Four is one of the prominent numbers in the Bible, perhaps only less important than the number seven. The first instance is Day Four of creation week, in which the Lord made the lights in the firmament of heaven, and appointed the sun and moon as rulers of Day and Night. The dimension of time (seasons, days, and years) is first mentioned here, and angels are present for the first time in connection with the making of the stars (Job 38:7).
Genesis 2:10-14 separates the earth into four quadrants divided by four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. There are also four winds, usually in reference to judgements affecting the whole earth. See Jer. 49:36, Ezek. 37:9, Zech. 2:6, Dan. 7:2, Mt. 24:31, Rev. 7:1. The “four corners” of the earth are an approximate translation of kanaph, meaning the four extremities, compass points, or quadrants. See Is. 11:12, Acts 10:11, and Rev. 7:1.
There were four faces on the cherubim Ezekiel saw in his vision (Ez. 1:10). They had the appearance of a man, a lion, an ox (or calf), and an eagle. The Lord’s chariot also had four “wheels” by which he moved across the earth in judgement (Ez. 10:13).
In Daniel Chapter 7 he viewed the distant future and saw the four winds blow violently upon the sea, and afterward four beasts rising out of the sea like a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a beast with iron teeth and ten horns. Verse 17 tells us the beasts are four kingdoms that will rise and fall. A majority of commentators take these kingdoms to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
In the vision of Zechariah Chapter 1 with four colored horses, the horses have returned from going across the whole earth to report to the Lord that it is at rest and at peace. From this, I believe that the four horses of the Apocalypse represent things that will take place across the whole earth, and not just in one region or continent.
From the Old Testament then, the primary meaning of four appears to be cosmos (Eng. the world) – the four-dimensional realm of space-time – but four is also associated with angels and judgements upon the earth.
In the New Testament, we have four Gospels of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the covers of altar editions of the Gospels used for mass, we see the four “faces” of Christ from Ezekiel’s vision. The first is the lion, representing Christ as the Lion of Judah and coming King from Matthew. The second is the ox or calf, representing Christ as the suffering servant and bearer of burdens from Mark. The third is the image of a man, showing Christ’s humanity for the poor, the sick, the outcast, and toward women from Luke. The last is the eagle, showing Christ as the all-seeing Logos (Eng. The Word) from the Gospel of John.
In the death of Jesus we see a cross pointing four ways. The upward direction for his godhood, the downward direction for his manhood. The rightward direction is his blessing hand, pointing toward the thief who believed on him. The leftward direction is judgement, pointing toward the thief who cursed him.
My teacher for this subject was Rabbi Jane Cody, a Jewish believer in Jesus, who is a trained historian with specialization in European history. Her scholarly work is available to all in her book, Birthing Eternity, https://www.amazon.com/Birthing-Eternity-Different-Perspective-Revelation/dp/1449783368.
Rabbi Cody decided to use the typology of the four faces of the Cherubim from Ezekiel, the four beasts from Daniel, and the four beasts from Revelation 13 to help her make sense of the four horses from Revelation Chapter six. Here’s how they look:
|Scripture||White Horse||Red Horse||Black Horse||Pale Horse|
|Rev. 6:2-8||Rider has a bow, is given a crown||Rider is given a great sword||Rider holds scales (or a yoke)||Rider Death is with Hades (Sheol)|
|Ezek. 1:10||Cherub with the face of a lion||Cherub with the face of an ox||Cherub with the face of a man||Cherub with the face of an eagle|
|Daniel 7:2-7||Kingdom like a lion with eagle’s wings||Kingdom like a bear with 3 ribs in its mouth||Kingdom like a leopard with 4 wings and 4 heads||Terrifying kingdom with iron teeth and 10 horns|
|Rev. 13: 1-2||Beast with the mouth of a lion…||The feet of a bear…||The body of a leopard…||…with 7 heads and 10 horns|
One of the things that we must bear in mind is that the OT Hebrew is ambiguous, while NT Greek is exact. Hebrew-speaking Jews are trained to tolerate much more ambiguity than our Western culture allows, so that Jews detect patterns in typology more readily than the average American Christian.
Conservative Christians may glance at the chart above and reject it, because a bear clearly has nothing to do with an ox, and a man clearly has nothing to do with a leopard. An eagle does not have teeth or horns, so that one doesn’t work either. I can resolve these disparities, but it will require several more posts.
The purpose of this article is to consider first how everything in the Bible that comes in fours is conceptually related, having something to teach us about the angels of judgement that God is sending out across the whole world in preparation for Jesus’ return at the end of the cosmos (Eng. also means “age”).
Remember that “four” in typology means space-time, or the whole earth at a specified time that the Lord has appointed for judgment.