Author’s Note: This booklet is part of a unique series covering the subject of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. While each booklet stands alone, the reader will only gain a full understanding if the series is read in the following order, reflecting the sequence described in Revelation 6 and Matthew 24:
Most people, including almost all in the Western world, have never been hungry. They have never experienced and have no real knowledge or comprehension of the lives of those who awaken every day to hunger pangs they took to bed with them the night before—and that are still present when they go back to bed the next night. Millions of human beings across the world spend their every waking hour trying to find more food. This could be for either themselves or their children. A lucky few eventually solve the problem permanently—but the majority never do, and in time pay the final price: starvation.
Famine—severe shortage of food—has stalked the planet for 6,000 years. Countless millions have died, their names lost to history.
To most in the Western world, famine is just a word. The same is true for hunger and starvation. If these terms are used at all, it is generally in glib phrases such as “I’m starving!” or “I’m famished!”—when the reality is that a full meal had been eaten only hours before.
Each day, many millions of shoppers across the United States casually walk into supercenter grocery stores. One section holds lush produce from around the world: lettuce from California, oranges from South Africa, avocados from Mexico, kiwis from New Zealand. In another section, there are perhaps 60 varieties of sliced bread, next to hot dog buns, bagels, breakfast biscuits and French baguettes. Down another aisle sit 17 brands of canned soup and a dozen kinds of olives in glass jars. The meat section stretches along a wall of the store, with many options such as ground beef and steaks, cuts of lamb, chicken and pork, as well as seafood. People browse comfortably, checking, weighing, picking and choosing among endless choices—what they expect will always be available to them.
These citizens do not think twice about the abundance and blessings contained in just one such store—and they are everywhere. They wander the aisles, make selections, routinely pay the bill and go home. After all, this is everyday life!
For most of the world, however, such a grocery store is a faraway dream. They live an entirely different reality. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP):
Those in industrialized countries are shielded from the harsh reality of life in these impoverished areas. But this booklet is not about starvation in distant, remote places. It is not the written equivalent of a heartrending documentary about drought in Africa or pictures of starving babies in a news magazine. It is about who will die from hunger among those you know and love. Your neighbors—spouses—children!
The famines mentioned here are connected to the black horse of Revelation. Let’s read the passage: “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…say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see you hurt not the oil and the wine” (6:5-6).
The booklets on the white horse and red horse reveal that false Christianity leads to war. In turn, armed conflict invariably brings famine, which begets disease.
But, again, to those in well-off nations, these words seem implausible—impossible. They believe life will go on happily forever. Yet famines are on the increase now, and the world is poised for a never-before-seen global food crisis. The scene in Revelation 6 will soon come to pass!
The order in which Christ presented conditions before His Return reflects a cycle of events that has always accompanied mankind’s civilizations: “Kingdom against kingdom”—war—with famine and pestilence on its heels.
According to the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID), the horrors of armed conflict often give way to famine: “Wars triggered most of the great famines of the late twentieth century. War not only contributes to the creation of famine, but also poses huge challenges to famine relief operations.”
The organization explains that war “drives farmers from their land, disrupts markets, destroys stores of harvested foods, creates food shortages that drive prices above levels that low income families can pay, and disrupts the agricultural cycle.”
As Jesus foretold, the black horseman of famine always rides in the wake of the red horseman of war—and the world knows this!
Famine means starvation, which quickly wears out the human body. With a sustained low-calorie diet, physical effects begin to show first: Fat deposits begin to shrink, as do organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Malnourishment damages the walls of the intestines, making absorption of nutrients more difficult and causing chronic diarrhea. More obvious outward signs also appear: The body begins to retain fluid and the stomach becomes distended, hair loses its luster, eyes sink, and skin becomes paper-like, dull and inelastic.
In the final stages of starvation, the body’s immune system fails, opening the door to disease, or the third condition mentioned in Matthew 24:7: pestilences.
These are the same conditions that Jesus said signal the end of this age. Yet how can one know these three disasters mean mankind has entered the last days? Have they not persistently plagued mankind throughout history?
Again, famine has always stalked the planet. And again, when stating, “there shall be famines,” Jesus could only have meant that they will grow worse in number, scope, duration and intensity throughout the world. They will also appear in regions that have never before seen famine, or at least not on any similar scale. Even First World nations are scheduled to be affected.
But how can you be certain?
One of the basic principles of Bible study is to read slowly, and carefully examine the key words of a passage. Seek to absorb what you are reading. And remember that the New Testament, originally written in Greek, was only later translated to other languages. Therefore, to more clearly understand the picture of the black horse and rider, we must examine the passage, word by word, occasionally examining the Greek. By doing so, the conditions of an impending global food crisis become clear.
