But how does it come that such saintly people did not obtain from God the food that was necessary for themselves and for others? For not only Abraham and Isaac but also other very eminent patriarchs and prophets—Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, Elisha, and eventually even Paul and other godly men—had to endure the general disaster of famine together with others. My answer is that God sends famine, wars, pestilence, and similar disasters in the first place to try and to test the godly, in order that they may learn to maintain with assurance that they will be nourished even in a time of famine, even though they are forced to experience various difficulties and, in addition, to look for unknown and uncertain dwelling places. In the second place, He does so in order to offend and punish the ungodly. For when the Word has been abundantly revealed, people become ungrateful, yes, persecute and hate the Word. The others, who seem to accept it, become disgusted with and sick of this very unimportant food; they despise and harass its ministers. With this contempt and hatred they provoke the wrath of God, so that He says: “If you do not want to be satisfied with spiritual food and life, I will take away from you even this physical life and will kill you with famine.” Consequently, through neglect of the incalculable treasure they lose the advantages even of the present life. And just as the godly are preserved, so the godless are overwhelmed by misfortunes and despair; and, since they are without the Word, they are slain.
But then Satan, who is delighted by this offense, seizes upon this as a reason for slandering and disparaging the Word of God and turns it to his own advantage in order to alienate the hearts of men from the Word. For what else shall we suppose the Canaanites thought? Before Abraham’s arrival, they enjoyed rich blessings of every kind, and now they were being compelled to endure hunger with him. What else shall we suppose they thought than that this Chaldean was the cause of all the evils and disasters? The second reason is this, that the devil and the godless may have an opportunity to blaspheme the Gospel, so that they become progressively worse just as today we are compelled everywhere to hear and bear similar complaints that in former times there were most abundant yields of everything and amazing good fortune, but that now grain is costlier and everything is in a far worse condition.7 Yet to me at least this does not seem to result from a scarcity of products but rather from the greed and wickedness of the people who arbitrarily increase the prices of things. Nevertheless, it is not a light misfortune with which the poor and the ministers of the Word are being hard pressed. The others, who have an abundance of wealth, have less trouble. Consequently, many long for the former state of affairs with its previous prosperity, and they add the blasphemy that nothing good has come from this doctrine of the Gospel and that, in addition, both the inclinations of the people and their morals are far more corrupt than in times past.
Thus the doctrine of the Gospel is blamed for every evil. When the Goths were laying Italy waste at the time of Augustine, in Rome the entire blame was put on the apostles Peter and Paul.8 For wicked people remove from their eyes the sins of the world, and the Word of God, which is completely pure and holy, unjustly bears the blame for all crimes; for it does not teach usurious practices, greed, luxury, and the other misdeeds and frauds of the world, but it cries out and fights against all these sins. Why, then, is the Gospel burdened with such atrocious slanders? Because the wickedness of Satan, in which he delights, consists in blaspheming the Gospel and heaping up abuses against it from all sides.
Luther’s works, vol. 5: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 26-30 p 9-11