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More than 6.5 million children die from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases each year. About 925 million humans suffer malnourishment (wfp.org, Fact Sheet: Hunger, 2011). In February 2011, food costs increased "the most in two and a half years" and "more food and gas price increases are in the pipeline" (New York Times, March 17, 2011). In the face of these grim realities, many do not realize just how close the world is to unprecedented global famine. Many are not prepared for the ride of the black horse.
Years of grinding drought in nations such as Argentina, Australia, Ukraine, Tanzania, Russia and China have killed millions of cattle and severely reduced annual global wheat production. Then, in recent months, a cyclone and the worst flooding in more than 200 years inundated much of previously drought-stricken Australia, destroying about a quarter of Queensland's sugarcane crop, killing or injuring nearly 30,000 sheep and killing more than 330,000 chickens (The Age, February 7, 2011).
In early 2011, "the worst freeze in sixty years" caused "unprecedented crop losses" in Mexico and the southwestern United States, tripling produce prices in just a few days (KGW News, February 11, 2011). Global food fears have driven nations like Indonesia to purchase up to five times the amount of rice as expected (Reuters, February 9, 2011), and food price inflation was one of the sparks that ignited the recent demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa!
The wise foresee danger and prepare (Proverbs 22:3). But, no amount of wealth or physical preparation will ensure our surviving the times ahead! Spiritual preparation is required. So, in addition to such practical steps as eliminating debt and storing non-perishable food, what spiritual preparations can people make?
Scripture reveals that, before Jesus Christ's return, God will "refine" the modern descendants of ancient Israel because of their sinfulness. He will refine the entire "house of Jacob" in the "furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:1–12; cf. Deuteronomy 28:43–52; Ezekiel 5:11–17). God expects His Church not only to preach the good news of the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15), but also to warn ancient Israel's modern descendants that they will suffer national punishment unless they repent (Ezekiel 33:1–11). Tragically, most will not listen to the watchman's warning (Jeremiah 6:10–17) to repent and keep God's law (vv. 18–19).
But what, precisely, does Scripture reveal will befall our nations during this time of national correction? When will famine afflict the earth? And, is there a way for us to escape?
Jesus says that when we hear of these wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences, the end is not yet (Matthew 24:6–9). These are the beginning of sorrows that will precede the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. In 2011, the world is facing unprecedented strains on food production, but the Black Horse of Famine's ride (Revelation 6:5–6) will be a famine of global and unprecedented proportions!
In Matthew 24, Christ outlines the order of events that will precede His return—events that precisely parallel the seals in Revelation 6. The First Seal is religious deception and religious wars (Matthew 24:5; Revelation 6:1–2). The Second Seal is regional and ethnic war throughout the earth (Matthew 24:6–7; Revelation 6:3–4). The Third Seal is unprecedented famine (Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:5–6). The Fourth Seal is pestilence and mass death (Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:7–8). The first four seals will bring about the sudden collapse of much of the Western world (Isaiah 30:12–13; 1 Thessalonians 5:3-7). This will swiftly lead to the opening of the Fifth Seal, which is the "Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21–22; Revelation 6:9–10). The "ten kings" of Revelation 17:12–14 will be subordinate to a dominating ruler known as the "Beast" (v. 13) and the "king of the North" (Daniel 11:40–41). Under the influence of a powerful false religion, this "king" will make martyrs of God's people (Revelation 17:1–6).
The final revival of the ancient "Holy Roman Empire" will be led by a "great nation"—a "cruel" and merciless people from "north" of the Holy Land (Jeremiah 6:22–26), the "rod" of God's anger (Isaiah 10:5–6). Reeling from the first Four Seals, the modern Israelitish nations will fall "suddenly" (Jeremiah 15:1–8) and their cities will be laid waste (Ezekiel 12:20). Survivors will be taken captive throughout the world (Deuteronomy 28:68; Ezekiel 27:12–13; Revelation 18:9–13).
Daniel 12:7–12 reveals three major events prior to Christ's return. These events are the "blessing" at 1,335 days (v. 12), the "abomination of desolation" at 1,290 days (v. 11) and the beginning of the Great Tribulation at 1,260 days (v. 7). As the Church of God has long taught, "A blessing is pronounced on us—God's Church—who wait and endure until the 1,335 days—approximately 1,335 days prior to Christ's coming" ("The Time We Are In, Now," Good News, January 1980, p. 23).
Why is this blessing pronounced? In the Olivet prophecy, Christ promises, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). At the end of this age, there will endure a faithful body persevering in preaching the good news of the soon-coming Kingdom of God and warning the world to repent of sin (Matthew 4:17; Luke 24:47)! These are those whom God finds persevering and enduring in doing the Father's will (John 4:34; 5:30). These are those whom Christ proclaims, "have kept My command to persevere," so He will then "keep [them] from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world" (Revelation 3:10).
Instead of "nourishing" ourselves in sin or carnal pursuits, we should prepare for the coming days of famine by persevering and enduring in righteousness, expectantly waiting for Christ's return. We should more diligently "feed on Christ" (John 6:54–57) through increased daily Bible study and fervent prayer. Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). If we become truly repentant, zealous for the truth, and seek spiritual nourishment now, then God promises us blessings in times of famine, and eternal life in His Kingdom!
King David wrote, "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine" (Psalm 33:18–19). And, "I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). And Jesus Christ proclaimed that sustenance is guaranteed for those who "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:31–33)!
Notice the conditions! God provides for those who "fear Him" and are "righteous." To fear God is to keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 13:4; Ecclesiastes 12:13). To love God is to keep His commandments (1 John 5:2–3). God meets the physical needs of those who seek "first"—more than anything else—"the Kingdom of God and His righteousness." We cannot claim God's blessings if we fail to build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or if we choose a life of sin and rebellion over a life of faithfulness.
Only the Father knows the precise timing of these end-time events (Matthew 24:36). But times of great scarcity are coming, including a time of famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11)! The wise are cautious and avoid danger. They do not ignore global warning signs and the clear words of Scripture! But, "fools plunge ahead with great confidence" (Proverbs 14:16, NLT). We must nourish ourselves spiritually now. If we do, then God will bless us now and always. We can choose wisdom or foolishness. Remember, "The Lord will not allow the righteous soul to famish, but He casts away the desire of the wicked" (Proverbs 10:3).