‘To kill with sword and famine and pestilence’ – The Manila Times
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‘To kill with sword and famine and pestilence’


When he opened the fourth seal … I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts.
— The Book of Revelation, 6:7-8

Is the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) God’s chastisement?

That was this column’s reflection last Sunday, presenting the global pandemic as one of the calamities allowed by God to wake up humanity in order that the godless may turn to Him and be saved instead of continuing their march to eternal perdition.

This and consecutive Sunday articles will expound on modern-era developments seeming to advance God’s prophesied plan for the end times, as set forth in the Bible and saintly revelations, to prepare the world for our Lord Jesus Christ’s return and the full establishment of His Kingdom on earth.

Today we ponder the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, symbolic figures in Chapter 6 of the Apocalypse or Revelation, the last book of the Bible, attributed to the Apostle John, also said to have authored the Fourth Gospel and three epistles.

The Book of Revelation contains two main sections: the first three chapters imparted spiritual and moral guidance to seven early Christian congregations, and Chapters 4 to 22 conveyed what saints and scholars have interpreted as symbolic material prophesying not only for the decades after Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, but also for the end times before his Second Coming.

Conquest, war, famine and death

Coming forth upon the breaking of the first four of seven seals, the Four Horsemen have been widely interpreted as divine chastisements in the end times. The first rides a white horse, carrying a bow and receiving a crown, “and he went out conquering and to conquer” (Rev 6:2). Certain exegetes see in him the scourge of conquest; while for others, the First Horseman points to Christ the King.

The second, riding a bright red steed symbolizes war and “was permitted to take peace from the earth; so, that men should slay one another, and he was given a great sword” (Rev 6:4).

The third rider, astride a black horse, is often called Famine, selling for a full day’s wage of one denarius just a quart of wheat, enough for only one person, and three quarts of barley for a small family. “And do not harm oil and wine,” he admonished (Rev 6:6).

The Fourth Horseman rides a pale mount, “and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (Rev 6:8).

Does this deathly quartet prophesy modern-day tribulations? We leave the heavy-duty, multilingual, historical-scientific verse analysis to scholars, and ponder the Four Horsemen as symbols of world-shaking enormities that have impacted huge swathes of humanity over the centuries.

Though riding since ancient times, the white horse of conquest swept the world in the modern age with European colonialism, starting with Portugal and Spain in the 1500s and culminating in the globe-girdling British Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries, spreading Western power and culture to all continents but Antarctica.

War has also been around forever, but the red horse truly went global only in the Second World War. Said to have begun with the 1939 German invasion of Poland and ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945, the planet-wide conflict reached well beyond the mainly European battlefields of the First World War from 1914 to 1918 and caused between 40 million and 50 million deaths, the highest wartime casualties of all time.

Many may argue that unlike conquest and war, the black horse of famine never rode all over the planet. In fact, it has. Between the 1860s and 2016, according to ourworlddata.org, 128 million died of starvation, and there has been famine in every decade since 1430 in all major regions of the world; often due to conflict or calamity (see List of Famines, Wikipedia).

Today, decades after global colonialism and world war ceased, roughly 80 million people across the planet suffer crisis-level food insecurity (translation: starvation) needing urgent relief. The black horse clearly has not stopped riding. And besides war and disaster, a third big reason is commerce.

Under the capitalist system prevailing worldwide, the richest 1 percent of people own more than two-thirds of global wealth while the poorest 50 percent make do with barely 1 percent of all assets. Hence, according to the World Bank, 736 million or 8.6 percent of humanity live in extreme poverty, subsisting on $1.90 or less a day. No wonder 80 million flee the Third Horseman every day all across the globe.

Meet the killer horseman

The fourth rider is called Death, maybe because unlike the first three horsemen, this scourge directly kills people rather than decimating them through strife or deprivation.

Among these killer events are the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which wiped out a quarter of a million people in minutes; and earthquakes in Tangshan, China (1976, killing more than 650,000 estimated); Sumatra, Indonesia (2004, killing 228,000); and Haiti (2010, killing 222,570).

Disease, of course, also directly kills. The deadliest since the 14th-Century Black Death (75 million to 200 million killed) was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920, with estimates of as many as 50 million dead. HIV-AIDS — human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome — has snuffed out 36 million lives since 1981. The Hong Kong flu of 1968 killed 1 million, including 500,000 in the city, over one-seventh of its population, and the Asian flu (1956-1958) ended 2 million lives.

While flu pandemics in this millennium thankfully have not reached those body counts, the 2003 SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome and today’s Covid-19 disrupted global travel and commerce immensely and may now trigger global recession.

If these scourges are indeed prophesied in the Four Horsemen, how are they preparing the world for the end times? That’s for next Sunday.


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