Now read Revelation 6:5-6 again: “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…say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny.”
Verse 8 explains the meaning of the “black horse” and “rider.” They bring famine or “hunger.” In the rider’s hand is a “pair of balances” to weigh out the meager rations—or “measures”—of food described in verse 6.
Each time the words “measure” and “measures” are used, it is the Greek word choinix. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the term means “a dry ‘measure’ of rather less than a quart, about ‘as much as would support a person of moderate appetite for a day…’”
In short, the black horse and rider bring conditions that result in daily ration lines!
But how much will the food cost?
The Greek word for “penny” is denarius. A denarius was about a day’s wage for a worker in Palestine 2,000 years ago. So the implication is that one day’s pay—all of it!—is required to buy just one day’s food.
Think of all your monthly expenses: rent or mortgage payment, car payment, utilities, phone bill, cable and Internet access, clothing, gas for your car, and others. Now consider—a whole day’s pay just for that day’s food! If this were the price of food, how would you pay for your other necessities?
World conditions make clear that the black horse is about to accelerate toward the worst famines of all time!
Ethiopia’s severe drought in 1984 affected 8 million people, with approximately one million dead. Only after Western nations learned the extent of the crisis did they donate enough grain to end the famine by 1985.
After that time, aid organizations and wealthier nations made a general push to eradicate hunger everywhere. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s “2009 Global Hunger Index” (GHI), “Progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.”
However, this effort to erase famine faltered. The report continues, “For the past decade hunger has been on the rise.”
In Ethiopia today, WFP estimates that 46 percent of the population is undernourished. And the GHI warning level is “extremely alarming.”
What began in the 1980s for Ethiopia was something new: pockets of permanent famine. Despite years of foreign assistance, hunger still grips that land. Today, 39 percent of Ethiopians live on less than $1.25 per day. In the last 30 years, farm production has fallen despite the population doubling. Even worse, continual crop failure has meant the nation must rely largely on aid groups for survival.
But Ethiopia is far from alone in suffering continuous drought and famine. Other nations received ratings of “alarming,” “extremely alarming,” and “serious” on the GHI, including Sierra Leone, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Zimbabwe—once considered a breadbasket of southern Africa—is in the “alarming” category. Citizens in these nations remain under threat of famine due to inconsistent rains, civil unrest, military conflict and infertile land. Ever-worsening famine in these areas cannot be solved!
The country of Niger’s government report to the World Health Organization (WHO) “showed that rates of acute malnutrition among children under five had risen to 17 percent from 12.3 percent in 2009.” The WHO considers figures above 15 percent an emergency. It stated, “A severe form of hunger that can leave children permanently underdeveloped, acute malnutrition affects as many as one in five children in the hardest hit regions of Niger…” Niger’s rise of almost five percent occurred in just one year.
The WFP reported that in Chad, “Poor harvests, erratic rainfall and high food prices have hit countries throughout the Eastern Sahel [belt]…The number of people categorised as ‘food insecure’ in the Sahelian belt of Chad increased from 41 percent of the population in May 2009 to 61 percent in March 2010—just ten months time. WFP is responding with general food distributions to some 850,000 vulnerable people and assistance to pregnant women, nursing mothers and moderately malnourished children in supplementary feeding centres. The number of centres open went up from 36 in March to 52 in June and this figure is expected to increase to around 140 in the coming weeks.”
As devastating as recent African drought has been, history says it can get much worse. A news release from The University of Texas at Austin revealed, “Droughts far worse than the infamous Sahel drought of the 1970s and 1980s are…normal…for sub-Saharan West Africa, according to new research...These decades-long droughts were dwarfed by much more severe droughts lasting three to four times as long, scientists report…”
“According to a 2002 report by the United Nations Environment Program, the most recent Sahel drought killed more than 100,000 people and displaced many more.”
In Bangladesh, the WFP reports that 60 million people do not have sufficient food to eat. Nearly 8 million of its children under five years old are underweight. Make yourself ponder such huge numbers.
In Pakistan, an estimated 1.55 million people have fled their homes due to conflict, especially near the war-torn Afghanistan border. They rely on humanitarian aid for assistance. The World Food Programme reports that 24 percent of its population is undernourished.
The list of nations requiring assistance could go on and on. Since the 1980s, aid agencies and rich nations have used money to stave off hunger in the developing world. But this support system has begun to collapse.
A July 2010 article, “Is the Next Global Food Crisis Now in the Making?”, provided a sobering reality check: “Recent weeks have produced a series of grim and related headlines: Russia has declared a state of emergency because of drought in 12 regions, while in major wheat exporter Ukraine, severe flooding may depress crop yields. Dry conditions threaten Vietnamese rice production. The USDA has projected a disappointingly low Midwest harvest, and China has raised questions on the demand side by doubling its imports from Canada.
