Four Straining Chariots Of Judgment
Key Verse 6:, 8
“Then he called to me, ‘Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.’”
In the latter chapters of the book of Zachariah the prophet will be describing many of the events that will occur during what is called “The Day of the Lord”. “The day of the Lord” is that day when history will finally start coming to an end. It is that day when God will finally begin to bring all things to a close; and then closure for his people. That’s when the Righteous Kingdom of our Christ will be established after God has brought every man and woman, and every nation and kingdom to accountability before Christ the King. That’s the judgment or the “Day of the Lord”, something which Zechariah is keen to talk about more so towards the end of this book of prophesy. And what we are looking at today in these last two visions seem to be events transpiring at the end of time. That’s when history will come to a close. The first vision in verses 1-8 (which we are dealing with today), the vision describing the four chariots are the events dealing with what some would term as the “tribulation period” which the people of the earth will have to undergo, or the “judgment”; and the second vision in verses 9-15 (which we will explore next time), the vision describing the crowning of the high priest Joshua, are the events dealing with Christ and his coming Kingdom.
Let me be clear about something first. Historically, and spiritually, we know that the two visions have most certainly come true at least once. This means that as far as the first vision is concerned; the vision concerning the chariots which are representative of God’s judgment on the nations who have worshiped other gods and who have transgressed God’s laws and violated his most sacred commandments; and worse of all, who have also trampled on his people and devastated his holy possessions; well history proves that judgment has already fallen on those nations exactly as has been prophesied. And as far as the second vision is concerned; the vision concerning the crowning of the high priest as a king; well that vision has already been fulfilled as well in the coming of Christ. Now what is clear is that the vision has been fulfilled once, and we are not going to be concerned with how and when it was fulfilled and who were the nations involved. What we will be concerned with however, in as far as the first vision is concerned is simply the theme of it: what the vision stands for— which is God’s judgment— a day that is sure to come for every man and woman, for every nation and kingdom under heaven. The Bible states very clearly these immortal words: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Look again at 5:10-11: “’Where are they taking the basket?’ I asked the angel who was speaking to me. He replied, ‘To the country of Babylonia [Shinar] to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.’” Do you remember what the basket was filled with? It was stuffed with sin and wickedness which the angel had carried away from his people in Israel and taken to a far away land. The land he took it to was Babylonia or the original name was Shinar. Now why is this significant? Because that’s where all this wickedness originated from in the first place, and it seems that’s where it will end up in the end. Not many people know about Shinar, the original place of such terrible wickedness of mankind and sin and idolatry against the Lord our God. After Noah’s flood, humanity should have learned their lesson and understood how wicked and easily corruptible the human heart is. They should have sought after God and taken his words to heart and build societies based on his truth. But if we trek after them, we see them congregating in Shinar in rebellion against the Lord and in their pride and unbelief building a tower that reaches to the heavens. We see them defying the Lord’s command to scatter over the whole earth by deliberately staying put in Shinar. It was there that God confused their languages and scattered them over the face of the whole earth so that they became the 70 some godless Gentile nations from whom all the peoples of the world later came. Such wickedness persisted in the hearts of men ever since— defiance to God, pride of heart, deliberate disobedience of his commands, the worship of foreign gods and idols, idolatry, the love of self, love of money, the lust of the eye, the desire for worldly wisdom, and absolutely no room for God nor for anything that is godly and spiritual anywhere in their hearts and lives!
And that was the legacy of Shinar that all the Gentile nations inherited once when God smote the tower of Babel and scattered them. And in time, history tells us that God’s people, Israel, instead of influencing the nations to look to God and what is good and holy, they craved and adopted what these godless nations had; and so the Lord disciplined them in order to purify them. And finally only because of his grace and mercy, through the coming of the promised Christ, Israel or God’s people [along with some others from among the Gentiles] were liberated from the heavy burden of sin and wickedness. And finally this basket which was full and still heavy with wickedness was taken [as we read in 5:10-11] and flown to Shinar. Listen to what the NASB says: “To build a temple for her in the land of Shinar; and when it is prepared, she will be set there on her own pedestal.” A temple is to be built for her in there, and when that temple is finished, she will be stood on its own pedestal. Imagine that! As if wickedness needs a pedestal to stand on in its own temple to be worshiped! Actually we shouldn’t be surprised that wickedness would be an object of worship among the people of the world, not only in the last days but something we have begun to experience in our time. Surely people worship wickedness.
