In his eighth and final vision, Zechariah sees four horse-drawn chariots emerging from between two bronze mountains. Each chariot had different color horses—red, black, white and spotted grey. The imagery is colorful, vibrant and awe-inspiring.
The chariots shoot out from between two bronze mountains. Bronze, with a kind of golden gleam, is how the mountains surrounding Jerusalem appear when the bright sun hits them in the morning. Bronze is also the material out of which the east-facing two pillars of Solomon’s temple were composed (1 Kings 7:13-22). The number identifies these mountains with the temple pillars and the chariots therefore emerge from the temple, the dwelling place of God. The chariots are sent out by God from the heavenly council.
The chariots, with their war-horses, are military symbols; they represent power. But there are only four chariots rather than thousands. Ancient Near Eastern religious art often pictured divine warriors with their chariot hosts. Yahweh is often pictured in Israel’s literature as a divine warrior who goes out to conquer and rule the world for the sake of his people (cf. Psalm 68:7; Habakkuk 3:8).
While many see significance in the colors of the horses, it seems to me the number four is more significant. The chariots are the sovereign reach of God throughout the whole earth. They are the “spirits” or “winds” (the Hebrew term is ruach) that stand “in the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.” They are present in the heavenly council of God. Whether we read the term as “four spirits” or “four winds,” the result is essentially the same. “Four winds,” like in other prophetic texts (Ezekiel 37:9; Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 8:8; 11:4), remind us of the four corners of the earth—the points on a compass. But the “winds” are “standing” in the presence of God. They await their orders. The winds are personified and thus are angelic themselves. As Psalm 104:3-4 sings, God makes the winds his messengers or angels.
The winds—or angelic servants—are poised to perform their tasks throughout the earth (repeated three times in Zechariah 6:7). The winds have a universal function—they go anywhere in the earth and the whole earth is subject to God’s sovereign reign. They patrol God’s world.
The chariots are sent out from the heavenly council to accomplish the will of God. The black horse goes north and spotted gray goes south, but there is no mention of the red horse and the Hebrew text sends the white horse following the black horse to the north. Some translations emend the destination of the white horse to read “west” which gives the text some symmetry (the four directions of the compass) and assumes that the red horse stayed in the east.
However, it is not necessary to emend the text since the point is not that the horses stay within the boundaries of their assigned geographical sectors. Rather, the four horses represent the work of God throughout the whole earth. They are sent where they are ordered. Two horses are sent to the north, one the south and the other, apparently, remains in the region of the temple itself. Perhaps the red horse is the commander, just as the rider of the red horse in the first vision was (Zechariah 1:8, 11).
The point is that God is sending servants to the north and south. In the historical setting of Judah, the north is the primary origin of Israel’s enemies—whether Assyria or Babylon. The south refers to other superpower in the region, Egypt. God is exerting his sovereignty over the nations; they will serve God’s purposes and God will accomplish his will for Judah. God rules over superpowers.
What do these horses accomplish? The Lord himself speaks to Zechariah and identifies their purpose. It is a prophetic announcement emphasized by the language “he cried” and “behold.” This is the interpretation of the vision.
The chariots bring “rest” to “my S(s)pirit,” says the Lord. The verb “to rest” is sometimes used in relation to anger (cf. Ezekiel 16:42; 21:17), and ruach (spirit) can refer to anger (Proverbs 16:32). God’s anger, his passionate jealousy for righteousness, was triggered by the wickedness of the nations (cf. Zechariah 1:14-15, 19). God sends his chariots, his “winds” (ruach), which quiet his “spirit” (ruach). God is at rest once again as the Lord of the whole earth exercises his sovereign rule over the nations.
The nations are no match for God as God will reign over the earth. God acted against Babylon in the north and Egypt in the south in order to make space of Judah to rebuild the temple. But this was more than Judah’s history—their return to the land, it was also a promise of a future yet to come. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. God will rebuild his temple and he will, in the coming future, come to that temple (cf. Malachi 3:1).
God’s chariots still patrol the earth. Superpowers do not control their own destiny. God will accomplish the divine purpose and no nation can stop it.