“Fortunately, this run of unfavorable farming news follows strong harvests that for now should keep grain prices in check, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. But to see the effects of a bad year for food—and what the world could be in for if the present trend persists—one only has to look to 2008…[when] a confluence of environmental causes compounded by rising fuel costs and a global credit crunch caused food prices to skyrocket an average of 43 percent worldwide, leading to starvation and riots from Mexico to Bangladesh.
“Some are worried that was just a warning” (AOL News).
Among the causes of famine is drought. Perhaps none is larger. Without water, crops languish and food production grinds to a halt.
While the nations of the West have not experienced the plague of drought in life-threatening levels in recent years, this longstanding accelerant to famine will re-emerge. Extreme—devastating!—drought is long overdue. More than just a fact of science, God actually promises such drought among His many forms of punishment. Let’s read: “I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass” (Lev. 26:19).
Understand. “Iron” heavens produce no rain, and “brass” earth is the result. I know. I have dug many postholes in severely drought-hardened ground where even a power auger would not penetrate the earth with my full weight on it—and I am a big man.
Amos 4:9 adds this: “I [God] have smitten you with blasting and mildew: [and also] when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have you not returned unto Me, says the Lord.” Notice that blasting (hot, dry winds) and mildew (too much rain) are both mentioned. These opposite extremes produce the same thing—low crop yield and famine. So do worms eating plants.
The impact of drought in just the twentieth century—only part of the run-up to awful droughts soon to canvas the earth—is important to contemplate. In the 1930s, America saw a near 10-year drought with effects reaching across a staggering 65 percent of the United States. During this same time, drought in China claimed 5 million people—just in 1936! Consider a single day during this decade-long period: On April 14, 1935, referred to as “Black Sunday,” a massive dust storm more than 8,000 feet high engulfed the entire lower Midwestern United States—from Kansas to Texas—with winds exceeding 70 mph.
Such storms accompanying drought can produce mile-high “black blizzards,” which are truly terrifying to behold. The debris and silica particles in the air stirred up by these storms—invariably inhaled by human beings—can cause several serious lung diseases.
Pollution, overwatering, misuse of the land and sin will give rise to catastrophe of epic proportion. Drought—paling America’s “Dust Bowl” years into near insignificance—lies just over the horizon!
God says this, not I.
Everything in this booklet so far has spoken to lack of food. But water shortages of colossal proportion are also on the way. Crumbling water systems in Western nations, coupled with global pollution and increasing drought, will lead to widespread thirst alongside hunger.
Understand that just 2.5 percent of the earth’s water is fresh. Only 20 percent of this (or 0.5 percent!) is accessible ground or surface water. Current population needs consume over half of this available water. By 2025, water use is expected to rise by 50 percent in developing countries, and 18 percent in other areas. As the earth grows by 77 million people per year, an additional amount of water equivalent to the mighty Rhine River is required each year.
Also, developing countries dump up to 90-95 percent of their sewage, untreated, and 70 percent of all industrial waste into surface waters. Population growth guarantees this problem will only grow worse. In addition, chemical runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and acid rain sufficiently ruin water quality to make it unusable. Some experts predict the world will also completely run out of usable drinking water by 2050.
Trends indicate that most of the world will soon be thirsty. Water wars have already long been the subject of various legal fights between states and countries. This will grow much worse!
Famine has been steadily spreading and worsening for years. Recently, the worst contributing factor has been the continued international financial downturn. Wealthy nations are no longer able to support impoverished peoples financially.
After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster in Myanmar, the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator at the time, Henrietta Holsman Fore, said, “We are in the midst of a global food crisis unlike other food crises we have faced, one not caused simply by natural disasters, conflict or any single event such as drought. It is not localized—but pervasive and widespread, affecting the poor in developing nations around the world.”
Understand. The financial crisis has brought us to the brink of pervasive, widespread famine!
The World Food Programme, also in 2008, said global increases in food prices were creating “the biggest challenge” it has faced in the organization’s 45-year history—what the organization termed “a silent tsunami threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.”
To increase profit margins, industrialized nations have made food delivery into a science. Grocery stores and many restaurants rely on “just in time” delivery, meaning they keep a low stock on hand and rely on regular shipments of products. If these shipments are delayed—even by just a few days—the shelves empty out. In turn, the customer must go without.
This principle was seen in living color when ash from an Icelandic volcano hung over Europe, causing a continent-wide flight ban in April 2010. On top of air travelers being stranded, there was another troubling problem.
