Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 10th - Apocalyptic Horsemen

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Text – Zechariah 6:1-8

Today we look at Zechariah’s eighth and final vision. This is God in action against his enemies and we see a nice little circle in the way these visions wrap up, that what started the visions also finishes them.

What was Zechariah’s first vision? It was of a man on a red horse standing among myrtle trees along with several other horses. What did his red horse represent? War, Christ had just defeated Babylon through his servant Cyrus. Let’s read a verse to see why now God is about to send these horses out again,

Zechariah 1:15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster.

So explain to me why God is angry at the nations, specifically what is left of Babylon? Because they greatly mistreated his people, they went above and beyond in their persecution of the Jews. Today we are going to see God’s vengeance.

Before we get there, if someone does something evil to you, should you avenge yourself? Can God avenge himself and you? Let’s let the Bible answer:

Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

Peter calls us exiles in Babylon, even though we’re not in physical Babylon, we as Christians are away from our true home in Heaven, and Babylon represents the world because of its great sin and persecution of God’s people. Peter tells us what we ought to do when someone does evil to us,

1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

So we leave all vengeance up to God, we repay evil with good, and in so doing we trust that God’s judgment or mercy is just. We desire all to be saved, but equally we desire for evil to cease, so our efforts are to show all that Jesus Christ will put an end to sin one day, when he perfects his saints and crushes his enemies.

Zechariah 6:1-8 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong. Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" And the angel answered and said to me, "These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the LORD of all the earth. The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country." When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, "Go, patrol the earth." So they patrolled the earth. Then he cried to me, "Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country."

This passage has an amazing message with a ton of symbolism and detail. It requires a basic understanding of the geography of Israel, some knowledge of metallurgy, and in order to thoroughly understand this passage we are blessed to have a New Testament which reveals to us many of the details.

v.1 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out…

This is Zechariah’s eighth and final vision, the end of chapter 6 next week is going to tell us the major purpose of all of these visions. Zechariah sees four horse-drawn chariots coming out of Heaven (This detail is given in verse 5). The first thing we learn is that whatever we’re about to see is ordained and sent by God, just as it was God’s will to send the curse of the law, and his plan to let wickedness reign for a time in this world.

v.1 from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze.

These mountains represent the perimeter of Heaven. Heaven is impregnable, immovable, and veiled to outside eyes. We can’t see over the mountains, nor can we dig under the mountains. But, there is a path leading in and out, if there were only one mountain then we would be severed from Heaven forever, but there is a narrow road that leads to life. The only thing we can see is what is revealed to us.

Some have tried to specifically place these mountains in Israel or Cilicia (Turkey) or Arabia, but they make the major mistake of missing what these mountains are made of. They take it literally looking for a place where metal is mined, but bronze is an alloy, it is not found naturally; which two metals make bronze? Tin and Copper. It may even be that the Hebrew word doesn’t refer to the alloy, but something made of a bronze, like an adjective, which fits perfectly that God creates things both out of nothing, and out of other things.

Here is a weird little detail that may be related to these mountains, or it may not be. When Solomon built the temple, they carefully weighed the gold and silver, but they said that they had so much bronze that it would take too long to weigh, so they didn’t. When the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and burned the temple, Jeremiah tells us they took ALL of the bronze to Babylon. This new temple was going to be sufficient in gold and silver which was being imported, but deficient in bronze. I don’t really know if this is an important detail, but if we see that Heaven is represented here by mountains of bronze, we realize that anything we lose here on earth, either to sin or enemies of God, will be repaid a hundredfold in Heaven.

We can’t see past these mountains to see what God has prepared on the other side. Consider this also as God’s will; we only see what is revealed, though he has revealed much.

Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

So finally, let’s get to these horses!

v.2-3 The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong.

Red horses represent war and bloodshed, black represent famine and disease, white horses represent conquering armies (with or without bloodshed), and then the dappled horses I have no definitive answer. It may be that a better translation isn’t dappled, which means speckled, but that these are several horses all different colors. Or, and I think this is probably the right answer, that the word for dappled horses is the same word for hail, so these horses could very well represent natural disaster. I’m not sure, but just like we saw bay/sorrel horses in chapter 1, here we see that God is doing things that we don’t know about and don’t understand.

The word for brown and strong in Hebrew is exceedingly similar, the difference between amets and awmets, some have thought that the last chariot also had our brown horses drawing it, while others say that the dappled horses are especially strong. I believe that obviously if these are God’s horses, they are perfect, and so the awmets means they are all strong. And all that to say, they aren’t really horses, but they represent God’s ministers, let’s see why we know that.

v.4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?"

This is Zechariah’s last question. I hope it has been thoroughly impressed into you that if you don’t know the answer, you should ask. Even if you think you should know the answer, like Zechariah should have a few times, it’s better to ask then not to know. Zechariah’s question is a good question because if we didn’t have the book of Revelation to interpret this passage for us, we wouldn’t know either.

v.5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the LORD of all the earth.”

We’ll go over this quickly because we already know these are ministers of God’s will throughout the earth, we learned that detail in chapter 1. These are the same spirits, angels, from Job who presented themselves before God when Satan came with them and identified himself even as one of these, though we don’t know which. Probably one not here identified which we’ll see in Revelation 6.

