[Heb., sus; reʹkhev (chariot horses); reʹkhesh (team of horses; post horses); Gr., hipʹpos].
Jehovah, the Creator of this animal, when reproving Job, described some of the horse’s principal characteristics: its great strength, its snorting with its large nostrils, its pawing the ground in impatience, its excitement at the prospect of battle, and its not being terrified by the clashing of weapons. (Job 39:19-25) This familiar animal has, from ancient times, been closely associated with man, who has used the bridle and the whip to control it.—Ps 32:9; Pr 26:3; Jas 3:3.
Military Use. Apart from its use by kings, princes, and state officials, or for rapid communication systems (2Sa 15:1; Ec 10:7; Es 6:7, 8; 8:14; Jer 17:25; 22:4), the horse was used mainly in warfare in ancient times.—Pr 21:31; Isa 5:28; Jer 4:13; 8:16; 46:4, 9.
Horses, however, do not lend themselves well for military use in mountainous, rough terrain. (Am 6:12) Hence, when King Ahab of Israel defeated the army of Syria, Ben-hadad’s servants offered the excuse that it was because the God of Israel was “a God of mountains” and not of the level plains, where horses and chariots operate to advantage. Nevertheless, Jehovah gave Israel the victory even in the plains.—1Ki 20:23-29.
The horse was such a formidable part of an effective fighting force that the mere sound of a large number of horses and chariots was enough to inspire fear and cause an army that considered itself outnumbered to resort to panicky flight. (2Ki 7:6, 7) The military might of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia, and other nations largely depended on horses. (Isa 31:1, 3; Jer 6:22, 23; 50:35, 37, 41, 42; 51:27, 28; Eze 23:5, 6, 23; 26:7, 10, 11; Na 3:1, 2; Hab 1:6, 8) Repeatedly, horses, equipped with bridles, reins, head ornaments, saddlecloths, and other trappings, are depicted on ancient monuments.
God’s chosen people of ancient times, the Israelites, though, were not to be like the Egyptians and other contemporary nations that considered horses and chariots indispensable to safety and independence. Israel’s kings were forbidden to increase horses for themselves. (De 17:15, 16) Instead of trusting in military might, horses, and chariots, the Israelites were to look to Jehovah for help, and they were never to become fearful of the war equipment of their foes.—De 20:1-4; Ps 20:7; 33:17; Ho 1:7.
King David of Israel was mindful of Jehovah’s prohibition against multiplying horses. In his victory over Hadadezer of Zobah, David could have added many horses to his army, but, instead, he kept only the number he deemed sufficient for his immediate purposes and ordered the remainder to be hamstrung.—2Sa 8:3, 4; 1Ch 18:3, 4; compare Jos 11:6, 9; see HAMSTRING.
From Solomon to the Return From Exile. However, David’s son and successor, Solomon, began to accumulate thousands of horses. (1Ki 4:26 [here “forty thousand stalls of horses” is generally believed to be a scribal error for “four thousand”]; compare 2Ch 9:25.) From Egypt as well as other lands, King Solomon received horses (2Ch 9:28), and horses were among the gifts brought by those desiring to hear his wisdom. (1Ki 10:24, 25; 2Ch 9:23, 24) The animals were stabled in special chariot cities and also at Jerusalem. (1Ki 9:17-19; 10:26) The barley and straw furnished as fodder for the horses were supplied by the regional deputies in charge of providing food for the royal table.—1Ki 4:27, 28.
During Solomon’s reign, royal merchants trafficked in horses and chariots. The price of a horse was 150 silver pieces ($330, if the silver pieces were shekels), and the price of a chariot was 600 silver pieces (c. $1,320, if shekels).—1Ki 10:28, 29; 2Ch 1:16, 17.
