char'-i-ot (merkabh, merkabhah, "riding-chariot," rekhebh, "war-chariot"; harma):
1. Chariots of Egypt
2. Chariots of the Canaanites
3. Chariots of Solomon and Later Kings
4. Chariots of the Assyrians
5. Chariots of Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks
6. In the New Testament
7. Figurative Use
1. Chariots of Egypt:
It is to the chariots of ancient Egypt that reference is first made in Scripture. Joseph was honored by being made to ride in the second chariot of King Pharaoh (Genesis 41:43). Joseph paid honor to his father on his arrival in Goshen by meeting him in his chariot (Genesis 46:29). In the state ceremonial with which the remains of Jacob were escorted to Canaan, chariots and horsemen were conspicuous (Genesis 50:9). In the narrative of the departure of the Israelites from Egypt and of Pharaoh's futile attempts to detain them the chariots and horsemen of Pharaoh figure largely (Exodus 14:17,18,23,15; 15:4,19). It was with the Hyksos invasion, some centuries before the Exodus, that the horse, and subsequently the chariot, were introduced for purposes of war into Egypt; and it may have been the possession of chariots that enabled those hated shepherd warriors to overpower the native Egyptians. The Egyptian chariot was distinguished by its lightness of build. It was so reduced in weight that it was possible for a man to carry his chariot on his shoulders without fatigue. The ordinary chariot was made of wood and leather, and had only two occupants, the fighting man and his shield-bearer. The royal chariots were ornamented with gold and silver, and in the battle of Megiddo Thothmes III is represented as standing in his chariot of electrum like the god of war, brandishing his lance. In the battle the victorious Egyptians captured 2,041 horses and 924 chariots from the Syrian allies.
2. Chariots of the Canaanites:
The Canaanites had long been possessed of horses and chariots when Joshua houghed their horses and burnt their chariots with fire at the waters of Merom (Joshua 11:6,9). The chariots of iron which the Canaanites could maneuvere in the plains and valleys proved a formidable obstacle to the Complete conquest of the land (Judges 1:19). Jabin had 900 chariots of iron, and with them he was able to oppress the children of Israel twenty years (Judges 4:3). The Philistines of the low country and the maritime plain, of whom we read in Judges and Samuel, were a warlike people, were disciplined and well armed and their possession of chariots gave them a great advantage over the Israelites. In the war of Michmash they put into the field the incredible number of 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, only in the end to suffer a grievous defeat (1 Samuel 13:5; 14:20). In the battle of Gilboa, however, the chariots and horsemen of the Philistines bore down all opposition, and proved the destruction of Saul and his house. Of these chariots there have come down to us no detailed description and no representation. But we cannot be far wrong in turning to the chariot of the Hittites as a type of the Canaanite and Philistine chariot. It is not from the monuments of the Hittites themselves, however, but from the representations of the Kheta of the Egyptian monuments, that we know what their chariots were like. Their chariotry was their chief arm of offense. The Hittite chariot was used, too, for hunting; but a heavier car with paneled sides was employed for war. The Egyptian monuments represent three Hittites in each car, a practice which differed from that of Egypt and attracted attention. Of the three, one guided the chariot, another did the fighting with sword and lance, and the third was the shield-bearer.
