Zechariah 1:8

Who Are the Riders and Horses of Zechariah 1:8?

The Question:

Are the riders of red horses in Zechariah 1:8 and Revelation 6:4 the same rider? It seems that Zechariah encounters him shortly before the Lamb opens the second seal and asks a question which is part of the history previous to the rider though still not resolved for Zechariah. Then, when the Lamb opens the seal, John sees the same man ready to take away the peace which the scouts had assessed in Zechariah’s vision. It is as if events are proceeding regularly in heaven, with earthly witnesses being allowed to interrupt and ask questions at certain important times.

UK Apologetics Reply:

We need to be careful with the apocalyptic-style writings within the Bible. Just because a certain imagery occurs in one place that does not necessarily mean that a similar imagery employed elsewhere always refers to the same thing. Also, be careful of reading your personally-favoured interpretation into the text – too many have done that.

We need to start off by considering the time and place of Zechariah the prophet. This man lived around the same time as Haggai the prophet, although Zechariah was much younger. His grandfather had returned to Jerusalem (following the captivity) 16 years earlier (see Nehemiah 12:4,16). It appears that Haggai had been preaching and warning for just a few months when Zechariah also commenced his ministry, a task which lasted 2-3 years. The immediate need was to get the work on Jerusalem’s walls and temple underway but progress was notoriously patchy. As Henry Halley pointed out, Zechariah’s testimony “…teems with Messianic flashes, mentioning…many details of the life and work of Christ.” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965 Zondervan hardback, p378).

Zechariah starts in this manner:

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo: “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.'” (Zechariah 1:1-6).

So that sets the post-captivity scene at Jerusalem. The text continues:

7. On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.
8. During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
9. I asked, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”
10. Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”

11. And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”
12. Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?”
13 So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
14. Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion,
15. and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’
16. “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
17. “Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.'” (verses 7-17).

The riders clearly represent angels who were sent “throughout the earth,” to report on current general conditions, they found the world to be substantially at peace during that period. (verse 11). They reported beck to a higher angel, possibly the Angel of the Lord. Of course, the horses are of more than one colour and one could possibly read various things into that. The “man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine” (verse 8), is very likely a reference to Christ Himself. The other horses, one should note, are behind Him (verse 8). Wesley wrote of this:

“This colour is a symbol of his coming to avenge himself on his enemies. The myrtle trees – He [planted] himself in a convenient place to observe and be ready, among verdant, fragrant trees, emblems of the saints of God. In the bottom – This bottom or valley in which the myrtles grew, is an emblem of the church in a low, afflicted state.”

However, another great Bible commentator, Albert Barnes, identifies the ‘man’ with the archangel Gabriel. For his part, Adam Clarke points out the following regarding verse 8:

I saw by night – The time was emblematical of the affliction under which the Jews groaned.
A man – An angel in the form of a man: supposed to have been the Lord Jesus; who seems to have appeared often in this way, as a prelude to his incarnation; see Joshua 5:13; Ezekiel 1:26; Daniel 7:13; Daniel 10:6. The same, probably, that appeared to Joshua with a drawn sword, as the captain of the Lord’s host. Joshua 5:13-15.
A red horse – An emblem of war and bloodshed.
Among the myrtle trees – This tree was an emblem of peace; intimating that all war was shortly to end. But some think these trees are emblematical of the true followers of Christ.
And behind him were there red horses – Probably pointing out the different orders of angels in the heavenly host, which are employed by Christ in the defense of his Church. The different colors may point out the gradations in power, authority, and excellence, of the angelic natures which are employed between Christ and men.”

The great Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary states this:

Zec 1:8:
by night –
The Jews begin their day with sunset; therefore the night which preceded the twenty-fourth day of the month is meant (Zechariah 1:7).
a man – Jehovah [YHWH], the second person of the Trinity, manifested in man’s form, an earnest of the incarnation; called the “angel of Jehovah” (Zechariah 1:11,12), “Jehovah the angel of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1; compare Genesis 16:7 with Zechariah 1:13; Genesis 22:11 with Zechariah 1:12; Exodus 3:2 with Zechariah 1:4). Being at once divine and human, He must be God and man in one person.
riding – implying swiftness in executing God’s will in His providence; hastening to help His people.
red horse – the color that represents bloodshed: implying vengeance to be inflicted on the foes of Israel (compare 2 Kings 3:22; Isaiah 63:1,2; Revelation 6:4); also fiery zeal.
among the myrtle trees – symbol of the Jewish Church: not a stately cedar, but a lowly, though fragrant, myrtle. It was its depressed state that caused the Jews to despond; this vision is designed to cheer them with better hopes. The uncreated angel of Jehovah’s presence standing (as His abiding place, Psalm 132:14) among them, is a guarantee for her safety, lowly though she now be.
in the bottom – in a low place or bottom of a river; alluding to Babylon near the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, the scene of Judah’s captivity. The myrtle delights in low places and the banks of waters [Pembellus]. Maurer translates, from a different root, “in a shady place.”
red horses – that is, horsemen mounted on red horses; Zechariah 1:10-11, confirms this view.
speckled … white – The “white” implies triumph and victory for Judah; “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]; or, the connection of the wrath (answering to the “red”) about to fall on the Jews’ foes, and triumph (answering to the “white”) to the Jews themselves in God’s arrangements for His people [Moore]. Some angels (“the red horses”) exercised offices of vengeance; others (“the white”), those of joy; others (“the speckled”), those of a mixed character (compare Zechariah 6:2-3). God has ministers of every kind for promoting the interests of His Church.”

So there you have it. I have given the views of some of the great Bible commentators and I think that is helpful in allowing us to observe that more than one opinion, or variation of opinion, is possible on some of these less clear Scriptures. I think we are all left with a pretty clear impression of what these verses are all about.

I would just add one thing: verses 16-17 most surely look beyond the immediate outcome to be expected during the times of Haggai and Zechariah, to the full realisation of the Church and to the Eternal State, even to the New Jerusalem. As Halley says of this prophet, he “…teems with Messianic flashes…”

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