The Black Horse of Famine
Good News Magazine
January 1976
Volume: Vol XXV, No. 1
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The Black Horse of Famine
George P Ritter  

   While you sleep tonight, several thousand people around the world will be dying — dying from want of enough food. Famine is almost as old as the human race, but famines usually come and go. This time worldwide famine is a fact of life we can't seem to escape. Why, in an age of science and technology, does man suddenly find himself wondering how to produce enough food? Is famine just a passing phenomenon that good weather and bountiful crops will eventually cure? Or does worldwide famine have a significant bearing on the future of the human race?
   To most of us living in Western society, it is hard to imagine that the world we live in is not really the real world. We get our three meals a day, rarely go to bed hungry, and only briefly and occasionally experience the meaning of world "hunger."
   We seldom think about the fact that we are a decided minority among the millions of people that inhabit this planet. Unlike us, many of them go to bed with little or nothing in their stomachs. An estimated 500 million suffer from some form of hunger or starvation. One out of four of their children will die from lack of adequate nutrition before reaching the age of five. Ten to twenty million of their numbers annually succumb to hunger or starvation-related diseases.
   Less dramatic, but more insidious, are the effects of long-term malnutrition on these people. An estimated 1 1/2 billion — or roughly one half the population of the Third World — suffer from some form of malnutrition. Three hundred million are children — most of them destined to remain virtual mental and physical cripples for the rest of their lives.
   As if malnutrition and hunger weren't enough, vast segments of the Third World's populace also have to contend with a host of nutrition-related diseases. Typhus, dysentery, cholera and gastroenteritis are high on the list. A person fortunate enough to escape these may still end up crippled from beriberi, rickets, pellagra, or goiter. And he also stands a chance of going blind like one million of his contemporaries living in India. For people living in such a weakened state, any kind of sickness can be a life-and-death matter. A case of the measles or even the common cold can easily turn out to be a killer.

A Hand-to-Mouth Existence

   Despite the Green Revolution, so-called miracle foods, intensive harvesting of the sea, vastly increased use of land, water and fertilizer, most of the human race continues to suffer from hunger. In viewing the situation, Robert MacNamara, president of the World Bank, was moved to write: "One half of humanity is hungering at this very moment. There is less food per person on the planet today than there was thirty years ago in the midst of a worldwide depression. Thousands of human beings will die today, as they die every day, of sheer hunger" (One Hundred Countries, Two Billion People, p. 33).
   Addeke H. Boerma, director general of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, likewise voiced his concern: "The sight of small children... pitifully clinging to life, surrounded by dead bodies, gives one an angry sense that we are still too far away from the frightening reality of hunger and malnutrition which millions of persons suffer day after day while diplomats ... talk far into the night" (UPI, December 23, 1974).
   Boerma's concern is certainly well-founded. World grain reserves have plummeted from a 95-day supply in 1961 to a current all-time low of 26 days. In effect, the world is staking everything on each year's grain harvest — most of which now comes from the wheat and soybean fields of the United States and Canada.
   According to the second report submitted to the Club of Rome, this means: "The hungry majority of the world [now] lives under a veritable sword of Damocles, that will drop and kill millions whenever that harvest fails" (Mankind at the Turning Point, p. 165).
   It's no wonder that Dr. Raymond Ewell, a leading fertilizer expert from the State University of New York, called the world food crisis "the biggest, most fundamental, and most nearly insoluble problem that has ever faced the human race."
   Dr. James Bonner of the California Institute of Technology said, "All responsible investigators agree that the tragedy will occur. They differ only as to whether it will take place in ten years or less, or ten years and a little more."
   Vannevar Bush wrote: "The world's population is increasing at a rate which renders distress, famine and disintegration inevitable unless we learn to hold our numbers within reason. Man is headed for catastrophe unless he mends his ways and takes thought for the morrow." It is all very simple: too little food for too many people.
   Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman warned that if the world food problem is not solved, "The world of the year 2000 will be a grim, sullen, hate-filled planet teetering on the brink of self-destruction. ... [with] insurrection and toppling of governments, then final desperate international aggression." Robert Heilbroner, in his book The Human Prospect, spoke of possible future "wars of redistribution" or "pre-emptive seizure" reminiscent of Japan's actions at the outset of World War II.
   And Dr. Robert H. White-Stevens echoed these sentiments several years ago when he stated: "Famine cal'] be expected to emerge as the paramount force by 1975 and continue to a point now totally unpredictable where human society could fragment into total chaos on a global basis."

