The third seal released a rider on a black horse and economic hardship – Revelation 6:5-6.
The “Lamb” opened the third “seal,” and once again, one of the “four living creatures” summoned its rider, this one riding a “black horse” that, apparently, represented economic distress and food shortages. As before, the task of the rider was declared by one of the four “living creatures,” as well as the limitations on its effects (“the oil and the wine do not harm”).
The rider carried a “pair of balances in his hand,” which possibly signified the careful rationing of foodstuffs during times of shortages and famine. But measuring grain by weight was the normal way of transacting business in the marketplace. In and of itself, nothing in the verse suggests economic collapse or starvation due to warfare, natural catastrophes, or other causes.
- (Revelation 6:5-6) – “And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature, saying, Go! And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and he that was sitting thereon holding a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard as a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, a quart of wheat for a denary, and three quarts of barley for a denary, and the oil and the wine do not harm.”
“A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius.” A denarius was a small silver coin equal to a day’s pay for a laborer. A “quart of wheat” was enough to meet the daily needs of one person. “Barley” was a courser and less expensive grain used for bread by the poor. The quantities of grain do not point to famine, but instead, to the amount of food necessary to meet the daily needs of an average person.
“I heard as a voice in the midst of the four living creatures.” Previously, the “four living creatures” were observed, “in the midst and around the throne.” This “voice” may be the collective voice of the four “living beings.” But more likely, it was the voice of the “Lamb” or the “Lord God” who was “sitting on the Throne.” Once again, the “four living creatures” are associated closely with the first four seal openings.
“The oil and the wine do not harm.” If economic distress or starvation was the point, the voice limited its effects. Olive oil was necessary to bake bread, and otherwise, was essential to daily life; likewise, the “wine.” “Oil and wine” are paired also as two of the commodities cut off from the “merchants of the earth” by the downfall of “Babylon.” In that case, the supply of such things was shut down completely; in contrast, the “rider on the black horse” was commanded explicitly NOT to harm the “oil and wine” – (Revelation 18:13).
The “black horse” may represent economic distress and deprivation. If so, inflated prices for basic commodities would impact all citizens, including Christians. Previously, several of the churches of Asia had experienced economic hardship. The image may allude to attempts by local magistrates to coerce Christians to conform to their demands through economic pressure – (Revelation 2:9).
The voice from the “midst of the four living creatures” limited the impact of any economic distress and ensured that sufficient supplies of foodstuffs would be available to support the daily needs of an average resident of Asia, though what was allotted by the voice did not constitute an overabundance of food.
What the “voice” indicated was concern for the physical well-being of certain groups. Whether they consisted of Christians or pagans is not yet clear. Regardless, the point was to ensure that daily needs were met in times of adversity. The “saints” might suffer hardship and persecution, but they would not die of starvation.