Four Horsemen int the Jewish Era

We can’t consider the interpretation of the four horsemen in the Jewish era without noting Zechariah’s four horsemen in the Old Testament. The traditional interpretation of Zechariah’s horsemen is that they represent the gentile nations. When Zechariah sees the four horsemen (Zech 1) walking through the earth we are told that the Lord is displeased with the heathen. Zechariah tell us himself that the horses together with chariots are instruments of war (Zec 9:10). When Daniel saw the war and conquest that led to the rise of four great kingdoms he described it as the four winds of heaven striving on the sea (Dan 7:2). Likewise the angel told Zechariah that the four chariots and their horses represented the four spirits or winds of heaven as the same word is translated both as spirit and wind.

And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits [Winds] of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth. Zec 6:4-5

Additional evidence that these horses represent the gentile nations is given by the explanation given by the angel to Zechariah that is almost identical to that given by Lucifer to the Lord in the book of Job. Satan walked up and down on the earth overseeing its affairs in his usurped capacity of the ruler of this world. The Persian rulers did likewise. Among one of the things for which Darius was famed was setting up roads and a horse relay system for quickly communicating throughout the kingdom and gathering information about the state of affairs throughout his extensive territories. It was later to be the model for the “Pony Express” service in the early United States. Another intriguing detail is that Persian youths, from their fifth to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things – to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the truth (somewhat reminiscent of the white horse in Revelation).

And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth. Zec 1:10

Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. Job 1:7

Zechariah’s contemporary  prophet  Haggai gives us conclusive evidence that both the horses and riders in Zech.1 and the chariots in Zech.6 refer to the kingdoms of the heathen. Haggai had prophesied just a few weeks before Zechariah’s vision and revealed the identity of the horses:

Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. Hag 2:21 – 22

The view that Zechariah’s four horses and chariots represent the rise of Daniel’s four kingdoms is well established historically as attested to by Matthew Henry in his commentary published in 1710. He explains that the red, back, white and grizzled horses correspond to the rise of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires. Matthew Henry goes on to state:

The Babylonian monarchy, they think, is here represented by the red horses, which are not afterwards mentioned, because that monarchy was now extinct. The second chariot with the black horses is the Persian monarchy, which went forth northward against the Babylonians, and quieted God’s Spirit in the north country, by executing his judgments on Babylon and freeing the Jews from their captivity. The white, the Grecians, go forth after them in the north, for they overthrow the Persians. The grizzled, the Romans, who conquered the Grecian empire, are said to go forth towards the south country, because Egypt, which lay southward, was the last branch of the Grecian empire that was subdued by the Romans.

Historically there appears to be wide acceptance with the identification of Zechariah’s horses horses with Daniel’s four kingdoms. If these represent the Jewish counterpart to the four horsemen of the Christian era why are they different?  Clearly Zechariah’s four horsemen are specifically adapted to the Jewish era. For example only three of the horses are presented in Zechariah’s  first chapter because at the time of Zechariah’s vision one kingdom, Babylon, had already passed. Why the colour sequence is different from that in Revelation we frankly don’t know. Nevertheless Zechariah’s four horsemen appear to be the Old Testament of Revelation’s four horsemen and there is much supporting evidence to support this interpretation.

In the book of Revelation we are told that Babylon is arrayed in scarlet or red. Zechariah’s first horse was red and as per the red horse of Revelation, Babylon was the first to take away relative peace from the earth in establishing the first world empire. Zechariah’s next horse was black and the rider of the black horse in Revelation has a “pair of balances in his hand” denoting the he was to execute the judgement on Babylon declared by the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast: “thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting” (Dan 5:27). The scarcity of wheat and grain but abundance of oil and wine indicate physical poverty but spiritual abundance and represent the state of the returned Jewish captives. It is interesting to observe that the prophet Isaiah connects the coming of horsemen with the fall of Babylon.

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. Isa 21:9

Unlike the amount of blood shed by Nebuchadnezzar in establishing the Babylonian empire, there was relatively little bloodshed in the establishment of the Medo-Persian Empire. Persia was in turn toppled by the seemingly invincible Greece under Alexander the Great, which in some ways fits the description of the white horse in Revelation: “a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” (Rev 6:2) The use of the colour white to describe the conquests of Alexander is interesting since the Greek warriors wore white with full armour, the Greek Hoplite soldiers also carried distinct round white shields.  Alexander himself always rode into battle on his famous horse; Bucephalus that was the most famous horse of antiquity and is was anciently depicted as being white, although modern historians describe him as being black with a large white star on his forehead. The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii, which is a Roman copy of an earlier Greek painting depicting the Battle of the Issus River and the defeat of Darius III in 333 BC shows Darius fleeing in his chariot drawn by four black horses as Alexander attacks mounted on a white horse. This mosaic is made of over one and a half million tiny ceramic fragments using only four colours: white, yellow, red and black.