The Prophesied Black Horse

   Strangely enough, similar-sounding predictions were made centuries ago by the greatest prophet, forecaster and newscaster who ever lived. He described in vivid detail the most climactic period in all of man's existence. The prophet, Jesus Christ, was referring to events immediately preceding the end or consummation of this present era of human history.
   His answer came in response to His disciples' question: "Tell us,
THE ULTIMATE PESTS: Rats and birds destroy millions of tons of badly needed grain. The plight of the poor: Many in the third and fourth world go hungry because sharp increases in food prices over the last few years have more than outstripped their meager incomes. The age-old harbinger of famine: drought in Western Africa.
when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" (Matt. 24:3.)
   Jesus spoke of several major events that would signal the beginning of this troubled period. After false prophets and wars came a third significant indicator: "... and there shall be famines" (verse 7).
   Some 60 years later, Christ further elaborated on this description when He gave the apostle John the prophecies concerning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the sixth chapter of the book of Revelation. Again, the same basic sequence of events is described. Following the white horse representing false Christs and the red horse of war comes the black horse of famine: "And I beheld, and 10 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, KJV).

Famine on an Unprecedented Scale

   There have always been famines, but there have never been famines the likes of which the world is currently experiencing. Usually famines of the past came in conjunction with droughts, wars, and other natural or man-made disturbances. They were cyclical in nature. Today worldwide famine is built into the structure of world society. Famine is now a way of life for millions of people. Weather fluctuations, wars and crop failures only serve to exacerbate existing conditions.
   Today's famines also differ in both nature and size from those of the past. Never before did multiple hundreds of millions of people suffer from hunger and malnutrition at any given period in history as they do today. As Paul and Arthur Simon wrote in The Politics of World Hunger: "The population explosion has produced stress and deprivation on a scale without precedent, as well as a momentum of growth that boggles the mind" (p. 51).
   So Jesus Christ was not merely guessing about future famines. He was describing an age of human existence that was unique from all others in which widespread famine was only one of many interrelated events. In the 24th chapter of Matthew, He made this clear when He said: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be" (verse 21).
   The prophet Jeremiah describes this tumultuous age as follows: "Alas! that day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob..." (Jer. 30:7).
   Daniel likewise wrote: "And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time..." (Dan. 12:1). The Moffatt translation refers to this as the " crisis at the end when trouble shall be multiplied on earth" (verse 4).
   Today, modern-day prophets have caught up with the patriarchs of old. Notice what Robert MacNamara says about this era of world history: "We have to see the population problem as part... of a much wider social and political crisis that grows deeper with each decade and threatens to round off this century with years of unrest and turbulence, a 'time of troubles' [emphasis ours] during which the forces of historical change threaten our frail twentieth-century society with disintegration."
   Also, Georg Borgstrom states: "As a human race we are heading for Supreme Disaster, and the great challenge to our generation is to avert this calamity. It has to be done in this crucial century, or mankind may well deprive itself of both its future and its history."
WAR AND FAMINE often go hand in hand. Here milk is being distributed to refugee children in Bangladesh. The daily struggle for survival: Woman in Niger begging for food. Famine's tragic impact on the young. Often a severe bout of hunger or malnutrition at this age can have lifelong effects.
   And worldwide famine, fueled by an exploding population and future international conflicts, will undoubtedly be a key catalyst in this rapidly deteriorating chain of events.

