[Note: This piece was first published by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center.]
I have from early days been passionate about horses. My father, Roy C. Deaver, had loved horses before me. I guess we can say that they were “in his blood.” He had planned on going to another college when he was very young and had finished high school in Longview, Texas. But when he learned that brother N. B. Hardeman in Henderson, Tennessee, liked horses, my father changed his mind, and went to Freed-Hardeman College. I think that must have been a providential matter in the light of what all transpired in his life later, and in mine. After leaving Freed-Hardeman for more college work in Abilene, Texas my father kept on working with horses, and broke them while attending school. Later he moved to Spur, Texas to do local work, and while preaching in Spur and teaching in the high school in the 1940s, my father learned that ranchers would pay more money for breaking their horses than he would receive for either preaching or teaching school. I guess I inherited my passion for horses from him. He and I raised horses together years ago, and now though he has passed on to glory, I still appreciate a good horse.
American history, Texas history, and even church history have all been impacted by the horse. It may be hard for the most recent generation of Americans to appreciate the contribution that the horse has made to our past. “Horse power” used to be real horse power! The horse was a most necessary instrument of family welfare and community prosperity and national strength. Before the age of the automobile, there were centers for the supply of horses and mules both for our nation and for the world. Before there was Detroit, there were large markets such as Fort Worth, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee that provided buyers with access to many mules and horses. Men would come from many places including foreign countries to purchase animals for hauling wagons, pulling plows, and for riding, as well as for use in war.
A man with a horse very much had the advantage over a man without. I once read that anyone who thinks all men are equal has never been a man on foot who met up with a man on a horse! Even cultures shifted in the way daily affairs were carried on when the horse became available. Some of the North American Indians changed their hunting habits and their sphere of activity when once they were exposed to the horse. Things could be done that could not have been done before, and distances now possible to cover were far, far more than what could be traversed before. It must have been something like a new world of opportunity opening up before their eyes. Many Comanches became excellent horsemen and have even been applauded as some of the best horsemen of their time. Some people, after all, do seem to have a natural affinity for the horse and know how to make the most of him.
And there is something prestigious about riding a horse compared to having to walk. There is so much more that can be accomplished by riding than by merely walking that the rider feels a new sense of power in new possibility. And with that new possibility comes a certain sense of pride. King Solomon would declare that he had in his own experience seen extreme reversals in human situations. And among those reversals that he had personally witnessed was the scene of “servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth” (Eccl. 10:7).
In our day, much has been discovered with regard to training horses and to the value of the horse in therapy. “Horse whisperers” have become famous for their more gentle techniques in training horses. Men have replaced the harsher strategies of old for the more temperate handling of most horses today, having learned that rough methods are usually not all that necessary in bringing horses along under human control and training. And therapists have discovered that there is something very unique about the horse and the way that people can and do react to him when they are crippled by physical or emotional trauma.
It is not so strange that the Scriptures have a lot to tell us about the horse given the time when the Scriptures were penned. We know that on the same day that God made man, just before he did so, he made the animals including the horse (Gen. 1:24-28). Later when God administered a humbling test to Job, he asked him, “Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?” (Job 39:19, KJV). The Maker of the horse himself did so knowing that such strength as located in one horse should be an impressive thing to a thoughtful man even though such strength is not all that impressive to the horse Maker (Psalm 147:10). But after all, no created and localized instances of power can compare to the power of the Almighty!
But regarding human history, the strength of the horse has been a most impressive thing to mere men. In studying the Old Testament we find that in the divine development of the scheme of redemption there are many references to the horse. Armies have made much use of the horse in the history of mankind, and it is an interesting truth to consider that God did not want the king of His people to rely on the horse for its national strength. God demonstrated a powerful truth to Israel when, after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, God then collapsed the standing walls of water into moving fluid and drowned Pharaoh and his army, including his horses and chariots. We read, “And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them” (Exod. 14:28). The Psalmist would years later declare that God “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea” (Psalm 136:15). It is hard to imagine the fear in the hearts of pedestrians being sought by men on horses or riding in chariots pulled by horses. How could men on foot possibly get away from men who have horses? At the Red Sea, among other lessons taught, this one was meant to impress God’s people that if they would but look to Him, they would see past the seeming triumph of warriors with horses and locate their victory in an altogether different kind of power. Power divine is far, far superior to power equine!
