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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

The prophet is forward to receive this vision, and, as if he expected it, he turned and lifted up his eyes and looked. Though this was the seventh vision he had had, yet he did not think he had had enough; for the more we know of God and his will, if we know it aright, the more desirous we shall be to get a further acquaintance with God. Now observe here the sight that the prophet had offour chariots drawn by horses of divers colours, together with the explication of the sight, Zech. 6:1-5. He did not look long before he discovered that which was worth seeing, and which would serve very much for the encouraging of himself and his friends in this dark day. We are very much in the dark concerning the meaning of this vision. Some by the four chariots understand the four monarchies; and then they read (Zech. 6:5), These are the four winds of the heavens, and suppose that therein reference is had to Dan. 7:2; where Daniel saw, in vision, the four winds of the heavens striving upon the great sea, representing the four monarchies. The Babylonian monarchy, they think, is here represented by the red horses, which are not afterwards mentioned, because that monarchy was now extinct. The second chariot with the black horses is the Persian monarchy, which went forth northward against the Babylonians, and quieted God’s Spirit in the north country, by executing his judgments on Babylon and freeing the Jews from their captivity. The white, the Grecians, go forth after them in the north, for they overthrow the Persians. The grizzled, the Romans, who conquered the Grecian empire, are said to go forth towards the south country, because Egypt, which lay southward, was the last branch of the Grecian empire that was subdued by the Romans. The bay horses had been with the grizzled, but afterwards went forth by themselves; and by these they understand the Goths and Vandals, who with their victorious arms walked to and fro through the earth, or the Seleucidae and Lagidae, the two branches of the Grecian empire. Thus Grotius and others.

But I incline rather to understand this vision more generally, as designing to represent the administration of the kingdom of Providence in the government of this lower world. The angels are often called the chariots of God, as Ps. 68:17; Ps. 18:10. The various providences of God concerning nations and churches are represented by the different colours of horses, Rev. 6:2, 4, 5, 8. And so we may observe here, 1. That the counsels and decrees of God are the spring and original of all events, and they are immovable, as mountains of brass. The chariots came from between the two mountains; for God performs the thing that is appointed for us: his appointments are the originals, and his performances are but copies from them; he does all according to the counsel of his will. We could as soon grasp the mountains in our arms as comprehend the divine counsels in our finite understandings, and as soon remove mountains of brass as alter any of God’s purposes; for he is in one mind, and who can turn him? Whatever the providences of God are concerning us, as to public or private affairs, we should see them all coming from between the mountains of brass, and therefore see it as much our folly to quarrel with them as it is our duty to acquiesce in them. Who may say to God, What doest thou, or why doest thou so? Acts 2:23; 4:28. 2. That God executes his decrees in the works of Providence, which are as chariots, in which he rides as a prince in an open chariot, to show his glory to the world, in which, as in chariots of war, he rides forth conquering and to conquer, and triumphing over all the enemies of his glory and government. God is great and terrible in his doings (Ps. 66:3), and in them we see the goings of our God, our King, Ps. 68:24. His providences move swiftly and strongly as chariots, but all directed and governed by his infinite wisdom and sovereign will, as chariots by their drivers. 3. That the holy angels are the ministers of God’s providence, and are employed by him, as the armies of heaven, for the executing of his counsels among the inhabitants of the earth; they are the chariots, or, which comes all to one, they are the horses that draw the chariots, great in power and might, and who, like the horse that God himself describes (Job 39:19), are clothed with thunder, are terrible, but cannot be terrified nor made afraid; they are chariots of fire, and horses of fire, to carry one prophet to heaven and guard another on earth. They are as observant of and obsequious to the will of God as well-managed horses are to their rider or driver. Not that God needs them or their services, but he is pleased to make use of them, that he may put honour upon them, and encourage our trust in his providence. 4. That the events of Providence have different aspects and the face of the times often changes. The horses in the first chariot were red, signifying war and bloodshed, blood to the horse-bridles, Rev. 14:20. Those in the second chariot were black, signifying the dismal melancholy consequences of war; it puts all into mourning, lays all waste, introduces famines, and pestilences, and desolations, and makes whole lands to languish. Those in the third chariot were white, signifying the return of comfort, and peace, and prosperity, after these dark and dismal times: though God cause grief to the children of men, yet will he have compassion. Those in the fourth chariot were of a mixed colour, grizzled and bay; some speckled and spotted, and ash-coloured, signifying events of different complexions interwoven and counter-changed, a day of prosperity and a day of adversity set the one over-against the other. The cup of Providence in the hand of the Lord isfull of mixture, Ps. 75:8. 5. That all the instruments of Providence, and all the events of it, come from God, and from him they receive their commissions and instructions (Zech. 6:5): These are the four spirits of heaven, the four winds (so some), which seem to blow as they list, from the various points of the compass; but God has them in his fists and brings them out of his treasuries. Or, rather, These are the angels that go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth, to attend upon him and minister to him, to behold his glory in the upper world, which is their blessedness, and to serve his glory in their blessedness, and to serve his glory in this lower world, which is their business. They stand before him as the Lord of the whole earth, to receive orders from him and give up their accounts to him concerning their services on this earth, for it is all within his jurisdiction. But, when he appoints, they go forth as messengers of his counsels and ministers of his justice and mercy. Those secret motions and impulses upon the spirits of men by which the designs of Providence are carried on, some think, are these four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from God and fulfil what he appoints, who is the God of the spirits of all flesh. 6. That there is an admirable beauty in Providence, and one event serves for a balance to another (Zech. 6:6): The black horses went forth, carrying with them very dark and melancholy events, such as made every person and every thing look black; but presently the white went forth after them, carrying joy to those that mourned, and, by a new turn given to affairs, making them to look pleasant again. Such are God’s dealings with his church and people: if the black horses go forth, the white ones presently go after them; for as affliction abounds consolation much more abounds. 7. That the common general aspect of providence is mixed and compounded. The grizzled and bay horses were both in the fourth chariot (Zech. 6:3), and though they went forth, at first, towards the south country, yet afterwards they sought to walk to and fro through the earth and were directed to do so, Zech. 6:7. If we go to and fro through the earth, we shall find the events of Providence neither all black nor all white, but ash-coloured, or gray, mixed of black and white. Such is the world we live in; that before us is unmixed. Here we are singing, at the same time, of mercy and judgment, and we must sing unto God of both (Ps. 101:1) and labour to accommodate ourselves to God’s will and design in the mixtures of Providence, rejoicing in our comforts as though we rejoiced not, because they have their allays, and weeping for our afflictions as though we wept not, because there is so much mercy mixed with them. 8. That God is well-pleased with all the operations of his own providence (Zech. 6:8): These have quieted my spirit, these black horses which denote extraordinary judgments, and the white ones which denote extraordinary deliverances, both which went towards the north country, while the common mixed providences went all the world over. These have quieted my spirit in the north-country, which had of late been the most remarkable scene of action with reference to the church; that is, by these uncommon appearances and actings of providence God’s wrath is executed upon the enemies of the church, and his favours are conferred upon the church, both which had long been deferred, and in both God had fulfilled his will, accomplished his word, and so quieted his Spirit. The Lord is well-pleased for his righteousness’ sake; and, as he speaks, Isa. 1:24; made himself easy.