,000 annually for a single person is quite different than for a single person with three children. But we don’t need to quibble about this. What does the word of God say about paying our debts?

Here are just a couple of Scriptures:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it to you,”
when you have it with you.

Proverbs 3:27-28

When you owe the utility company $200.00, and you take the $100.00 you have and give it to the church, you just donated stolen money.

Do not be surprised when your electricity is turned off. And do not be surprised when that same church refuses to help you get it turned back on!

The proper and wise thing to do is to contact the utility company. Tell them you only have $100.00, and ask can you have more time. Unless they’ve gone on this trip with you before, they’ll probably agree to give you an extension for that $100.00.

We’ll look at one more Scripture in detail, and I’ll give you a list of a couple of more you can look up.

The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives.

Psalm 37:21

God considers it wicked to make a debt and not pay by the time we agreed to pay. So, again, if you owe a debt and you give that money to the church, you gave away your debtor’s money.

Here are some Scriptures on this topic you can look up: Ecclesiastes 5:5, Romans 13:7-8.

When Christians Should Sow In Famine

Should Christians give when they are in need? Yes. What if they are in great need? The answer remains yes. Our obligation and privilege to give is not limited by our circumstance.

What is limited by our circumstance is not whether we give, but what and in what quantity we give. In some cases, this will be money. In others, it will be something more appropriate. Perhaps prayer, kindness, time, service, or a meal.

If it is money, and if we are in financial need ourselves, we must give at our level of love, faith, and wisdom. This means we must give with our eyes wide open.

In other words, we must count the cost of giving when we are in need.

Jesus asked a question of His disciples that was intended to get them to count the cost of discipleship before joining Him. This principle is appropriate also for sowing in famine.

He asked:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?

Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”

Luke 14:28-30

Do you see?

Jesus does not consider it a lack of faith or lack of love to be honest with yourself. We must count the cost of our plan and determine whether we can see it through to the end.

Now how do we apply this to giving while we ourselves are in great need?

How Will Our Sowing In Famine Materially Affect Us?

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

If we are in a freezing blizzard and have no utilities, we need to know the repercussions of donating our front door to the church. Did God tell you His miracle will show up before we freeze to death? Or are we trusting in the word of a fundraiser?

This is where we must be brutally honest with ourselves. No faith confessions. No pretenses. No delusions. Really, what’s going to be the immediate affect upon our material welfare once we sacrificially give?

This question must be asked with the assumption that there is no miracle from heaven to bail us out after we give. Otherwise, we’re not really counting the cost.

Don’t use the example of the widow who gave her last to the prophet Elijah and was subsequently miraculously sustained during the famine (1 Kings 17:7-16). This would be an assumption that you’re going to be miraculously delivered after you sacrifice.

Unless God clearly told you this, your assumption is presumption. It can get you into terrible trouble.

Instead, use another biblical example.

This is an example of people of great faith who were not materially, practically, or physically delivered, although they had great faith.

…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated

(people of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

Hebrews 11:36-39

The promise of which these outstanding men and women of faith did not receive was the physical kingdom of God, which is yet to come.

What I want you to see in their examples is how their great faith did not deliver them from these absolutely horrible trials. Instead, they had to use their faith to sustain them in the trials.

This other side of faith is not taught within the Charismatic church.

What’s going to happen if you sacrificially give and no miracle happens? Is it going to leave you in a worse place than you are now? Is that something you can gracefully handle?

So we, generally, are only prepared to believe God for miracles of deliverance. If the miracle doesn’t happen, we are shaken to the core and may even grow bitter toward God.

Now let’s get personal and see how prepared you are to sow in famine.

What’s going to happen if you sacrificially give and no miracle happens? Is it going to leave you in a worse place than you are now? Is that something you can gracefully handle?

Is this kind of questioning troubling to you? Do you see it as doubt, fear, or unbelief to talk like this? If so, I believe you are ill-prepared to sow in famine.

This is because it appears you are giving in a make-believe world where God meets every time-table and rescues us from every hardship if we only pull the right spiritual lever.