But still, to mere men the strength and the speed of the horse were and remain impressive. God would say to Jeremiah, “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?” What a lesson! As children of God, we must learn to take on our problems and difficulties in life that are, relatively speaking, minimal in their power to impede in order that we might be in a better condition later to face the more difficult problems that occur. How can we hope to cope with monumental difficulty if small problems defeat us. Solomon wrote, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Prov. 24:10).
And God knew, given the nature of the horse, and the purpose of the horse, that men would rely on him. But God’s people had to be different from those who trusted in themselves and in merely earthly instruments to gain victory over their fellow men. And while a horse was certainly useful, yes and even very useful, God wanted Israel to rely on the Maker of the horse rather than on the horse himself.
God was teaching this fundamental lesson of the necessity of complete dependence on God’s power long before we reach the days of David when the same lesson is taught again with David’s use of his sling and stone. “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied…And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:45-47).
In one of Moses’ final speeches to Israel, God through Moses made it clear that in time to come, His people would want a king to be like the nations that would be around them at that time. And when that time came, God stated several prohibitions regarding the king. He could not be a man simply of their own selection (that is, God would choose him), and he could not come from another nation, and he could not multiply horses to himself, he could not multiply wives to himself, and he could not multiply silver and gold to himself (Deut. 17:14-17). These prohibitions are followed by the stated obligation that the king was to have his own copy of the divine law which he was constantly to read so as to learn it and to abide by it. Only in this way, God said, could the king prevent himself from becoming arrogant, and only in this way could he prolong his kingdom (cf. Josh. 1:7).
In the light of what God later said to David (2 Sam. 12:8), we conclude that the prohibition in Deuteronomy against the “multiplication” of horses, wives, silver, and gold was not a prohibition against the mere possession of these things, but rather a prohibition against the king’s focusing on or over-emphasizing the value of these things to himself. He was to count on God!
Indeed, Solomon had horses and chariots (1 Kings 9:19). In fact, he had a constant supply of horses and mules coming into his possession (1 Kings 9:25). At one time he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen (v. 26). He got horses from Egypt in droves (v. 28). And Solomon exceeded all other kings in both riches and in wisdom (1 Kings 9:23). The wives became a problem, not because of their number, but because of their idolatry and their influence on Solomon. He had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines (slave wives) per 1 Kings 11:3. Sadly, Solomon’s idolatrous wives turned his heart away from complete devotion to God in his later life (1 Kings 11:4).
On one occasion when Israel’s enemies were as “the sand that is upon the sea shore” and who came against them “with horses and chariots very many,” God said to Joshua, “Be not afraid because of them: for tomorrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.” It happened as God said, and Joshua did what he was told to do (Josh. 11:1-9). By houghing (i.e. hocking) the horses, Joshua rendered these war horses useless as military animals once and for all.
As a part of his strategy to promote himself into prominence and into the favor of his fellow Israelites, the devious and rebellious Absalom “prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him” (1 Sam. 15:1). Likewise later Adonijah who would be king in David’s place “prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him” (1 Kings 1:5). In order to show his approval of Solomon to be the next king, the aged and now near-death David called Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet and Benaiah, and David said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to Gihon: And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there king over Israel: and blow ye with the trumpet, and say, God save king Solomon” (1 Kings 1:33-34). Notice the contrast between the horses of the rebellious men who would be king and David’s own mule (the product of a male donkey and female horse) on which the rightful heir to the throne, Solomon, rode. It reminds us of the Lord himself years later riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy made with regard to another King that was coming (Matt. 21:1-17).
When Isaiah predicted the coming Babylonian captivity, one of the sins with which God’s people were charged was that in their rebellion, instead of taking counsel of God, they sought the help of Egypt with her horsemen and horses and chariots. God assured Israel that the Egyptians were mere men and that their horses were just flesh—not spirit (Isa. 30:1-7; 31:1-3). Can the lesson be any clearer? It has always been the case that a nation that trusts in its physical arsenal (including horses and chariots and airplanes and guns) rather than in God Almighty has wrongly invested its national confidence (Psalm 33:12; 127:1-2).
In 2 Kings 18:9-10 we learn that in the fourth year of King Hezekiah’s reign in Jerusalem that Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, besieged Samaria and at the end of three years Samaria was taken. The northern kingdom came to an end as the Israelites were deported to Assyria (v. 11). This happened because Israel “obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them” (v. 12).
