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19.2. Zechariah’s Horsemen

In his first version Zechariah sees a man is riding a red (אָדֹם [ʾāḏōm] ) horse and behind him were horses: red (אֲרֻמִּים [ʾărummîm] , red ones), sorrel (סְרֻקִּים [seruqqîm] , spotted ones), and white (וּלְבָנִים [wûleḇānîm] , white ones). There are more than four horses in Zechariah’s first vision, for a rider is seated upon one horse and there are said to be several horses of each color, presumably also with riders. The color of the sorrel horse is uncertain, although a variegated pattern seems to be the best understanding.1

If we compare this with Zec. Zec. 6:2, where the chariots are drawn by red (ʿădummīm, πυρροί [pyrroi] ), black (shechōrīm, μέλανες [melanes] ), white (lebhânīm, λευκοί [leukoi] ), and speckled (beruddīm, ψαροί [psaroi] ) horses, and with Rev. Rev. 6:1+, where the first rider has a white horse (λευκός [leukos] ) the second a red one (πυρρός [pyrros] ) the third a black one (μέλας [melas] ) the fourth a pale horse (χλωρός [chlōros] ), there can be no further doubt that three of the colours of the horses mentioned here occur again in the two passages quoted, and that the black horse is simply added as a fourth; so that the seruqqīm correspond to the beruddīm of Zec. Zec. 6:3, and the ἵππος χλωρός [hippos chlōros] of Rev. Rev. 6:8+, and consequently sârōq denotes that starling kind of grey in which the black ground is mixed with white, so that it is not essentially different from bârōd , speckled, or black covered with white spots (Gen. Gen. 31:10, Gen. 31:12).2

It seems best to understand the colors of the three horses in Zechariah’s first vision as denoting bloodshed (red, “The color of blood”3 ), peace or victory (white, Rev. 6:2+)”4 ), and a condition of partial peace and conflict (sorrel).5 Perhaps the horsemen, in walking “to and fro throughout the earth” typically encounter all three conditions in their tour. At the time of Zechariah’s vision, they report “all the earth is resting quietly” (Zec. Zec. 1:11).6 Some see Zechariah’s horsemen as being sent out to cause death (red), sickness (sorrell), and victory (white) much like the horsemen of Revelation Rev. 6:1+,7 but the context of Zechariah’s vision says nothing of them being sent out in judgment, but that they had already been riding and were now returned to report what they had seen.8 The most we can conclude concerning a similarity between Zechariah’s first vision of the horsemen and the horsemen shown John is:
  1. They are connected with the judgment of God (Zec. Zec. 1:15).
  2. They ride at a time of apparent peace (Zec. Zec. 1:15 cf. Dan. Dan. 8:25; Mtt. Mat. 24:37-39; Luke Luke 17:26-30; Luke 21:34-35; 1Th. 1Th. 5:3).

Notes

1 “Brown; other sources suggest ‘bright red,’ or even ‘pale yellow.’; . . . color pattern, i.e., a spotted or two-tone color pattern, possible in colors of lighter and darker brown.”—James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), s.v. “#H8320.” “The significance of the colors is not stated, and this is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘brown’ (NIV) or ‘speckled’ (KJV) is found only here in the Old Testament, so that its meaning is not sure.”—F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah,” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983), Zec. 1:8. “The Hebrew סְרֻקִּים [seruqqîm] means ‘red.’ Modern translations such as ‘speckled’ or ‘spotted’ are based on ancient versions that attempt to bring the color of this horse into line with those of Zec. Zec. 6:2-3. This is a methodological fallacy since these are two different and unrelated visions.”—New Electronic Translation : NET Bible, electronic edition (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 1998), Zec. 1:8. Yet it seems unlikely that sorrel represents red horses for they are distinguished from אֲרֻמִּים [ʾărummîm] , which are said to be the red horses. Moreover, the translators of the LXX, probably closer to the meaning of the word than we moderns, render the word as ψαροὶ και ποικίλοι [psaroi kai poikiloi] , speckled and many-colored ones.

2 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Zec. 1:8.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 “ ‘Speckled’ (from a root ‘to intertwine’), a combination of the two colors white and red (bay [Moore]), implies a state of things mixed, partly prosperous, partly otherwise [Henderson].”—A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Zec. 1:8.

6 It seems best to understand “all the earth” as a figure of speech for it seems unlikely that the entire world was at peace during the time of Zechariah. But the language could also have a secondary eschatological application: “Perhaps the vision has a more eschatological reference in anticipation of the worldwide kingdom of Messiah, since the patrol covered not only the vast Persian Empire, but also the whole world—though perhaps ‘the whole world’ is a figure of speech (synecdoche) for the Persian Empire.”—Lindsey, “Zechariah,” Zec. 1:9.

7 “We must not, indeed, infer from this account that the riders were all sent for the simple and exclusive purpose of obtaining information concerning the state of the earth, and communicating it to the Lord. For it would have been quite superfluous and unmeaning to send out an entire troop, on horses of different colours, for this purpose alone. Their mission was rather to take an active part in the agitation of the nations, if any such existed, and guide it to the divinely appointed end, and that in the manner indicated by the colour of their horses; viz., according to Rev. Rev. 6:1+, those upon the red horses by war and bloodshed; those upon the starling-grey, or speckled horses, by famine, pestilence, and other plagues; and lastly, those upon the white horses, by victory and the conquest of the world.”—Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Zec. 1:8.

8 “In our vision, however, the swift messengers were in the first instance only sent out to reconnoitre the earth and the state of the nations in their relation to the land and people of Israel.”—David Baron, Zechariah: A Commentary On His Visions And Prophecies (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1918), 32.