In later years kings of Judah and Israel used horses in warfare. (1Ki 22:4; 2Ki 3:7) With reference to Judah, the prophet Isaiah stated that the land was filled with horses. (Isa 2:1, 7) Although at times in Israel’s history conditions of drought, famine, and military reverses greatly reduced the number of horses (1Ki 17:1; 18:1, 2, 5; 2Ki 7:13, 14; 13:7; Am 4:10), the people still put their confidence in horses and looked to Egypt for military assistance. (Isa 30:16; 31:1, 3) Wicked kings of Judah even dedicated certain horses to the pagan cult of the sun, bringing them within the sacred precincts of the temple of Jehovah. (2Ki 23:11) The last Judean king, Zedekiah, rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and then sent to Egypt for horses and military aid. (2Ch 36:11, 13; Eze 17:15) As a result, in fulfillment of prophecy, Judah went into exile.—Eze 17:16-21; Jer 52:11-14.
Horses are mentioned among the beasts of burden that would be used to transport God’s scattered people to Jerusalem. (Isa 66:20) It is therefore notable that in the first fulfillment of the restoration prophecies, the returning Jews brought back 736 horses.—Ezr 2:1, 66; Ne 7:68.
Illustrative Use. In Scripture, the horse figures repeatedly in illustrative settings. The adulterous sons of faithless Jerusalem are likened to “horses seized with sexual heat.” (Jer 5:7, 8) Unfaithful Jerusalem prostituted herself to the rulers of the pagan nations, lusting after them in the style of concubines belonging to those of inordinate sexual capacity, likened to male horses. (Eze 23:20, 21) The stubborn, unrepentant attitude of an apostate people is compared with the impetuous manner of a horse dashing into battle without regard for the consequences.—Jer 8:6.
The special attention and ornamentation lavished on a royal steed is the figure used to represent Jehovah’s turning his favorable attention to his repentant people, making them like a victorious war horse.—Zec 10:3-6.
When Jehovah, through the prophet Joel, foretold a grievous plague to come upon those who professed to be his people, but who were in fact apostates, he described devouring pests having “the appearance of horses.” (Joe 2:1-4) The apostle John received a similar vision of a great locust plague, with locusts ‘resembling horses prepared for battle.’—Re 9:7.
John also saw armies of cavalry to the number of two myriads of myriads (200,000,000) empowered to execute the destructive judgments of God. The horses had death-dealing power in both their heads and their tails. All these horses apparently were under the direction of the four angels that had been bound at the Euphrates River.—Re 9:14-19.
Jehovah’s invisible heavenly war equipment is represented by fiery horses and chariots. (2Ki 2:11, 12) Elisha, on one occasion, prayed for the eyes of his terrified attendant to be opened to see that “the mountainous region was full of horses and war chariots of fire all around Elisha” to protect him from the surrounding forces of Syrians sent out to capture him.—2Ki 6:17.
Centuries later Zechariah received a vision involving four chariots, the first with red horses, the second with black horses, the third with white horses, and the fourth with speckled, parti-colored horses. These are identified as “the four spirits of the heavens.”—Zec 6:1-8; see also Zec 1:8-11.
Zechariah’s prophecy about those doing military service against Jerusalem indicated that Jehovah would come to the rescue of his people and bring destruction upon the enemy and their horses. (Zec 14:12-15; see also Eze 38 and 39.) As one of the blessed results of that action, no more would the horse be used in warfare. Rather, it would be employed as an instrument of service to God’s glory, as implied by the words: “There will prove to be upon the bells of the horse ‘Holiness belongs to Jehovah!’” (Zec 14:20; compare Ex 28:36, 37.) Also, the cutting off of war chariot and horse denotes a restoration of peace.—Zec 9:10.
In the apostle John’s symbolic vision, the glorified Jesus Christ is depicted as riding a white horse and as being accompanied by an army, all of whose members are seated on white horses. This vision was revealed to John as representing the righteousness and justice of the war that Christ will wage against all enemies on behalf of his God and Father, Jehovah. (Re 19:11, 14) Earlier, Christ’s taking kingly action and the calamities that follow are represented by different horsemen and their mounts.—Re 6:2-8.