Furthermore, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign in Jerusalem, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, captured all the fenced cities of Judah, the southern kingdom (v. 13). Hezekiah, fearing the worst, sent word to the king that he (Hezekiah) had offended and promised now that if the king would leave that he would pay whatever fine the Assyrian king might impose. A heavy fine was imposed, and Hezekiah paid it, having taken all the silver and some gold from the temple and silver out of his own treasury (v. 14-15). The Assyrian king sent some soldiers on to Jerusalem with a message for Hezekiah. They warned Hezekiah about further rebellion and about trusting in Egypt for help. The messengers claimed that Egypt could not be trusted and that not even God should be trusted for they claimed (though wrongly) that Hezekiah had removed God’s high places and altars (v. 20-22). Hezekiah should not trust in the horses and chariots of Egypt he was told. If, however, Hezekiah will give pledges to the king of Assyria, two thousand horses would be sent to him if he could supply riders for them (v. 23). Fortunately, Hezekiah had sense enough and faith enough to inquire of God for help. He was not tempted by all those horses (ch. 19). God promised Hezekiah through Isaiah that the king of Assyria would not come into Jerusalem. In fact, he would hear a rumour, return to Assyria, and there die violently in his own land (v. 6-7). Two of his own sons killed him (v. 37). The psalmist would later write, “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:16-18).
God through Jeremiah provides modern America with a timely lesson. As we watch the further deterioration of our country before our very eyes, we see our national failure to seek God and his will. It seems as though our country cannot handle the prosperity that God has provided. We should pause and reflect on God’s people in Jeremiah’s day. Jeremiah was sent by God to find a man who did justly and who sought the truth (Jer. 5:1). Jeremiah couldn’t find that man at first among what he later described as “the poor and foolish” (v. 4). So, he thought he would survey “the great men” (v. 5). But he could not find the good man among these great men either. In fact, what he found was men given to many transgressions and backslidings (v. 6). And then God asks, “How shall I pardon thee for this? Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” (v. 7-9).
“Fed horses” do not act like horses left to themselves to get their own feed. A non-fed horse spends most of his time in grazing in the effort to satisfy his hunger. But those fed by people do not have to fend for themselves and have plenty of time and will to exercise themselves in other pursuits given the opportunity. Many modern day Americans, because of their wealth, have plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to pursue evil. Many in our day have, in effect, “assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses.”
Interestingly, the New Testament writer, James, compares the human tongue to a horse. Just as men put a bit in a horse’s mouth in order to control all that power, the human tongue is a tremendous power, too, that must be controlled (James 3:1-11). How much good can be done and how much evil is often done by the tongue!
In the book of Revelation, we read how that the apostle John was enabled to see things in heaven. And in one scene which his eyes were permitted to watch, John beholds the heaven opened. And he sees Jesus Christ himself sitting on a white horse. His garment is sprinkled with blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And on his garment and on his thigh is written “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:11-16). Jesus is not seated on a lowly donkey as he once was when he rode into earthly Jerusalem, but rather now the picture of him has him riding a horse suited for battle, but the horse is white. The battle the Lord wages is completely righteous (cf. 1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12), and the Lord in righteousness does judge and make war (v. 11).
Now, what have we learned from these various accounts that reference horses? (1) Horses are divinely made (they are not eternal, and they do not arrive by Darwinian evolution); (2) horses have speed and power, and that men should be impressed with such though God is not; (3) horses have been extremely useful in human history; (4) though impressive and powerful, horses are mere flesh and not spirit; (5) horses were never intended to be a substitute for the Maker of the horse; (6) men who lose faith in God will come to ultimately depend on the horse or the modern day equivalent as a source of power to deliver them; (7) men sometimes have used the horse to promote themselves and make themselves appealing to the populace; (8) and sometimes people who do not recognize God as the giver of legitimate prosperity and who refuse to acknowledge him become as fed horses neighing after their neighbors’ wives.
In the long ago, the time finally came for the courageous Old Testament prophet, Elijah, to leave this earth. But before going away, he asked his associate, Elisha, what he (Elijah) could do for him (Elisha) before he left. Elisha said, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah commented that such a request was “a hard thing,” but if Elisha was allowed to watch Elijah leave, then Elisha could know that his request had been granted (v. 10). “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” (v. 11-12a).
Years ago, I was in graduate school with several other young gospel preachers including Dick Sztanyo. The other day Dick reminded me that I had told one of our professors in class one day that there would be no horses in heaven. But, you know, I was thinking about flesh and blood horses. I wasn’t thinking about the horses that carried Elijah to glory. Those “horses of fire” give me pause. If God permits them to be in eternal glory, when I get there by his marvelous grace, I would like to have some of them.