In this article, we will continue our study of animals and look at horses in the Bible. We will explore their references, symbolism, and more. So, grab your Bible, and let’s learn…
There are many different types of animals mentioned in the Bible. From the creation story in Genesis to Revelation, animals are mentioned either as part of the story or to symbolize something.
One animal mentioned several times is the horse, both in recounting historical facts and in symbolism in prophecies. But what role do horses play in the Bible?
Although some historical accounts of horses are in the Bible, most references to horses are symbolic. Horse symbolism in the Bible centers mainly around the war horse, focusing on characteristics like power and fearlessness. In Biblical times, horses were only used by the elite.
There are not many accounts of horses in stories in the Bible, probably because horses were still a reasonably “new” addition to domesticated animals by the time the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
To understand their role, one must consider scriptural accounts of horses.
What Does The Bible Say About Horses?
Horses are mentioned more than 150 times throughout the Bible!
Almost two-thirds have a symbolic connotation, where the horse is used as a symbol of something. Horses formed part of people’s visions and prophecies, but some stories in the Old Testament also feature horses.
Easton Bible Dictionary says…
Horse: always referred to in the Bible in connection with warlike operations, except Isa. 28:28. The war-horse is described Job 39:19-25. For a long period after their settlement in Canaan the Israelites made no use of horses, according to the prohibition, Deut. 17:16. David was the first to form a force of cavalry (2 Sam. 8:4). But Solomon, from his connection with Egypt, greatly multiplied their number (1 Kings 4:26; 10:26, 29). After this, horses were freely used in Israel (1 Kings 22:4; 2 Kings 3:7; 9:21, 33; 11:16). The furniture of the horse consisted simply of a bridle (Isa. 30:28) and a curb (Ps. 32:9).
Now, let’s take a look at these stories…
Bible Stories Featuring Horses
Horses were first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 47:17. At this time, Joseph was a ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, and people brought their horses and other livestock to him in exchange for food. It may seem strange that there was no mention of horses in the Bible before that, but horses were only introduced to Egypt less than a century before Joseph.
A few hundred years later, after the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt, God sent Moses to free them. After hitting Egypt with ten plagues, the Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go but soon regretted it. In Exodus 14:5-29, we read how the Pharaoh chased after the Israelites with an army and horse-drawn chariots.
Before the Egyptians caught up with the Israelites, God parted the Red Sea, and Moses led the Israelites through it. Pharaoh and his army pursued them. When all the Israelites were safely on the other side, God returned the waters, and the Pharaoh, his army, and all the horses drowned.
Armies and Horses
While Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land, they defeated many enemies, making the other Canaan kings very nervous. Several of them decided to band together against Israel. In Joshua 11, we read how many kings assembled their joint armies with “…a large number of horses and chariots – a huge army, as numerous as the sand of the seashore.” (Joshua 11:4).
However, God told Joshua that he would hand all these kings over to the Israelites and that Joshua had to “hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.” (Joshua 11:6). Joshua and the Israelites surprised this great army, defeated and pursued them until they were all killed. Then Joshua did as God commanded; he hamstrung the horses and burnt the chariots.
Those Who Are With Us…
We read another exciting story about horses in 2 Kings 6:8 – 23. The King of Syria sent an army with many horses and chariots to capture Elisha. Elisha’s servant panicked, but Elisha said,
“Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” After Elisha prayed, his servant could see “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
God’s Prohibition Of Horses And Chariots
In Deuteronomy 17, God predicted through Moses that the Israelites would one day want a king, and he gave clear instructions to follow. In verse 16, we read: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them….” God also warned that it would be to their detriment if they chose to disobey.
King Saul obeyed the prohibition as the first king of Israel, but David, his successor, did not. Although he might not have had a significant number of horses, two of his sons later used some of his horses and chariots to try to take over his throne.
However, David’s son and successor, Solomon, completely disobeyed God’s prohibition. He received many horses as gifts and even had traders bring him horses from Egypt. According to 1 Kings 4:26, “Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses.” After Solomon, horses were commonly used by the kings of Israel.
Horses Symbolism In The Bible
War horses were commonly used as symbolism throughout the Bible:
- Strength – In Job 39:19-25, God describes the war horse, referring to its outstanding qualities and strength. “It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray.” (Job 39:21)
- Fearlessness – In God’s description of the war horse in Job 39, we read in verse 22: “It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword.”
- Royalty – There is no record in the Bible of laypeople owning or riding horses. Horses were exclusively owned and used by kings and their armies. In Revelation 19:11, Jesus, the King of kings, is depicted as appearing, riding a white horse, symbolizing His royalty.
- God’s Government – Zechariah 6:1-8 describes chariots with horses sent out by God to patrol the earth. These horses were black, red, white, and spotted horses, symbolizing God keeping watch over the earth.
- Something Not To Trust In – In Psalm 33:17, the psalmist describes the warhorse as “…a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.” The emphasis here is that, despite the power of the war horse, it alone cannot save a person, but God can.
The Four Horsemen Of Revelation
In Revelation, John describes a vision received while imprisoned on the island of Patmos. In Revelation 6, he describes four horses with riders, commonly referred to as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
Many believe this to be an end-time prophecy, with each horse symbolizing something. I also talk about the colors of the horses in The Ultimate Guide to the Biblical Meaning of Colors
- The White Horse – “I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (Revelation 6:2). Although the exact symbolism is uncertain, many believe that this horseman symbolizes the Antichrist.
- The Red horse – “Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other.” (Revelation 6:4). Clearly, the second horseman on the red horse symbolizes war and bloodshed.
- The Black horse – “…I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying ‘Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages….'” The third horseman on the black horse is believed to symbolize famine.
- The Pale Horse – “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” The fourth, pale horse and its rider symbolizes widespread death across the earth.
Horses are mentioned over 150 times in the Bible. Although there are some stories featuring horses, more than two-thirds of all the accounts of horses were symbolic, appearing in people’s visions and prophecies. Most stories and symbols involve war horses.
Animals In The Bible Series
I have been working on a series of animals in the Bible. If you are curious about other critters than check out the articles below.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…