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Biblical Beasts: Horse

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In psalm 147:10 there is this striking line:

His [The Lord's] delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man

Elsewhere in the Bible, horses are linked to chariots (as in Zechariah 6), or to the horsemen of the Apocalypse. In every case the horse is a symbol of power, speed, and strength, and even today we still refer to "horsepower" to rate the performance of motorized engines; the greater the horsepower, the more powerful the engine. In the Scriptures, horses are thus depicted as powerful instruments of war and destruction, and in the Apocalypse they are linked to violence, divine judgement, and terror.

However, the psalmist reminds us that the Lord does not delight in any of this. Almighty God does not delight in might, whether coming from beasts or from man. Thus he delights neither in the strength of the horse nor in the legs, i.e., the strength, of a man. As we see in the example of Christ, ours is not a God who uses violence or unleashes cosmic powers to force his will, or accomplish his mission. The Lord does not wish to use might and force to restrain us, and make us do good. For our God is source and ground of our free acts, and he delights in our freedom. So, as it is said, one can bring a horse to the water but one cannot make it drink.

Rather, the Lord uses the gentle and tender persuasiveness of love, helping us by his transforming grace to know and understand his goodness, and to love and desire him, the good, for his own sake. Thus the psalmist also says in psalm 32:9, "Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you". One who is made to do good, needing bridle and bit, as it were, does not have virtue but obligation. He does not love but lives in servile fear.

But what the Lord does delight in, and what he desires for us so that we may follow him and have eternal life, is to have trust (Psalm 32:9) and hope (psalm 147:11) in his steadfast love. For it is only this reliance on God and on the strength and power of his love that will save mankind. We are not to rely on human power or our trappings of power (horses, cars, money, degrees, prestige etc), but to learn from Jesus, the only Strong One who saves. Depending on Christ is not the servitude of bridle and bit, nor is it to lack understanding. It is coming under the gentle yoke of trust, hope, and love. As Jesus says: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mt 11:29-30).

Lawrence Lew OP


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