Strong Fair Horses

His delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.       
Psalm 147:10-11
Percheron mares, aged 3 and under 4: Please enter the ring, sounded over the arena loudspeaker. 

His pleasure is NOT in these strong horses? resounded over my bemused brain.

What is it about draft horses?

Their stable is just inside the east gate at the Walworth County Fair. We enter through that gate. So we stop and see the draft horses. We all stop. And I gawk.


By such immense strength enveloping exquisite equine form. By burly, bulgy backsides and shimmery, sleek shoulders. They bear witness. Divinity designed such elegant power.

In the case of the yesterday’s Percherons, French breeders played a role. In harnessing living, breathing strength:

From the war horse (heavy saddler) to diligence horse (heavy coacher or light draft) to the true horse of heavy draft, the breeders of Le Perche sculpted away on their beloved indigenous breed for hundreds of years, altering the animal to meet the demands of the times and to entice the buyer. (

Entice they did. I stood in awe of Belgian Drafts, Clydesdales, and Percherons. And their Creator. To lay eyes on these beautiful hulks is to marvel.

So why did God say his pleasure is NOT in the strength of a horse? He praised them to Job (39:19-24), asking:

Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with strength?
Do you make him leap like the locust? 
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength;
He goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed;
he does not turn back from the sword . . .

What does God mean, then, when he says he doesn’t take pleasure in horses? John Piper’s explanation is helpful:

God is not displeased with horses and legs, but in those who hope in their horses and their legs. He is displeased with people who put their hope in missiles or in make-up, in tanks or tans, in bombs or body-building. God takes no pleasure in corporate efficiency or balanced budgets or welfare systems or new vaccines or education or eloquence or artistic excellence or legal processes when these things are the treasure in which we hope or the achievement in which we boast.

To feel secure and take pleasure in visible strength is only natural. Patriot pride swelled my heart as I watched the Blue Angels this spring. I felt secure. Big bank accounts and low blood sugar have a similar effect. But aegis of God they are not.

They’re false security. But worse.

When we swell secure with anything less than the Lord, we not only dig broken cisterns, but forsake the Living Water (Jeremiah 2:13). Buy our own-save our own-be our own strength, while we reject God our strength.  

Strong fair horses point past themselves. They point to a God who is not impressed by sheer strength. God helps those who help themselves doesn’t have a Bible address. Almighty God is not dazzled by military might and financial force. Or delighted by our healthy lifestyle and a BMI under 25.

…but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, 

in those who hope in his steadfast love. 

To swell the heart of God fear and hope in Him. Both. Together.

Matthew Henry writes that fear and hope not only may, but must concur:

In the same heart at the same time, there must be both a reverence of his majesty and a complacency in his goodness; not that we hang in suspense between hope and fear, but we must act under the gracious influences of hope and fear. Our fear must save our hope from swelling into presumption and our hope must save our fear from sinking into despair.

Oh, for this holy, God-exalting fear! Not the slavish fear of God that mistrusts him, recoils at his majesty. Perfect love casts that fear out. Nor is it an apprehensive fear that the shoe is about to drop; that some sickness or sorrow will inevitably overwhelm body and spirit. Fear not for I am with you. And it’s definitely not a fear that his love will fail and run out. Not a chance! They will never perish, His sheep, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.

But, dear Friends, there is another fear that ought to be cultivated—the reverential fear which the holy angels feel when they worship God and behold His Glory—that gracious fear which makes them veil their faces with their wings as they adore the Majesty on high! There is also the loving fear which every true, right-hearted child has towards its father—a fear of grieving so tender a parent—a proper feeling of dread which makes it watch its every footstep, lest, in the slightest degree, it should deviate from the path of absolute obedience. May God graciously grant to us much of this kind of fear! – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) taken from: The Right Kind of Fear, Sermon No. 2971, September 2, 1876. 

John Piper describes a place where this right fear of God commingles with hope:

Hope turns fear into a happy trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it serious. The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense. The fireside fellowship is all the sweeter when the storm is howling outside the cottage.

And why God delights in us when we’re there, hoping and fearing at once:

Surely it is because our fear reflects the greatness of his power and our hope reflects the bounty of his grace. God delights in those responses which mirror his magnificence.
God has pleasure in those who hope in his love because that hope highlights the freedom of his grace. When I cry out, “God is my only hope, my rock, my refuge!” I am turning from myself and calling all attention to the boundless resources of God.

Some would argue that these heavy horses have served their purpose. No more armored knights needing trusty steads. No more cavalries needing war horses. In city and in country replaced; by taxis and hundred horsepower tractors.

But still.

Strong fair horses were truly glorious. I get why Solomon broke the command and multiplied horses and chariots. There’s security in strong horses. I think that’s why God chose them. It’s a lesser to greater argument: but trusting those gams will let you down. But, He who hopes in me will not be disappointed.

It’s a wondrous loop. A ride I never want to leave. I fear and hope in God. He gets the glory he deserves. I find security in His unfailing love. His grace is exalted.

Better than a ride on a Percheron, I’d venture.

Some boast in chariots, and some boast in horses; 

but we boast in the name of the Lord our God. 

Psalm 20:7 

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