Here’s a weird and interesting detail: the word for wind is neat in Hebrew, it is ruwachhhhh. Everybody say, ruwachhhhhhh. The word means what it sounds like, this is the sound they heard on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to all saints, and it’s also the word in the Old Testament for spirit. What’s the word in the Greek New Testament for spirit? Pneuma, everybody come to D-Now to learn much more about the Holy Spirit! That was a shameless plug, but seriously, come to D-Now.

These chariots have presented themselves before God for inspection and orders, and now they are ready to go on their missions.

v.6 “The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.”

The way that Israel is geographically situated, really the only two directions to go are North and South. To the West you’ve obviously got the Mediterranean Sea, and Israel has no natural ports, to the East you’ve got the northern end of the Arabian Desert, as well as a massive mountain to climb from the Jordan River to the top of Mount Zion, a 4,000 ft elevation change.

The chariots could go East, but it’s more expedient even if you want to go East to go North first. The black horses, representing famine and pestilence, go North, definitely to weaken and afflict what is left of the Babylonians. Following those black horses are our white horses, representing a conquering army, and these will turn the weakened Babylonians over to the Persians.

What do the Dappled ones do in the South and in which country? Only God knows, but we know that God is working even if we don’t know what exactly he’s doing. A fantastic book to read on this is Esther, which is a young Hebrew girl in the Babylonian captivity who stands up for her people and faith, and though we never even see the name of God or even the word God mentioned in that book, we see him working in all sorts of miraculous ways.

Do we know that God is doing something good for his name? Absolutely, that’s what he does, it may be that he is afflicting these people so they will turn to him, or it may be that his patience has utterly run out and he is punishing them with a view of sending them to Hell. One way he’ll receive glory for his great mercy, the other way he’ll receive glory for his great judgment. It was only on the cross where he receives glory for his mercy for us and his judgment against sin imputed to his Son. Wrath and grace kissed each other on the cross. (Psalm 85)

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Some have tried to allegorize these horses partly as God’s word, but we see in Revelation, which we’ll read in a moment, that these horses are representing physical events. However, they do act similarly to God’s law in their expediency and purpose especially since we saw the law represented as a curse that goes out over the earth. These horses can definitely be a curse on those they go to, and we’ll see a final horseman who is a great blessing on those who are his friends.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

These horses are also living and energetic, which is what the Greek in Hebrews 4 literally says.

v.7 When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, "Go, patrol the earth." So they patrolled the earth.

They want to go! They are chomping at the bit, straining against the reigns. But God is literally reigning, holding back his judgment until his appointed time.

Amos 3:6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?

He lets them go and do what they are appointed to do. Think back to the Word of God for a moment. Charles Spurgeon asked, “Defend the Bible? Would you defend a lion? Loose him, and let him go!”

And let’s see if these loosed horses accomplish God’s purposes:

v.8 Then he cried to me, "Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country."

Remember in chapter 1 that God was exceedingly angry with these nations? He felt indignation towards them, but now that he has sent punishment upon them, his Spirit is at rest. Nations don’t have souls, they can't be tormented in Hell, so God punishes them here on earth, and he has two ways of doing so, he can do it internally by putting boys as leaders, thieves as treasurers, and idiots as experts, or he can do it externally through disaster, war, famine, and pestilence.

So let’s look at the last time these horses will be sent out, turn to Revelation 6. This is during the tribulation, God is furious and he is sending his horsemen out to wreak absolute vengeance on the nations.

Revelation 6:2-8 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!" When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hell followed with him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

The antichrist rides the white horse, a false christ deceiving many, he conquers the world without firing a shot. Indeed, he has a bow but no arrows. A time of peace exists on earth, but it is short lived. The second horse is red, for war, and great conflicts arise throughout the whole earth, and many are killed. The third horse is black, he is famine, and because of his work just enough food to feed a single family costs about $100. People will work all day just to be able to eat for the day. Luxuries like flavor will be abandoned.

The fourth horse is one we haven’t seen before, he is pale, not beige, but a light green like decaying flesh (chlorine has the same root word), and he represents death, and he does not come alone, but with comes an army of Hell. Through the work of these horsemen, a quarter of the earth will perish. We’re talking at least two billion people, probably more.

And after these things are accomplished, then Revelation 19 will occur,

Revelation 19:11-16 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Our King is a conquering king, he will come against his enemies with such fury that Isaiah 63 tells us he will be covered head to toe in the blood of his enemies. The rest of this chapter tells us that as a result of his wrath the carrion birds will eat until they are gorged on the flesh of everyone from princes to paupers.

So beloved, your application is that God is working in the world, nothing can happen lest he causes or allows it. He will avenge his people, so we need not worry about that, rather we repay good for evil, we love our enemies through action and proclamation that lest they repent, they will meet the Faithful and True Christ not as a friend, but as an enemy. We, Christians, who are still alive on that day will be called up to meet Christ in the air, those of us who have died will be amongst that warring army.

Know that God is working all things for good to those who love him and are called according to his name. And know that if you will not bow to Christ now, then you must prepare to war against him, for he will come as a conqueror, and beloved, this King does not lose wars. Let’s conclude with Hebrews 9:27-28:

Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.