Read Revelation 6 at Bible Gateway.
Previously: revelation 6, the first six seals: the second seal
When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” Rev 6:5-6
The color black in Scripture indicates darkness and depression (see here and here). The balance scale is the symbol of commerce or the economy. The Greek word translated quart was a dry measure (almost equivalent to a quart); one of wheat and three of barley was a daily ration for one man. A denarius was a day’s wage for an average person. So the daily ration of food for one man was a quart of wheat and three of barley. A day’s wage for one man was a denarius. Enough food to last one man one day, will cost that man two day’s wages. If he also has a family, can you see the economic crisis the picture of the black horseman is painting?
It seems that the famine or shortage or economic collapse would be of a society where wheat, barley, olive oil, and wine were staples in the average person’s diet, as well as olive oil and wine; the wheat and barley would suffer severe shortages but not the olive oil or the wine. That is a lot of specific detail. Since the symbol of horse and horseman is used again, let us look at the Roman Empire, at the result of the civil war which the red horse and horseman symbolized.
The rulers following the five good emperors of the white horse and horseman of righteousness usually lived extravagant and decadent lives of every dissipation, with a few exceptions. Commodus, the first emperor of the red horseman, emptied the state treasury on bread and circuses for the citizens, in an attempt to purchase their favor. Subsequent emperors were unable to refill it, and new taxes were devised, which were ever increased.
Farmers who could no longer afford to farm left their lands and crowded into Rome, where bread was given to the people as welfare, to secure their favor of whatever emperor happened to be on the throne at the time. The weakness of the state spread to the military, and the weakness of the military encouraged barbarian invasions and revolts in the further provinces of the Empire.
So the territory the Empire covered began shrinking, resulting in even less wealth in the form of taxes and tribute coming into Rome. The unceasing civil wars ruined business, as we saw, and inflation grew apace. Thus on the heels of the red horse and horseman, civil war and violent murder, we find the black horse and horseman of inflation, high taxation, poverty, economic collapse, and famine.
Continued in revelation 6, the first six seals: the fourth seal