During that time, the Guardian reported, “Britain’s supermarkets could soon run short of perishable goods including exotic fruits and Kenyan roses as the ongoing ban on UK air travel brought Britain’s largest perishable air freight handling centre to a standstill…”
Realize that this airline disruption lasted just under a week. What if it continued?
Many First World nations are consistently producing and exporting less grains and vegetables, while they are increasing imports of such products. This leaves them wide open to massive food shortage if their suppliers fail to deliver.
For example, the United Kingdom imports about 90 percent of its fruit and 60 percent of its vegetables. Their fresh produce comes from all across the globe: broccoli and strawberries from Spain, apples from the United States, grapes from Egypt, carrots from South Africa, tomatoes from Saudi Arabia, asparagus from Peru, bananas from India, but also meat such as lamb from New Zealand.
For potatoes, England mostly looks to Israel. The British Potato Council reports that the UK imports over 385,000 tons of potatoes per year (Guardian).
Where would Britain be without regular shipments of fresh food? And this is just one wealthy nation—there are many others in the same position, some much larger.
Famine in just one part of the world, whether the Middle East, Africa, South America or elsewhere, can automatically mean shortages in many First World nations. The increasingly interconnected global economy means an increasingly fragile food supply. This fragility will become more obvious with each passing “incident.”
Ms. Fore pointed out that the international food price index rose 43 percent in 2007, immediately affecting the world’s poor. “For the poorest one billion, living on just a dollar per day, very high food prices mean stark choices between taking a sick child to the clinic, paying school fees, or putting food on the table.”
USAID estimates that of the world population one billion people subsist on less than a dollar per day. Of these, 162 million live on less than a tiny 50 cents per day. These households are generally spending 50 to 60 percent of their income on food, compared to less than one-fifth in nations such as the United States.
Remember what is coming: “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny” (Rev. 6:6).
Meeting with the British government in April 2008, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran described the millions now priced out of the food market as “the new face of hunger.” Price increases from the global economic collapse have left millions in urban areas around the world hungry, unable to afford the rising cost of groceries.
As the economic crisis worsened, the World Food Programme announced a $500 million deficit in its budget in February 2008, and urged wealthy nations to increase contributions. Two months later, Ms. Sheeran announced that the gap had risen to $755 million. At that time, she said the WFP was “putting out an urgent appeal for the world to help us meet not only our base budget to meet the accessed needs of people from Darfur to Uganda to Haiti and beyond, but also to meet this gap.”
In July of 2009, the situation grew even more dire. Ms. Sheeran said that the WFP’s “assessed approved needs” were $6.7 billion for the year. After discussions with governments, the agency received only $3.7 billion in donations—a $3 billion budget deficit!
Clearly, this is a “crisis unlike other food crises.” Something on this scale has never been seen before. This is the makings of global famine!
For now, though, it seems there is only one solution—throw money at the problem. Yet this is money that governments—ever more frequently—no longer have.
Another factor holds the potential to invite sudden widespread famine. Recent years have seen record increases in grain prices, with supplies reaching record lows as expanding nations such as China bring ever-growing demand.
In 2007 and 2008, a global food crisis was marked by dangerously low grain reserves. There were only “64 days of carryover stock [harvested grain stored in stockpiles and silos] in 2007” (Earth Policy Institute). Wheat reserves then plummeted to a 60-year low, and the price per bushel of Chicago wheat futures surged to more than $11.00 for the first time.
As of this writing, the planet is again threatened with a major food supply crisis. Carryover stock in September 2010 hovered around 72 days, dangerously close to the levels that ignited the crisis three years before.
This has in part been caused by a chain reaction: Heat waves, the drought and wildfires in Central Europe and Russia—leading to a 32 percent grain output decrease in Kazakhstan, a 19 percent decline in the Ukraine, and a 27 percent decrease in Russian wheat production over the previous year—which in turn led to a government-imposed wheat export ban.
The International Business Times brought grim news from Russia: “July was the hottest month in Russia—the world’s third-largest wheat exporter—since record-keeping commenced over 130 years ago, with deadly forest fires causing more than 30 deaths. Moreover, large parts of the wheat harvest are being destroyed. The expected amount available for export by Russia has been nearly halved, and could fall further if the drought continues.”
Russian Prime minister Vladimir Putin stated, “I think it would be expedient to introduce a temporary ban on export grains and other agricultural goods...We cannot allow an increase in domestic prices and we need to maintain the number of cattle.”
This problem could worsen dramatically if drought deprives the region of the water needed for the 2010-11 winter wheat crop. Given that Russia and its neighbors account for one quarter of all wheat exports worldwide, prices for this staple crop have again spiked sharply. Now 40 percent of the crop could be lost.