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4 Chariots / Seals

Dates B.C.

Characteristic

1

Red Horses

606 BC

Rise of Babylon – Death and bloodshed

2

Black Horses

539-331

Rise of Medo-Persia – Jerusalem rebuilt

3

White Horse v5-6

331 – 200

Rise of Greece – Independence & peace

4

Speckled Horses

200 – 168

Rise of Rome – Mixed Experience

5

Souls under Altar

167 – 163

Persecution – Epiphanes

6

Earthquake – Signs

27 –31 AD

Advent of Messiah

7

Silence for ½ hour

70 AD

Destruction of Jerusalem

The fourth chariot drawn by the grizzled or speckled and bay horses aptly depicts the Roman Empire since from Daniel’s vision we see the latter part of that kingdom being composed partly of iron and partly of clay. Since these two materials do not blend, their mixture gives a speckled appearance. The speckled horses first go into the south while the bay horses afterwards go separately into the whole earth. Rome first needed to conquer Carthage to the south before becoming an international power. Bay is a chestnut colour and depicts a second phase of Rome being similar to Babylon. The speckled and bay horses of Zechariah parallel the pale horse of Revelation that is ridden by death and followed by hell and to a pre-eminent decree describes the dual rule of the Pagan and Holy Roman Empires.

Another way to look at these four horsemen or kingdoms that would ride upon the earth is from the experience of Israel under their subjugation.  The red represented the war and bloodshed that would come upon Jerusalem at the rise of the Babylonian empire as we read in the book of Jeremiah. The black represented the dismal melancholy and mourning of the Jews as they saw Jerusalem desolate and Judea languishing at the rise of the Medo-Persian Empire as we read in the books of Nehemiah, Ezra and Daniel. The white represents the return of independence, peace and prosperity of Jerusalem at the rise of the Greek Empire, which was accorded special honours by Alexander the Great due to a dream he had had before setting out to conquer the world as described by the historian Josephus. When the Greek empire split, Israel fell under control of the Ptolemys from about 300 to 200 BC who maintained Alexander’s policy of tolerance towards Judaism and non-interference with their internal affairs. The Roman Empire began to rise around 198 BC when Antiochus the Great defeated the Ptolemaic forces and took control of Judea. The two colours and speckled nature of the following horses aptly describes the combination of prosperity and adversity of Jerusalem at the time that was marked by the confusing mix of Judaism and Hellenism that would eventually lead to civil war and subjection to Rome.

Following the fourth horseman we see the souls under the altar of the fifth seal. The fourth horseman arose in 168 BC when Rome defeated the Macedonia and finally gained the ascendancy in the Greek Empire. The following year Antiochus Epiphanies who had usurped the Syrian throne in 175BC slaughtered 40,000 Jews and sold another 40,000 as slaves in a three-day period. This occurred in retaliation for what he considered was obstinate opposition to his attempt to Hellenise the Jews when Menelaus the high priest he had appointed was deposed and forced to flee Jerusalem during a riot. Antiochus restored Menelaus and determined to abolish Judaism. He made Sabbath keeping punishable by death and forbade circumcision, so that many were martyred for remaining true to the worship of God. He then erected an altar to Zeus in the temple and issued a decree obliging the Jews to offer and partake of sacrifices to Zeus and to put to death those who would not consent. According to the apocryphal book of Maccabees many Jews saw this, as the abomination of desolation, yet the true abomination of desolation was still in the future as Jesus explained and many more would be martyred before then.

The opening of the sixth seal reveals the signs of the coming of the Son of Man. There was a great earthquake, there were signs in the sun, moon and stars. Most if not all of these signs were fulfilled during the first advent of the Son of Man at his birth and crucifixion. There had also been a great earthquake in Judea in 31BC the year before Herod was appointed king of Judea. The sixth seal then continues describing the seal of the living God that is placed on the foreheads of the “one hundred and forty four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Rev 7:1-4) and the great multitude and this was symbolic of the 12 apostles (12 x 12 x 1000 = 144,000) who received the  seal of the Holy Spirit at pentecost (Eph 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22) and the great multitude of gentile converts.

When the seventh seal was opened there was silence in heaven for half an hour. This refers to the outpouring of God’s wrath after the close of Israel’s probation and the the destruction of Jerusalem.

These four horsemen would ride again upon the earth in the history of Rome during the Christian era and in the history of the USA during the secular era of the last days.

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