The question is: “Why are the biblical authors so interested in the role of chariot divisions? What do chariots represent?”
I have to admit that I was really surprised at how many times the word “chariots” appears in the Bible. I guess it makes sense due to the military focus of many of the books; however, finding “chariots” in the poets, prophets, deutero-canon, and New Testament points to significance far beyond its role as a military weapon.
Chariots: More than Transportation
The chariot was not only a formidable weapon which often led its owners to victory through both intimidation and sheer maneuverability, it was a symbol of power and might, and evolved into more than that over time. When the Israelites (and Judahites) began relying on chariots for victory rather than God, the chariots–for all intents and purposes–became their idols.
Over and over again, we see the mention of chariots and chariot drivers preparing for battle, going to battle, fighting, and either emerging victorious or defeated–and to the winner goes the loser’s spoils including chariots and chariot drivers.
|A great article about ancient chariots (as well as the photo above) can be found at
One’s loss of chariots only served to underscore the sheer devastation of a defeat: “So Jehoahaz was left with an army of not more than fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Aram had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing” (2 Kings 13:7). Here, the fact that Jehoahaz was left with only ten chariots shines the spotlight on his utter defeat. He might have 10,000 footmen, but since he only has 10 chariots, he’s “like the dust at threshing” (i.e., utterly defeated).
The Biblical writers are quick to point out that Israel’s (or Judah’s) reliance on chariots to win a battle is actually akin to idolatry, and, therefore, should never happen.
The ideal first step in Israelite (and Judahite) preparation for any battle was to seek the Lord’s guidance and follow His instructions. This step often led to strangely effective strategies for victory (e.g., Gideon vs. Midianites and Joshua vs. Canaanites at Jericho). In other words, if a
battle were to be won, it would be won because God took care of it, not because of how many chariots the king had: “Alas for those who go
down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1). The ‘strange’ strategies coming from a consultation with the Lord insured that after the battle was won, God would receive the glory for the victory and the peoples’ faith would be strengthened. Reliance on man-made objects for victory, on the other hand, would have the opposite result.
If, this first step (consulting God prior to battle) was skipped, it was an affront. Isaiah condemned bragging about military strategy that relied strictly on brains and brawn: “By your servants you have mocked the Lord, and you have said, ‘With my many chariots I have gone up to the heights of the mountains…'” (Isaiah 36:9). Neglecting to consult with the Lord prior to a battle often meant that the fight would be harder and not a guaranteed win, or if it were a win, there would be unforseen negative consequences which could have been easily avoided with the initial consultation. According to the prophets, military strategy should rely on God first…maybe even solely.
The writers of Chronicles are quick to point out that when you–first and foremost–rely on the Lord for victory in a battle, it does not matter
how many chariots the enemy has, the LORD will fight for you, and you will win. “Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and cavalry? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your own hand” (2 Chron. 16:8).
In addition to relying on the Lord for victory, the prophets reminded the people that it really did not matter who was seated on a throne or how many chariots he had, God was ultimately the one orchestrating events, and He would depose rulers whenever He saw fit. Micah 5:10 and 5:15 says, “‘In that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots…I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me.”
Haggai 2:20-23 says: “The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: ‘Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
So, the chariot is more than a weapon. It is a symbol of ultimate power (he who has the most chariots wins), prestige, and glory. It is envied due to its mobility and maneuverability. It is also a problem to the Israelites (and Judahites), if they start to rely more on chariots and their own plans than on God’s provisions and His plans. That behavior is expressly condemned by the prophets.