The Black Horse of Famine
“LOOK! a black horse; and the one seated upon it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice as if in the midst of the four living creatures say: ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.’”—Revelation 6:5, 6.
With these grim words, the apostle John describes the third of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the one riding the black horse of famine.a Did you ever wonder when his wild ride takes place? You should. It heralds the greatest change this world will ever see.
Some feel that this horseman has always been riding among mankind. And it is true that history is full of accounts of famine from away back in the days of Abraham and Joseph up to the greatest recorded famine of all time, the one that struck China between 1878 and 1879. (Genesis 12:10; 41:54) Estimates of the number of Chinese who died in that famine vary from 9 to 13 million.
However, the black horse and its rider are not related to all the food shortages of history. Why not? Because in his vision John saw going ahead of the black horse the red horse of war, as well as a rider wearing a crown on a white horse. This rider is Jesus Christ, newly appointed as King and going forth “conquering and to complete his conquest.” (Revelation 6:1, 2) Hence, the galloping black horse and its rider picture the food shortages that afflict the earth when Jesus is appointed King of God’s Kingdom.
The vision of the horsemen of the Apocalypse parallels a prophecy that Jesus himself uttered. On one occasion he foretold in great detail the conditions on earth that would mark his presence as invisible heavenly King. Part of that prophecy said: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another.”—Matthew 24:3, 7.
When is this sign fulfilled? When, particularly, does the famine-bearing horseman ride through the earth? For many years Jehovah’s Witnesses have made known that it is the generation that saw the year 1914 that has witnessed the results of the horseman’s passing. Is their understanding correct?
‘Of course not,’ some may say. ‘Why, the earth produces far more food than it ever did, thanks to modern agriculture. There are agencies associated with the United Nations, such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), that try to make sure everyone gets enough to eat. Besides, living standards have increased amazingly in some areas. Nations such as England, where famine used to be common, rarely see food shortages now. Many lands today enjoy the highest standard of living ever recorded. How can we say that this generation above all others is the one to suffer the effects of the black horse of famine?’
That is an interesting question. It is true that mankind throughout history has endured food shortages. Both the apostle John and Jesus himself knew that. Yet they foretold a time when famine would affect the earth in a noteworthy way. How would these food shortages be noteworthy? And, in view of the material prosperity of much of the modern world, is there any reason to believe that the generation now alive is witnessing food shortages?
a For a discussion of all four horsemen and their prophetic meaning, please see our issue of May 15, 1983.