The words “bread,” “fight,” and “war” have the same root in Hebrew. The vowel sounds change and one has a prefix and suffix, but you can hear the same three consonants in each of these words:
Even if you don’t know any Hebrew, you have said one of these words before, because Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Bet lechem.
Some say these words are related because wars are fought over bread.
That is true today. Russia and Ukraine are top producers of the world’s wheat, and today’s war is swelling hunger in countries far beyond them. This in a world where hunger was already increasing. The number of people facing acute food insecurity had already doubled since 2019, says the UN’s World Food Program.
The situation is particularly severe in Ethiopia, South Sudan, southern Madagascar, and Yemen. In Afghanistan, 98 percent of the population does not have enough to eat, and one million children under the age of 5 could die from malnutrition by the end of the year. In Nigeria, where there are violent clashes between Muslim Fulani herders and Christian farmers, part of the cause is climate change and a scarcity of pastoral land.
In so many places, war and food are interconnected. Throughout the world and throughout time, people have struggled over who controls land and who controls resources.
Sometimes the struggle is literally for food to survive; sometimes the motivation is not hunger for bread itself, but ravenousness for wealth and power. When the rich and powerful want more, it’s the poor and weak who suffer.
The Bible tells of a time when the people of Israel did not have to struggle for bread. When they escaped from slavery in Egypt and found themselves without food, God provided just enough for one day at a time.
“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna . . . in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). It is the Hebrew scriptures that Jesus quotes when he says, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone'” (Luke 4:4).
In a world that struggles violently for things that ultimately do not satisfy, Jesus tells us what to pray for: daily bread, the forgiveness of sins, the kingdom of God.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.