“And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (Rev. 6:5-6).
As rapidly as the third horseman appeared on the heels of the second, famine follows rapidly on the heels of war. Starvation and scarcity are the natural and immediate results of crop damage, defoliation, contaminated water supplies, destroyed livestock, and the unusually high food demands for the sustenance of a standing army, all caused by war.
In Matthew 24, Christ spoke of this general condition of famine in the context of war. He again used the plural, famines, referring to many re-occurring instances of famine over the centuries, increasing at a time just prior to His return.
The well-trod path of 1) false religion, leading to 2) war, leading to 3) famine is an oft-repeated chapter of man’s sordid past. An example of this formula was the India-Pakistan war of December, 1971. Conflicting religions led to conflicting political and social demands, which led to war, after which famine and disease ran rampant (aggravated by horrible natural disasters: in this case a typhoon which killed 500,000). Just previously, another chapter of similar grief was written in Biafra, where famine killed perhaps millions as the direct result of war.
This principle of war-caused famine is described in grisly detail in two parallel chapters of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26.The nation Israel was here warned that if they did not obey God (that is, if they practiced false religion and neglected God’s Commandments) they would be overtaken by national curses leading to war. Read it in Lev. 26 of The New English Bible.
“If after all this (internal domestic curses) you have not learned discipline but sill defy me, I in turn will defy you and scourge you seven times over for your sins, I will bring war in vengeance upon you - you shall be herded into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be given over to the enemy. I will cut short your daily bread until the women can bake your bread in a single oven; they shall dole it out by weight, and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied.
“If in spite of all this you do not listen to me and still defy me, I will defy you in anger, and I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. Instead of meat you shall eat your sons and daughters” (Lev. 26:23-38, New English Bible).
This prophesied pattern of national decline and despicable deprivation has been followed many times in history, and it will be followed again! Less than 40 years after Christ uttered this prophecy of famines, a Roman war siege on Jerusalem caused such severe famine that even cannibalism reared its ugly head in the so-called “holy city” (read Josephus, Wars of the Jews, for the grisly details of this siege).
Throughout the Middle Ages, such war-caused food shortages forced whole cities periodically into starvation, often followed by the Bubonic Plague or other diseases. At the very close of the Middle Ages, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was especially ferocious in this regard. Whole cities were sacked and destroyed, starvation was widespread, and there was even cannibalism in many instances.
Though such war-caused famines still strike the earth periodically a new kind of famine threatens the 21st Century. Despite the occasional war-caused famines, the bulk of humanity faces a different kind of famine, which is built into their life and society from birth. It is fueled by the twin problems of the population explosion and dwindling food supplies in poor lands.
The very day you read this – and repeated each day-- 361,481 or 251 every minute, 15,062 every hour new babies cry their way onto planet earth. The tragic fact is that 300,000 of those infants are destined to live out their brief life in one of the dirt-poor “have-not” nations. During the same 24-hour period, 250,000 to 300,000 human beings will die. The tragic footnote to this statistic is that over half of these deaths are children under five. More than 10,000 of today’s deaths are due to starvation (not just enough food), while the majority (about 100,000) are due in some form to malnutrition (wrong kinds of food).
The net increase every day, then, is 200,000 human beings, a city the size of Basel, Switzerland or Haifa, Israel. For American readers (especially Texans), we can picture world population dynamics by saying that an El Paso is born each day, an Amarillo dies, and the net increase is a Corpus Christi.
The tragic fact, as you can see, by the above example, is that people are not dying fast enough! The net increase among the 2.6 billon poor people of the world is 2.6% annually, or 67.6 million new people yearly, while the 1.1 billion richer peoples increase by only 1.1%, or 12.1 million new people each year.
This leaves nearly 80 million new mouths to feed each year, mostly in the poor nations. While world food production maintains a pace of increase roughly equal to population, the unequal distribution of food increase is the primary problem facing our hungry planet.
While grain crops grew ten percent last year in the seven major rich exporting nations, grain crops declined or remained level in impoverished Asia, while gaining only slightly in the poor nations of the Southern Hemisphere (Latin American and Africa). Food is not being harvested where it is needed, and the excess food of rich nations cannot be bought by the poor nations.
This is the dilemma of food distribution. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. And ironically, the rich few within the poor nations increase their ownership of the rich parts of their land, while the poor masses have their already poor lot diminished.
Jesus Christ predicted this condition when He said, “And there shall be famines.” But he meant more!
The third horseman of the Apocalypse doesn’t primarily refer to the cyclical famines of the past, or the “structural famines” of the present, but to a specific Great Famines in the future. Following great religious confusion and world war, the current “have” nations of today, the rich few who wallow in the lion’s share of the earth’s wealth will have their turn to suffer want and deprivation.
After one third of America and the British Commonwealth are liquidated in the initial outbreak of war, Ezekiel 5:12 shows that another one third will die with the combined ravages of the third and fourth horsemen, famine and pestilence. These prophecies are yet ahead of us. The black horseman’s future ride will reduce the proud faces of white America, Europe, and the British Commonwealth into the blackened skin of starvation such as now afflicts the vast majority of mankind. The rich few are soon to inherit the lot of the poor majority.
Eventually this Great Famine will spread to all peoples and nations of earth until mankind turns to God in total surrender. These dire plagues are allowed by a loving God to teach man obedience. Peoples and nations will have brought this pain upon themselves, by man-devised religion and man-devised war. God is only allowing man to reap what he sows, so that mankind will learn the bitter lesson that sin brings pain! After man learns this lesson, God will shower down a world of plenty once again, in the wonderful New World to come. But first, the fourth horseman must ride.