We have been much preoccupied by shortages in our land lately whether these have been contrived or real shortages, they have been affecting our land and our lives. We are even inclined to complain: against the government; against farmers; against the middleman. Such complaint or dissatisfaction is rather strange — since we still have food in such abundance that it almost literally “comes out of our ears.” Much is still thrown away after meals are fished. We have such variety yet that kings of old could hardly equal. And when we read of the literal and terrible famines now affecting large areas of this earth, we might well be ashamed of speaking any word of complaint.
Yet these shortages remind us again how close we can be to times of actual lack — of real famine. Nor ought we to think that we, in our country, are immune from such things. We may readily speak of the productivity of American farms. We might point to the huge surplus which had been built up year after year. We could point out that where there is lack in one part of our country, other parts can readily make up the difference. But God directs all things. God can send drought over large segments of our country. God can send diseases which destroy large amounts of crop and cattle. Our surpluses have been depleted. Famine could conceivably also affect our land. I do not mean to be a “crepe-hanger.” I am leading rather to the point of emphasizing what Scripture declares concerning famine as a sign of the end of this age.
Famines have been part of the recorded history of this world almost from its beginning. One reads of famines in Scripture. The instances mentioned in Genesis of famine in the lifetime of Abraham are well known. It was a famine in Canaan which became the occasion of Abraham’s journey to Egypt. Later, a famine brought Jacob and his family to Egypt where they remained for almost four hundred years. Famines occurred with regularity in the land of Canaan and surrounding countries. That there are famines, therefore, is not a new phenomenon.
And Scripture foretells the coming of famines. There are more passages than I can presently point out that speak of the coming of famines. I remind you only of a few. These speak not only of the possibility of famines, but of the fact that God Himself sends these. We read in Jer. 24:10, “And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers.” Or, again, “So I will send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee. I the Lord have spoken it.” (Ez. 5:17). It is clearly God Who sends the famine, and sends it in His wrath upon the workers of wickedness.
Jesus also spake of famines as signs of the end of the age. In Matthew 24, Jesus responded to the question of the disciples, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (vs. 3) Jesus said (among other things), “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines . . .” (vs.7) This is specifically presented as a sign of the coming again of Jesus and the end of the world. At the same time, Jesus reminds us in verse 8 “these are the beginning of sorrows.” The literal idea is that famine and other “natural” disasters represent the birth pains of the new creation. Each time these are seen on the earth, the child of God is reminded that the “birth” of the new creation is that much nearer.
But famines shall increase as the end of time draws near. Concerning the third of the four horses of Rev. 6 we read, “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.” The blackness of the horse is a reminder of the blackness associated with the famished. A measure of wheat would be that amount which one man needed to live each day — to be purchased by a penny, the amount that a man could earn in one day. This indicates a time of scarcity and want. The wine and oil, the luxuries of this earth, are untouched: the rich are not apparently affected by the scarcity of the ordinary daily necessities. The balances in the hand of the horseman also indicates a careful measuring out of things; there will be no superabundance when this horse runs.
The third horse, of course, runs throughout the history of this age. But he still runs today — and increasingly is he evident. The concern about wheat shortages in our own country surely must be a reminder of the “measure of wheat for a penny.”
Though “Watergate” dominates the news lately, one does note repeated references to terrible famines in our own day in certain areas of the world. Time, in a brief article, explained (in Aug. 20, 1973 issue):
The pinch on U.S. supplies of grain and beef is only part of a worldwide scarcity of raw materials. For almost every important commodity — meat, wheat, rice, soybeans, wool, cocoa, copper, lead, rubber — world production is falling behind ravenous demand . . .
The situation stems largely from a temporary combination of foul weather for crops and metal miners’ strikes in Chile and Zambia. But trouble may not be short-lived. World reserve stocks of many major farm goods have been so badly depleted that years of bumper harvests will be needed to rebuild them.
The Grand Rapids’ Press has been giving brief reports on occasion. On June 11, 1973, this newspaper stated:
The United Nations’ early warning system for famine is signaling a red alert.
The Food and Agriculture Organization lists 28 countries stricken by drought this year. The prolonged series of dry spells, the worst in 25 years, has killed cattle and reduced crops in wide areas of Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The droughts came at a time when the U.N. unit was already warning that food production in the hungry nations was falling behind the population explosion.
And other factors, many of them economic, were reducing thinly stockpiled food reserves in the industrial nations. Floods on the Mississippi River caused millions of dollars’ worth of crop losses in the United States, a country that traditionally makes up food deficits in the hungry areas of the world.
The United States and Canada also sold millions of dollars worth of grain to the Soviet Union to help it to recover from a disastrous harvest.
Experts at F.A.O.’s headquarters here estimate that more than one billion people live in countries where there is not enough to eat because of drought.
That’s nearly a third of the world’s population.
Again, the Press of June 13, 1973 reported:
Remote and legendary Timbuktu, often a synonym for the end of the world, has become a major distribution point for relief food to thousands struck by the four-year-old dry spell . . .
It has destroyed vast acres of crops, wiped out millions of cattle and, according to United Nations , officials, could bring death to some six million Africans through famine.
Then in the Press of August 9, 1973, one could read:
Thirteen million people, twice as many as earlier believed, are now facing famine because of drought in Sub-Sahara Africa, the League of Red Cross Societies said Wednesday.
It said half of these people are children less than 15 years old.
Of the 24 million inhabitants of the six Sub-Sahara, or Sahelian countries, 12 million are threatened, the League said.
A further one million persons are in danger in Ethiopia, which is not actually a part of the region, it said.
Adding to the human suffering, the League reported, is the loss by drought victims of 80 per cent or more of their livestock . . .”
This all sounds frightening. In this world where men boast of their ability to maintain productivity, where men are able to transport vast quantities of materials by ship or plane, where only a few years ago we heard of vast surplus of grain, in this country and farm-land was placed in the “land bank,” now major portions of the earth are threatened by the third horseman. Surely, it is a fulfillment of Christ’s Word, and it is a sign of the nearness of the end of this age.
In the first place, the famine is a clear sign of God’s judgment. Thus is it presented especially in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God sends this in His wrath upon the disobedient. It is evidence of His wrath against mankind who is born totally depraved out of his first father and representative head, Adam. But also God reveals His wrath against the corruption evident in any one period of history. Today especially the wickedness of man has manifested itself in unbelievably terrible ways. There is no regard, even in an outward way, to the law of God. Man does what is right in his own eyes. Nor may man think that with impunity he can escape the judgment of God. Man who evilly uses .the material things of God’s creation, man who readily uses his inventions in the service of sin, that man will also taste of the terrible wrath of the just God. And these go together: man’s wickedness and the evidence of God’s wrath. Both serve as reminder that soon the end comes and the judgment of God will be expressed in its full and final form.
Secondly, the earthly famines remind one of another sort of famine increasingly seen in the earth. This other sort of famine is what Scripture calls the “famine of the Word.” Amos 8:11 states, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of the hearing the words of the Lord.” Such a famine is seen in the land today. It shall become more and more evident. That kind of famine is far worse than physical famine. But the two again go together. In connection with the wickedness of man who turns from the Word, God in His wrath also takes away his physical food.
But the child of God continues to look to God for his daily bread. And he knows that shortly he shall be delivered from this world of famines, for the coming of “the Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).