Rev. 6:5-6 – When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and there was a black horse. The horseman on it had a balance scale in his hand. Then I heard something like a voice among the four living creatures say, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius – but do not harm the olive oil and the wine” (HCSB).
A black horse
This horse is black, the color of sadness and want, according to some commentators. It is the color of a starless sky, the absence of light, a terror especially in ancient times when the lack of a torch or lamp would paralyze a person seeking to find his way. It symbolizes sin and death. For the unbeliever, we are told that hell is “outer darkness” away from the presence of God, Who is light (1 John 1:5); it is the “blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13). It also is the color of earthly judgment, for in Rev. 6:12 we see that the sun turns black like sackcloth made of goat’s hair.
Black often is used to denote the color of physical objects, according to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary: hair (Lev. 13:31, 37; Song 5:11); skin (Job 30:30; Song 1:5–6; Lam. 4:8); the sky as a sign of rain (1 Kings 18:45); and animals (Gen. 30:32–43; Zech. 6:2, 6; Rev. 6:5). “Black” also is used figuratively to describe mourning (Job 30:28; Jer. 4:28; 8:21; 14:2); a visionless day (Mic. 3:6); the abode of the dead (Job 3:5; Jude 13); and the treachery of Job’s friends (Job 6:16)
In Rev. 6:5, the horse’s black color no doubt signifies famine, for the description of the rider and his scales tells us that food is a scarce and expensive commodity.
Next: A balance scale in the rider’s hand (Rev. 6:5-6)
Rev. 6:5 – When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and there was a black horse. The horseman on it had a balance scale in his hand. Then I heard something like a voice among the four living creatures say, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius – but do not harm the olive oil and the wine” (HCSB).
As the Lamb opens the third seal, one of the living creatures thunders, “Come!” and a horse and rider appear. This horse is black, and the horseman rides onto the scene holding a balance scale. A voice from among the living creatures tells us what is happening: A full day’s wages buy barely enough food to survive – a crisis for working families – but there is no impact on the rich, who have their fill of more expensive olive oil and wine. It appears this horseman brings famine with him, worsening the widespread death and destruction of the previous rider on the fiery red horse.
Let’s take a closer look and see, first of all, if we may determine what this means to a first-century audience. Then we will explore the possibilities for today’s readers.
The third seal
Jesus opens the third seal. Keep in mind that these seals likely are pieces of wax or clay that have been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. They identify the person who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority, in this case the Lamb. As each seal is broken, it likely enables another portion of the scroll to be unraveled, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed.
As the seal is opened, John hears the third living creature say, “Come!” This call probably is not to John but to the horse and rider, who appear immediately after the living creature’s command.
Next: A black horse (Rev. 6:5-6)