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What is a Famine?

by Tom Stewart
January 3, 2005

"A measure of wheat for a penny" (Revelation 6:6).

It has been said that the relationship between hunger and famine is the same as that of an economic recession to a depression. The economic decline of a recession is more severe in a depression, while the physical effects of hunger are more pronounced or widespread in a famine. The dictionary defines a famine as a
"drastic, wide-reaching shortage of food." Some will call it a recession when someone else has lost their job, and a depression only when they are unemployed. Likewise, they would confess it to be hunger, when someone else's stomach is empty, but a famine, if they should go without. If the PNC can compute the Christmas Price Index for the cost of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"-- costing $12,623 in 1984 and $17,297 in 2004-- then, couldn't we more precisely assess the scope and extent of what is a famine? The Apocalypse or the New Testament Book of Revelation gives us a succinct look at a worldwide famine in the Third Seal Judgment of the upcoming Seventieth Week of Daniel. [See our "Commentary on the Book of Revelation" ---New Window for more background on Revelation 6.] "5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 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" (Revelation 6:5-6). Along with this discussion, we should remember that the LORD Jesus Christ reminded us that our Heavenly Father is interested in what we eat, drink, and wear. "25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" (Matthew 6:25-26). Further, He has assured us of His Provision for us, if we will only seek and trust Him. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His Righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). [See Katie Stewart's "Promises for: Provision in the LORD" ---New Window for more encouragement about how God has furnished His children against famine.]

The Apostle John describes a famine in Revelation 6, where all of one's daily labour goes to acquire the bread to survive for that one individual for only that day.
"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure [Greek, choinix] of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine" (Revelation 6:6). In "An Exposition of the Old and New Testament" (1809), John Gill (1697-1771) explains verse 6, thus:

"Choenix," the measure here used, signifies as much as was sufficient for a man for one day, as a penny was the usual hire of a labourer for a day. "And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (Matthew 20:2). So a choenix of corn was allowed to each man in Xerxes's army for a day, according to Herodotus; the same quantity for a day was given by the Romans to their shepherds and servants, and is generally said to be about two pounds; according to Agricola it was two pounds and a quarter. This measure was very different; the Attic choenix was a measure that held three pounds, the Italic choenix four pounds, and the military choenix five pounds, and answers to the Hebrew Kab; and in the Septuagint version of Ezekiel 45:10-11 ["10 Ye shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath. 11 The ephah and the bath shall be of one measure, that the bath may contain the tenth part of an homer, and the ephah the tenth part of an homer: the measure thereof shall be after the homer"], it answers to the Bath; and some make it to be the fourth part of a bushel, and others half a bushel; the first account of its being about two pounds, and the allowance of a man for a day [WStS emphasis], seems best to agree with this place: so that this phrase expresses such a scarcity, as that a man's daily wages would be but just enough to buy himself bread, without any thing to eat with it; and when he would have nothing left for clothes, and other things, nor anything for his wife and children.

Again, a famine situation exists whenever one's daily labour buys only enough food for the survival of just that individual for just that day. The implication is that all non-wage earners such as spouses, children, and the elderly, would not be able to survive in such an Apocalyptic Famine. Using the framework of Revelation 6:6, it would be possible to arrive at some kind of idea what an Apocalyptic Famine would be like. Let us assume:

Whenever the minimum wage ($ per hour) times 8 (hours in a work day) equals the cost of wheat ($ per pound) times 1.75 (pounds of wheat equivalent to
"a measure of wheat" of bread), then you have the famine situation described in Revelation 6:6.

When 8x = 1.75y, then a famine exists.
Where x = minimum wage ($ per hour)
y = cost of wheat ($ per pound)

Also, If 1 measure = 1 quart (Halley's Bible Handbook, Davis Dictionary of the Bible)
If 1 gallon of wheat = 7 pounds (approximate weight of 4 quarts of wheat)
If 1 pound of wheat = 1 loaf of bread (where 3 cups of grain produces 4 cups of flour; and 3 cups of flour yield 1 loaf of bread)
Then, 1 measure of wheat = 1.75 loaves of bread (
"about two pounds, and the allowance of a man for a day" -- J. Gill)

Example: If x = $5.15 (minimum wage [2004])
y = $.25 ($ per pound, wheat [2004])

8x = 1.75y
8 ($5.15) = 1.75 ($.25)
$41.20 does not equal $.4375
Therefore, a famine does not exist by this definition, using 2004 minimum wage and 2004 cost of wheat per pound.
However, whenever the scarcity of wheat drives the price high enough, and/ or wages sink low enough, then a famine exists.

In conclusion, "Thank God for a Pre-Tribulational Rapture!" And, "Thank You, LORD, for the promise to
'supply all [our] need according to [Your] Riches in Glory by Christ Jesus' (Philippians 4:19) in the meantime!"


[See our article "
Must There Be a Pre-Tribulational Rapture?" ---New Window for the Scriptural evidence for such a hope.]

Tom Stewart

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