3.2.14 Horse: Military Might
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 2.14
Horse: Military Might
Teddy Roosevelt famously quoted an old West African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” It means, of course, that you don’t have to bluster and threaten if you’re armed to the teeth and everybody knows it: military might (and the will to use it) tends to command respect (or at least deference) among one’s friends and enemies alike. The symbolic Biblical equivalent of the “big stick” is the horse—quite often mentioned in association with the chariot. This was the state-of-the-art mobile weapons platform virtually from the dawn of armed conflict until the advent of gunpowder.
Admittedly painting with an extremely broad brush, I’d say the issue for modern nations is as follows: conservatives believe in achieving peace through maintaining a high degree of military strength—basically, T.R.’s position: “If we have a strong army, no sane nation would dare attack us.” Meanwhile, liberals believe we should “give peace a chance” by making ourselves less threatening to our national neighbors. “If we don’t attack people, they’ll leave us alone.” Both positions are the result of philosophical mindsets. The liberals assume that most people are basically good and peaceful, willing to abide by the golden rule. Conservatives generally assume the converse: they believe people need to be given good, practical reasons to behave themselves.
While history generally tends to vindicate the conservative philosophy, there are pitfalls with both positions. Conservatives tend to forget that they are people too, and therefore just as flawed in judgment and character (if not philosophy) as their belligerent neighbors. So being well armed in itself all too often becomes a pretext for wars intended to right wrongs, remove tyrants, or impose good behavior (or merely democracy) on nations or cultures who don’t have a clue what that means. And then, of course, there’s the lunacy factor: in reality, some nations can’t be counted upon to act sanely, or even in their own best interests. Liberals, meanwhile, in the well-intentioned quest for peace at any price, don’t understand that national weakness is an engraved invitation for bad people to attack you. Both groups assume that those outside share their same desire for peace, prosperity, and independence that they do. But because they don’t comprehend the nature of spiritual warfare, both groups are wrong.
A study of the scriptural symbolism of horses, then, should reveal what God has to say on the matter of national defense. In a nutshell, He says that both the liberal and conservative positions have missed the point—it isn’t how well prepared you are to mount a defense, but who (or what) you trust. David informs us that “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God. They [those who rely on conventional military resources] collapse and fall, but we [who rely upon Yahweh for our defense] rise and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:7-8) It wasn’t that David wasn’t armed and dangerous, but he understood where victory in battle came from—and it wasn’t his weapons or his warriors. “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.” (Psalm 33:16-17) No, conflicts are won through reliance on God.
This begs us to enquire, however: what is the definition of “winning?” If you’re a child of Yahweh, “winning” is an outcome that will bring you into closer fellowship with Him—which might look suspiciously like “losing” to the rest of the world. The incident I have in mind (though there were no horses involved) was the Battle of Ai, described in Joshua 7. Fresh on the heels of their great—dare I say, miraculous—victory at Jericho, the Israelites suffered a rout at the hands of an insignificant little town. When they enquired as to why, Yahweh informed them that His instructions concerning the spoils from Jericho had not been kept—one man’s sin had brought disaster and defeat upon the whole nation, even though nobody but the sinner himself knew of his guilt. The lesson—that Israel must be holy, for their God was holy—was learned and put to use, turning defeat into victory. Another example of “winning” the hard way: after the risen Yahshua had issued the great commission (Acts 1:8), the believers had mostly stayed put in Jerusalem—until the persecution set in (see Acts 8:1), scattering them and their good news “to all Judea and Samaria, and (eventually) to the end of the earth.” Thus God’s purpose was achieved through what looked—to the untrained eye—like a setback.
To keep things in perspective, we should note that whatever we’re tempted to consider a source of temporal strength is actually a mere derivative of Yahweh’s power and creative process. The horse—our primary symbol for such things—is no exception. As Yahweh grilled the hapless Job on why he thought he might be qualified to defend himself before God, He asked a series of unanswerable questions, including this one: “Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword. Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear and the javelin. With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” (Job 39:19-25) The warhorse was the supreme example of battlefield hardware for millennia on end. But man could use the horse for such purposes only because God had made it in the first place—made it strong and swift and fearless and enthusiastic, and yet responsive to his master’s touch on the reigns. But anything upon which we might come to rely for our security, whether personal or national, falls under the same heading: at some level, we owe its existence to our Creator, Yahweh.
It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the God upon whom we must rely is the actual God, Yahweh, and not some false deity we have conjured up to add an air of legitimacy to whatever we’ve unilaterally decided to do. An illustration from antiquity: in Homer’s Iliad, Book II, Agamemnon calls on the blessing of four such faux gods (Jove—a.k.a. Jupiter—Minerva, Apollo, and Saturn) as he rouses his troops: “Whet well your spears; see well to the ordering of your shields; give good feeds to your horses, and look your chariots carefully over, that we may do battle the livelong day; for we shall have no rest, not for a moment, till night falls to part us. The bands that bear your shields shall be wet with the sweat upon your shoulders, your hands shall weary upon your spears, your horses shall steam in front of your chariots, and if I see any man shirking the fight, or trying to keep out of it at the ships, there shall be no help for him, but he shall be a prey to dogs and vultures.” The king’s “gods,” of course, could do nothing to affect the course of the battle of Troy, nor did his imprecations negate the fact that he had already settled on his own course of action. Agamemnon’s real faith was in horses, men, and ships—on strength, valor, and technology—not in his so-called gods.
We should also bear in mind that “tools” like horses and chariots are only as good as the people wielding them. An aircraft carrier is only as effective as its crew; a nuclear-tipped missile is only as good as its targeting system. And they’re all worse than useless unless the politicians pulling the strings of power are wiser than Solomon. James puts things in perspective for us: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” (James 3:1-5) All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t “un-say” something we’ve said in anger or malice or thoughtlessness.
One monarch who unwittingly demonstrated the futility of having a well-oiled military machine deployed in opposition to Yahweh’s plan was the pharaoh of the exodus. After having been bludgeoned into compliance with ten increasingly devastating plagues designed to demonstrate the indisputable sovereignty of Yahweh over the gods he worshiped—including himself—the pharaoh finally relented and let his Israelite slaves go—only to change his mind one last time after they had left town. “And Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” God didn’t force him to choose to pursue the slaves, you understand: He merely “set in stone” the attitude and opinion the king had held all along. “And he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.” (Exodus 14:8-9)
These place names tell the tale. If I may quote from my previous work (The Owner’s Manual), “The popular fiction that the Israelites crossed nothing more formidable than a shallow marsh called the ‘Reed Sea’ is destroyed by the text. Yahweh had Moses lead them down a wadi snaking southeast through the rugged and mountainous eastern Sinai Peninsula that empties out onto a large beach—the alluvial fan of this seasonal river emptying into the Gulf of Aqaba at about the 29th parallel. The beach, easily big enough to accommodate two or three million Israelites and their flocks, is located at the present seaside city of Nuweiba. ‘Pi Hahiroth’ describes the egress point: it literally means ‘mouth of the cave,’ reflecting the high canyon walls that hem in the wadi. Migdol [mentioned in verse 2] means ‘tower,’ referring to an Egyptian fortification, the ancient remains of which lie to the north of the beach, blocking the Israelites’ escape in that direction. South of the beach, the mountains reach down to the shoreline, making passage impossible. So basically, the Israelites at this point were stuck between the devil (or at least the Pharaoh) and the deep blue sea. Baal Zephon, a Midianite fortress Moses knew well (having tended sheep on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba for forty years) lay directly across the gulf from the beach—you could see it on a clear day, since the Gulf of Aqaba is only about ten miles wide at this point.”
It looked to everyone, Israelites and Egyptians alike, that Moses had led them into a trap from which there was no escape. But you know the story: Yahweh told Moses to stick out his rod, the seas parted, the pillar of fire stationed itself as a rear guard, and the Israelites all passed safely across the sea floor to Midian, in present day Saudi Arabia. And the Egyptians? “The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen…. And as the Egyptians fled into it, Yahweh overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained.” (Exodus 14:23, 27-28) The most formidable military force in the world at that time was defeated without an arrow being shot or a spear being thrown. Why? Because they refused to comprehend the sovereignty of Yahweh, the God who had revealed Himself to the Hebrews. The Egyptians didn’t recognize the difference between faith and presumption. While the fleeing Israelites were proceeding in faith (and precious little of it at that) that Yahweh intended to rescue them, Pharaoh’s army merely presumed that whatever was going on would work to their advantage too. Modern military forces as well, whether America’s, NATO’s, Russia’s, or Iran’s, all too often presume that God (however they care to define Him) is on their side, when in fact they are merely doing what’s in their politicians’ perceived self interests. My advice is: don’t ever go to war without a clear directive from Yahweh. But obviously, nobody’s listening to me.
