Rules of Interpretation
By: Date: September 1, 2020 Categories: Uncategorized
Dan shall be a serpent in the way…that biteth the horse heels (Gen 49:17)

Before we ride further into this series on the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, I’d like to reign in for a moment to review a subject I have written on before. For a review of my posts on rules of interpretation in Bible typology, please visit:

There are numerous sources for “rules” of interpretation on types and figures used in the Bible. The ones I use are found in the text itself, given by God, on how to interpret his word. We also have scriptural instruction on how to determine a true prophet from a false, for church conduct, and on the vetting of spiritual gifts in individual members by the body. Each of these plays a role in how the Lord speaks to the church about things that are unfolding from prophesy. 

The first rule I use to understand a type or figure in the Bible is the “Law of First Mention.” The scriptural reference supporting this rule is in Numbers 12:6-8 (NIV):

“When there is a prophet among you,

    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,

    I speak to them in dreams.

But this is not true of my servant Moses;

    he is faithful in all my house.

With him I speak face to face,

    clearly and not in riddles;

    he sees the form of the Lord.

Why then were you not afraid

    to speak against my servant Moses?”

It is because of this statement that Jews place the books of Moses – or Torah – on a higher level than all the rest of the Old Testament. In a similar way, Christians place the words of Jesus on a higher level than the words of New Testament writers, sometimes printing them in red text to highlight them. This is a sound principle of interpretation that has some interesting effects when we put them to use in our study of the Four Horses. 

When I run into a new figure or type I ask, “Where is the first mention of this figure?” and “Did the Lord say anything to Moses about it?” The first mention is the prototype on which we can rely for guidance about the meaning of the figure every time it is used again, for the Lord is not one to change his mind about what figures mean, and he said he spoke to Moses “clearly and not in riddles.”

The first mention of a horse in Torah is Genesis 49:17 in the prophesy Jacob gave Dan about his tribe. Dan is a poisonous snake that will bite the horse heels, so that his rider will fall backwards. This seems cryptic, until we go back to the first mention of a heel in Genesis 3:15: “He [the Seed of the woman] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

The figure of the heel seems to point to the conflict between Christ and the serpent, which we have as a theme in the Book of Revelation. The horse is connected to it by the prophesy about Dan, who is called a serpent in the precedent verse about him. I don’t care to speculate on future events, but many commentators think antichrist arises from the Tribe of Dan because of the precedent from Genesis, and the anti-type story of Dan in Judges 17 and 18, in which he is the first tribe to adopt idolatry with encouragement from the false prophet, Micah. 

A more obvious precedent story concerning four horses of specific colors is found in Zechariah 1:8-11 (NIV):

During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses. I asked, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”

Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

The interesting thing about this figure is that they are not ordinary horses. They go out into the four corners of the earth and come back to report to the Lord that the whole earth is at rest and at peace. Literal horses do not speak, with the exception of the false prophet Balaam’s ass. These are the Lord’s horses, on the Lord’s errand. 

In the same chapter 1 of Zechariah, v 18-19 (NIV):

Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?” He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”

John’s Apocalypse draws the types of four horses and four horns from Zechariah, so it is worth our time to understand what Zechariah was writing about to help us discern what John was writing about. 

The horses of the Apocalypse are also not literal horses. They have specific colors, as did the ones in Zechariah. They also go out across the whole earth on the Lord’s errand, but this time they have riders that disturb the world’s peace, in preparation for the time in which the Lord will restore Israel and place all her enemies (the horns) under Christ’s heel. This was the main theme of Zechariah’s prophesy.

The four horses of Revelation 6 are but an echo and amplification of what the Lord said before. This is how we can interpret types with some confidence of what they mean. The fact that Israel has been in the land again since 1948 should provide some insight as to how far along the prophesy is in its fulfillment. We are living in the days that John wrote about, when the Lord’s horses go out across the whole earth to disturb its peace.

How far along are we, exactly? Far. I’d say at least 75%. The rides of the white, red, and black horses are behind us, with only the pale horse left. I’m taking my time to show how it happened, because it didn’t come about in the way (or with the timing) that we expected. We ought to be used to it by now, as prophesy seldom comes about in the way we expected.

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 (NIV)