A quart of wheat for a denarius?

What’s up with wheat prices?

The New York Times has an article today (2/14/2008), “In Price and Supply, Wheat Is the Unstable Staple,” that associates the climbing price primarily with increased demand from foreign buyers experiencing new economic growth and interested in improving their diets.

The Financial Times last weekend (2/9-10/2008) reported that, according to “a hedge fund manager”, “[t]he US has sold too much wheat and will have to import, probably from Canada, to satisfy its domestic requirements.” The manager continues: “This will have a major impact on the rest of the world if consuming countries can’t buy US wheat and Europe becomes the global supplier.”

The idea that America — once called the “bread basket of the world” — may actually needing to import wheat to satisfy domestic requirements boggles my mind. The idea that Europe may potentially supplant the US as the world’s breadbasket does so as well. I know that Europe is prophesied to rise while America declines, but comments like that still catch me off guard at times.

Increased demand is not the only factor. Though neither of these articles stresses the weather angle, the fact is that recent climate-related difficulties, such as drought, have had their effects on the wheat prices, as well. (In related but better news, some rain has finally come to eastern Australia. Let’s thank God for that!)

The Financial Times article says that the price dynamics will probably drive farmers to increase land allocation for wheat and soybean crops in 2008 at the expense of corn. Yet corn is growing in demand, as well. As this Reuters article from a month ago (1/15/2008) reports, “Almost a third of the U.S. grain crop next year may be diverted from the family dinner table to the family car as fuel, putting upward pressure on food prices…”

I cannot help but be reminded of the Third Horseman of the Apocalypse (famine and lack):

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.”

Revelation 6:5-6

(A denarius was about one full day’s wages at the time. A quart is, well, a quart!)

Does all this talk of high grain prices mean that the Third Horseman is beginning to move in for the long haul, toothbrush and pajamas in hand, and prices are on a one-way trip? I’m not one to say so. The Times article points out that while prices are higher nominally than any time since 1948, when adjusted for inflation prices were higher in the mid-70s. (A local max according to the Times’ graph, showing what an anomaly the 70s were.)

Still, if he isn’t moving in yet, I hope you’ll forgive me if I look at this confluence of factors and lean towards the opinion that at the very least he may be standing outside asking the our doorman if he has the right apartment building…

[UPDATE, 12/28/2009: This post still tends to get a lot of traffic, almost two years later.  Consequently, as I was responding to a comment today it hit me that many of you coming across it might be interested in the television program we have that explains the meaning of the Four Horsemen (actually, the Five Horsemen, as the show demonstrates!).  The complete program is available online for streaming or downloading and can be found here: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”]

24 thoughts on “A quart of wheat for a denarius?

  1. Regan


    Another interesting article to supplement your thoughts is at http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=213343

    Personally, (and I do mean personally – just opinion) I am convinced we are seeing the congruence of events that can only be attributed to the riding of the horsemen.

    If nothing else, it has impressed upon me a sense of urgency – personally and collectively – in a spiritual sense. I recently gave a sermon about exactly this and tried to demonstrate that the apostolic church’s zeal and fervor were driven in part by a sense of urgency – an eager expectation of Christ’s return in their lifetime. Holding them up as a standard, the question I posed was, shouldn’t we also then be driven by that same sense of urgency, particularly as we see the fig-tree budding and know that summer is near.

    Please forgive me if I sound like I am pontificating. I am not.

    Kind regards

  2. gary

    I got to wondering how many quarts were in a bushel, it turns out that the answer is thirty-two.
    Many people in the world currently make a dollar per day.
    If a days wages ($1.00) buys a quart of wheat, then it would appear that wheat would have to sell for $32.00 per bushel.
    If we use the minimum wage of the United States, which is about $6.00 per hour, then a days wages is $48.00 per day, this would mean that the bushel would have to sell for $1536.00. If this happened, our dollar would be less than worthless, such situations have occurred before. Examples of this type of hyper-inflation would be Germany after WW2, or Argentina in the eighties. I remember an old friend telling me that at the end of WW2 a wheelbarrow full of marks were required to purchase a loaf of bread.

    I ask my wife how much bread a quart of wheat would make, the answer, 2 medium sized loaves. Would that feed your family for the whole day?

    trust in God

  3. Thanks for your comment, Gary.

    Actually, the average daily income in the US in 2006 was $185. Can you imagine paying $185 for two loaves of bread?