By the way, did you ever wonder how Egypt became such a formidable military force, equipped with horses and chariots that the surrounding nations could only dream of having? It’s pretty clear that at the time of Abraham, Egypt’s Pharaoh wasn’t remotely the exalted potentate of later legend—someone of the status Moses would have to deal with half a millennium later. In Genesis 12:10-20, it appears that Abraham, a wealthy though landless nomad, was received by Pharaoh as an equal, more or less—a colleague of similar rank—a far cry from the master-slave dichotomy that would later characterize the relationship between the Pharaoh and Abraham’s offspring. So what had happened?
Notwithstanding the fact that a lot can change in five or six hundred years, it transpires that Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph was single-handedly responsible for Egypt’s sudden leap from provincial mediocrity to international military prominence. Here again, the background story is familiar to anyone who ever spent a day in Sunday School: there was a great regional famine that lasted seven years, during which Joseph was in charge of the distribution of the grain that had been stored up during the good times (at Yahweh’s dream-induced suggestion). Joseph, finding himself steward over Pharaoh’s affairs, used the opportunity to enrich and empower his employer, selling the stored bounty in exchange for whatever the hungry and desperate buyers had to sell—including their horses. “And Joseph answered, ‘Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys.” (Genesis 47:16-17) By the time the famine finally ended, the Egyptian throne had been established as one of the most wealthy and powerful political entities in the world—and it stayed that way for many centuries. Joseph’s Pharaoh responded appropriately, giving his steward’s family the fat of the land, Goshen, in which to live.
But subsequent Egyptian monarchs (like so many of our politicians today) promptly forgot the lessons of their own history, and enslaved the very people responsible for their blessed circumstances. Some things never change, I guess. I am reminded that Great Britain was on the winning side of World War I largely because of the timely scientific innovation of a British Jew, Chaim Weizmann—who’s invention of synthetic acetone allowed his nation to manufacture all the explosives they needed. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, issued in grateful response to Weismann’s contribution, was the first political recognition of the Zionist cause by any major world power, promising a national homeland for the Jews in what was then called Palestine—something Britain was in a position to deliver, having defeated the Ottoman Turks. But Britain, like post-Joseph Egypt, reneged on their commitment. One wonders if the pounding England endured at the hands of Hitler’s Germany in 1940 could have been avoided.
Anyway, four and a half centuries later (thanks largely to Joseph), Egypt had become the place to get horses to prop up one’s national military aspirations. Yahweh, meanwhile, wanted His people to do nothing of the sort: He wanted them to rely on Him alone, not on conventional modes of warfare—even if they were charged with the task of ridding the Promised Land of the powerful Canaanites. So He instructed Moses to tell the people, “When you come to the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom Yahweh your God will choose.” This was not a command to appoint a king, but only permission to do so—permission that came with certain caveats: “One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” The tribe from which Israelite kings would eventually come had already been identified: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” This, of course, also required that the Messiah would be born into Judah. “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since Yahweh has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’” (Deuteronomy 17:14-16) At issue here is whose path God’s people would adopt, His or the world’s. Egypt is often symbolic of bondage in the world, the very thing from which Yahweh had freed them. If they relied on Him, if they heeded His words, they would never have to go back there (into bondage) ever again. So the acquisition of horses from Egypt had become a metaphor for “fighting the battles of life man’s way, not God’s way.” Remember: you are a servant of whomever you rely upon.
While I would not doubt that King David had some horses (since his son Absalom is said to have ridden in a chariot), I found it significant that there is not one single scriptural reference to David using horses in battle, though he was a man of war all his adult life. His attitude, rather, was what we read at the beginning of this section: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.” (Psalm 20:7) And we know that, in principle at least, David’s son Solomon agreed with him, for he wrote, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against Yahweh. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to Yahweh.” (Proverbs 21:30-31)
Solomon was not a man of war; David himself had expanded the borders of the Land to their maximum extent—without (as far as we know) the use of horses. Solomon merely maintained the borders and tributaries that his father had established. So it comes as something of a shock to read this: “Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. And those officers supplied provisions for King Solomon, and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month. They let nothing be lacking. Barley also and straw for the horses and swift steeds they brought to the place where it was required, each according to his duty.” (I Kings 4:26-28) I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Poverty is owning a horse,” and having known a horse owner or two, I can believe it. Any way you slice it, the upkeep on an equine “recreational vehicle” can be daunting. So why would a man who knew that “victory belongs to Yahweh” keep so many horses—especially in peacetime? Was it pride? Was it fear? Was it for the sake of appearances in the community of nations (of whom Israel at this time was the region’s superpower)? Or was it simply that Solomon had forgotten (or purposely ignored) what Yahweh’s clear instructions concerning a king in Israel had been: “He must not acquire many horses for himself.”
And it gets worse. Yahweh had also commanded concerning Israel’s future kings: “He must not…cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses.” Where did Solomon get his 40,000 horses? “And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem…. And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue [a.k.a. Cilicia, a.k.a. Keveh, located in modern Southern Turkey—the region where the apostle Paul was born] at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.” (I Kings 10:26-29) So in blatant disregard for the instructions of Yahweh, Solomon became the ancient world’s richest arms dealer. Not only was he “acquiring many horses for himself”—from Egypt, no less, he was also selling state-of-the-art weapons to the Hittites (who were on Yahweh’s seven-nation Promised-Land “hit list”—see Deuteronomy 7:1) and to Syria (on-again off-again enemies of Israel). What was he thinkin’? He wasn’t. And apparently, not thinking has become an honored tradition among world leaders: just this morning I read the news that the American president wants to sell 125 M1A1 Abrams heavy tanks to the Egyptian military (you know, the same Egypt being led by the Muslim Brotherhood at the moment)—who has no use at all for such equipment except to attack its neighbor (and our ally) Israel—something we’ve been paying them handsomely not to do since the days of Jimmy Carter. I feel like throwing up. And according to Revelation 3:16, so does God.
So, if not with horses and chariots, how were the Israelites supposed to meet their enemies (i.e., those whom Yahweh defined as their enemies) in battle? The Torah’s instructions were as follows: “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for Yahweh your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for Yahweh your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’” (Deuteronomy 20:1-4) This is far more practical than merely telling them to “be brave.” The salient features of the Israelite battle strategy were to be as follows: (1) Don’t be intimidated by greater numbers or better equipment than you have. (2) Never for an instant forget that Yahweh your God—the One who told you to go and fight these guys in the first place—is with you, and more to the point, is personally fighting on your behalf, providing whatever success you enjoy. And (3) Listen to the priest—i.e., our ultimate High Priest, Yahshua the Messiah—whose function it is to sit at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He knows our weaknesses as well as Yahweh’s strengths. It should be reiterated, of course, that if your trust is in your own strength, or if your god is someone (or something) other than Yahweh, all bets are off. You’re free to fight your battles your way, of course, but don’t expect any help from a God you don’t revere.
A few years later, Joshua had the opportunity to put these instructions to the test: “And they [the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Hivites (v.3)] came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots.” Precisely the scary equine scenario that Moses had told them to expect. “And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight with Israel.” Merom, a town about ten miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee, means “high place.” The “waters of Merom” probably refers to the small lake fed by streams from this area—Lake Huleh, north of Galilee on the Jordan River. I am reminded that Canaanite pagan worship rituals were generally practiced at “high places,” though a different word (bamah) is used to describe them. “And Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.’ So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And Yahweh gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as Yahweh said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.” (Joshua 11:4-9)
Human wisdom would have said, “Let’s capture their horses and retask their chariots to our own purposes: we’ll be that much more formidable in battle the next time.” But Yahweh’s instructions said, “Those horses were of no help to the Canaanite coalition against My people, were they? So put no trust in them—only in Me. But don’t turn the horses loose, either, so they might be used by your enemies against you in the future. Cripple them so they’ll be worthless to your adversaries as implements of war.” At the close of World War II, there was a mad scramble among Americans and Soviets to gather and utilize as much Nazi and Japanese war technology (and scientists) as possible. The Americans under Macarthur shielded Japanese war criminals involved in the infamous “Unit 731” biological warfare program from prosecution, hoping to learn their deadly secrets. And 104 Nazi rocket scientists were similarly protected and utilized under “Operation Paperclip.” The outcome, in the end, was to bring us closer to “doomsday” decades sooner than would otherwise have been possible. Contemporary counsel from Yahweh might sound like this: “Honor Me as you go to war, and I will help you destroy your enemy’s capacity to make biological or nuclear weapons they can use against you. But don’t take their anthrax spores or plutonium as spoils of war, for your own use. I alone am your defense.”
