When Jesus opened the third seal in John’s vision, a horseman rode out on a black horse.

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 yoke 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 6:5-7).
The colour black indicates the character of this ruler. He is intent on doing evil and inflicting harm on people.

Most English translations say that the rider on the black horse carried a pair of scales. This is misleading. The Greek word is “zugon”. It comes from a root that means “joining”. It can refer to “scales”, but it can also mean “yoke”. When Jesus called us to take his yoke upon him, the gospels use the same word “zugon” (Matt 11:29). 1 Tim 6:1 used the word to describe a yoke of slavery. In Acts 15:10, Paul challenges that Christian leaders not to put a yoke on the neck of new disciples that they cannot bear.

Translating the word “zugon” as “yoke” gives a different insight into the rider on the black horse. He held a yoke in “his hand”. That hand is a symbol of political power. The rider on the black horse uses political power to impose an economic yoke on peoples and nations. This powerful ruler uses trade sanction, trade regulations and tariffs to control other nations.

The results of these sanctions are made very clear. The Greek measure, translated here as a quart, was a "choinix". It was the daily ration for a soldier in active service. The coin mentioned is a denarius, which was the equivalent of a day's wages. John says that the shortage of food will be so severe that a daily ration of wheat will cost a day's wages. Barley was a little cheaper as it was considered to be of poorer quality. The situation will be so severe that ordinary people will need all that they can earn to buy food.

The wealthy will not be affected. Luxury items like oil and wine are not to be damaged. They are not essentials but will be more readily available. The real shortage will be for basic food items.

Economic sanctions are immoral. No person or nation has the right to prevent other people or nations from buying and selling. The person who owns something does not have to sell it if they choose not to, regardless of the price that is offered. But if they choose to sell to someone, they are free to sell. No political power has authority to prevent them from selling.

Economic sanctions are immoral. No person or nation has the right to prevent other people or nations from buying and selling. The person who owns something does not have to sell it if they choose not to, regardless of the price that is offered. But if they choose to sell to someone, they are free to sell. No political power has authority to prevent them from selling. All economic sanctions are immoral. It is ironic that the nations, which claim to believe in free trade, are the most active in enforcing economic sanctions against others.

Economic sanctions are a nasty and ineffective way to bring political change. They inflict pain on ordinary people, while the political leaders they are directed against, usually find ways to get around them. Some even become rich through trading in the black market. The ugliness of sanctions as a political weapon is reflected in the colour of the black horse. They are a form of blackmail.

Christians in the nations that impose them most often like to pretend that economic sanctions are more humane than military weapons, but that is hypocritical. Military weapons theoretically strike military targets, whereas economic sanctions kill innocent people. They deliberately try to starve children. Being malnourished gives children a terrible start in life. I amazed that Christians support governments that impose economic sanctions to achieve political goals.

Zechariah tells us that the black horses move towards the north. The economic attacks of this ruler will begin against the weaker nations of the earth, but it will eventually attack the wealthy nations of the north.

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