But the Black Sea region is not the only part of the globe where wheat supplies are dwindling. Canada—afflicted with the opposite crop-destroying condition of too much rain—is lagging in production and accompanying exports. Germany and Poland are also suffering.
Consider. The United States Department of Agriculture continues to slash world wheat crop-yield estimates for the fourth straight month (as of September, 2010). Wheat prices worldwide during this time period exploded, punctuated by “a record surge of 38 percent in July” (ibid.).
Corn supplies are also lagging, with similar price-inflating results. In late 2010, corn stockpiles were projected to fall to the lowest levels in seven years. The reduced corn crop has the added effect of making livestock feed, often corn-based, much more expensive. This price increase is then passed on to consumers of beef, pork and poultry products.
This snapshot summarizes the worsening scenario: “Corn prices surged once again—this time on worries that the U.S. harvest will come in well below initial estimates. As yield statistics flow in from farms in the Midwest, many farmers are reporting that the corn haul is lower than last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently cut its official projection for the 2010 harvest, and many analysts expect that farms across the country will produce [only] an average of 160 bushels of corn per acre—or perhaps even lower” (ETF Database).
“Although a loss of five bushels an acre may seem small, it makes a big difference to supplies when multiplied across the 87.9 million acres planted, and would likely push U.S. supplies in storage next year below one billion bushels, a psychologically significant threshold. Avoiding that scenario will require higher prices” (The Wall Street Journal).
Consumers are beginning to see this firsthand. The U.S. Agriculture Department projects a jump in retail prices for a wide variety of foods in late 2010 and 2011—beef and other meats, cereal and breads, dairy products, coffee and more.
This is an ominous trend. Do not expect it to go away more than temporarily—if at all! It is only the beginning.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. strategic wheat reserves, as well as another grain stockpile called the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, have been sold for cash—reducing stockpiles to near zero. In fact, by 2000, all government-owned stocks of wheat were sold out.
The only remaining reserves in the country were those privately held by Farmer Owned Reserves (FOR) and commercial grain buyers. These stockpiles have been severely depleted as well, with no government plans to replenish the reserves.
Here is what Larry Matlack, President of the American Agricultural Movement (AAM), explained (emphasis mine): “Our concern is not that we are using the remainder of our strategic grain reserves for humanitarian relief. AAM fully supports the action and all humanitarian food relief. Our concern is that the U.S. has nothing else in our emergency food pantry. There is no cheese, no butter, no dry milk powder, no grains or anything else left in reserve” (Tri-State Observer).
This same official went on to state that the entire USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) inventory would be reduced to 2.7 million bushels of wheat—roughly enough to make only one-half loaf of bread for each person in the United States!
Pause to reflect on what has happened to what has been called the world’s breadbasket. How have the mighty fallen!
Reserves of other agricultural commodities such as sorghum, rice and corn have also come to be virtually non-existent. Income generated by the sale of U.S. grain is being held (rather than the grain itself) as a surplus by the CCC in a “trust for food,” to be spent by the government in the event of a domestic or global crisis. The rationale is that food could then be purchased with grain sale profits rather than burdening taxpayers with the cost of maintaining large stores of grain. Such foolish, shortsighted and dangerous thinking!
The only arena left that could maintain stockpiles of wheat without returning to government-sponsored storage is the FOR and commercial buyers, which collectively hold approximately one bushel of wheat per person in the U.S., the lowest in 60 years.
Add to these crises the growing trend of farmers devoting more acreage to other crops such as soybeans and corn, motivated by higher profit margins made possible by government-subsidized bio-fuel programs.
These statistics are all early “handwriting on the wall”!
But livestock bred for human consumption are not the only animals affected by food shortage. With naturally-growing food supplies reduced by drought, urban sprawl and other factors, wild animals are looking to suburbs and even cities for sustenance.
Notice this: “Huckleberries, nuts and pine cones are in short supply this year because of poor growing conditions, so bears have taken to breaking into cars, nosing around backyards and raiding orchards…when bears roam into towns, they end up trapped or dead. In New Mexico, 83 bears have been killed so far this year, more than three times as many as last year…‘They’re going to be searching for food,’ said Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife” (The Associated Press).
The same pattern is being found in a number of species looking for food where people live. Newly very aggressive wild turkeys are returning to suburban and urban areas where they had long ago been eliminated by hunting. They are now feeding at backyard bird feeders and municipal trash cans.
Urban deer hunts are becoming increasingly common, as overpopulated does and bucks graze in backyard gardens—eating food that would have gone to people!