That is the underlying theme most every time the subject of “horses” is brought up in scripture: God’s people are to trust in Him, not in man’s strength and strategies, when they face the world. Scripture repeats the scenario ad nauseam, in seemingly as many variations as God can think of, but all with the same core lesson: trust Me—rely on Me alone. One more example: enumerating what was wrong with Israel in the days leading up to the Assyrian invasion that swept them all away, Isaiah writes, “For You have rejected Your people, the house of Jacob, because (1) they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines.” Israel had been specifically warned (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:9-14) against practicing any sort of occult activity—the mainstay of the Babylonian (i.e., eastern) mystery religion. Doing these things betrayed a reliance upon demons, manifested in a thirst for esoteric “knowledge” other than that which Yahweh had taught them. “And (2) they strike hands [i.e., make treaties, including marriage alliances] with the children of foreigners.” Israel had been warned in no uncertain terms not to ally themselves with the local pagans in any way (see for example, Exodus 34:10-16), for such compromise is the antithesis of holiness. Israel was instructed to remain undefiled through separation from the world. (3) “Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures.” Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with temporal wealth, it can—probably more easily than anything else—become a false god, something that entices men to believe that they don’t really need Yahweh’s provision. (4) “Their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots….” This is the part germane to our present topic: Israel had been told not to “multiply horses” to define their military strength. Rather, their battle strategy was supposed to be, simply, “Rely upon Yahweh.”
And (5) “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. So man is humbled, and each one is brought low—do not forgive them!” (Isaiah 2:6-9) It’s no shame to be humbled before Yahweh; it’s a fact of life, a fait accompli, whether we realize it or not. But it’s downright humiliating (not to mention illogical) to be seen bowing before a “god” of one’s own manufacture—a tacit admission of abject stupidity, of flawed judgment, of abysmal ignorance. And before you say, “Amen, preach it, brother,” know that such “bowing” may consist of nothing more than voluntarily placing yourself in a position of subservience to any created thing: you are the only one who can elevate it to the status of a “god.” Our “gods” can be absurdly unworthy: a popular celebrity, a political candidate, a certain standard of living, a pet “cause,” or some hidden corner of your life you reserve for yourself. I know: now I’m getting personal, and it stings a bit. That’s what happens when you preach to the mirror.
Another variation on the same theme: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt [read: the world, the place of bondage] for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult Yahweh!” Would it be asking too much to insist that this verse be included in the oath of office for every public position in the land? Human wisdom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even the best of men who rely on their own abilities and knowledge (instead of on the true and living God) are doomed to failure. “And yet He [Yahweh] is wise and brings disaster.” So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. “He does not call back His words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When Yahweh stretches out His hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.” (Isaiah 31:1-3) Both the “buyer” and the “seller” of any scheme in which dependence upon Yahweh is superseded by self-reliance are on shaky ground. What was it Yahshua said about the blind leading the blind? They’ll both end up in the ditch.
Conventional wisdom, of course, would call me an idiot for suggesting (actually, insisting) that Yahweh can be trusted to defend those who honor Him. On the other hand, those who do honor Him are few and far between these days, so it’s awfully hard to find contemporary examples of faith to which God could respond. Miracles are rare in today’s jaded world: pearls before swine, as it were. (Although I’m told that in places where Judeo-Christian “culture” isn’t so well entrenched, miracles of provision and protection on behalf of Yahweh’s children happen with astonishing regularity.) But there are enough examples in scripture to establish the principle.
One of them took place when the Assyrians under Sennacherib were running roughshod over Israel. They had already hauled the apostate northern tribes off in chains, and they’d exacted tribute from the kingdom of Judah as well. (Note that although Israel, a.k.a. Ephraim, never had a single godly king, Judah’s occasional revivals under their righteous kings—eight out of a total of twenty—postponed their destruction for 136 years past the demise of the northern kindom.) As Assyria closed in on Jerusalem, the king’s Rabshakeh (literally, cupbearer—read: chief diplomat/negotiator/shakedown artist) threatened Jerusalem’s people: “And the Rabshakeh said to them, ‘Say to Hezekiah, thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him….” The Assyrian may have had a point. Both Ephraim and Judah had in the past resorted to alliances with Egypt against powerful and belligerent neighbors like Syria (Aram). And the Rabshakeh was certainly correct in his assessment of Egypt’s untrustworthiness. It’s the same thing Yahweh had been telling them for centuries.
That’s not to say Hezekiah was trusting in Egypt for aid. The Assyrian hoodlum didn’t actually know what he was talking about. And the next thing out of his mouth proved it: “But if you say to me, “We trust in Yahweh our God,” is it not He whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” No, it was not. Hezekiah had indeed shut down the “high places.” But Yahweh Himself had established the altar in Jerusalem, and forbidden cultic rites everywhere else. Unfortunately, the Torah was by this time so thoroughly misunderstood—by Jews and gentiles alike—hardly anybody could tell where paganism stopped and Levitical worship began. This is really a sad commentary: it had become such a “normal” part of life in Judah to worship pagan gods like Tammuz, Ashtoreth, and Molech, it almost seemed (to the casual observer) as if Yahweh was just one dumb idol among many—the one whose temple happened to be on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Worse, before Hezekiah had instituted his reforms, what went on in the temple was corrupt and polluted as well. It looked about as much like the rites of the Torah as “modern mainstream Christian practice” would look like to the first century ekklesia—which is to say, not a lot. Without reference to what Yahweh had actually ordained, how could anyone tell the difference? Like the pundits, politicians, and potentates of today’s world, the Rabshakeh had no idea who Yahweh was or what He had said to do, because so few of His children perceived His presence or heeded His word. So he made Hezekiah a cynical bet: “Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them.’” (II Kings 18:19-23; cf. Isaiah 36)
It was a dare designed to emphasize Hezekiah’s poor bargaining position—to rub salt in his wounds. But more than that, it was a temptation to fight against spiritual enemies with temporal weapons. The Rabshakeh was saying, in effect, “Your God Yahweh is no more real or able to help you than our gods Assur, Ishtar, Marduk, and Bel are to us. That’s why we rely on overwhelming force and trust in superior weaponry. You can’t beat us at our own game. Give up. Now.” Yahweh, of course, begged to differ: “Therefore thus says Yahweh concerning the king of Assyria: ‘He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares Yahweh. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’ And that night the angel of Yahweh went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” (II Kings 19:32-35, cf. Isaiah 36-37) There is all sorts of controversy concerning precisely what method God used to kill all these Assyrian soldiers in one night. But it doesn’t matter, beyond the one fact made clear from the narrative: they weren’t killed in battle. The true and living God does not need humans to do His “wet work,” defend His people, or establish His kingdom. He may allow us to participate in His endeavors, like a father teaching his son how to use tools in his workshop, but He doesn’t need our efforts to achieve His purposes.
It’s strange: although Muslim fundamentalists are enthusiastic about spreading Allah’s religion through warfare and terror, it never seems to occur to them that Allah never lifts a finger to help. Their results would be exactly the same if they did what they do in the name of a purple polka-dotted bunny rabbit named Skippy. It’s hilariously ironic that the dirtiest word a jihadist Muslim can call you is a “crusader.” Why? Because the Catholic crusaders of the Middle Ages operated in precisely the same way they do—fighting a “holy war” in their own strength, neither empowered nor instructed by God, but prodded into action rather by a religious elite claiming to speak for Him. To hear the Qur’an tell it, Allah is pleased when his jihad fighters attack people in his cause (or—let’s face it—merely for the booty), and he’s doubly pleased when they get “martyred” in the attempt. When they win, he’s happy to take credit, but when they lose, he’s said to be “harvesting souls for paradise.” It’s a pretty slick scam, if you’re an idiot. Of course, it helps to threaten anybody who questions Allah’s (or Muhammad’s) credentials, or who wants to leave Islam, with a horrible death: no one wants to be the first to announce that the emperor has no clothes.
