The Eighth Vision: The Four Chariots

1I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! 2The first chariot had red horses, the second black, 3the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. 4I asked the angel who was speaking to me, "What are these, my lord?"

5The angel answered me, "These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. 6The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south."

7When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And He said, "Go throughout the earth!" So they went throughout the earth.

8Then He called to me, "Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north."

Now we come to the eighth and final vision of Zechariah. The first and eighth visions make appropriate bookends for the eight visions. The first and eighth visions both deal with the nations outside of Israel, whereas the six in-between visions deal specifically with Israel herself. Also, in the eighth vision, we find again the colored horses that we were introduced to in the first vision. "In the first vision, the horses patrol the earth and report peace. In the last, chariots patrol the earth and dispense judgment" [Laney, 69]. Moreover, "the mission of the horses and chariots supplies the central theme to all eight visions, for they acted as a pair of bookends at the front and back of the visions. Together, the eight visions say more than that the temple must be rebuilt and the leadership revived; they argue that God’s kingdom in the whole world would be renewed and governments that had opposed His kingdom would be totally vanquished" [Kaiser, 343].

Zechariah relates his vision: "I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful" (vss. 1–2). Zechariah again helps us in the interpretation of the vision by asking a question of the angel who is with him: "I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.’ When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, ‘Go throughout the earth!’ So they went throughout the earth. Then he called to me, ‘Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north’" (vss. 2–8).

As in his first vision, Zechariah sees horses of different colors. But this time, the horses are pulling chariots. In the first vision, the horses were reconnoitering, going "throughout the earth" and reporting back to the Lord what they found (see Zech. 1:10–11). In this vision, the horses are ready for action, pulling "chariots". Chariots are implements of war, and so the horses are ready for war.

The chariots are in a valley "between two mountains—mountains of bronze" (vs. 1). This is possibly the valley of Jehoshaphat, between an idealized Mount Moriah and Mount of Olives (the two mountains near the Temple). This would have been the nearest spot to the Temple that was accessible by chariots [Moore, 87]. The mountains are "bronze", likely signifying strength and immovability.

There are "four" chariots, probably to correspond with the four directions: north, south, east and west. This would be in line with the significance of other "fours" in Biblical, prophetic literature: "The number four has the same significance here as in the four winds of Daniel, the four cherubs of Ezekiel, the four angels at the four corners of the earth in the Apocalypse, and the four horns and four artificers of the second vision. Alluding to the four points of the compass, it is the symbol of universality, a judgment that goes in every direction" [Moore, 87].

Each of the four chariots are drawn by different colored horses: red, black, white and dappled. The different colored horses are evocative of John’s vision in Revelation 6. He saw four colored horses with riders being sent out. The first rider, on a white horse, went out "as a conqueror bent on conquest" (Rev. 6:1–2). The second rider, on a red horse, took peace from the earth and caused men to slay each other (Rev. 6:3–4). The third rider, on a black horse, brought food shortages, presumably through famine (Rev. 6:5–6). The fourth rider, on a pale horse, brought death through famine, plagues, and beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7–8). Because of the similarities between the colors of the horses in Zechariah’s vision, and the ones in John’s vision, we may reasonably conclude that the colors of the horses symbolize the same things in both visions, namely: white for conquest, or victory; red for the blood of carnage and war; black for the sorrow of affliction; dappled for a combination of plagues and pestilence. In fact, I have little doubt that Zechariah and John were viewing visions that prophesied the same event: the unleashing of God’s wrath upon the rebellious world.

In Zechariah, we are told that the chariots are sent out by God: "I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world’" (vss. 4–5). We are also told that the chariots go in different directions: "The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward south" (vs. 6). Interestingly, we are not told where the chariot with "red" horses goes. We may infer that it goes towards the east, since that direction is not mentioned. Or possibly, that chariot is being held back in reserve.

Zechariah notes: "When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And He said, ‘Go throughout the earth!’ So they went throughout the earth" (vs. 7). This is a picture of God’s mercy. Before He sent them, the horses "were straining to go", implying that the earth was ripe for judgment before God unleashed the chariots. The earth, even now, is ripe for God’s judgment. Man, in his rebellion, deserves God’s judgment. But God, in His mercy, has not yet unleashed the full power of His wrath. The horses remain reined back, giving us an opportunity to repent from our rebellion against God, and seek forgiveness through His grace, which He freely offers to all of us.

The Lord points out especially for Zechariah’s notice: "Then He called to me, ‘Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north’" (vs. 8). To Zechariah, the "north country" would denote Babylon. The judgment upon Babylon would be of special interest to Zechariah and the Israelites, given the recent suffering the Israelites experienced in that land. The Lord states that the chariots He sent there have given His "Spirit rest." They have given His Spirit rest through the satisfaction of His justice. In Zechariah’s first vision, recall that it was the nations who were at rest, in their rebellion against God (see Zech. 1:11). This displeased God and made Him angry (see Zech. 1:15). In this vision, the Lord sends out His judgment upon the nations who were secure in their rebellion. Their spirits are no longer at rest; the Lord’s Spirit is at rest.

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