Elsewhere, alligators are ranging far beyond their normal habitats near the Gulf of Mexico. In the space of two days, these dangerous reptiles have been found in New York, Massachusetts and Illinois. Animal control officials captured an 18-inch-long baby alligator on the streets of Queens, New York. On the same day, in a Boston suburb, a three-foot gator was caught, and the next day, another of roughly the same size was reportedly seen in the Chicago River. Experts say that unknown numbers of alligators and snakes now reside in the sewer systems of America’s great cities, having been flushed down the toilet when they grew too big.
Next is a look at the insect kingdom: “Some ants find urban life so accommodating that their populations explode and they form supercolonies in cities.
“Grzegorz Buczkowski, a Purdue University research assistant professor of entomology, found that odorous house ant colonies become larger and more complex as they move from forest to city and act somewhat like an invasive species…The ants live about 50 to a colony with one queen in forest settings but explode into supercolonies with more than 6 million workers and 50,000 queens in urban areas…
“‘Native ants are not supposed to become invasive. We don’t know of any other native ants that are outcompeting other species of native ants like these…It’s possible that as the ants get closer to urban areas they have easier access to food, shelter and other resources,’ he said” (National Geographic).
This little understood—and little thought about—side effect of food shortage will bring additional strain on urban existence, forcing city dwellers to spend energy and resources trying to defend their homes and food supplies from invading animals!
But these local invasions are barely more than anecdotal sidenotes compared to how God declares that He will use locusts. He warned Israel, beginning long ago, of this instrument of punishment.
First notice this passage from Deuteronomy: “You shall carry much seed out into the field, and shall gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it...All your trees and fruit of your land shall the locust consume” (28:38, 42).
The book of Joel in chapter 2 calls hordes of locusts a “great army” sent by God (vs. 25). The previous chapter describes successive waves of crop destruction wrought by this “army”: “That which the palmerworm has left has the locust eaten; and that which the locust has left has the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm has left has the caterpiller eaten” (1:4).
The original words for the insects referenced in this passage present a truly sobering picture. They speak to the sense in Hebrew of “devouring,” “chewing” and “cutting down” plants. They also involve “swarming,” “ravaging,” “lapping up,” “licking” and finally the “finishing” of crops and other green plants.
Next look at the connection of these insects to famine, along with disease: “If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpiller [Hebrew: ravager]; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be…” (I Kings 8:37).
This passage is part of a longer prophecy that describes how “if” a series of certain punishments are sent, God will pull back the punishment “if” the nation comes to repentance. While prophecy indicates that the nations today, or even one nation, will almost certainly not repent, individuals can.
Some nations are already seeing the front edge of these verses coming to pass. In 2010, the possible largest ever recorded locust infestation is threatening to sweep across Australia’s croplands like a hailstorm. It is projected to devastate tens of thousands of acres and cost farmers millions of dollars. The quick-breeding locusts, which multiply after periods of severe drought followed by intense rains, have stripped clean crops, pastures, orchards, gardens and sports fields from Queensland (northeast Australia) to Melbourne (the far south) and Adelaide (in the center).
“You’ve got to see it to believe it,” an owner of one of Australia’s largest carrot producers told The Age. ‘‘One centre pivot [plantation] got destroyed completely. We had about 25 million carrots in there. That gives you an idea of how many locusts there are.’’
Some single swarms cover areas as much as 186 square miles. These highly mobile insects can travel over 300 miles in one day in search of food. According to the Australian Plague Locust Commission (APLC), a small swarm of just 0.4 square miles can contain over 50 million locusts with the ability to devour 11 tons of forage in a 24-hour period.
The Independent reported, “A one-kilometre wide swarm of locusts can chomp through 10 tons of crops—a third of their combined body weight—in a day. The New South Wales Farmers Association said an area the size of Spain was affected and the Government of Victoria alone forecasts [$1.95 billion] of damage.
“Though locusts move slowly when the sun’s up, at night they can fly high and fast, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres.”
One professor said this: “‘A farmer can go to bed at night not having seen a grasshopper all year and wake up in the morning to find his fields full of them.’”
“The warm, wet weather that prevailed last summer meant that three generations of locusts were born, each one up to 150 times larger than the previous generation” (emphasis mine).
This is a point in the booklet when the serious reader must make himself stop in order to ponder the sheer power of such statements!
While an explosion of locusts has terrible implications for crop yields, elsewhere, ironically, a shortage of insects will lead to similar results.
A September 2010 BBC News article explained another very ominous trend. Here is a series of quotes from the article: “A decline in pollinating insects in India [1.1 billion people] is resulting in reduced vegetable yields and could limit people’s access to a nutritional diet, a study warns...Each year, India produces about 7.5 million tonnes of vegetables. This accounts for about 14% of the global total, making the nation second only to China in the world’s vegetable production league table.”