And how does Yahweh feel about such things? Is He impressed with men and “horses” (that is, their military prowess)? Does He revel in our glorious wars? Apparently not. “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man, but Yahweh takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. Praise Yahweh, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He strengthens the bars of your gates; He blesses your children within you.” (Psalm 147:10-13) Reading between the lines that which is overtly stated elsewhere in scripture, the Psalmist intimates that Yahweh is pleased when we realize that as strong as we may seem, we are actually weak, defenseless, and vulnerable on our own. Our security lies in reliance upon Him alone. His strength is made complete in our weakness. Oh, and one more thing: note that Zion—Jerusalem—is the only city on earth that God ever swore to defend. That fact, were it known, would surely give pause to the invading hordes of the coming Tribulation. But they will neither know nor care.
Sun gods and moon gods dot the pagan landscape like “cow patties” on a dairy farm’s back forty. The ineffectual Allah is said to be a moon deity (one among scores of them), and the Assyrian “sun god” was named Marduk. As we have seen, Yahweh convincingly trounced this bogus solar deity along with his army outside of Jerusalem’s city gates (just as He will Allah in the days to come). What I can’t figure out is why, a single generation after Hezekiah’s reign, was Judah back to tolerating—even worshipping—pagan deities? It’s sadly ironic that the all-too-rare righteous kings of Judah never seemed to be able to pass their godly predilections on to their heirs, nor were the lessons of history ever retained for very long. Hezekiah’s son Manasseh turned out to be one of the worst kings of the lot (though the fact that he came to the throne a petulant youth twelve years old explains a lot). During his fifty-five year reign, Manasseh sunk Judah to new and unprecedented depths of pagan depravity. His wicked son Amon (named after Amun-Ra, the Egyptian sun god) reigned only two years, leaving his eight-year-old son Josiah to reign over Judah—a great disappointment to his father and grandfather no doubt, for Josiah, against all odds, grew up to become the last righteous king of Judah. Among the many reforms he instituted, we read, “And he [Josiah] removed from the entrance to the temple of Yahweh the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun…. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.” (II Kings 23:11)
What’s important to notice here is that horses and chariots—the means of waging war—had been associated, linked in dedication, with pagan worship. The lesson: a nation’s attitudes toward making war are inevitably a reflection of its spiritual outlook. A multiplicity of horses, as we have seen, was to be viewed in Israel as a determination to fight life’s battles in man’s strength and wisdom, not according to Yahweh’s provision of victory. At the risk of sounding like a pacifist (which I’m not), I believe we should be far more discerning—and attuned to God’s leading—than we usually are when contemplating going to war. There was a time in America’s history—during the Revolutionary War—when our national agenda aligned (to a great extent) with Yahweh’s revealed character: we were fighting for liberty, equality, and freedom from tyranny—politically, financially, personally, and in matters of faith. Our leaders’ unabashed reliance on the Almighty in the face of insurmountable odds was the one thing that allowed us to prevail over the best-oiled military machine on earth at the time.
But what are we fighting for these days? We ship our best and bravest (or merely our hard-earned tax dollars) to troubled hot zones—invariably places with overwhelming Islamic majorities—to fight decades-long unwinnable wars in the hopes of achieving…achieving what? The objectives are never clear-cut. I could plunge into a sea of conspiracy theories at this point, but I’ll restrict myself to the published and accepted rationalizations. National security? There is no demonstrable link between terrorist acts on our soil and any foreign government. Regime change? Replacing a thug with a megalomaniac or a tyrant with a gangster would seem a fool’s errand. Cheap oil? How’s that workin’ out for you? Imposing American-style democracy on everybody? We spend thousands of lives and billions of dollars to get them to the polls, only to find that they’re in such spiritual bondage, they’ll only vote for candidates pre-approved by their imams—the more hard line, the better. So every “free election” moves the populace deeper into self-imposed slavery. Why? Because America and our well-intentioned allies have relied on “horses and chariots” rather than on the counsel of God.
Excuse my rant. But there’s historical precedent in scripture to teach us about the end game of such a strategy. We shall reap what we have sown. Beginning with Solomon, Israel, and then the divided kingdom, ignored Yahweh’s instructions concerning “horses and chariots,” preferring to trust in the best armies they could draft and tax into existence (or failing that, acquiring allies from among their less-than-reliable pagan neighbors on the rent-a-thug plan). So what happens when a people blessed with the oracles of Yahweh choose to ignore them? They will be taught that there’s always somebody with more horses and bigger chariots than they’ve got. “Thus says Yahweh: Behold, a people is coming from the north country, a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth. They lay hold on bow and javelin; they are cruel and have no mercy. The sound of them is like the roaring sea. They ride on horses, set in array as a man for battle, against you, O daughter of Zion!” (Jeremiah 6:22-23) It was no comfort to Judah that Nebuchadnezzar’s armies decimated Assyria before they turned their attentions to them. What goes around comes around.
Fast forward a hundred-plus years. The Babylonians had succumbed in turn to the Medes and the Persians; a remnant of the Jewish population had returned to the promised land; and the temple had been rebuilt, after a fashion. But the majority of Jews remained in exile, settled and comfortable in their new lives under relatively benign Persian rule. As you’ll recall from our study of wolves, a beautiful young Jewish woman had even been made King Xerxes’ queen. As luck (yeah, right) would have it, Queen Esther’s uncle Mordecai had saved the king’s life sometime previously, but the king had forgotten all about the incident until reminded by Yahweh—through a bad case of insomnia. (It’s a long story.)
So now he determined to correct his error of omission: “And the king said to Haman [Xerxes’ court favorite, the Jews’ persecutor, and Mordecai’s nemesis], ‘What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, ‘Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?’ And Haman said to the king, ‘For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”’ Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.’ So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’” (Esther 6:6-11) Oops. Haman’s greed for self aggrandizement blew up in his face, and he was forced to publically honor the one man he hated worst in this world. (The reason for this hatred, by the way, was that Mordecai had refused to pay homage to Haman—or any man—but to Yahweh only.)
There are lots of lessons that could be gleaned from the Book of Esther. For our immediate purposes, however, I merely want to point out what symbolic role the horse played. Although not seen here in the context of military conquest, the horse still represented triumph and temporal power. Since the king himself had ridden this particular animal, riding it represented the exercise of the king’s own authority. (The wearing of the king’s royal robes and the crown didn’t hurt, either.) The horse represents the power of its owner, so the picture is that of vicariously wielding the authority of the king.
In a moment, we’ll see how this picture will come full circle in the portrayal of the returning Messiah-King upon a white horse. But for now, ponder this: what animal was Yahshua known for riding during his first advent? Not the majestic white horse of triumph, but a lowly donkey of service, the bearer of burdens. Symbolically at least, you are what you ride.
The Tribulation of the last days will see two major military campaigns with the objective of wiping the Israel off the face of the earth. The first battle (which I expect to begin about a year into this final 2,520-day period of rebellion and judgment upon the earth) will begin as a full scale Islamic invasion into Israel. One of the reasons I am convinced Yahweh will never allow Israel to be attacked with nuclear weapons—even if/when Iran acquires them—is that this first conflict is uniformly described in scripture as conventional warfare, with invading armies facing off against the defenders of the land in battle. (Unfortunately, I can’t make any such predictions about America’s thermonuclear prospects. I’m pretty sure we’re in for it at some point.) Jeremiah asks, “Who is this, rising like the Nile, like rivers whose waters surge? Egypt rises like the Nile, like rivers whose waters surge. He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth, I will destroy cities and their inhabitants….’” Egypt, though a consistent Biblical metaphor for “bondage in the world,” is sometimes just Egypt. I believe that’s the case here. It certainly was in 1967 and 1973, and their driving agenda—Islam—has only gotten more belligerent and organized in the intervening years.
“Advance, O horses, and rage, O chariots! Let the warriors go out: men of Cush and Put who handle the shield, men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow….” One bridge we need to get over is the use of such symbology when it comes to prophetic descriptions of weaponry. Is God saying the Islamic hordes are literally going to attack using horses and chariots, bows, arrows, spears, swords, and shields? No, He’s not. The prophet has described, using the only terms he and his audience could have understood, a modern, well-equipped land based fighting force. They have both offensive and defensive capabilities; they’re mobile, swift, skilled, and deadly. And as always, the underlying theme is that these armies are relying on their own resources to achieve their objective. (They’d like to believe they’re operating in Allah’s strength, I suppose, but since he’s only a figment of their prophet’s imagination, they’re on their own in the divine empowerment department.) Notice too that there are several people groups listed—a roster that will be expanded greatly by the prophet Ezekiel in a bit. Cush (“Ethiopia”) is south of Egypt, and Put (“Libya”) is west of it. Lud is apparently in the far west of Turkey. These (and those included in Ezekiel’s expanded list) are all Muslim lands today, in case you didn’t notice.