Listen to what the Bible says about the worship of wickedness: “But mark this” says the apostle Paul to his son timothy, he continues: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) That’s putting wickedness on a pedestal in its own temple or house of wickedness and worshiping it openly and publicly without drawing any criticism from anyone. Rather people today draw respect and honor and applause from one another for the worship of such wickedness. To be a lover of self and a lover of money is commendable, something parents even would impose on their children, so that they might excel in life. Today so called Christians would venture to go as far as embracing un-forgiveness in the name of justice for human justice is a god whose laws outweigh the laws of love and forgiveness of our Biblical God. The love of pleasure is a wickedness that has invaded the minds and hearts of so many that most don’t even notice it is wickedness in disguise any more. What they see is necessity of pleasure in the midst of a grinding fast pace working day. Self justification becomes a means for wickedness to be worshiped on every level. The apostle says: “Having a form of godliness but denying its power” In other words wickedness is deceitful and clever in the way it presents itself as godly or holy at times, but it has no power. When people worship any form of wickedness they feel good about themselves for a while but in the end they feel drained and spent and used up. The legacy of wickedness has fooled mankind long enough into believing that worshiping wickedness is the only way to be happy and successful. [Matthew and Zacchaeus the tax collectors both were under the spell of wickedness for a long time until Jesus rescued them]
Now as we saw, the basket of wickedness was removed from the land and taken far away and returned to the land of Shinar where it belonged. Symbolically, it may be that when the Christ came and gave his life on the cross, shedding his blood for the sins of the world, especially for the wicked sins of his own people; it is most likely that symbolically speaking, the Christ through his sacrifice on the cross, and through his death and resurrection, removed the wickedness from the land. (3:8-10) Now that wickedness was removed from the land of Israel, and symbolically from the people of God, does it mean that they were no longer subject to wickedness or influenced by it? We can be sure that although the Lord God removed the wickedness from the land of Israel and banished it back to Shinar, still there was a kind of wickedness in the land of Israel that caused the whole nation to collapse in upon itself and scatter all over the world to no longer be a nation for a very long time. So what kind of wickedness was that? Of all the wickedness that are listed in the Bible, they still committed the worst kind of wickedness of all; It was the kind of wickedness that infected the whole nation in such a way that caused irreparable damage. One time Jesus stood crying over them and said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:34-35) There is no greater wicked act a man or nation can commit than to refuse to believe in the Son of God, Jesus who is the full expression of the love of God. It is the epitome of wickedness.
However, the Lord who had chosen Israel as his first born son, did raise them up as a nation to cradle and nurture the faith until the time is ripe for the Messiah to be born from among them. It was from among the nation of Israel that the Messiah would come who would be not only the Savior of the Jews but also the Savior of the whole world. But until the Messiah was to be born, Israel remained God’s precious first born son, regardless of how wayward and stubborn they had been, and regardless of how astray they had gone now and then in history. What is my point here? My point is that while God nurtured them and blessed them and disciplined them, he used other nations to do so. But the other nations he used went too far. In other words, when the Lord ordained that such and such a rising empire should conquer the world, and in the process overtake and enslave Israel as well, that nation acted brutally towards the people of God, and went too far in its conquest. They were cruel and unforgiving and their histories are written in blood and gore. So God promised that all these nations would eventually be judged. Not one nation of all the nations of the world who lived godlessly would ever escape God’s judgment. And not one single nation of all the nations that ever raised one finger to harm Israel, God’s people, over and above God’s sovereign instructions, would ever go unpunished. God promised that judgment for these nations was coming. One by one they would be judged. Just as they rose to power by God’s sovereignty to establish nations, so also they would be deposed from power by the God’s sovereignty to judge and remove nations. Every ruler, every king, and sovereign, every wicked man who raised a hand to strike another man or woman of God would be judged. It was a comfort for God’s people who suffered endlessly at times at the hands of their tormentors. They accepted the fact that in God’s anger they themselves suffered God’s discipline at the hands of these foreign nations. But they also took comfort to know that while God sent these nations to discipline them, God would also punish these nations for causing God’s people unmitigated anguish and suffering, and enjoying the torment they caused. The day for judging the godless people of the world was coming upon the world, one by one. The “The Day Of the Lord” or the “Judgment”, the day when every man or woman or nation or kingdom would have to stand and account for everything they had done is sure to come.
And that is what Zechariah was witnessing in this next to the last vision. Read verses 1-8. “I looked up again–and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains— mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled— all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?” The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.” When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.” What the prophet saw here in this vision are simple. He saw four chariots hitched to different horses of a different color. The chariots and horses naturally must have riders to steer them, although the riders are not mentioned here. All of them originate from the throne of God (5), so they must all be angels, who serve God’s purpose (Hebrews 1:14). And the chariots which symbolize war tell us that the all these chariots are going out to carry out God’s will, which in the case of the war-chariots— they want to carry out God’s judgment upon the nations of the world for all the wickedness the world loves more than it loves God— and for rejecting the Son of God who is the expression of God’s love for a sinful world! And the vision begins with these chariots already galloping from the throne of God but not fully able yet to go and do what they have to do. Why? Are not able to consume the world with God’s judgment in a moment? Aren’t they powerful enough to do their job?