“The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90% of food supplies for 146 countries, 71 are bee-pollinated, primarily by wild bees, and a number of others are pollinated by other insects.”
“In a 2007 assessment of the scientific data on the issue, the UN Environment Programme observed: ‘Any loss in biodiversity is a matter of public concern, but losses of pollinating insects may be particularly troublesome because of the potential effects on plant reproduction and hence on food supply security.’”
“In 2007, about one third of the US domesticated bee population was wiped out as a result of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), with some commercial hive owners losing up to 90% of their bees.”
Other population drops among the natural predators of bad insects are also disrupting the fragile balance necessary for crop production. The Associated Press reported, “A fungus has killed off about 90 percent of [New Jersey’s] bat population, according to scientists who recently conducted a count of hibernating bats...[It is] linked to the deaths of more than a million bats in 11 states...and has also spread to Ontario, Canada.”
“Experts warn that the widespread loss of bats has potential ramifications for humans, since bats consume huge quantities of bugs, including insects that damage crops or carry West Nile and other potentially fatal diseases.”
Some kinds of bats also play a role in pollination similar to that of bees. If the fungus spreads, crop losses increase.
Again, realize that famine is coming regardless of where you live! And starvation always brings with it the darkest, most unthinkable conduct known to man. This is the true face of hunger.
History has repeatedly demonstrated a change in society when famine takes hold. As you read, do not let these words be distant. Make each one real in your mind!
Before the Irish Potato Famine, Ireland was pressing for greater self-rule, with half of its people living in poverty, surviving solely on the yearly potato crop. Then in 1845, a disease that thrived in Ireland’s wet climate destroyed that year’s harvest. Half of the population hovered on the brink of starvation. The blight continued for two more years. In the end, one million died from lack of food or ensuing disease.
Upon hearing reports, some of the British believed the Irish were exaggerating the dire conditions and refused to send sufficient aid. As the famine worsened, another million Irish fled, migrating to North America. Many, weakened by hunger, died en route.
In six years, the population dropped by two million. The number of Irish, prior to the famine, was about 8 million, compared to approximately 15 million on the British mainland. Ireland has never recovered. The current population of the north and south combined is still less than 8 million—compared to about 60 million on the British mainland, a 300 percent increase.
But the potato famine also exemplifies hunger’s psychological effects. When a brain is deprived of nutrients, coupled with the mental and emotional stresses of famine, a change comes over the individual’s personality.
In her book Famine: The Irish Experience, E. Margaret Crawford describes what characteristics first present themselves: “apathy, depression, and mental restlessness.” In addition, “food becomes an obsession.”
The book quotes Dr. Daniel Donovan, who worked with 1845 Irish Potato Famine victims: “I have seen mothers snatch food from the hands of their starving children; known a son to engage in a fatal struggle with his father for a potato; and have seen parents look on the putrid bodies of their offspring without evincing a symptom of sorrow.”
Severe hunger quickly leads to the unthinkable. During famine, victims often eat human waste out of desperation. (Ezekiel 4:12-13 declares this will again happen!)
Severe famine leads to even more horrific conditions. God foretells through Ezekiel in the bluntest of terms: “The fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of you, and the sons shall eat their fathers” (5:10). Hunger quickly turns to violence—and cannibalism!
Though it seems unbelievable, the record of history proves that when hungry enough, people will eat the dead. The book Flesh and Blood: A History of the Cannibal Complex details an AD 1200 famine in Egypt: “‘There was no longer any hope that the Nile would rise; and as a result the cost of provisions had already gone up…A vast multitude sought refuge in Misr and Cairo, where they were to meet with frightful famine and appalling mortality…and pestilence and a deadly contagion began to take their toll, and the poor, under the pressure of ever-growing want, ate carrion, corpses, dogs, excrement, and animal dung. They went further, and reached the stage of eating little children…roasted or boiled.’”
Notice again what God explains is the end result of famine, always brought on by disobedience to His Law: “And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and you shall eat, and not be satisfied…you shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall you eat” (Lev. 26:26, 29).
Those who are convinced that people could never sink to such depths will find their thinking changes—and in chilling fashion. What comes next is even worse, and it is what God says will happen: “And you shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters...The tender and delicate woman among you [the refined and sophisticated woman], which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, and toward her young one that comes out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want [lack] of all things...” (Deut. 28:53, 56-57).
God brings more graphic detail of the desperation—and ensuing action—brought by extreme hunger in the book of Lamentations, recorded by Jeremiah. Having recorded what is to come in multiple passages and in multiple books of the Bible, God wants these prophecies understood, leaving those who have been warned without excuse.