And what is the battle’s raison d’être? Why has Yahweh given it such a prominent place in His scriptures? Because, “That day is the day of the Lord Yahweh of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge Himself on His foes.” As if it needed clarification, Yahweh has just declared Islam to be His enemy, at least as defined by geography. Of all the institutional evils in the world He intends to deal with (and He intends to deal with all of them), Islam will experience His vengeance first. “The sword shall devour and be sated and drink its fill of their blood. For the Lord Yahweh of hosts holds a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.” (Jeremiah 46:7-10) This reference to the Euphrates may seem confusing, since most of the nations listed as “foes” are in Africa, to the south. But Ezekiel’s account, as we shall see, describes an Islamic coalition driven by Iran, with a significant Turkish component (or is it the other way around?): the invasion will come primarily from Israel’s north, from the direction of the Euphrates River.
Let us then consult with Ezekiel, who offers the most comprehensive description of this campaign, in chapters 38 and 39. “The word of Yahweh came to me: Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” Gog is apparently a title for the Islamic leader. I take him to be the Mahdi, or “Twelfth Imam” of Islamic lore—a made-to-order self-fulfilling prophecy. He could well head up a revived “Ottoman-style caliphate”—something that has been dormant since the end of World War I. The name “Gog” means “mountain,” which is a scriptural metaphor for power. The word “Caucasus” (the name of the mountain range between the Black and Caspian Seas) means “Gog’s fort.” Magog is usually equated with the ancient Scythian empire, which occupied a vast swath of land that, between the 8th and 4th centuries B.C., stretched across Eurasia from the Danube River to China—concentrated in Turkey, the Caucasus region, and Iran. Meshech and Tubal are located in modern-day Turkey. As with Jeremiah’s description, all of the territories listed by Ezekiel are in Muslim hands today. “And prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords….” Once again, we see horses as the symbolic centerpiece of a great military force—one doomed to failure. The description reeks of pride and, dare I say, overconfidence.
“Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you….” As we have seen, Cush and Put are in Africa. Persia, of course, is in Iran (the southern portion), although when Ezekiel was writing this, their empire had expanded to cover much of the Middle East. Gomer (Cimmeria) and the house of Togarmah are both (once again) in Turkey, a region that’s beginning to look very suspicious. Of interest here is who’s missing from the list: notably Egypt (Mizraim), Syria (Aram), Jordan (Edom, Moab, and Ammon), and Saudi Arabia (Sheba, Dedan, Zimri, and others). The reason for that seems to be latent in what Ezekiel is describing: a formal coalition (or caliphate) being led by “Gog,” the Mahdi. But as far back as Genesis 16, Yahweh declared that Ishmael (the father of the Arabian peoples) would be a “wild ass” of a man, at enmity with pretty much everybody. So we should not be surprised to find that the Arabs will not be included in the Magog confederation. That doesn’t mean they won’t attack Israel; it just means that cooperation with their fellow Islamists is not their long suit. The Jeremiah 46 passage we saw above, along with Daniel 11:40, guarantee Egypt’s and Syria’s involvement. And although Saudi Arabia (the birthplace of Islam) would prefer to remain aloof (see Ezekiel 38:13), Jeremiah 25 announces that their fate is sealed.
At any rate, God’s prophet is told to address their leader: “Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: On that day when My people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it? You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army.” Horses, once again, are a symbolic reference to a show of military might. Since Israel’s war of independence in 1948, their Islamic foes have employed what they thought was an ever-increasing degree of military superiority, only to be defeated every time they attacked. In 1973, only the grace of God and some timely assistance with weaponry from America kept Israel from being wiped out. (To my mind, it was Richard Nixon’s finest hour.) This time, Gog will muster an unprecedented, theoretically unstoppable force. “You will come up against My people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against My land, that the nations may know Me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate My holiness before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 38:1-6, 14-16) There will be no question this time: if the Muslims are defeated, it will be a miracle from Yahweh. Like Pharaoh of old, the Muslims will be summoned to their destruction like moths to a flame. Yahweh intends to use their defeat as a wake-up call to the world: He is a God who is willing and able to defend His chosen people—even if they don’t really know Him, even if the odds are impossibly lopsided. The battle of Magog will be the ultimate test case, and Yahweh will rub Muhammad’s nose in the mess he’s made. Bad dog!
And who (or what) will perish on the mountains of Israel at the hand of Yahweh? Let us examine the profile of the dead, the losers, the victims of this war: “Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth.” While literally true—that is, notwithstanding the fact that millions of dead Muslim bodies will pollute the landscape, so many that it will take the Israelis seven months to bury the dead in mass graves—there is also symbolic information embedded here: “Of rams [the leaders of the Muslim flock], of lambs [the clueless and (relatively) innocent participants sent to the slaughter by their overlords], and of he-goats [aggressive sinners], of bulls [the plans and schemes of man], all of them fat beasts of Bashan [the very best army that Dar al-Islam can field]. And you [remember, he’s speaking to the birds, representative of the consequences of choice] shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at My table with horses and charioteers [i.e., Islam’s military might will be devoured], with mighty men [symbolic of volition: they are reaping what they have sown—in this case, utter destruction] and all kinds of warriors,’ declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 39:17-20)
These two chapters (Ezekiel 38 and 39) delineate a variety of “weapons” God intends to use to defend His land from the Islamic menace. I find it significant that he doesn’t actually slay their armies until they invade the Land. Ezekiel mentions (1) an earthquake, (2) the sword (i.e., conventional warfare), the point being that Israel (and some unlikely allies) will mount a vigorous defense, (3) fratricide—something Muslims have historically been far more adept at than actually killing Jews or Christians, (4) pestilence, that is, disease—the inevitable bedfellow of total war, (5) bloodshed, (6) flooding rain (a circumstance that serves to confirm that this campaign will take place during the first half of the Tribulation, since widespread drought is ordained for the second half), (7) great hailstones, to be expected with thunderstorm activity (but a description that could possibly refer to meteor activity), and (8) fire and brimstone, the same phenomenon that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—which apparently had something to do with a sulfur-rich meteor shower. The “trick” for Yahweh will be removing the Muslim invaders without wiping away the Israelite defenders—or for that matter, destroying Gog’s war supplies—fuel, food, ammunition, vehicles, etc. Ezekiel 39:9-10 intimates that these supplies will be utilized by the Israelis after the battle is over—a seven year supply.
The bottom line is that Yahweh does not intend to forever let things roll along as they have for the past age. In the interests of letting man’s free will chart its own course, He has rarely intervened against the “horses and chariots” of man. But that’s all going to change: “I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.” (Haggai 2:21-22) Here again, we see one of the weapons He will deploy during the Battle of Magog: fratricide—men being slain “with the swords of their brothers.” But this issue extends far beyond historic Jewish-Muslim animosity, beyond the war of Magog. It will spread to the very infrastructure of civilization. As governments disintegrate, their ability to keep their populations in check will diminish. Liberty will degenerate into license, then into anarchy, and then into utter chaos.
As society unravels, only one thing will come into focus: fallen man’s illogical resentment against the God who made him. But since they can’t get to Yahweh, they’ll settle for attacking His chosen people, the Jews (along with the neo-Christians, the “fellowship of repentant Laodicea”). Dar al-Islam is only the first wave: “On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it. On that day, declares Yahweh, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But for the sake of the house of Judah I will keep My eyes open, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through Yahweh of hosts, their God.’” (Zechariah 12:3-5) The “panic of horses” speaks of the inability—through sheer terror—of the military forces of the nations gathered against Jerusalem to function. “Rider madness” describes the foolishness—the insanity—of those calling the shots: the politicians, the diplomats, and the generals. Picture the moment when the Red Sea began to collapse back in on the Egyptian armies pursuing the Israelites. Multiply that by a thousand, and you’ve got the basic idea.
