In Bible Typology, the horse (sometimes cavalry) is associated with war. The great armies of the Old Testament were made up of giants (when available), nobles riding on chariots pulled by horses, knights riding upon horses, and general infantry that had to soldier along on foot.
In Zechariah Chapter 1 the prophet saw four horses, one red, one dappled gray, one piebald, and one white (Orthodox Study Bible, from the LXX). Piebald usually means patches of black on white, but sometimes other colors. They reported to the Angel of the Lord that they had gone out across all the earth and found it at rest and in peace. It seems like this is the opposite of bringing war, but the Lord clarifies their mission in Chapter 6. The Lord sometimes makes war through natural means – like floods and storms – instead of forming an army.
The Angel of the Lord cried out, “O Lord Almighty, how long will You show no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, which You disregarded these seventy years?”
The Lord Almighty replies, “Cry out, saying, Thus says the Lord Almighty: ‘I have been jealous for both Jerusalem and Zion with great jealousy, and I am exceedingly angry with the nations joining together against her, with whom I was only a little angry, but then they joined together with evil intent.’”
We also live in an era when nations have joined together into agreements, sometimes making decisions that prevent Israel from occupying the land the Lord promised.
The rest of the declaration speaks the Lord’s compassion over Jerusalem and the cities of Zion, that it will be rebuilt and glorified. One angel measures it, another says it will be defended with a wall of fire. The hand of the Lord will be against Babylon, and Jews will plunder it as they come out from her and return. The Lord says his glory will rest upon Jerusalem, and that he will come to it.
Did all this happen? Yes, in part. Jesus entered Jerusalem riding an ass as Zechariah wrote in Chapter 9:9, but this was but an echo of the return of Christ we are still waiting for. Some of the things in this prophesy may yet be future, but King Herod did glorify Jerusalem when he rebuilt the temple, so it is also the past. Jews view prophesy as a repeating pattern, and not just as single events.
In Jewish writing, the author gives a quick summary first, then goes back and fills in details. Zechariah gave the summary in Chapter 1, but goes back to give more details about the four horses in Chapter 6. They are now four chariots, pulled by teams of red, black, white, and piebald (KJV grizzled) horses. Zechariah asks the angel what they are.
“These are the four winds of heaven, and they are going forth to stand before the Lord of all the earth. The black ones went out to the land of the north, and the white horses went out after them, and the piebald horses went out to the land of the south. The dapple gray horses went out and looked to go around over all the earth” (Zech. 6:5-7, OSB).
The Lord then explains what the horses and chariots were doing: “Behold, the ones going out to the land of the north have given rest to My anger in the land of the north” (Zech 6:8, OSB). When the Lord becomes angry, he sends messengers to warn, then he eventually sends judgements so that his anger can rest.
We live in a different era from Zechariah, but the typology of the previous age can help us understand the context of the same figures when they reappear in ours. Has the Lord warned the whole earth of his return? He has, in mundane ways, by the publication of Bibles, by the establishment of public education so that nearly all the people of earth read, and by the going forth of missionaries to declare it.
Historically, the Lord did defend the walls of Jerusalem (as if by fire from heaven), when Nehemiah commanded the builders of the walls to carry a sword in one hand and build the wall with the other hand.
Zechariah’s vision shows me that the Lord sometimes fulfills supernatural visions (like a wall of fire) through means that look very natural and mundane. It is possible for the Lord to judge the world, and for the world to see nothing except for nature running its course.
Let’s take for example, climate change. The Bible informs us that God controls the storms and the forces of nature. End-time prophesies speak of the sun growing so hot that it burns everything up. This is happening now, but the world does not view it as the hand of God. Instead, we say that carbon emmissions have made the earth’s biosphere warmer.
Did the Lord defend Jerusalem while they built the wall? I believe he did, and I give him the glory, but the builders had to carry a sword in one hand. There was a spiritual reality, and a mundane reality that brought it about. Climate change is like that.
The four horses of Revelation Chapter 6 are not natural horses, they are like the four winds. The Bible uses wind to represent his Spirit when it moves in power. The horses are but a spiritual vision of things that will happen to the whole earth in mundane ways, as Jesus opens the scroll with seven seals, and prepares it for his return as King of kings.
Now that we have laid a foundation for understanding this prophesy, we may consider the white horse’s ride, which I will submit in the next post to have begun in the days of Johannes Gutenberg (AD 1450) and Christopher Columbus (AD 1492).