3. Chariots of Solomon and Later Kings:
The Israelites living in a mountainous country were tardy in adopting the chariot for purposes of war. David houghed all the chariot horses of Hadadezer, king of Zobah, and "reserved of them for a hundred chariots" (2 Samuel 8:4), and Adonijah prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with a view to contest the throne of his father (1 Kings 1:5). But Solomon was the first in Israel to acquire chariots and horses on a national scale, and to build cities for their accommodation (1 Kings 9:19). In Massoretic Text of the Old Testament we read that Solomon had agents who received droves of horses from Egypt, and it is added:
"And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150; and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means" (1 Kings 10:29). On the strength of a warrantable emendation of the text it is now proposed to read the preceding (1 Kings 10:28): "And Solomon's import of horses was from Mucri and from Kue; the king's traders received them from Kue at a price"--where Mucri and Kue are North Syria and Cilicia. No doubt it was Egypt out of which the nation was forbidden by the Deuteronomic law to multiply horses (Deuteronomy 17:16), but on the other hand the statement of Eze (27:14) that Israel derived horses, chargers and mules not from Egypt but from Togarmah--North Syria and Asia Minor--agrees with the new rendering (Burney, Notes on Hebrew Text of the Books of Kings, in the place cited.). From Solomon's time onward chariots were in use in both kingdoms. Zimri, who slew Elah, son of Baasha, king of Israel, was captain of half his chariots (1 Kings 16:9). It was when sitting in his chariot in disguise beside the driver that Ahab received his fatal wound at Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:34). The floor of the royal chariot was a pool of blood, and "they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria" (1 Kings 22:35,38). It was in his war-chariot that his servants carried Josiah dead from the fatal field of Megiddo (2 Kings 23:30). The chief pieces of the Hebrew chariot were
(1) the pole to which the two horses were yoked,
(2) the axle--resting upon two wheels with six or eight spokes (1 Kings 7:33)--into which the pole was fixed,
(3) a frame or body open behind, standing upon the axle and fitted by a leather band to the pole.
The chariots of iron of which we read (Judges 4:3) were of wood strengthened or studded with iron. Like that of the Hittite, the Hebrew chariot probably carried three men, although in the chariot of Ahab (1 Kings 22:34) and in that of Jehu (2 Kings 9:24) we read of only two.
4. Chariots of the Assyrians:
In the later days when the Assyrians overran the lands of the West, the Israelites had to face the chariots and the hosts of Sennacherib and of the kings (2 Kings 19:23). And they faced them with chariots of their own. An inscription of Shalmaneser II of Assyria tells how in the battle of Karkar (854 BC) Ahab of the land of Israel had put into the field 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers. But the Assyrian chariotry was too numerous and powerful for Israel. The Assyrian chariot was larger and heavier than the Egyptian or the Hebrew:
it had usually three and sometimes four occupants (Maspero, Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria, 322). When we read in Nahum's prophecy of "chariots flashing with steel," "rushing to and fro in the broad ways" (Nahum 2:3,4), it is of the Assyrian chariots that we are to think being hastily got together for the defense of Nineveh.
5. Chariots of Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks:
In early Babylonian inscriptions of the 3rd millennium before Christ there is evidence of the use of the war-chariots, and Nebuchadrezzar in his campaigns to the West had chariots as part of his victorious host (Jeremiah 47:3). It was the Persians who first employed scythed chariots in war; and we find Antiochus Eupator in the Seleucid period equipping a Greek force against Judea which had 300 chariots armed with scythes (2 Macc 13:2).
6. In the New Testament:
In the New Testament the chariot is only twice mentioned. Besides the chariot in which the Ethiopian eunuch was traveling when Philip the evangelist made up to him (Acts 8:28,29,38), there is only the mention of the din of war-chariots to which the onrush of locusts in Apocalyptic vision is compared (Revelation 9:9).
7. Figurative Use:
In the figurative language of Scripture, the chariot has a place. It is a tribute to the powerful influence of Elijah and Elisha when they are separately called "the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 2:12; 13:14). The angelic hosts are declared to be God's chariots, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands (Psalms 68:17). But chariots and horses themselves are a poor substitute for the might of God (Psalms 20:7). God Himself is represented as riding upon His chariots of salvation for the defense of His people (Habakkuk 3:8). In the Book of Zec, the four chariots with their horses of various colors have an apocalyptic significance (Zechariah 6). In the worship of the host of heaven which prevailed in the later days of the kingdom of Judah, "the chariots of the sun" (see article) were symbols which led the people into gross idolatry and King Josiah burnt them with fire (2 Kings 23:11).
Nowack, Hebrew Archaeology, I, 366; Garstang, Land of the Hittites, 363; Maspero, Struggle of the Nations and Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria; Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies, II, 1-21.