As I said a few pages back, there will be two campaigns fought over Jerusalem. This next passage bridges the gap between them. The first was the Battle of Magog; the second is the Battle of Armageddon—although calling them “battles” may be a bit of an overstatement. In the final analysis, Yahweh will achieve victory single handedly, with a yawn and a shrug. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘As for Me, I have set My King on Zion, My holy hill.’” (Psalm 2:1-6) The relationship between Yahweh and His Anointed is seen here. Though God is one person, one entity, Yahweh is manifested in Yahshua the Messiah—God in the form of a human being: He is the “king” that Yahweh has set on His holy hill, Mount Zion. Though Yahweh will not appear personally as He decimates the Muslim hordes of the Battle of Magog, He will return as the reigning Messiah prior to Armageddon. “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? Yahweh, strong and mighty, Yahweh, mighty in battle!” (Psalm 24:7-8)
It’s a stunning picture—the return of the King of glory to the world that treated Him so shabbily last time He appeared. John saw it in his vision: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” One final time, the horse is employed to reveal the strength of its rider. But this time, the Rider is flawless and pure: the horse He’s riding is white. We are reminded that Roman generals, returning home in triumph, employed white horses to telegraph the invincibility of Rome. “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God….” The only One who could ever have been honestly described as “faithful and true” is Yahshua the Messiah. Although He has always been the personification of righteousness, this is the first time He has ever sat in judgment or made war upon the earth.
“And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16) Although the prophet Isaiah reported (in 63:3) that this King will “tread out the winepress alone,” that is, achieve His military victory over the rebellious earth without any assistance from man, here we see that He won’t actually be alone—King Yahshua will be accompanied by the armies of heaven, who, like Him, are all seen riding white horses of invincibility and triumph. These “armies” aren’t the hosts of angels who do the bidding of Yahweh—as the “Lord of Sabaoth”—in the spiritual realm, however. They are seen wearing fine, white linen—symbolic of imputed righteousness. That detail defines them as the previously raptured saints: they’re seen returning to earth as a bride with her Husband, going to their home after the wedding feast—the marriage supper of the Lamb (see Revelation 19:7-9).
But the white horses of the victorious King and His bride aren’t the only horses on the scene in this last great confrontation. John continues: “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great….’” Besides the obvious literal carrion feast, necessary (once again) to cleanse the land of the myriad of dead bodies of those who were foolish enough to attack Yahweh’s people, there is a symbolic component to this: if “birds” represent the consequences of our choices, and “horses” symbolize military strength, then we’re seeing the consequences of choosing to go to war against the King of kings. It’s not a pretty sight.
Being old enough to have lived through the Vietnam war era, I feel compelled to bring up another issue. John’s casualties list includes “slaves” as well as free men—something one might interpret as both “draftees” and “volunteers.” Thousands of my contemporaries fought and died in Southeast Asia, not because they were patriots who truly believed they were somehow defending America, but merely because—patriots or not—they were drafted, forced against their will to go and fight. Here at Armageddon, the draft will once again have been imposed: there are “slaves” among the fallen. Does this mean that they’re not necessarily enemies of God? It might, but I doubt it. Christ’s metaphor of the “sheep and goats” in Matthew 25:31-46 makes it clear that no one will still be uncommitted by the end of the Tribulation (when the Battle of Armageddon will take place). By that time, they will all either be Yahweh’s or Satan’s. So even if they’d rather not fight in the Antichrist’s army (whose sole objective is to destroy Israel), even if their participation in the last battle is compelled and coerced, the draftees have still all made the choice, as individuals, to accept the Antichrist’s oath of loyalty—the mark of the beast. If they had not, they would not have been made soldiers: they’d be made prisoners—or more likely, corpses.
And what about the leaders of the forces arrayed against the returning Messiah? John saw that too: “And I saw the beast [that is, the Antichrist] and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against Him who was sitting on the [white] horse and against His army.” Until this moment, it looks as if a great battle is going to take place. But it never happens: the Messiah simply annihilates the satanic forces with a spoken word. “And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:17-21) It’s all over almost before it begins. The power of the King of kings, the one seated on the white horse of triumph, is, in the end, unassailable. Perhaps someone should have told these multiplied millions of rebellious mortals, armed only with the weapons of men, that they were going out to fight against an immortal militia, armed with the Spirit of God and led by the eternal, omnipotent King. Oh, wait. Someone did tell them.
When God’s prophets see horses in their visions, the usual symbolic concept of “military strength” gets boiled down to its most fundamental principle: the advancement of a scriptural imperative through the application of power. In several of these visions, the seer is shown multiple horses—actually, they always seem to come in sets of four (four being the number symbolic of God’s design for the earth). Another consistent factor: the four horses (or teams) are invariably said to be of different colors. This in turn forces us to ask: what do the colors suggest?
During the time of Governor Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest—when the second temple was being built (520-518 BC)—the prophet Zechariah saw two such multiple-horse visions. “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom Yahweh has sent to patrol the earth….’” Although they’re not necessarily seen in a combat, these four horses are still employed in a quasi-military role—patrolling the earth, guarding and reporting timely sit-reps to their commander.
What to the horses’ colors suggest? The patrol’s leader and one of his troop are riding red horses. This is the Hebrew adjective adom, related to adam, a verb meaning to be red or ruddy, and also a noun meaning man or mankind. The “sorrel” horse is speckled or dappled in color. The Hebrew word is saruq, derived, interestingly enough, from saraq, a word denoting a hissing or whistling sound, or perhaps the piping of a shepherd’s flute. It denotes a non-verbal communication of scorn or derision (as when one passes a burnt-out ruin and whistles in amazement that such a thing could have happened), or a non-verbal whistling signal whose purpose is to command attention or gather a group together. The last horse is white, the Hebrew laban—the color denoting moral purity. Therefore, if I had to guess (and I do, since we’re not overtly told), the four horses of Zechariah 1:8 picture a man calling men to purity.
Before you call the eisegesis police on me (since this admittedly sounds a bit like I’m pulling interpretations out of thin air), consider the rest of the passage. “And they answered the angel of Yahweh who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’” Myrtle trees are linked (in Nehemiah 8:15) with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, prophetic of the Millennial reign of Christ—when (not coincidentally) “all the earth will remain at rest.” But there was also a near-term objective in Zechariah’s vision: the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple in the wake of the Babylonian captivity. “Then the angel of Yahweh said, ‘O Yahweh of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ And Yahweh answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says Yahweh of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says Yahweh, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy. My house shall be built in it, declares Yahweh of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says Yahweh of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and Yahweh will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’” (Zechariah 1:8-17)
Is he speaking of the rebuilding of the city and temple by Zerubbabel and Joshua, or of the reconstruction that will take place after the Tribulation has run its course and Yahshua sits on His rightful throne? Yes, he is. That is, both things, the near and far perspective, are in view. The seventy years of Israel’s Babylonian captivity are analogous to their two millennia of exile and persecution in the wake of their national rejection of Yahshua the Messiah. In both cases, the nations that implemented Yahweh’s wrath on Israel and Judah were—in God’s estimation—a little too enthusiastic, a little too quick to rub salt into Israel’s well deserved wounds. And then as now, Yahweh has determined to regather His people back to Himself in purity and forgiveness, in prosperity and comfort, in mercy and with zeal. That, in case you missed it, is precisely what the colors of the four horses seemed (to me, anyway) to indicate. Yahweh will “whistle” for His people, and they will return to Zion, with a new heart for His word, from all over the earth. And lest we lose sight of the basic meaning of our “horse” metaphor, this regathering of the purified remnant of Israel will be achieved with the strength and efficiency of a proper military operation. The Commander-in-Chief has issued His orders. His word will be carried out as He said. Yahweh will once again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.
A few chapters later, Zechariah describes another vision in which horses played a starring role: “Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze.” The message is different, more ominous, this time. In God’s symbolic shorthand, “four” indicates God’s design, “two” is the number of witness, “mountains” are a place of power, and “bronze” symbolizes judgment. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to what this all means, but it’s pretty clear: something serious is about to be revealed. “The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong. Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’” Again, the colors are a subtle indicator of what’s going on. And again, God doesn’t spell it out: He leaves it up to us to ponder their meaning.
