The first horseman (on the white horse) represents religious deception, while the second horseman (on the red horse) represents war (Revelation 6:1-4). John continues with the vision: “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” (verses 5-6).
This haunting scenario may sound familiar. Christ gave a very similar answer to His disciples about 60 years earlier when asked when the end of the world would come. “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7).
These accounts are not the vivid nightmares of an elderly apostle or the overactive imagination of the other three Gospel writers. Rather, these symbols comprise both a bloodcurdling history and dire prophecy soon to unfold in our lifetime!
These brief accounts depict the four horsemen following each other in rapid succession. False religion forced itself on mankind through the terrifying instrument of war. It is difficult to conceive that this whole world is deceived (Revelation 12:9). Even more incredulous is that the largest organized religious “cult” on Earth today waged the bloodiest battles ever, in the name of God. It’s recorded in history for all who are willing to examine the evidence.
Without looking to the living Head of God’s Church, Jesus Christ, these revelations could never be opened to our understanding. We must continue to humbly look to Him for the meanings of these most frightening, yet necessary, end-time warnings.
The third horseman, riding a black horse, symbolizes famine. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Christ was speaking of general famines, set against the backdrop of war. The plural use of the word famine refers to the repetitive occurrences of famine down through time, rapidly accelerating immediately before His return.
Remember how quickly the first horseman, representing religious deception, was pursued by the second horseman of war? In the same fashion, the third horseman, depicting famine, follows directly behind war. Though war is a primary factor, it is not the sole cause of famine, as we shall see.
Famines of the Past
Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 list the abundant blessings ancient Israel would have received for obeying God. A primary example is the keeping of all God’s commandments, including the test commandment—the Sabbath. Conversely, these chapters also portray a gut-wrenching scene of what would happen to the Israelites if they did not comply. The ultimate curse would be that they would cannibalize their own children!
Other passages warn of punishment coming in a variety of other ways, any of which could easily produce famine. Extreme weather upsets (Deuteronomy 28:24; Amos 4:7), crop blight (Amos 4:9), destructive insects/animals (Deuteronomy 28:39, 42), sterile soil (verse 23), all resulting in ruined harvests (verse 17; Ezekiel 5:16). Portions of Revelation 8 and 16 show the same penalties for modern nations as well as for ancient Israel. Contrary to popular belief, our God changes not (Malachi 3:6).
The Bible records numerous famines from the time of Abraham (Genesis 12:10). In fact, 13 famines have been recorded in the pages of the Bible. We may be familiar with Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph, who helped bail out the Egyptians during their seven-year famine (Genesis 41:56). God purposed that famines be used to correct corrupt leaders or problems (2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Chronicles 32). Examples of war-induced famines are recorded for us (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 52; Isaiah 14:30; 51:13; Jeremiah 16:4; 44:27). The famous Jewish historian Josephus recorded a Roman siege on Jerusalem that produced a famine so great that the masses resorted to cannibalism in the so-called city of peace (Wars of the Jews).
The Middle Ages, the first several hundred years after the first millennium a.d., are also known as the Dark Ages. Entire cities experienced starvation followed by killer diseases. Thousands of dead bodies could not be disposed of quickly enough. Rats spread bubonic plague throughout all of Europe. War, one example being the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), was again the main culprit. Whole cities were leveled with starvation so severe that some even resorted to cannibalism! You may read the many historical accounts for yourself.
Famines of the Future
But let’s jump ahead to modern times. Again, not every famine has been or is caused by war. Today we see cyclical famines caused by unusual weather conditions, plagues, and insect or animal infestation. Third World countries have more and more mouths to feed with less and less food. This is a structural-type famine that most of mankind is now facing with few or absolutely no solutions in sight!
No longer making headlines are such areas as India and several African countries (such as Nigeria, which had a civil war during the 1970s). We have all seen pictures of the bloated bellies of African babies and young skeletal children.
It logically follows that starvation, or at the very least, scarcity of food, would result from prolonged warfare. Generally, it is the populace that suffers worst. Often, the damage done to an ecosystem can take years and even decades to recover from. Hard to believe as it may seem, vast desert areas, such as the Sahara, used to be either lush jungle or forest land. Bear in mind that this man-made disaster was exacted on the region without the assistance of radiation contamination.
