This familiar quadruped, with its hard hoofs (Isa. 5:28), flowing mane and tail (Job 39:19), has, from ancient times, been closely associated with man, who has used the bridle and the whip to control it. (Ps. 32:9; Prov. 26:3; Jas. 3:3) 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.
The first specific mention of the horse in the Bible is with reference to Joseph’s administration in Egypt, when he accepted from the famine-stricken people horses and other livestock in exchange for grain. (Gen. 47:17) Twice the Scriptural record reports that the Egyptians experienced a blow to their horses. First there was the divinely sent pestilence on the livestock (Ex. 9:3-6), and then, at the time of the exodus, Pharaoh’s hosts, ‘horse and rider,’ were drowned in the Red Sea.—Ex. 14:9; 15:1.
In ancient times the horse was used mainly in warfare (Prov. 21:31; Isa. 5:28; Jer. 4:13; 8:16; 46:4, 9), though it was also employed for transportation and in hunting. The use of the horse for purposes other than battle is generally mentioned in Scripture in connection with kings, princes and state officials, or rapid communication systems.—2 Sam. 15:1; Eccl. 10:7; Esther 6:7, 8; 8:14; Jer. 17:25; 22:4.
Horses, however, do not lend themselves well for military use in mountainous, rough terrain. (Amos 6:12) Hence, when King Ahab of Israel defeated the army of Syria, Ben-hadad’s servant 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.—1 Ki. 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. (2 Ki. 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; Ezek. 23:5, 6, 23; 26:7, 10, 11; Nah. 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. (Deut. 17:15, 16) Rather than trusting in military might, horses and chariots, the Israelites were to look to Jehovah for help and never become fearful of the war equipment of their foes.—Deut. 20:1-4; Ps. 20:7; 33:17; Hos. 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. (2 Sam. 8:3, 4; 1 Chron. 18:3, 4) This was also in keeping with the divinely authorized procedure followed by Joshua at the time of the conquest of the Promised Land.—Josh. 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. (1 Ki. 4:26 [here “forty thousand stalls of horses” is generally believed to be a scribal error for “four thousand”]; compare 2 Chronicles 9:25.) From Egypt as well as other lands King Solomon received horses (2 Chron. 9:28), and horses were among the gifts brought by those desiring to hear his wisdom. (1 Ki. 10:24, 25; 2 Chron. 9:23, 24) The animals were stabled in special chariot cities and also at Jerusalem. (1 Ki. 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.—1 Ki. 4:27, 28.
During Solomon’s reign, royal merchants trafficked in horses and chariots. The price of a horse was 150 silver pieces ($71.25, if the silver pieces were shekels) and that of a chariot 600 silver pieces ($285.00, if shekels). Some commentators believe that the price of a chariot may have included a team of horses, but there is no way of determining this.—1 Ki. 10:28, 29; 2 Chron. 1:16, 17.
In later years kings of Judah and Israel used horses in warfare. (1 Ki. 22:4; 2 Ki. 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 (1 Ki. 17:1; 18:1, 2, 5; 2 Ki. 7:13, 14; 13:7; Amos 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. (2 Ki. 23:11) The last Judean king, Zedekiah, rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and then sent to Egypt for horses and military aid. (2 Chron. 36:11, 13; Ezek. 17:15) As a result, in fulfillment of prophecy, Judah went into exile.—Ezek. 17:16-21; Jer. 52:11-14.
Horses are mentioned among the beasts of burden that would bring 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.—Ezra 2:1, 66; Neh. 7:68.
In Scripture, the horse figures repeatedly in an illustrative setting. The adulterous sons of faithless Jerusalem are likened to “horses seized with sexual heat.” (Jer. 5:7, 8) 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) 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.—Ezek. 23:20, 21.
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.—Zech. 10:3-6.
When Jehovah, through the prophet Joel, foretold a grievous plague to come upon those professing to be his people but who were in fact apostates, he described devouring pests having “the appearance of horses.” (Joel 2:1-4) The apostle John received a similar vision of a great locust plague, with locusts ‘resembling horses prepared for battle.’—Rev. 9:7.
Jehovah’s invisible heavenly war equipment is represented by fiery horses and chariots. (2 Ki. 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.—2 Ki. 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.”—Zech. 6:1-8; see also Zechariah 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. (Zech. 14:12-15; see also Ezekiel chapters 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!’” (Zech. 14:20; compare Exodus 28:36, 37.) Also, the cutting off of war chariot and horse denotes a restoration of peace.—Zech. 9:10.
In the apostle John’s symbolic vision, the glorified Jesus Christ is depicted as riding a white horse and as 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. (Rev. 19:11, 14) Earlier, Christ’s taking kingly action and the calamities that follow are represented by different horsemen and their mounts.—Rev. 6:2-8.
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.—Rev. 9:15-19.