A primary means of repression throughout history has been economic in nature. If a person or a group can be kept at the subsistence level—that is, financially able to afford only the bare necessities of life—he or it can be controlled. For instance, a man who must work from sunup to sundown to make enough to feed himself and his family does not have time to further his education, start a business, travel to see how others live, or collude with neighbors to rebel against his rulers. Essentially, such a person is a slave, a serf, a pauper, and those in authority have little trouble holding his nose to the grindstone day after day after day. Either he plods on, or he and his dependents starve.
Westerners usually think of famine in terms of mass starvation in remote, Third World countries. In our mind's eye, we see stick-thin, little children with distended bellies and bones clearly visible under their skin, flies buzzing around their gaunt, staring faces. We imagine interminable lines of such people, bowl or cup in hand, waiting to receive their daily ration of grain or milk. Others we envision lying in the dirt without the strength even to walk.
But there is another kind of famine, not as severe but ultimately just as calamitous. It is the famine of protracted undernourishment, one that weakens the body, making it sickly and short-lived, and crushes the spirit, causing hopelessness and apathy. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 4:9, "Those slain by the sword are better off than those who die of hunger; for these pine away, stricken for lack of the fruits of the field."
It is such a long-term hunger that appears in Revelation 6:5-6. No matter if it is the result of war, oppression, drought, or flooding, famine is a terrible scourge, and sadly, has claimed millions of lives over the centuries. This is the work of the third horseman, the rider of the black horse.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Four): The Black Horse