The summer of 1994 shocked us daily with equally stark images on our television screens from the aftermath of tribal genocide in Rwanda. The civil war ravaged northwestern Rwanda, widely considered the breadbasket of the country. People numbering into the millions were driven from their homes and forced into the impoverished lifestyle of refugees. The country has struggled with food shortages and starvation ever since, relying on hundreds of thousands of tons of food assistance for its orphans, prisoners and other vulnerable groups.
Do we somehow feel that this could never happen to the greatly blessed American and British peoples? Contrary to such false assumptions, this terrible time will occur (Jeremiah 14:12-18). Multiple millions will be in for a rude awakening, despite ample warning, which came first from God’s end-time servant Herbert Armstrong, and now through the Philadelphia Church of God.
As we have seen, this tragic tale of war-induced famine has repeated itself countless times down through the centuries of man’s miserable and generally substandard existence. History tends to repeat itself because we usually fail to learn from it. Over time, the problems tend to grow on a larger and grander scale—which should drive the point home.
Many other factors point to increasing food shortages. Global agricultural commodity markets are on a roller-coaster ride, with supplies dropping and prices rising. The price of corn has shot through the roof due to a combination of bad weather and increasing demand for the crop from the growing ethanol industry. In the global grain-growing industry, land devoted to cultivating wheat and barley has been declining for a full generation. Demand is rapidly overtaking supply in our grain markets.
One great problem this globe now faces is that most of its arable land is already under production, and much of that land is seriously degraded due to the intensive, chemically-based farming practices fashionable since World War ii. Figure in the increasing occurrences of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, drought and other unnatural disasters and it is clear that the world’s systems of agriculture stand on the brink of disaster.
With food as our largest export product, the United States stands to lose the most in any trade war if any “natural” or unnatural disasters should cause us to have a bad year. National reserves for our own needs, in case of just such an emergency, are very small and would barely last long enough to get us through to the next growing season. Who would help us, the greatest humanitarian nation ever, should we have a crisis?
We have not even factored in the effects of nuclear war, should our economic sparring with any of our trading partners come to blows. Our land could be so contaminated by radiation that nothing would grow for quite some time. And even if it did, would it be safe to eat? Leviticus 26:34 implies that there will not be anyone in the U.S. evenTRYINGto farm.
In the preface of his book A World Beyond Healing, Nicholas Wade wrote, “Burning cities create soot, and soot absorbs light. If enough smoke from incinerated cities were to reach high enough in the atmosphere, it might linger for months, shrouding the Earth in a black pall. The likely extent of such a veil is still a matter of keen scientific debate, but an evident possibility is that sunlight would be blotted out, land and crops throughout the Northern Hemisphere chilled, and whole harvests destroyed” (emphasis added).
Back in the summer of 1816, northern New England and Canada experienced both snow and frost. In both North America and Europe, many crops did not ripen. As a result, famine, disease and social upheaval ensued.
Climatologists were fairly certain that this “year without a summer” was the result of a cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia. For nearly 400 miles around, it was pitch dark for two days. An estimated 200 million metric tons of fine dust and sulfuric acid were emitted, some as high as the stratosphere. This was just a minor foretaste of disruptions in agriculture that nuclear warfare would surely produce.
Gene Williams, in Nuclear War, Nuclear Winter, wrote that only between 1/10 of a percent and 5 percent of sunlight would reach the ground. With nighttime temperatures during the day, crops would not grow and livestock would soon die. In the best of conditions, an average large city stocks only enough food and supplies to last the populace a week or less. America exports about half the world’s total tonnage of grain. The total world grain storage would only last a matter of weeks. The U.S. could possibly survive for a year, but that is of little comfort when you consider the bind this country would find itself in. We would need the reduced agricultural production at home, yet we would also have to sell grain abroad to earn precious income. Laurence Pringle, in Nuclear War, From Hiroshima to Nuclear Winter, points out that icbm silos, our enemies’ first targets, are located in the heart of our grain and livestock-producing regions!
