Zechariah is remindful of the donkey, bringing to mind his famous prophecy of the Lord coming in peace, riding on a donkey.
Vision 1 – God’s pity for God’s people | Zechariah 1:7‑17
Vision 2 – God’s protection of God’s people | Zechariah 1:18‑21
Vision 3 – God’s purpose for God’s people | Zechariah 2:1-13
Vision 4 – God’s purification of God’s people | Zechariah 3:1-10
Vision 5 – God’s empowering of God’s people | Zechariah 4:1-14
Vision 6 – God’s perfecting of God’s people | Zechariah 5:1-4
Vision 7 – God’s purging of God’s people | Zechariah 5:5-11
Vision 8 – God’s protecting of God’s people | Zechariah 6:1-8
An angelic guide helped Zechariah understand what God was showing him, throughout the night.
Vision 8, Four Chariots
Which brings us to the eighth and last vision,
And again I looked up and saw four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze.
The first chariot had red horses,
the second chariot black horses,
the third chariot white horses, and
the fourth chariot dappled gray horses.
Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel answered me, “These are the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.
“—The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country,
“—the white ones go toward the west country, and
“—the dappled ones go [toward the south country.]” or “going after them.”]
When the steeds came out, they were impatient to get off and patrol the earth.
And he said, “Go, patrol the earth.”
So they patrolled the earth.
Then he cried out to me, “Lo, those who go toward the north country have set my spirit at rest in the north country.”Zechariah 6:1-8 (NRSV)
What Does It Mean?
- The four chariots, according to the angel, were the four winds of heaven, but more specifically, agents of judgment who reported to God.
- Two mountains are thought to be astride the Valley of Jehoshaphat, between Mount Moriah and Mount Olivet, or possibly the valley between Mount Moriah and Mount Zion, referring to God’s exclamation, “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” in chapter 2. Symbolically, the mountains may be like the two olive trees in Zechariah’s fifth vision, The Lampstand and The Olive Trees.
- Bronze bespoke of strength and might, immovability.
- Red horses represent war.
- Black horses represent famine and death.
- White horses represent victory.
- Dappled horses, or brindled, represent pestilence.
- North country signified Babylon and Magog.
At the very beginning of the evening, Zechariah saw what was very like a Persian emperor with his satraps reporting in from every region of his empire. This was an encouragement from the Lord, that God’s people may feel small and insignificant, but the All-Powerful, All-Wise, and Ever-Present Creator of the Cosmos was by their side.
God continued to encourage Zechariah with four more oracles prophetically revealing the Lord’s purpose and plan for God’s people, to be fruitful, to flourish and fill the land, to one day have peace and prosperity as their posterity.
But the next vision God showed Zechariah darkened the land as the shadow of the Scroll of God’s Law swept across the entire world. All are accountable to the one true and living God, Almighty God, Who has created all there is and over which the Lord is Sovereign.
God showed Zechariah the idolatry of God’s people being symbolically removed from them in the form of a sitting woman (most likely an idol representing Ashtoreth) in a basket.
But now in the wee hours of the morning, Zechariah’s visions came to a close with the emperor sending his armies back into all the world to carry out his commands. They came thundering out from between two bronze mountains, icons of immovable might, much like the image evoked in Jeremiah’s oracle,
Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.Jeremiah 1:18 (NRSV)
They were being sent out in judgement, acting on God’s wrath against the transgressions of the nations.
The black horses of God’s judgment were followed by the white horses of God’s victory. God’s Spirit found rest once the Lord’s enemies, and the enemies of God’s people had been judged.
God’s Four Judgments in Ezekiel
Once the angel had identified the nature of the four chariots, Zechariah would surely have recalled Ezekiel’s oracle on the judgments of God.
The word of the Lord came to me:
Mortal, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it, and break its staff of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it human beings and animals, even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord God.
If I send wild animals through the land to ravage it, so that it is made desolate, and no one may pass through because of the animals; even if these three men were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither sons nor daughters; they alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword upon that land and say, “Let a sword pass through the land,” and I cut off human beings and animals from it; though these three men were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither sons nor daughters, but they alone would be saved.
Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my wrath upon it with blood, to cut off humans and animals from it; even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would save neither son nor daughter; they would save only their own lives by their righteousness.
For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four deadly acts of judgment,
sword, [Red horses]
famine, [Black horses]
wild animals, and [Black horses]
pestilence, [Brindled horses]
to cut off humans and animals from it!Ezekiel 14:12-21 (NRSV | brackets mine)
The Four Horses in Revelation
The Revelation of Jesus to John the Apostle picks up on the same theme.
[White Horses of Victory] Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.
[Red Horses of War] When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.
[Black Horses of Famine] When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, “Come!” I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held 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 day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”
[Brindled Horses of Pestilence] When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, “Come!” I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.Revelation 6:1-7 (NRSV | brackets mine)
This final vision spoke of both near and far judgement, for the Babylonian empire had indeed been brought down, but there would be more judgment to come.
[The Vision of Zechariah | The J. Paul Getty Museum, Public Domain under the Getty open content program]