Old Testament Warnings

   Christ, who was the logos or Spokesman of the Old Testament (see I Cor. 10:4, John 1:1), also gave national warnings concerning famine through many of the prophets of old.
   In these passages, famine, along with the 2nd and 4th horsemen, war and pestilence, are shown to be the ultimate result of false religion (the first horseman) and flagrant disobedience of God's commandments.
   Notice some of the penalties for disobedience recorded in the 26th chapter of Leviticus: "If after all this you have not learnt discipline but still 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 ten women can bake your bread in a single oven; they shall dole it out by weight [see Revelation 6:5-6], and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied. If in spite of 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. 26:23-28, The New English Bible).
   Other passages warn of famine-producing upsets in weather (Amos 4:7, Deut. 28:24); ruined harvests (Ezek. 5:16, Deut. 28:17); blighted crops (Amos 4:9); harmful insect pests (Deut. 28:39, 42); and nonproductive soil (Deut. 28:23).
   Israel of old didn't heed these warnings and suffered the consequences. Today many of the modern nations of the world, including the United States and Britain, are following in the footsteps of the ancient Israelites and are beginning to pay the same penalties as their predecessors.

The Bitter Harvest of Disobedience

   And as men continue to flagrantly disregard the laws of their Creator, such conditions will continually be aggravated. Jesus Christ went on to warn of similar calamities in the future. In the book of Revelation, He depicts an earth whose entire food producing ecosystem will be in jeopardy.
   Pollution of the oceans on an unprecedented scale will undoubtedly cause a dramatic decline in the world's fish harvest (Rev. 8:8; 16:3). Wanton destruction of one third of the earth's plant cover and forests (Rev. 8:7) will contribute to climatic upsets, advance of the deserts, and the loss of valuable cropland. And massive pollution of vital freshwater sources (Rev. 8:10, 11; 16:4) will most likely dry up the fruits of irrigated crop production.
   Perhaps lack of food or resources resulting from these global catastrophies explains why a massive army of 200 million men decides to march on the Middle East in the 16th chapter of Revelation. In any event, Jesus Christ went on to show that unless He personally intervened in the affairs of men during this tumultuous time period, all life would be erased from off the face of the earth (Matt. 24:22).

A Global Surplus of Food

   Christ's intervention will set off a chain of events that will finally bring a halt to the continuous rounds of famine and hunger the human race has experienced down through history. Satan the devil will be put away (Rev. 20:1 -2), and with him will go the centuries-old system of greed and exploitation that has left many a broken, hungry, and destitute person in its wake. The "dispossessed masses" will become a thing of the past as every individual will have a chance to own agriculturally productive real estate (Micah 4:4). Farming methods will be overhauled until lush crops are considered commonplace (Isa. 32:15), and one harvest follows hard on the heels of the previous one (Amos 9:13-14).
   The earth's arable land mass will be greatly expanded as mountains are lowered (Isa. 40:4) and the sands of the deserts begin an unprecedented retreat (Isa. 35:1, 7). Only then will the age-old problem of famine finally be put to rest.

The Future of Famine

   Lester R. Brown: "We delude ourselves if we think the years ahead will be easy. At best they will be traumatic, and they could be catastrophic."

   Hubert H. Humphrey: "For years we laughed at Malthus' gloomy theory, but now he is coming into his own as we have come to the realization that the world's resources are not unlimited."

   Georg Borgstrom, professor of food science, Michigan State University: "Our future is at stake in this very century, and food is the key issue.... As a human race we are heading for Supreme Disaster, and the great challenge to our generation is to avert this calamity. We need to declare the Great War for Human Survival — but it is getting late. Time is running out on us. It is five minutes to twelve."

   Gunnar Myrdal: "It is difficult to see how the world can avoid a food catastrophe within the immediate future years."

   C. P. Snow: "The most dreadful of all — again, men of sober judgment have been saying it for years — is that many millions of people in the poor countries are going to starve to death before our eyes — or, to complete the domestic picture, we shall see them doing so upon our television sets."

   Thomas M. Ware, head of the Freedom From Hunger Foundation: "Very few grasp the magnitude of the danger that confronts us.... The catastrophe is not something that may happen; on the contrary it is a mathematical certainty that it will happen."

   Philip Handler, president of the National Academy of Sciences: "I have difficulty facing the future with equanimity. This is a bitter pill indeed. With my fellow scientists, I was enraptured by the beautiful panorama of understanding offered by science in our time.... But the planet is small, and there are too many of us."

   Second Report to the Club of Rome: "The most thorough analyses of a large number of scenarios using our world system computer model lead to the inescapable conclusion that mankind's options for avoiding catastrophe are decreasing, while delays in implementing the options are, quite literally, deadly."

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Good News MagazineJanuary 1976Vol XXV, No. 1