Horses Among the Myrtle Trees

The First Vision of Zechariah

The Prophet Zechariah told of a number of visions which were given to him during the time of Israel’s return from exile in foreign lands.  Zechariah’s role was to encourage, strengthen and stimulate the downtrodden Jews who were trying to start over in their land of inheritance with words straight from God.

The image above is a miniature painted by an unknown artist around 1300 A.D.  on the isle of Sicily.  It is now the property of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California.  The painting was done in tempera and gold on parchment and is a tiny illustration, only a few inches in size, taken from a copy of the Old Testament book of Zechariah.

This subject has rarely been depicted in art.  I don’t know why, as it is one of the most striking and eerie descriptions in the Bible.   Zechariah looks outside in the night and sees someone on a horse among the shadows of myrtle trees.  (The trees in this illustration seem pitifully small.)  There are various colored horses, red, chestnut and white.  An authoritative angelic voice tells him that these horses are ridden by angels as part of God’s angelic army.  They range throughout the earth “checking things.”  They report their findings to the angel in the myrtle grove.   “We have looked over the whole earth and all is well.  Everything is under control.”

All is well?  This is an astounding statement in the midst of a land and time of strife and turmoil.  It makes me wonder if these eternal angelic beings are still patrolling the area, still checking things. Would they also find that “all is well” today? Maybe so from God’s Almighty perspective.  Maybe, though we see a time of confusion, danger and strife, the Lord of All sees that all is well and all will be well.

In any case, I love this Biblical image.  It gives me a bit of a shiver.  I wonder about angels on horseback, and a many-colored troupe of horses.  I see them stamping and pawing among the shadowy trees in the night.  The stars are above to guide, the wind is  softly blowing.  The night is theirs to explore and all is open to their view.  I am going to have to get up and out in the night here at my house, to see if they swirl by with their snorting breath and strong legs, carrying an angelic host.

Quotations from The Message version of the Bible.

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