"Assyria will not save us, on horses we shall not ride; and no longer
will we call the work of our hands, 'our God.'" (Hoshea 14:4) "On horses
we shall not ride"--Why not?
In Chapter 30 of Isaiah, there is a lengthy passage in which Hashem chastises the people of Israel for turning to Egypt for succor instead of looking to their Creator. "For so said Hashem ... in placidity and ease shall you be saved, in peace and tranquility shall be your might. But you did not desire this. And you said, 'No! We will instead flee on horses.'" (ibid., verses 14-15) Egypt was a great military power, and its might lay in the splendid Egyptian horses for which they were world-renowned. The people of Israel had made a pact with them, and they placed their trust in the Egyptian military might and in the strength and speed of their horses.
In Scriptures, Egypt is seen as a land of materialism and decadence. The Jewish people had dwelled there for two centuries in the era before they received the Torah, and even long afterward they would sometimes demonstrate that they had never succeeded in completely severing their ties to Egypt. "And he [the king] shall not send the people back to Egypt in order to increase his supply of horses, for Hashem has said to you, 'You shall not ever return on this road.'" (Devarim 17:16) There was an ever-present danger that the people would slip back into their old habits and the old way of thinking to which they had become accustomed in Egypt.
The "horses" of the haftorah are actually a symbol for the misplaced values of the people. As discussed in Isaiah, they had adopted a value system which ought to have been foreign to them; which came from a culture which was not theirs. They had taught themselves to think in the terms and ideas of their Gentile neighbors, when in reality these should have been of no significance to a nation capable of living under the guiding hand of Providence.
"On horses we shall not ride." We promise Hashem that no longer will we put our faith in these mundane means. We have our own worldview and our own culture, worthy of a spiritual people, and we have our own Divine means of protection. We need not stoop to those of our foreign neighbors.
Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer
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