“The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but safety” (victory) “is of the Lord.” – Proverbs 21:31.
As is true in many passages in Proverbs there is here what amounts to a fairly obvious comparison for the purpose of clear illustration. The horse, as used in battle, would have been a figure familiar to all who would have read this passage. Surely there may have been a number of farm horses that could have been familiar to people as well. But that is not the figure used here. This a military figure that is used to setup the end of the verse, which seems to be the major point.
The word “horse” is not a particularly often used word in the OT, most likely because OT Israel was not an equine based society. Even the farmers were far more apt to use an ox or even mule for plowing and moving materials or supplies. The Hebrew word appears 140 times, translated as “horse” 133 of those times. Believe it or not, it is given as “swallow, or crane” twice, likely because of the beauty inherent in the two species, it is put forth 2 other times as “horseback” and horseback plus another word filling out the usages.
The “day of battle” is universally used to speak of an horrific and anticipated time of warfare that is expected, though it can also be descriptive of one that has already passed. This is the central thought of the verse. There is an future time of battle, of fighting coming. Its’ approach is known and the effects that will arise are easily anticipated.
A horse, likely a trained war horse may be in view here, can be prepared for such a battle, given wrappings and that make it better able to endure and convey the rider through the midst of such a battle. But, we must note that the use of the horse was forbidden to be used in battle among the Jews (Deut. 17:16), in order that they might ascribe the glory of their victories to Jehovah. Hence it was that Joshua hamstrung all the horses taken in battle (Josh. 11:6, 9). The war-horse, so eulogized by the Creator (Job 39:19–25), is a splendid sight as it stands caparisoned for battle; how much more a well-mounted force of cavalry! Yet shall these utterly fail to achieve victory unless God will it.
In fact, it was common to prepare such horses in a group and then use them together, almost as a unique style of weapon against an enemy. We must be careful that we do not think of the long lance and such as the kind of weapons used. Those type of cavalry weapons did not come to be until long after. At this time, they prepared the horse to be able to take club blows and perhaps a sword or knife blow in passing an enemy.
What is in view here in now makes the horse invulnerable or impossible to stop. It is simply a picture to cause the reader of the passage to think about what it is that one who faces such terrible threat and dangers. Further, it is challenging us to consider where, even given the tremendous security that such a prepared warhorse renders, our hope for real safety (and security) rests. This is a perfectly logical question to ask. I think it is clear that Solomon is not really speaking to the members of his military, though the point he is trying to make applies as much to them as it does to anyone else. Even the one who is well prepared to face the great difficulties and danger of life ought not really depend on the “things” that he carries or is equipped with, for they are not the real sources of his “safety” (or, here, “deliverance”) from these great difficulties.
“Deliverance” in the Hebrew, speaks of rescue from danger; and here it speaks of the very most general form that danger takes. Solomon wants us to grasp the point (with an aim, of course, of implementing it is our lives) that we need to both recognize and put into action the fact that we cannot look to our preparations, whatever and how great, or how successful they have been in our experience.
The reason for this is a least at least three-fold.
1. First, the Bible is very clear that we are not to depend on self, or human devices or abilities for doing or accomplishing the causes and purposes of God. We must do what is clearly and utterly of His strength, for our strength is totally inadequate and can easily be defeated.
2. Secondly, we look to God for our safety, deliverance, or rescue because it must be our desire to see God glorified in whatever “battles” we fight.
3. Third, there is also the matter of testimony to those who fight along with us, and even to those either being fought against or who are watching the battle. It is only when we rely on the preparation of God for the fighting of the battle that this testimony will be what it ought to be.
Illustrations. – As we noted, the horse was forbidden to be used in battle among the Jews (Deut. 17:16), in order that they might ascribe the glory of their victories to Jehovah. So, as we noted as well, Joshua hamstrung all the horses taken in battle (Josh. 11:6, 9). But Solomon violated this law. And the national glory in battle began to wane from the time when this forbidding of the use of horses in war was disregarded.
Defeat commenced from the very quarter of unwarranted confidence (comp. 1 Kings 10:26, 28, with 1 Kings 11:14–26 and 2 Chron. 12:8, 9). Sisera’s army, with its nine hundred chariots of iron, was easily defeated by Barak’s chosen force, not only without chariots or horses, but even disarmed (Judg. 5:8); so that the “victory” was seen to be “of the Lord.” The same was true of Gideon’s picked three hundred, and in both cases “their faith subdued kingdoms” (Heb. 11:32, 33). The renunciation of their confidence in horses marked a time of gracious acceptance for Israel (Hos. 14:3).
Application.—The newspapers often teem with speculations about war. But how seldom does the Lord of hosts appear to be taken into account! As a Christian, let us endeavor to supply the want I find in our Lord and His provision and defense. I ought to remember that safety, namely victory over the enemies and threats of life, is of God. True, the means must be employed, or God cannot be expected to bless our arms even in a righteous cause.
It is a part of His moral government that good results do not ordinarily flow except from well-considered efforts. Therefore, as long as war is a necessity, there must be armies kept up, well disciplined and equipped. But this is not all. God can save without armies, but armies cannot conquer without Him. Hence, national prayer should always accompany national warfare. And since the many pray not, those who are prayerful must supply their places by redoubling their prayers. The principle applies no less to the spiritual combat. Vain are our efforts (redoubled, it may be, in Lent) to conquer the enemies of the soul, if we are looking to those efforts for success. The secret of victory must lie in the motto,
“Through God we shall do great acts, and it is He that shall tread down our enemies.”