How Much for the Fine Flour?
“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”
In my unfinished book titled, Suffering: for Christ’s Sake, I tell the stories of 5 people from my generation (X if you must know), who live in a country that had an experience similar to the one described by John. They lived through suffering of which we cannot imagine, or don’t want to. “In those day a bar of soap would cost one hundred dollars,” I was told by one pastor. “We would eat unripened plantains, around 3 PM, we roasted them on a fire so that they were edible. We ate at 3 because we were so hungry but we waited until then so we could sleep through the night without waking up with extreme hunger,” A woman explained. Yet their suffering is eclipsed by others who have suffered far worse, a suffering unimaginable to them. And others have suffered even greater. Yet God didn’t rapture them. What he did do was far greater; he saved some of them from his wrath and used them to spread his gospel to the world. You might say that they were conquerors.
The first two horses represent conquest and war, respectively. The horses of which we have read about today represent famine and all kinds of death. Conquest, wars, famine, death–conquest, wars, famine, death–conquest, wars, famine, death. It’s a very new concept, I hope we can follow along. Please don’t think that in my sarcasm I am making fun of the Bible; quite the opposite is true. I love that it is simply written for the simple minded such as I. I suppose my question is this: Have conquest, wars, famine and untimely death peaked, or are they merely getting their footing? To all our service men and women; to those in poverty ravaged nations, cities and towns; to those who have lost loved ones too early; and to those who are constantly being conquered, yes the circle continues. We thank our service men and women. Our hearts break for the impoverished (probably not our piggy banks though; yet I think we all try to help the downtrodden, some). We pray for and comfort those who have lost. I want to say to those that have been consistently conquered, “I am on my way and I have ol’ Bessie by my side!” But that is not how God wants us to operate. We are not to fight with a literal sword but with the sword of salvation. And remember, God is the one who wrote the book and broke the seals. To all the servants and the sufferers, it’s real and it is painful, but it is nothing like it has been in the past. Being a spoiled American, I think of America’s wars, from the revolution to whatever we’re calling the Afghanistan initiative now. When I think of war, after all the battles and strategies and individual stories, I will boil it all down to the numbers. What is the total population versus the casualties? It sounds cold but let’s be honest, it’s what it’s all about. Nations kill as many as possible to win. During World War 2, the United States population was almost 124,000,000. Military deaths alone were over 400,000 during this period. In the recent Iraq war, we lost 4,491 brave and precious souls, out of a population of over 300,000,000. Numerically, which was worse? But I focus too much on the United States. During WW2, China alone, lost more than 5,000,000 to famine and disease, to say nothing of the military deaths. We may never know how many the Soviet Union lost.
Again, to the soldier who lost his best friend in battle, I can’t fathom your loss. And I swore I would never get political on these missives (That’s why God says not to swear), considering the many countries from which people have come to this site; and considering I don’t want to jeopardize my future missions work, BUT, when our Congress debates the illegal immigrant, but neglects our suffering veterans… Enough said.
The fact remains though, whether through sword, famine or any other form of untimely death, the casualties have trended downward, especially based on the world’s population. Other than the Holocaust on the unborn.
What is the point?
Juxtaposed to the early church, we in America know nothing about suffering. They were killed by famine, beast, war, Jews, Romans and even the emperor himself, who would dip christians in oil and light them on fire to illuminate his garden. The church in Smyrna could not buy food at all and were thrown into prison for calling Christ their king. In the text we read that fine flour, not enough for one person for one day, is sold for a day’s wage. It’s a losing proposition. I’m ashamed; it’s been a long time coming but I admit it, I am ashamed. My midlife crises is that I’ve done nothing for the kingdom. I looked around at my world and my country and thought; surely Jesus is coming soon because things are getting so bad. Forgetting the true suffering of which the prophets, the apostles and the early church endured. We declare, keep “Christ in Christmas” and we boycott stores with transgender bathrooms. Lest we forget, that sinners sin and Christ redeems. Rather than boycott, perhaps we should engage with the gospel and leave the hateful rhetoric at home.
Three quarts of barley for a denarius
Forget the fine flour, only the wealthy can afford that. The middle class down to the poor are stuck with barley, the inferior of the wheats. A quart of fine flour is sold for a day’s wage. That is not enough to feed one man, let alone a family. But the barley; one could possibly buy enough barely to feed his family, if the family is small and if they have no other costs, such as shelter.
Wake up sleepy head! We have never been so blessed. Since sin entered the world, it’s been a circle of conquest, wars, famine and death. The early church had these plagues, probably more than anyone in history. Yet it continues, the church and the plagues. How many christians live in countries where it is illegal to be a christian? Of those how many face death daily? And yet in all these countries we receive word that the church is growing; I guess Christ conquers after all.
Perhaps you think I have gone off the deep end. You’re wondering what the basis is for my ramblings. You think I am not considering the context. Fair enough, here’s the rest of the context, notice: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
The four figurative horsemen of the apocalypse are not literal horsemen, waiting in the wings to pour out God’s wrath in the future. Yet they do represent God’s judgement throughout history. While the culmination may happen during the 21st century it certainly happened in the first century. I know the argument that 1/4 of the population has not been wiped out by any one war but look at the context. “And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” Not only could this be hyperbole but it certainly is playing on the number four. The four horsemen, the four living creatures, the four corners of the earth, the four seasons and the four rivers in Eden. The Horsemen represent 4 events, conquest, wars, famine and death. The fourth of the earth, to which they are given authority corresponds to the numbers of the plagues. It doesn’t specifically or literally say that 1/4 of all the people perish in this context.
Servant Like Summation
Give thanks. And do it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. The social media platform has become a hotbed of negativity, anger, malice and slander. It’s also used for people to show off their kids, pets and food. I gave up Facebook years ago, I couldn’t take the self-centeredness. But I will rejoin and jump on the bandwagon if christians will decide that it only be used for giving thanks and glory to God. Like I did, many people are abandoning Facebook but you don’t have to be like me. Make a monthly pledge and post it on your page. Nothing but Thanksgiving and Praise for April. Start something, spread the word and follow through. I’ll be jumping on that trend. The disciples turned the world upside down in Acts, and they had no printing press. The Reformation turned the world upside down, while they did have the printing press, they did not have social media, or email, or many Bible apps in many translations, or cell phones, or any phones… You get the picture. What is our excuse then? It’s why I write, we’ve been taught wrong. We apply everything that is written in Revelation to our time. We think the Antichrist is about to be revealed and there is no hope for mankind so we sit and await our rapture rescue, forgetting that all christians before us, labored, struggled and were persecuted for following God and circulating his gospel. The new Great Awakening, the New Reformation is at our fingertips. Start a revolution. Turn off the news, stop posting every time your kids take a so cute bath. Because if you don’t, I’ll start posting my cute baths, you don’t want to see that! No offense to anyone who has recently posted a so cute bath, it’s merely an example of something our culture approves of for kids but not grown men. But give glory and praise in thanks to the Lord. Maybe your likes will go down but at least you’ll find out who your friends are. And who knows, maybe a thousand years of peace will happen simply by christians abandoning the world and embracing the kingdom.
The converse may also be true. We may end up having to finance fine flour. It’s happened all throughout history and oftentimes to those who follow Christ with all their hearts. We have been blessed, let’s share the blessings.
We have to ask ourselves, what was the author’s aspirations to his audience? Was it to fear an impending tribulation or to comfort them? He was instructing them that it is the Worthy One who opens the book and breaks the seals.
“And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”