God first indicts cold-blooded parents for withholding food from their starving children. Notice: “Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of My people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness. The tongue of the sucking child cleaves to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaks it unto them” (Lam. 4:3-4).
The prophecy continues, now including young, middle-aged and old alike: “They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet [think the privileged nations of the West] embrace dunghills. For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of My people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her” (vs. 5-6).
Understand! This punishment is far worse than the hail of fire that quickly destroyed the city of Sodom—“that was overthrown as in a moment.” This death is slow and painful—allowing victims to contemplate their horrible state of affairs.
Verses 7-9 drive this home, speaking of those who were once “purer than snow…whiter than milk…more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire,” but whose appearance transforms to an awful condition en route to agonizing death by famine: “Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaves to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick. They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through [this death is slow—prolonged] for want of the fruits of the field.”
The account ends with the same cannibalism described elsewhere: “The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of My people” (vs. 10).
Do not easily dismiss such prophecies as describing things that cannot happen, or at least not today, in our modern civilization. In times of war and famine, people invariably return to the horror of cannibalism. Trapped without food for an extended period, almost everyone will resort to such behavior given the opportunity. Many will even kill living people to defeat hunger.
I have talked to American prisoners of war from World War II—who were interned in both Europe and Asia. They reported to me that without hesitation Allied prisoners would eat their fellow soldiers the moment they died. Their descriptions were too graphic for this booklet.
Additional historical examples create a fuller picture of what is to come—bringing to life Bible passages that warn of looming mass starvation:
Germany: During the Thirty Years’ War in central Europe, famine struck. “By 1630, western and eastern Germany and nearby lands had been embroiled in 10 years’ fighting…Famine and pestilence had cut [Germany’s] population from some 70000 to only 16000. People had survived by eating rats and chewing hides; in one reported case a woman dined upon a soldier who had perished in her home” (Catastrophe and Crisis, Jeremy Kingston and David Lambert).
The Soviet Union: The following quote, describing Ukranian children in the early 1930s, helps present the horrible picture of starvation: “And the peasant children! Have you ever seen the newspaper photographs of the children in the German camps? They were just like that: their heads like heavy balls on thin little necks…one could see each bone of their arms and legs protruding from beneath the skin, how bones joined, and the entire skeleton was stretched over with skin that was like yellow gauze…the children’s faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old” (Forever Flowing, Vasily Grossman, pp. 156-157).
Also, after the German army invaded the USSR during World War II, it quickly encircled Leningrad, beginning a 900-day siege of the city. In the end, about one million died. The conditions of the city during the blockade show how quickly human conduct can shift during famine.
In his book The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, Harrison Salisbury pieced together the accounts of those who lived during the Nazi siege. He states: “More and more, Leningrad seemed to its residents to have become the city of the white apocalypse where humans fed on humans and the very water which they drank carried the sweet stench of human corpses.” Because of all the bodies being dumped into the rivers and canals, the water tasted “faintly sweet, faintly moldy, tainted with the presence of death.”
Ancient Israel: Flavius Josephus describes an account of Jerusalem when it was under siege by the Romans in the first century. From Josephus’ The Wars of the Jews comes this: “Now, of those that perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious; and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable…” The account describes the dearest friends fighting over scraps of food. Even while people lay dying of starvation, thieves would search them to be sure they were not feigning death, hiding food in their clothing.
Josephus describes, “These robbers...gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day. Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew every thing, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes, and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some…”
Worse, he describes, “a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan; her name was Mary” who was trapped in the city. After it was “impossible for her any way to find any more food” and “famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow…She then attempted a most unnatural thing, and, snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, ‘O thou miserable infant. For whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us even before that slavery comes upon us…Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a byword to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews.’
“As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed.”
These horrific events are in the past, but they are at the same time a sobering glimpse of things to happen again. God paints a powerful picture of the coming famine—and of which nations will suffer the most.
Let’s read more: “When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread: so will I send upon you famine …I the Lord have spoken it” (vs. 16-17).
Make yourself understand that these are things God says HE will do. Notice how many times God uses the word “I” to declare what HE will bring to pass. The reader is left to decide whether he believes God.
As the black horse and rider of famine intensifies, drastic changes will come to an interconnected modern world. No more will there be vast exports to other nations. No more will supermarket shelves brim with abundance. No more will wealthy nations be able to assist countries stricken with drought and famine.
These will all be replaced by daily ration lines, starving men, women and children scouring garbage heaps for meager scraps of food, while infants die from malnourishment.
Worse, it will pit parents against children for food, with hunger also driving people to eat the unthinkable. It means repeating horrors from history a final time—for the worst time ever. And this will impact all nations, with no exceptions.