19.3. Zechariah’s Chariots

Zechariah’s eighth vision has a greater bearing on the horsemen shown John. Zechariah sees four chariots which come forth from between two mountains of bronze (Zec. Zec. 6:1). In our commentary on Revelation 1:15, we understood that bronze is a metal which can withstand the heat of fire and often represents judgment. Each chariot is drawn by horses of different colors—much like our four horsemen: red, black, white, and dappled (Zec. Zec. 6:2-3). The chariots are said to be captained by “spirits” (or winds)—a reference to the Holy Spirit or possibly invisible messengers such as angels.1 There are four chariots, just as there are four horsemen shown John, indicating a global scope of activity (see Four: the Entire World, the Earth). The four chariots drawn by different colored horses ride out as follows:
  1. The chariot drawn by black horses rides north.
  2. The chariot drawn by white horses also rides north.2
  3. The chariot drawn by the dappled horses rides south.
  4. The destination of the chariot drawn by red horses is not explicitly given.
As is common with prophetic passages, Zechariah’s last vision has a near-term referent and a far-future referent. The near-term referent is the overthrow of Babylon and judgment of Egypt at the time of Zechariah. The far-future referent is to the times preceding the coming of Messiah to establish His millennial reign.3 In Zechariah’s day, the black and white horses riding north were bound for Babylon. The dappled ride south to Egypt.

The land of the north, i.e., the territory covered by the lands of the Euphrates and Tigris, and the land of the south, i.e., Egypt, are mentioned as the two principal seats of the power of the world in its hostility to Israel: Egypt on the one hand, and Asshur-Babel on the other, which were the principal foes of the people of God, not only before the captivity, but also afterwards, in the conflicts between Syria and Egypt for the possession of Palestine (Dan. Dan. 11:1). . . . Then follow the white horses, indicating that the judgment will lead to complete victory over the power of the world. Into the south country, i.e., to Egypt, the other representative of the heathen world-power, goes the chariot with the speckled horses, to carry the manifold judgment of death by sword, famine, and pestilence, which is indicated by this colour.4

“The black horses” go to Babylon, primarily to represent the awful desolation with which Darius visited it in the fifth year of his reign (two years after this prophecy) for revolting [Henderson]. The “white” go after the “black” horses to the same country; two sets being sent to it because of its greater cruelty and guilt in respect to Judea. The white represent Darius triumphant subjugation of it [Moore]. Rather, I think, the white are sent to victoriously subdue Medo-Persia, the second world kingdom, lying in the same quarter as Babylon, namely, north.5

The emphasis given is fitting for in the fifth year of Darius (three years after the prophet saw these visions); Babylon, which had been conquered by Cyrus, revolted against Darius and experienced devastation and depopulation in retaliation. When these things happened, Zechariah and the Israel of his day could know that truly the spirit (i.e., the wrath of God, cf. Zec. Zec. 1:15; Eze. Eze. 5:13; Eze. 24:13) was quieted (i.e., was satisfied) in the north country.6

But where do the red horses ride? One view explains the red horses as the “strong steeds” which, rather than riding in a single direction, are commanded to “walk to and fro throughout the earth” (Zec. Zec. 6:6-7).

It should be observed that the red horses (cf. Zec. Zec. 6:2) seemingly are assigned no mission and that the bay horses are separated from the grizzled, whereas in Zec. Zec. 6:3 they appear to be together. While it does not solve the problem completely, it seems best to view the black . . . white . . . and the grizzled as being references to the second, third, and fourth chariots that are sent on specific missions and that the bay in Zec. Zec. 6:7 should be taken not to denote a color, but to denote a characteristic, i.e., strong (the Heb. word ʿamōts can denote strength as well as a deep red color). If this understanding is correct, then the bay in Zec. Zec. 6:7 is a reference to the red horses drawing the first chariot of verse Zec. Zec. 6:2. While the second, third, and fourth chariots are off on their specific missions, the first chariot engages in a general mission of going to and fro through the earth (mentioned three times in Zec. Zec. 6:7, an indication that their task is every bit as important as that undertaken by the other chariots). Their mission throughout all the earth is indicative that war and bloodshed will hold sway throughout all the world. The reference to the earth must be understood in a much broader sense than just to the land of Israel. It must be understood as being a reference to the earth universally.7

This view notes that whereas the black, white, and dappled horses are all given specific destinations, Zechariah Zec. 6:6 indicates a global scope for the “strong steeds.” Others understand the “strong steeds” and their walking “to and fro throughout the earth” as referring to the collective whole. Another explanation is that the red horses seen by Zechariah had already drawn their chariot in empowering Medo-Persia’s overthrown of Babylon:

Now, when these visions were shown to Zechariah, Babylon had already been overthrown, and its world-empire taken away, visibly and apparently, by the Medo-Persians, behind whom, however (as the prophet beholds), there was the invisible chariot of God, with its red horses of blood and vengeance. This act of judgment on the first great Gentile world-power which had oppressed Israel and laid waste his land being already an accomplished fact (though in the 3rd verse, for completeness’ sake, all the four are shown to the prophet together . . . ), this first chariot is passed over by the Angel in the interpretation, and is not seen among those who ‘go forth’ in Zec. Zec. 6:6—its mission, as far as the Babylonian Empire is concerned, having already been fulfilled.8