    That’s a pretty empty shopping cart…

  4. Cheryl

    As a mother who does the shopping in our family, I see the beginnings of the effect. What is sad is that it is not just the wheat, but all food staples. The price of beans and rice are climbing higher. Which really hurts those of us on a tight budget.
    But thank God for His awesome truth!! It is going to get worse before it gets any better, for the end is ever nearer.


  5. Something else to consider: “do not harm the oil and the wine”. I never have been sure about what this means, but here’s one possibility. At the very time when the US is having this particular problem and Germany has had weather-related problems with its wheat crop, the EU has a surplus of wine and has been taking steps to do something about that. Could climate change (and perhaps other factors) mean that wheat and barley will become at a premium but other crops such as olive oil and wine — things which I gather benefit from warmer weather — will not be affected in the same way, in fact might be more abundant?

    Interesting how luxury items (“oil and wine”) may well be in abundance (for those who can afford them) while the basic necessities (“wheat and barley”) will be scarce and expensive. What irony. There are other possibilities which are addressed by the classic Protestant commentators. Barnes’ commentary here is particularly interesting to me, but it would be too lengthy to cite it on “oil and wine” (cf. e-Sword or other sources). I hope the following on the “wheat and barley” will not be too lengthy.

    Shabbat shalom (שבת שלום),
    John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

    A measure of wheat for a penny – See the margin. The word rendered “measure” – χοῖνιξ choinix – denotes an Attic measure for grain and things dry, equal to the 48th part of the Attic medimnus, or the 8th part of the Roman modius, and consequently was nearly equivalent to one quart English (Robinson’s Lexicon). The word rendered “penny,” δηναρίον dēnarion – Latin, denarius – was of the same value as the Greek δραχμή drachmē, and was equivalent to about fourteen cents or seven-pence (circa mid-19th century). This was the usual price of a day’s labor, Mat_20:2, Mat_20:9. The choenix, or measure of grain here referred to, was the ordinary daily allowance for one man (Odyssey xix. 27, 28). See Stuart, in loco. The common price of the Attic medimnus of wheat was five or six denarii; but here, as that contained 48 choenixes or quarts, the price would be augmented to 48 denarii – or it would be about eight times as dear as ordinary; that is, there would be a scarcity or famine. The price of a bushel of wheat at this rate would be about four dollars and a half or 18 shillings – a price which would indicate great scarcity, and which would give rise to much distress.

    And three measures of barley for a penny – It would seem from this that barley usually bore about one-third the price of wheat. It was a less valuable grain, and perhaps was produced in greater abundance. This is not far from the proportion which the price of this grain usually bears to that of wheat, and here, as in the case of the wheat, the thing which would be indicated would be scarcity. This proclamation of “a measure of wheat for a penny” was heard either as addressed to the horseman, as a rule of action for him, or as addressed by the horseman as he went forth. If the former is the meaning, it would be an appropriate address to one who was going forth to collect tribute – with reference to the exact manner in which this tribute was to be collected, implying some sort of severity of exaction; or to one who should distribute wheat and barley out of the public granaries at an advanced price, indicating scarcity. Thus, it would mean that a severe and heavy tax – represented by the scales and the scarcity – or a tax so severe as to make grain dear, was referred to. If the latter is the meaning, then the idea is that there would be a scarcity, and that grain would be dealt out by the government at a high and oppressive price. The latter idea would be as consonant with the symbol of the scales and the price mentioned as the other, if it were not for the additional injunction not to “hurt the oil and the wine” – which cannot be well applied to the idea of dealing out grain at a high price. It can, however, be connected, by a fair interpretation of that passage, with such a severity of taxation that there would be a propriety in such a command – for, as we shall see, under the explanation of that phrase, such a law was actually promulgated as resulting from severity of taxation. The idea, then, in the passage before us, would seem to be:
    (a) that there would be a rigid administration of the law in regard to the matter under consideration – that pertaining to the productions of the earth – represented by the balances; and,
    (b) that that would be connected with general scarcity, or such an exercise of this power as to determine the price of grain, so that the price would be some three times greater than ordinary.