A Wise Way To Sow In Famine

Photo by Magne on Unsplash

First, briefly I state without apology that there is such a thing as giving sacrificially when we are in great need and receiving a miraculous return.

We saw this with the widow and Elijah. She gave her last, and God multiplied it for the duration of the famine.

But I want to close out this teaching from the perspective that unlike the widow, God has not clearly and unmistakably told you to do this. Your proposed sowing in famine is totally your idea.

And someone’s prophecy that you should do this does not qualify as God speaking directly to you.

For a prophecy is not God speaking directly to you. It is “maybe” God speaking indirectly to you through an imperfect human being.

Too much is at stake here for you to jump in a deep, dark hole based upon the word of a human fortune cookie.

Sow In Famine Because You Love and Believe God

The best reason I know of to sow in famine is because you love and believe God. This has absolutely nothing to do with whether you receive a return on your giving in this life.

Of course, we know the nature of our gracious God. He’s always looking for opportunities to bless us. So, it is no surprise if He responds to our sacrificial giving with immediate or near returns that are obviously linked to our giving.

But the point is we didn’t give to try to force an immediate return.

The scenario I’m thinking of is one in which you’re in great need of a financial miracle. All kinds of crazy, tormenting thoughts are bombarding you.

They’re telling you you’re going down. God’s not going to come through for you. What are you going to do now?

Besides practical steps of wisdom, you can look the impending doom in the face and say what the three Hebrew teens said when they faced being thrown alive into King Nebuchadnezzar’s burning furnace for not bowing to his image:

Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

These three teens were in extreme famine–or need. They could have compromised to escape the trial. Instead, they sowed in famine. They gave all they could give as an offering to the Lord. Their very life.

Sow In Famine Prepared To Lose All

In this last section, I find myself in a difficult place.

How do I simultaneously encourage you to be willing to lose all without compromising your fighting spirit. I’m speaking of that quality of spirit that defies mountains and believes God for great miracles.

Let’s give it a go.

The three teens had the kind of attitude you need when sowing in famine. You sow knowing that your great God sees and appreciates what you are doing. He may respond to your sacrifice with an incredible answer to prayer. You may even anticipate this response as probable. There’s nothing wrong with this.

But you also know God is not a system. He can’t be manipulated or bossed. He is sovereign. He does what He desires and sometimes what we desire.

This is what the Hebrew teens so wisely demonstrated when they said, “But even if He does not [deliver us]…”

Don’t let the fact of their deliverance cloud your ability to see they sowed their lives with no guarantee of the return of deliverance.

They sowed fully prepared to lose all.

Although this may be looked upon by Charismatics as lack of faith or being double-minded, God obviously considered it great faith!

Are you facing a great mountain? Are you in famine? What should you do?

Do as the Hebrew teens did. Stay true to God. Refuse to bow the knee to this trial. Speak words of defiant faith over this situation. Look for God’s miraculous hand to move.


Declare to your great God that no matter what happens, you will always love and obey Him. Declare to heaven and hell that you will never question God’s love or wisdom.

Declare out loud that you will never accuse Him or grow bitter should your prayer not be answered. My brother and sister, listen to me…please.

This is not lack of faith. It’s great faith. It’s mature faith that can handle everything life throws at us.

And what about sowing in famine? What should you give?

If you are not giving at the prompting of some preacher, if you are not giving believing that God must act because of your gift, I believe you may give all you can afford to lose in this life.

God will respond by either allowing you to honor him in the burning, fiery furnace. Or He will respond by delivering you from the burning, fiery furnace.

You must give being prepared for either.

Similar Articles

  1. Was Jesus Rich?
  2. The Greedy Version of “Who We Are In Christ”
  3. The “Give And It Shall Be Given Unto You” Heresy
  4. What Is the Hundredfold Return Heresy?
  5. Is the Wealth of the Wicked Laid Up for the Righteous?

Eric has written a bunch of books. You may check them out here.

Eric M Hill

Eric M Hill is an author, blogger, YouTuber, and Bible teacher. He has written sixteen books. He is a member of the Authors Guild and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Recent Posts