If our interpretation of the previous vision has any merit, the two colors that are repeated (red and white) will mean the same thing they did before. To recap, red (adom) means man, and white (laban) indicates purity. The color of the second team of horses, black, is the Hebrew shachor, derived from the verb shachar: to be black (as in the darkness before the dawn) or in a related sense, to seek or look for diligently (as when the available light is insufficient for the task). A revealing usage of the word is found in Isaiah 14:12, where the descriptive phrase helel ben shachar is used of Satan. This is usually translated “Lucifer, son of the morning” or something similar, but as we can now see, shachar is actually more descriptive of the darkness that precedes the light of dawn. The point, apparently, is that when Satan is given hegemony, darkness rules—you can’t see your spiritual hand in front of your face, so to speak. But the condition is temporary: the light of Yahshua’s triumph is destined to eclipse and obliterate Satan’s dark rule: He is the real “bright and morning star” (see Revelation 22:16). There’s also a fourth color, “dappled,” but if you don’t mind, I’d like to defer my analysis of that one for a moment.
Thus far, we have seen four spiritual profiles (represented by the horses’ various colors), the number of chariots informing us that this is all happening according to Yahweh’s design. According to the symbolic clues, these horses (representing, as always, strength in battle) proceed from a position of power for the purpose of judgment as a witness to the prophet’s audience—ideally, the whole world. No big surprises so far. It’s pretty much the same story we encounter throughout prophetic scripture. The weirdness is yet to come: “And the angel answered and said to me, ‘These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves [literally, who go out from their station] before the lord of all the earth….” The chariots of war are being sent to “the four winds”—i.e., all over the earth. The implication is that this will be the first world war worthy of the name. The identity of the “lord of all the earth” completely eludes the translators, who invariably either capitalize it (Lord) or render it in small caps (LORD) because they irrationally assume it’s referring to Yahweh—whose name they’re in the habit of obfuscating by replacing it with the title “the LORD.” But the text (the Hebrew word is adon, not YHWH) neither requires nor implies any such thing. Adon simply means master or owner. In this age, sadly, the “lord of all the earth” for most people is not Yahweh, but Satan. In II Corinthians 4:4, Paul calls him “the god of this world (or age),” and we see the same sort of language used of either Satan or the beast/Antichrist he empowers, in both Revelation 11:4 (where the “two witnesses” confront the beast) and in Zechariah 4:14—a passage that predicts these men, their anointing, and their ministry. The horses in the vision, then, are operating—they’re waging war—in a world controlled by Satan.
Their destinations correlate to their colors: “The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.” In addition to a literal point on the compass, north symbolizes darkness and cold, emotional concealment, a calculating nature. The word for “north” (tsaphown) is derived from tsaphan, meaning to hide, treasure, or store up. “When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he [the angel] said, ‘Go, patrol the earth.’ So they patrolled the earth. Then he cried to me, ‘Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.” (Zechariah 6:1-8) Okay, so let’s sort this out. Both the black (satanic pre-dawn darkness) and white (morally pure) horses have gone to do battle in the north—the place of cold logic, where things are concealed with a definite purpose, either for protection (as with the white horses) or for sinister reasons (the case with the black ones). Either way the angel (who’s speaking for God) says his “Spirit is at rest.” In the case of the white horses of purity, Yahweh is “at rest” with the choice that has been made—even though mass martyrdom is part of the picture (see Revelation 6:9-11); but in the case of the black horses of satanic darkness, His “wrath has been appeased” (as it’s worded in the NASB). So in the end, judgment—separation—has been achieved in the “north”—where truth and falsehood alike are stored up.
The dappled horses, however, went south. The south indicates the opposite of north—warmth and brightness. It’s a place of passion and spontaneity. The Hebrew word for “south” is teyman. It’s based on yamiyn, which means the right hand or right side (the idea being that when one faces the rising sun, the south is on his right hand). The right hand of God is a consistent metaphor for His power, especially when used as an instrument of deliverance for His people. We see the concept used, for example, in the Song of Moses: “I will sing to Yahweh, for He has triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea…. Your right hand, O Yahweh, glorious in power, Your right hand, O Yahweh, shatters the enemy.” (Exodus 15:1, 6) The horses going south, then, offer a picture of encountering the direct intervention of Yahweh on behalf of His people. And what does their “color” description mean? The horses are called “dappled” (Hebrew: barod), that is, spotted, marked, mottled, speckled, or splotchy in appearance. A potentially revealing clue as to its symbolic significance is that barod is derived from barad—a noun or verb describing hailstones or hailstorms. This, as we have seen, is one of the weapons Yahweh intends to deploy against the Muslim invaders during the Battle of Magog. So the picture has come full circle. The horses going “south” to make war will encounter the direct, enthusiastic right hand of God (in the form of hailstones, for starters) in judgment.
We aren’t specifically told where the red (adom) horses were sent. Perhaps the clue to their destination is provided in verse 7: “Then the strong steeds went out, eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth. And He said, ‘Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth.’ So they walked to and fro throughout the earth.” (Zechariah 6:7 NKJV) In other words, they took the battle with them everywhere they went. It’s not too much of an extrapolation to read into this a state of war (or at least aggressive anarchy) “throughout the earth”—everywhere man dwells—during these troubled times. This is, at the very least, a reasonable conclusion, in light of two grim statistics from the book of Revelation. First, the death toll of the fourth seal judgment (Revelation 6:8)—which seems to be the unavoidable outcome of the previous two seal judgments, war and the famine that inevitably follows it—is one quarter of the earth’s population—about 1.7 billion souls. And later, under the judgment of the sixth trumpet, a two hundred million man demon-led army from the east kills a third of the remaining population—another 1.7 billion people. If you’re keeping score, that’s half of the world’s population who have been slain in the wars of the Tribulation (and there will be a hundred ways to die that cannot logically be attributed to these horses of Zechariah 6).
We’ve already seen that the returning King of kings will be riding the white horse of invincibility. But at the beginning of the Tribulation’s events, another white horse is introduced, one whose rider—though seemingly invincible for a short time—is the very antithesis of the Christ: “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1-2) Thus we are introduced to the first of the so-called “four horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The rider—who will be revealed to be the Antichrist, a.k.a. the “beast” or the son of perdition—will look like a winner at first, a conquering hero, both militarily (the bow) and politically (the crown).
Paul described this “rider on the white horse” as “the man of lawlessness.” He wrote, “For that day [i.e., the coming of Yahshua in glory] will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…. And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.” This “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit. “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only He who now restrains it will do so until He is out of the way.” Thus the Antichrist cannot be revealed until after the rapture has taken place, for the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the lives of all believers in the present age. He cannot be “out of the way” as long as children of Yahweh walk the earth. But after the rapture, all bets are off: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming.” So why will the world see this “lawless one” as a rider on a white horse, a conquering hero, the man of the hour? “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (II Thessalonians 2:3-12) In other words, if man refuses to see the truth, he will be shown lies that are more to his liking.
Following closely on the heels of the introduction of the lawless one, we see something that will come as no surprise to people who love peace and order. “When He [the Lamb of God] opened the second seal, I heard the second living being say, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another, and he was given a great sword….” The second horse brings war. Red in color, it would appear to be analogous to the red horses of Zechariah’s vision, the strong steeds seen going to and fro throughout the earth removing any semblance of peace that might remain. Now that the church has been removed from the earth, now that the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is no longer in evidence, the hatred, greed, pride, and desperation that have always precipitated wars in our world will be given free reign.
But war doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor does it pass without leaving destruction in its wake: “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living being say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be 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 wine!...’” What we’re seeing here is famine, but it’s more than just a shortage of food. The underlying condition is the total collapse of the world’s monetary system—runaway inflation brought on by the reckless expansion of the currency supply by the world’s governments and financial institutions—especially central banks. It’s not just that wheat and barley (the staples of the ordinary diet in John’s day) are hard to come by. It’s that your money just isn’t worth much anymore. A person will have to work all day (a denarius was equivalent to a working man’s daily wage) just to buy a loaf of bread. Another factor that may be in play (as we mentioned in our study of honey as a symbol) is the collapse of the honeybee population. The olive oil and wine were not to be harmed by the rider on the black horse. Neither olive trees nor grape vines rely on honeybees for pollination, but many staple foods do. The mysterious disappearance of bees is a situation that is already reaching epidemic proportions. It tends to make many foods more scarce—and more expensive—even in places that don’t normally suffer from famines.