Even without such an occurrence as nuclear war, food is not usually being grown anywhere in the world where it is most needed. Proper food distribution is difficult enough without an emergency. People in areas of even the U.S., not to mention some poor Third World countries, would have a tough time getting their hands on much-needed food in an emergency. The northeastern U.S., for example, derives 80 percent of its food from outside sources! To further complicate matters, the extra produce of the wealthier nations could not even be purchased by the poorer ones. Though worldwide food production almost keeps pace with population, the chief concern for the starving masses of the Earth is the grossly unequal distribution of food due to out-of-reach prices. The rich get fatter and the poor get thinner.
The Most Helpless Victims
Let’s put a human face on the hard, cold facts of starvation: It ultimately affects young people more than anyone else (Jeremiah 18:21). According to Habitat for Humanity, 20 million people worldwide die annually from malnutrition and related causes—and 13 million of those are children! World population continues to mushroom. The number of births continues to surpass deaths. To break this down even further, that is over 35,000 children, not adults, who die from malnutrition every day!
Of the 70 million children in the United States under age 18, almost 17 percent live in poverty—a higher poverty rate than for any other age group (Current Population Survey, 2004 Annual Social and Economic Supplement). Worldwide, unicef estimates that close to 50 million children in rich countries live in poverty, and the number is rising (2005).
Tragically, more deaths, about 10 times as many, can be attributed to some form of malnutrition (the wrong foods) as opposed to starvation (lack of food).
Jesus Christ accurately foretold these doomsday-style statistics when He first delivered the Olivet prophecy. But He had something much worse in mind when He said, “And there shall be famines.”
The ‘Mother of All Famines’
As with the two previous horsemen, this third horseman of famine will have a specific fulfillment. It is ready to gallop into our immediate future with an impact far beyond the historic and present-day occurrences of localized famines.
Immediately following, and as a direct result of worldwide religious deception and World War iii, the first and second horsemen respectively, a great famine, like none before it or ever again, will strike this Earth with frightening force and fury. This time, instead of only affecting war-torn regions or the Third World, it will affect the First World nations—the blessed birthright peoples of the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Not a respecter of persons, this calamity will reduce the wealthy nations to the same level as the poorest. It is almost unfathomable to those of us who have been spoiled in the land of plenty to imagine experiencing such stark starvation ourselves!
Ezekiel 5:12 reveals that one third of the United States and the British Commonwealth, including countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, will be killed in the opening volleys of war. Many of these people will die from the combined destructiveness of the third and fourth horsemen—famine and pestilence. Verse 10 describes our citizenry’s last, desperate act of survival—cannibalism! (For more details of what lies immediately ahead for us, please request our free booklet on Lamentations.) These prophecies must wake us up! How can anyone fail to carefully examine his religious views after reading such frightening prophecies?
We are not discussing some dusty old prophecies. These are dramatic, dire prophecies that lie directly in front of us! The proud, haughty look will melt from the faces of our people and reduce those still barely clinging to life to scrounging through garbage heaps and strewn rubble for their next meal. This great famine will eventually spread to every corner of the Earth before mankind repents in unconditional surrender to God (Philippians 2:10).
An End of Famine
The future appears very bleak. But there is a way of escape (Revelation 12:13-17). God will hear and forgive anyone who will repent. The only ones promised divine protection are those few who have yielded to God and His way of life. Christ will be forced to intervene at His Second Coming in order to save man from his self-imposed extinction (Matthew 24:22). Only this group will be fed spiritually during an equally severe spiritual “famine of the word” (Amos 8:11-12). Not even earthquakes and famines can separate them from God (Romans 8:35). The fate of the Laodiceans and the great false religions of the world (Revelation 18:8-10; Isaiah 5:12-13) represents a sharp contrast to the reward given to God’s people.
Our loving Father must allow man to go through such terrible conditions in order for us to finally learn obedience. It’s not as if God brought it about. Mankind has caused its own misery by choosing not to obey God. For the sake of His rebellious children, God allows man to learn that sin does not bring happiness. It only brings much pain and suffering—ultimately death (Romans 6:23).
When humanity finally realizes that only God’s give way really does work, God can bless them more abundantly than ever (Micah 4:4; Isaiah 32:15; Amos 9:13-14). Then, righteous men, women and children will mock the thought of famine (Job 5:22). Yet today, this is a very brutal reality and not a laughing matter. But before we are finally rid of this curse in the not-too-distant wonderful World Tomorrow, the fourth horseman of disease and pestilence must complete his fateful ride.