Look at verse 7 again. They are more than powerful enough. Zechariah must have noticed it to record it, for the horses he saw drawing the chariots must have looked like the Hulk’s own horse with a dose of extra steroids. The NIV says that the horses were: “Straining to go”, as if something was holding them back from actually going forward, or perhaps having difficulty in leaping forward as they want to in order to fulfill their mission. The word “Straining to go” is fine, but if we look at the same phrase in the ESV, we see the term “Impatient to go”, and better yet, the NASB says: “Eager to go”. These chariots and horses of God’s judgment were impatient and eager to go and fulfill the mission the Lord had called them for which is to carry out his judgment on the people and the nations of the world, nation by nation, man and woman at a time. They are powerful enough to sweep the whole earth. According to the directions they were to go, in whichever timeline, in whatever generation they are called to go and sweep the earth with God’s judgment, they have the power and the skill to do their duty without hesitation. Actually they are eager and impatient to carry out the will of God. So what holds them back even now from carrying out God’s judgment? Of course, it is the Lord himself who holds them back until the right time. Because once these chariots are sent out, there is nothing that can hold them back any longer, or stop them, or call them back until they have fulfilled their mission to the end. That is why the Lord holds them back until he is ready to carry out his swift judgment.
In verse 7, the phrase “throughout the earth” is repeated three times, to indicate the seriousness of God’s judgment when it is finally delivered to those who have been warned. It is a shame how often the Lord has given warning to men and in so many ways, and yet men choose to ignore his warnings and go on living their lives and doing what they do as if the world will live forever and the world will go on forever the way it is; as if there is no God and no judgment and no heaven and no hell. People choose to ignore God’s warnings in spite of their own conscience warning them to repent and turn to the Lord in faith. People choose to remain in the darkness in spite of having seen the light, but they love darkness more than light. People hear God’s many warning signs, see God’s warning signs, even tremble for a while at them, then return to their old lives as if nothing has ever happened. Zechariah’s very first vision, he saw horses with riders who went throughout the earth, but they were only messenger angels who reported to the Lord the condition of the earth. And their report ironically was as such: “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.” (1:11) The people of the world seem to have been at peace. They lived their lives without God, and enjoyed every wickedness and broke every commandment and violated every sacred thing of God, even to raping God’s own people; but they also enjoyed peace and could rest at night without a single worry on their minds. Did they ever hear the prophets’ warnings, or messages of repentance, of turning to the Lord, turning from sin to faith in God, did they ever hear of loving God and others as yourself? Of course they did. But they scoffed as today’s people do.
But here’s the thing! These people whom the 1st set of riding angels (1:7-11) found at rest and in peace, had no clue what was awaiting them. They had no idea that between the two bronze mountains, (6:1-8) there were four chariots drawn by powerful and impatient horses just waiting for a signal from the Lord to go and rip the peace from under the feet. But that’s not all! The judgment that comes upon those who do not belong to the Lord’s family isn’t only to remove the temporary false sense of peace which people seem to experience in this world, but to also bring them before Christ’s throne to give account for their lives. These people had no idea what was coming. Most people really don’t either. They are like these people who sleep at night thinking nothing of tomorrow, never imagining that at any moment “The Day of The Lord” may arrive to find themselves stripped of this world and standing before the throne. Listen to what Jesus once said: “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:38-39) It will happen. Just as the judgment came upon the people of Noah’s time, as well as the people in Zechariah’s vision, who may have been the nations and people who gave no second thought to God nor to his way, the judgment came upon them as well. Later our Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem and his own people who should have known better. They didn’t listen to a word he said, and the Romans ransacked Jerusalem and destroyed every trace of Israel and the temple. They didn’t repent when God called them to repent and turn their hearts to him in repentance and faith.
What about the people of God who get swept away in the tide of these galloping horses and chariots of war riding throughout the earth to bring about God’s judgment? I will tell you what the apostle John says of them. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins … since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:7-11; 16-18) The children of God who are born of God through the Word of life, and through his Spirit (1 Peter 1:23; John 3:5) have nothing to fear. They have confidence that in this world their faith is grounded in Christ, and we live in him, and trust in him and in all that he has done for us through his blood; through his death and resurrection; we then live like him by following his example, being nurtured by his Spirit and grow in his love, as we love one another and wait for the day of our redemption. (Romans 8:23) There is nothing to fear the judgment of God for the children of God if and when your life is purposed in Christ and for Christ! On the other hand, to those who do fear God’s judgment, they would be blessed to do as the Lord says they should do: “Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21) But for those whose consciences care less for God’s judgment, it would be foolish of them not to go on their knees and beg the Lord to spark their dead conscience to life, until a sense of God’s judgment triggers fear in their hearts, then repentance, then faith in Christ, which leads to salvation.
Read verse 8. “Then he called to me, ‘Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.’” Of course, God’s Spirit does not tire as we tire and so his Spirit needs no rest the way we do. But his Spirit rested when the chariots’ mission was fulfilled and the judgment on the north was carried out. It was done! The punishment was dealt. The justice was carried out. Sin and wickedness in the north were wiped out, and real peace was restored. It is really hard to tell what exactly happened in the land of the North. But clearly what people consider peace is not what God considers peace. People’s peace is when they are doing what they want to do and they have what they want, and no one is bothering them, not even God. But God’s Spirit’s peace is to bring that kind of sin and wickedness to an end, to judge sin and wickedness, and to bring justice to God’s people and give them salvation and real peace to the souls of those who call on him. Let’s call on the Lord always regardless of our situation because he is our peace, and in him alone we can find justice and confidence in a world full of wickedness. May God give you the grace to tremble at God’s judgment and to rejoice at his salvation and mercy. Amen.