  6. Yes, the cost of living for everything is going up, and will continue to climb. There might be little ups and downs, but the basic trend is clearly seen. Time for everyone to tighten their belts.

    Our nation has relied on its wealth to paper over the problems created by its moral corruption. Perhaps the growing financial will serve to wake people up. A type of ‘final warning’ if you will.

    It’s the children that I worry about. The toddler who holds your index finger and trusts you in everything. They do not deserve the world the adults created. That thought saddens me to no end.

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  9. Lee

    Revelation 6:6, unfortunately it will get worse, all these things as ever were long ago predicted in the Bible and with everyone coming true, not much left now to be fulfilled.
    Read Matthew 24 and Luke 21, and then look at the News headlines every day and suddenly you think, hello, this guy (me) is not nuts, he has a point, earthquakes are increasing and floods and hurricanes and tornadoes and floods and conflicts and famine and so on.
    The more we go away from the one true God, creator because we’d rather live our way, the more the earth shall fall apart.
    There are frightening times ahead.
    The key though is still Israel and to look at what is going on:

    Zechariah 12:2 “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of reeling to all the surrounding peoples, and on Judah also will it be in the siege against Jerusalem.
    3 It will happen in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all the peoples. All who burden themselves with it will be severely wounded, and all the nations of the earth will be gathered together against it.

    We see this today all nations so concerned with peace, when the Bible says there shall never be any until Yeshua (Jesus) returns, it’s a con, and sadly the people in government in Israel are falling for it.
    Ask yourself this, has it gotten better in Gaza since Israel left, no, have they stopped attacking with rockets, no.

    I could write pages to prove my, sorry prove the Bible’s point and how genuine it is.

  10. Howdy, Lee —

    I agree except for the “not much left now to be fulfilled” part. There is actually quite a bit left to be fulfilled, and the pace towards that fulfillment certainly seems to be quickening!

    Thanks for the comment.

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  12. grady

    God will destroy the One World Economy. So much For foreign trade. Sell your foreign Made cars an start Demanding American Goods. And when you go to Church tell you Neighbor that you Support a Christian Dollar not A One World Dollar. How many People go to church on Sunday driving and buying foreign goods and then Ask God for a better Economy. You can not Support a One World Economy. God is Listening and so should We (God Bless)

  13. Howdy, grady, and thanks for the comment!

    Actually, God isn’t going to punish our nations primarily because of being a part of a “one world economy” (and I will not comment here on whatever a “Christian dollar” might be). He will allow calamity to befall because of the nation’s sins. And we don’t have to look so far as our dealings with overseas economies to find those sins.

    (We could even start with your comment about going to church on Sunday and comparing it to the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11, finding that it does not match up as well as many assume it does, considering v.10’s explicit identification of the day for “church”.)

    God is, indeed, listening to us. Regrettably, many who think they are listening to Him need to crack “the book” open, anew. Should they do so, they will find much more fundamental (and essential) places to begin the process of repentance than our nation’s economic structure and plans.

    Thanks, again, for writing in!

  14. Get real

    Religion is for the weak minded. Stop reaching for these [expletive deleted] explanations and start acting in a way that actually matters.

  15. Wow, Get real, thanks for your… um… insightful comment. What a fine example you are of your breed.

    And here’s to hoping you learn what “actually matters” before it is too late.

  16. Reality check

    Hi folks,

    Forgive me if im wrong and if im taking this article out of context, but the bible’s quart of wheat for a denarius may be referring to the reaping of a days work, inflation, taxes on purchasing power and the immoral governments greed to generate wealth in the dieing eyes of hungry nations. The 3rd horse man is the greed of man kind or nation or one man (silent or yet to be determined)

    End of comment.

  17. Howdy, Reality check, and thanks for the comment.

    I don’t see any reason not to take the Bible’s comments there as literally as possible (not to discount the presence and power of greed in the world, mind you).

    We actually have a television program about the four horsemen that you might be interested in. It can be watched on line here: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

    [In fact, I should try to add a link to this telecast above…]

    Thanks, again, for stopping by!

  18. I have shopped in natural foods markets for years, and I can remember when I would go and fill a shopping cart for about $80 to $100 and I remember thinking how expensive that was at the time.