And the inevitable conclusion? “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:3-8) The “pale” horse is actually a light, ashen shade of green (Greek: chloros). There’s not much room for optimism here. Man is about to become an endangered species. And what follows death? Hades—the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew sheol—the place of the departed souls of the physically dead, some of whom will be resurrected to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting contempt (see Daniel 12:2). Four causes of death are listed here: war, famine, disease, and wild beasts. That last entry is interesting. While the Greek word therion can and does include wild animals, birds, or venomous reptiles (and perhaps even insects and deadly microbes), it can also be used metaphorically to describe violent and brutal men. In fact, the Antichrist himself is described as “the beast” (therion) thirty-one times. The point is that under the pale horse of the fourth seal judgment, no one is safe.
I would view these “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” as an interrelated set—like the four chariots of Zechariah 6. They do not operate independently, but are rather like separate facets on the same gemstone, or different chapters in the same book. And because Yahweh has presented them using the symbology of “the horse,” we should keep in mind that military strength is being described: the Tribulation will witness the ultimate war between good and evil. The devil is being given his last, best chance to make his case among fallen men. And Yahweh, in the interests of presenting a crystal clear choice to mankind, is going to give him all the rope he thinks he needs. But in the end, this will be a ridiculously one-sided conflict, proving once and for all that Solomon was right: “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against Yahweh. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to Yahweh.” (Proverbs 21:30-31)
Besides the first four seal judgments, horses are used metaphorically in several other places in the Book of Revelation to emphasize that there’s a battle, a spiritual war, going on. In the fifth trumpet judgment, we’re given—in highly figurative language—a description of some rather terrifying demonic beasties. First, we’re told of the opening of the “bottomless pit” by a “fallen star” (apparently Satan), The shaft of this abyss belches smoke, darkening the earth. “Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth…. In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold. Their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle.” (Revelation 9:3, 7-9) These locust-like creatures are said to look like horses prepared for battle. Knowing what we do now about what horses symbolize, I’d guess that this is less a physical description than a symbolic one: they are brought upon the earth to force Satan’s agenda—revealed by the name of the “king” of these demonic beasties: Abaddon (in Hebrew) or Apollyon (in Greek)—destruction or destroyer.
It may come as a shock to those who have chosen Satan over Yahweh, but they’re about to discover that even though they’ve given their souls to him, he’s not their ally. He has neither the ability nor the inclination to protect them. The demonic locusts have but one mission: destroy. If they possessed free will, they’d destroy everything and everybody, “friend” and foe alike. But they’re on a short leash—one being yanked by Yahweh Himself: He has given them only five months in which to operate, and He has forbidden them from harming anyone with the “seal of God on their foreheads.” The only group specifically said to be sealed like this are the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14. But since the neo-Laodiceans (those who have belatedly chosen to receive the grace of Christ as they were invited to do in Revelation 3:18-20) are defined as being part of the church (and therefore have the Holy Spirit indwelling them), I’d say they too are sealed, and are thus immune to the militant demon locusts. After all, Paul tells us, “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13) “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (II Corinthians 1:22) So, it would appear, Satan’s rampaging horse-locusts will attack only those allied with Satan and those remaining uncommitted (if there are any at this late date, which is doubtful).
With the sixth trumpet judgment, we once again see horses employed as a metaphor for military might. We are shown the rise of a great army, two hundred million strong, rising in the East—i.e., beyond the Euphrates River. “The four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths….” Their battle colors identify them. Red, blue and yellow are colors utilized in the flags of China and Mongolia—as if anybody else could raise a two hundred million man army. (China has boasted of its ability to do so since the mid-1960s.)
“By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.” Considering the fact that under the fourth seal judgment one quarter of the earth’s population was killed, the one third we see dying here is subsequent to the previous western holocaust—bringing the death total to one half of the earth’s initial population. That’s over three and a half billion souls dead from these two well-defined causes. The sixth trumpet takes place in the part of the world left relatively untouched by the fourth seal: the Far East. The Chinese (with the Antichrist’s blessing and support) are reaching out to seize the lands occupied by some of the most densely populated nations on earth—India, Indonesia, and Japan, for starters. The weapons are said to be coming out of the horses’ mouths—which is a dead giveaway that literal horses are not meant, but rather the symbolic means of achieving military advantage through force of arms. It seems to me that “fire” signifies nuclear weapons, “smoke” indicates conventional gun-based warfare, and sulfur or brimstone reveals the use of chemical or biological weapons. “For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.” (Revelation 9:15-19) Again, this is highly figurative language. The prophet seems to be indicating that war is being waged with both straightforward military aggression (the horses’ mouths) and behind-the-scenes Machiavellian schemes, spycraft, and deceitful diplomacy (the tails). In Greek, the word for serpent (ophis) can, as it does in English, denote a sly, cunning, and malicious person.
One more example of “horses” in the Tribulation narrative is worthy of mention. This one is in connection with the predicted collapse of financial or commercial Babylon. A bit earlier, I mentioned that the third seal judgment, the black horse of the Apocalypse, indicated not only famine but also the inevitable failure of the world’s system of currency, making commerce next to impossible. In Revelation 18, we’re given a much more detailed view of the sudden final collapse of the market for the world’s goods and services. After announcing that the world’s system of commerce has become hopelessly corrupt (actually, he calls it the home of demons and a cage for foul and unclean birds—something we now recognize as being symbolic of the consequences of man’s poor choices) the angel declares that the whole world has “drunk the wine of the wrath of Babylon’s fornication,” which can’t be a good thing. You can’t cross the street these days without being confronted with some permutation of the incestuous relationship between Washington politicians and Wall Street financiers. John reports that these “kings and merchants” “will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, ‘Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.’” Think of a “city” in this context as a system—united in motivation and prepared to defend itself. “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.” (Revelation 18:10-13)
Down near the bottom of the list, we see “horses and chariots” listed. This is clearly a reference to the multi-billion dollar arms industry that thrives today. But the business of national security will implode under its own ponderous weight long before the Tribulation has run its course. The world, when you add it all up, now spends upwards of 1.6 trillion dollars per year on “defense.” That’s $230 for every man, woman, child, and unborn fetus on the face of the planet. No wonder one of Yahweh’s millennial objectives is to “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks” (as it says in Micah 4:3). Seems to me, hate is awfully expensive.
Of course, if you’re God, love isn’t exactly cheap, either. Rescuing mankind from his fallen state required a greater sacrifice than any of us can adequately comprehend. It took nothing less than the death of Life itself, the emptying of the Fullness of God, the impoverishment of the Owner of the universe. We’ve already seen how Yahshua, when here on earth to present Himself a ransom for our transgressions, rode not the white horse of triumph, but a humble donkey—just as the prophet Zechariah had predicted: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you. Righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” But then, without so much as taking a breath, the prophet saw where such humility would lead—to glory, dominion, and perfect peace: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations. His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10) The second coming of Christ will spell an end to the horse as a symbol for military conquest—beginning with the heart of His kingdom: Israel. What will defend them from this point on? The very thing that would have defended them all along, if only they had been willing to call upon it: His word. When King Yahshua “speaks peace to the nations,” they will listen, for no one will dispute His right to rule. He will speak softly and carry a scepter of iron.
And what about horses? Are they to become extinct? No, just retasked. Yahweh describes the post apocalyptic immigration of Israel—all twelve tribes—back to the land of promise: “And they shall declare My glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to Yahweh, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, says Yahweh, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of Yahweh.” Who will declare Yahweh’s glory? Who will facilitate the return of the Jews to Israel, not as refugees, but as honored citizens of the kingdom of God? The gentiles—more specifically, the blessed “sheep” of Yahshua’s “sheep and goats” illustration. “And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says Yahweh. For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before Me, says Yahweh, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares Yahweh.” (Isaiah 66:19-23) Some of us already do.
And when Israel has returned, when they are at last living securely in the land that Yahweh gave them under the beneficent reign of the King of kings, what will the horses be doing then? Zechariah paints the picture for us: “Yahweh will be king over all the earth. On that day Yahweh will be one and his name one…. And [Jerusalem] shall be inhabited, for there shall never again be a decree of utter destruction. Jerusalem shall dwell in security…. Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths…. And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to Yahweh.” (Zechariah 14:9, 11, 16, 20) Horses in the Millennium will announce the holiness of their owners as they once declared their riders’ strength in battle. The inscription upon their bells is the very same title that was once engraved on a golden plate fastened on the turban of the High Priest. The message is identical: the one bearing this inscription, everything he does and all that he represents, is set apart from the world for the glory and honor of Yahweh.
Nice work if you can get it.
(First published 2014)