Horses in the Bible


May/June 2016

Trust Only in God

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“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 NIV).

Brent Hislop

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about horses in the Bible is that almost exclusively they are spoken of as instruments of war and not as animals used for the peaceful benefit of man.

It is of interest that of all the gifts that Pharaoh gave to Abram for Sarai in Genesis, 12 camels and donkeys are mentioned, but not horses. It is generally understood that horses were not part of the transaction here because they were principally used for war chariots, and therefore not suitable for Abram, a man of peace. The horse does not appear among the possessions of the patriarchs, e.g. Genesis 24:35 and Genesis 30:43, where camels and donkeys appear as the animals used as beasts of burden.

In Genesis 50, the account of Jacob’s death in Egypt is given. Such accord was given Jacob that even among the Egyptians he was mourned for seventy days, and a great company of both chariots and horsemen gave a royal procession and safeguard for the company traveling from the land of Goshen to the burial in the land of Canaan.

In Exodus 14, 198 years after the death of Jacob, we again find the descendants of Jacob being escorted out of Egypt, however this time under much different circumstances, being pursued by Pharaoh, his horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. The miraculous deliverance of God in destroying the army of Egypt is heralded in the first Song of Moses. Exodus 15:1- 18 would remain a constant theme for Israel, to trust in God for deliverance, and not in man nor horses. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD … for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone” (Exodus 15:1-5).

In Deuteronomy 17:14-16, Moses spoke prophetically of Israel wanting to have a king like other nations. Amongst several restrictions upon the king was included in verse 16, that the king would not multiply horses to himself. Horses were not proscribed, but were to be limited. This is understood to mean that, unlike other nations, Israel was not to trust in great military strength, but to trust in the arm of God. Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of The LORD our God.” Psalm 33:17, “A horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.” Likewise Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.”

Time and again Israel’s own prophets warned them against trusting in any but God, and not to trust in other nations and their horses. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt 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 the LORD! … The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD 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 ESV, also see Amos 4:10, Hosea 1:7, 14:3, Isaiah 2:7, and Ezekiel 17:15).

The observance of Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 17:16 about the king not multiplying horses to himself was short lived. The very first king over Israel, Saul, appears to break the command in 1 Samuel 8:11. David followed Saul’s bad example, recorded in 2 Samuel 8:4. However, under Solomon the spirit of the prohibition was completely defied. For Moses’ prophetic prohibition in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 contains three items that were all violated by Solomon as recorded in 1 Kings 10:26-29 and 1 Kings 11. (1) Not multiplying horses, (2) not returning to Egypt to multiply horses, and (3) not multiplying wives to himself. The 1 Kings 11 and 12 account indicates that not only did Solomon violate each of these commandments, but that he violated them with impunity. He gathered horses from Egypt; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen; and having “loved many strange women,” he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines!

Horses in Prophecy

This brief outline of the use of horses in scripture, principally centering around their connection to military use, also sets the basis for our understanding of how horses are used in biblical prophecies. The same connection to war is carried over. Many and varied are the Old and New Testament prophecies that include horses, but they largely center on war or conflict. A few examples follow: In the “great time of trouble” prophecy, Joel speaks of the Lord’s great army and says of them that they are “a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as a horseman, so shall they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array … And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?” (Joel 2:2-5,11).

The likeness of the horse and chariot refers to the destructive locusts of chapter one. There is a remarkable resemblance of the head of some types of locusts to the head of a horse. The noise of a locust swarm is said to make an extraordinary and overwhelming rushing noise. Therefore the word imagery is powerful, and incorporating the imagery of the horse and chariot to the Lord’s great army amplifies the prophetic picture of the calamity with which this age will close, which only portends the still greater blessings of God’s kingdom. Later in the second chapter, Joel says God will do great things, including restoring the destruction wrought by the Lord’s great army (verse 25).

Another Perspective of the Horse and Chariot

In Micah 5, a fascinating series of prophecies opens with a first advent prophecy, and then in verse three shifts to the Second Advent. At that time the remnant “shall return unto” (or upon) the children of Israel already regathered. In verse five, the Assyrian is pictured as the forces coming into the land to destroy Israel. But they are thwarted by the seven shepherds (the Church), the eight princes of men (the Ancient Worthies), and by the remnant (of Israel), described as a lion among the flocks of sheep (verse 8).

Ultimately the remnant will be, in the language of verse 7, like the refreshing “dew from the LORD,” proffering God’s blessings in the midst, or among, many people — blessings showered that do not tarry or wait for man. Man can neither help nor hinder the blessed purposes of God. The verses of special interest to us are 10-15. Verse 10 says, “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots:” This may mean that God will cut off the forces of Israel’s enemies. But verse 10 says that God will cut off “thy” (Israel’s) horses and chariots. Why? Because, as verse 15 says, “And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.” It is God that will destroy the enemies of Israel, not Israel’s reliance upon its own military might.

Today Israel arms itself to the teeth in the face of all the violent opposition it receives; however, the prophet instructs us that the day is coming when God will cut off, or destroy, Israel’s military might, so that God may be seen in His miraculous deliverance of Israel.(1) “Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 38:23). And this too will be a reminder to Israel of the words of Moses and the prophets not to trust in horses and chariots but to trust in God.

(1) Editor’s Note: Another possibility is that removing their military refers to the aftermath when all is more settled, and Israel will no longer need common military forces. In Micah 5:5 that was cited, the “remnant” is an aggressive force, evidently with arms. In 2 Kings chapter three the remarkable victory there also suggests armed force.

 Revelation 19

Our last example of horses in prophecy is drawn from Revelation 19. In this chapter we have depicted, in the most fantastic imagery, the destruction of the false church systems that have corrupted the word of God and blasphemed his character, and of the kings of the earth and their armies. Following the marriage of the Lamb (verses 7-10), the revelator tells us that heaven opened and he saw the most amazing things: Jesus and his church (verses 11-14) on white horses, going forth in battle to destroy the enemies of God. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.”

Once, Jesus presented himself to Israel as their King, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass (Matthew 21:5). But now he comes as a King to execute righteous judgement, not upon the peaceful donkey, but now with his church on white horses, a picture of the purity and righteousness of a battle that must be waged to purge the world of sin. And with this, God will make “wars to cease unto the end of the earth,” as He will break the bow, cut the spear in sunder, and burn the chariot in the fire (Psalms 46:9). No longer will man trust in chariots and in horses, but they will trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). Amen.

Categories: 2016 Issues, 2016-May/June