Zechariah 1 – The Horse Report

Zephaniah 1 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s PassageZechariah 1

I think it was shortly after my family moved to Ohio in the fall of 1990 that my dad got into biking. I don’t remember why he started, although I do remember that he stopped biking downtown with friends and coworkers because of my mom’s concerns about his safety. I recall his increased interest in trail riding and racing events after he stopped city biking; if memory serves, he participated more than once in the MS150, a fundraising bike ride held by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I wish I remembered more about his biking phase, because then I could catch your attention with an engaging anecdote, rather than my usual practice of writing an introductory paragraph better suited for your Introduction to Biblical Studies essay. But I do remember that he used to call his biking excursions “patrolling the earth,” and he drew the name from the first chapter of Zechariah.

The phrase shows up as Zechariah encounters an angel at night. The prophet first sees “a man…riding on a red horse…with red, sorrel and white horses behind him” (8). Zechariah talks briefly with the angel, and then the man explains: “These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth” (10). Then comes a response. “So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet'” (11). Who are the “they” here? They’re clearly not Zechariah. They’re not the man on horseback; there’s only one of him. And they’re not the angel, who is not only singular in number but also the person they’re answering.

That’s right. As my dad pointed out to me so many years ago, the ones responding here are the horses.

It’s a weird scene, and I can’t help feeling that my understanding of it only scratches the surface. What do the myrtle trees signify? What about the colors of the horses: red, sorrel and white? Who is the one man, and why is the horse that he rides red? And how does it relate to the passages surrounding it: the opening call for Israel to repent, and the vision of the four horns and four craftsmen that follows the vision of horses? I don’t know. It seems that I have neglected the meaning of the passage for the spectacle of talking horses, and I have a lot more to learn about it.

I can’t help noticing, though, what the angel says after the horses give their report. The angel suddenly asks, “O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?” (12). I find it somehow reassuring that even angels have these questions, and moreover that God answers the angel with “gracious words, comforting words” (13). I’ll likely return to questions like this throughout my life. I’m not through learning, but along the way, despite the confusion and frustration, sometimes we find answers that make sense.

I can’t help thinking that Zechariah does well to open with a call to repentance. I have to remind myself: keep repenting. Remain open to correction. Admit it and change direction when you’ve been shown you’re wrong.

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