    Today I can go and get about half as much “organic” or “natural” food and pay about twice the former amount. Of the same items, I have noted that the sprouted whole wheat breads, artisan breads, the best olive oil and the best wine are still among the most expensive of items, then as now, so prices are still fairly relative. That is, you got what you were willing to pay for then just as now, just as it was say 30-40 years ago in the “hippy” days. However, when the horseman of famine rides, we will see not only massive food shortages coming but also government interventions and massive price increases that will make today’s food prices look like ” the good old days”, whatever that was.

    We can take on survivalist mentality and try to stock up for sure, but food will only keep just so long even under ideal conditions. So in the long run my money is bet on developing a real and lasting faith in our Lord God of Israel to provide for all true believers, in good times and bad. Perhaps the real test will come when the brethren are tempted to spend their money on “bread” rather than tithing to keep the Gospel going out there. So we had all better begin to think more about how we can all do more gardening, canning, and going back to farming, ranching, fishing, and hunting, rather than investing in all the city professions which in the years to come may quickly go by the wayside in a severe global economic downturn. The figs are forming on the trees. One trip to a Bass Pro Shop will convince any skeptic of what I am saying. Believe me, folks, those “good ol’ boy” redneck Israelite American boys and men out there know what is about to come down, even if they don’t ever even crack their Bibles open. It’s in their blood.

  19. kim

    do not hurt the oil or wine means …don’t hurt the luxuries.
    but i am not sure about the wheat thing. but i have noticed our needfull things going up…and i believe that this is what God was saying …our needs are in jepardy but the other things seemed to be spared. sorry spelling was somthing i never passed.

  20. I am not a bible scholar so what I am about to say is only my opinion but Bro. Perry Stone did a segment about the bee population dying out. I started watching a documentary about the missing bees and he was right about that so far. The title of the segment with Perry Stone is “Manna Fest 363 Does America disappear in the future”. Everywhere I look on the internet, the video is private. Maybe some of you can locate a working video.
    In the video he talks about the missing bees and that they contribute to 1/3 of our food supply. 1/3 of our food has to be pollinated by bee’s. So that would cause a serious famine. The problem is also across the world.
    Revelation 6:6 “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and to not damage the oil and the wine!”
    90% of fruit needs bee’s but the olive tree and grape vine do not.

  21. Thanks, Ms. Young! I do not agree with Perry Stone on much at all and I believe his biblical and prophetic understanding is horrifically lacking. However, the bee issue is an interesting one that has caught many eyes, to be sure.

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

  22. Howdy, [Name Removed on Request]. I didn’t post all of your comment, because I generally don’t allow my website to be used by others to preach their own ideas about prophecy and such. (You can find the comment policy on this blog by typing “Comment Policy” in the search box.) However, if you are interested in the truth about the things you mention, you need to go to the Tomorrow’s World website, click on the link for booklets, and consider reading those titled Your Ultimate Destiny and Revelation Unveiled. Actually, there are many booklets there which touch on the things you brought up, but those two would be great places to start.

    I hope that this helps. The Bible actually does speak to exactly the things you bring up, but those booklets will help you understand what it actually says and will help you distinguish between the truth of God’s revealed word and the speculations that you are currently caught up in. Thanks for stopping by.

  23. Dear [Name Withheld]: My wife thought that, though the request was unreasonable, it would still be kind for me to remove my comments as you requested, and I agreed. She suggested that I simply summarize the points I wanted to stand and put that in place of the comments, so I will do that here.

    * One cannot claim that one is only speaking from the Bible when one claims that clues supposedly placed by Satan worshipers in Godzilla movies indicate the date we will see alien activity.

    * The sort of divination tactics used by men such as Harold Camping (adding digits of chapter and verse references, etc.) are an unbiblical means of determining the future and are without biblical precedent or biblical justification.

    * People shouldn’t say that they read something when their words indicate otherwise. Even quoting from the “something” isn’t evidence when the context of what they say about it contradicts everything else said in the “something.”

    And that’s it. This is tiring. My blog isn’t Facebook and isn’t meant to be. If you don’t think any of these things apply to anything you have said, [Name Withheld], that’s is fine. They were still points worth making and I do plan on leaving them on this website, in this comment, as a reference for the future.

    Thanks. [UPDATE: Got your last comment, [Name Withheld]. Thanks for your graciousness. Take care.]

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