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FOUR HORNS & FOUR CRAFTSMEN – Zechariah 1:18-21

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on December 8, 2010 under PM Bible Study |

PM Home Bible Study Group; December 8, 2010

Zechariah 1:18-21

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

II. The Prophet’s Night-Visions (1:7-6:15).

B. The Vision of the Horns and Craftsmen (1:18-21).

18 Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were four horns.

19 And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” So he answered me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”

20 Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen.

21 And I said, “What are these coming to do?” So he said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could lift up his head; but the craftsmen [a] are coming to terrify them, to cast out the horns of the nations that lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it.”


Zechariah 1:21; Literally these

* * * * * * * * * *

In the first of Zechariah’s night visions—that is, the vision of the horses that was recorded for us in Zechariah 1:7-17—the troubled people of Judah were given assurance of God’s love and commitment to them. Even though they had suffered under the domination of the rule of Gentiles as a result of their own disobedience to God, God Himself assures them that He is zealous for them “with great zeal” (v. 14), and is exceedingly angry with the nations who had afflicted them (v. 15).

But what does this mean in actual experience? They had only recently been released from seventy years of humbling captivity. Their temple was still unbuilt; and they themselves seemed fearful to even lift up their heads while the Gentile nations all around them seemed at ease. Is the God who declares that He is zealous for them going to actually do anything for them? That is the question that this vision, and the one that follows (in 2:1-13), set out to answer. Together, they give substance to the “good and comforting words” that God spoke in 1:13. This first vision does this by “setting forth the manner in which God will execute His sure displeasure upon the nations who afflicted Israel”; and the second does so “by assuring of the prosperity and enlargement foretold for Israel”.1

One great truth this amazing ‘second vision’ teaches us about God is that He truly is ruler over the affairs of nations. It vividly illustrates for us what Daniel 4:32 tells us—that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses”. But a second and more personal application is that the Most High, who so sovereignly rules over the affairs of men, makes “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Even the mighty nations of this world are made to serve His loving purposes for His precious people.

I. THE FOUR HORNS (v. 18-19).

A. This vision begins with Zechariah saying “Then I raised my eyes . . .” (v. 18). This is clearly meant to announce a new vision (see 2:1; 5:1; 6:1). But it can also be taken as a visual expression of being called out from the contemplation of the previous vision and into the contemplation of another. In raising his eyes, he looked and saw “four horns”.

1. They were remarkable “horns” in that the animals to which they were associated were not seen or mentioned. The appearance of these horns was something so striking to Zechariah that he asked, in verse 19, “What are these?” Plainly, they are meant to be taken symbolically. As we read on in the text, we see that they are the “horns” that “scatter Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem” (v. 19); and they have such a distressing and humiliating impact on the people of Judah that “no one could lift up his head” (v. 21).

2. Obviously, a horn is a feature of a living animal that it uses to exert force. To understand the symbolic meaning of this, though, we should look elsewhere in Scripture to see where “horns” are used figuratively:

a. Poetically, a “horn” is used in Scripture as a symbol of power. Psalm 75:4-5 uses horn in this sense, in a negative way of ‘self-exaltation’, when it says, “I said to the boastful, ‘Do not deal boastfully,’and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up the horn. Do not lift up your horn on high; do not speak with a stiff neck.’” It can also use it in a positive way in reference to God’s favor, as in Psalm 92:10; where it says, “But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil. My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies; my ears hear my desire on the wicked who rise up against me.”

b. Politically, a “horn” is used to represent a nation’s power. Jeremiah 48:25 says, “‘The horn of Mab is cut off, and his arm is broken,’ says the LORD.” For this reason, it is used prophetically in Scripture to represent an earthly nation, or the power of its force, or even the structure of its rule. In Daniel 7:7, the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision was shown to have “ten horns”; and another “horn” was shown to be “coming up among them” (v. 8). We’re told that the ten horns were “ten kings” (v. 24); and that the additional horn was another king who would rise up among them. Similarly, in Daniel 8, the “ram” in his vision had “two horns” (v. 3)—which were the kings of Media and Persia (v. 20); and the “male goat” that trampled him had a “notable horn” (v. 5), which was the first king of Greece (v. 21)—which was broken off and replaced by four horns (v. 8), that is, the four kingdoms that would rise from him (v. 23). Similarly, in Revelation 17:3-12, ten horns are presented as ten kings.

c. We can take these four “horns” that Zechariah saw, then, as symbolic representations of Gentile kingdoms who exert their power upon others.

B. Because Zechariah didn’t know what these horns were, he asked the interpreting angel (v. 19)—that is, “the angel who talked with me” that was first mentioned in the previous vision (see v. 9). And so, the angel answered, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”

1. The interpretation of who these “horns” (that is, these four Gentile world powers) might be has been quite varied. One very common interpretation is that they represent the Gentile nations that generally occupy the four corners of the earth who have, throughout the centuries, troubled and persecuted the Jewish people. In other words, they represent the four points of the compass—and the Gentile nations that are generally found in them. But it seems best to see them, instead, as the four specific world empires that were frequently referenced in Daniel’s prophecies.

a. In Daniel 2—in the image of the great statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—they are:

i. The head of gold, which represents the kingdom of Babylon (v. 36-38).

ii. The chest and arms of silver (note the two arms), which represent world domination by the two kingdoms of Media and Persia—both of which followed after Babylon (v. 39a).

iii. The belly and thighs of bronze, which represent the empire of Greece, which followed after Media-Persia (v. 39b). (This was the kingdom of Alexander the Great that was later divided among his four generals. They fought between themselves, but their separate territories still—from a biblical standpoint— constituted one world empire.

iv. The two legs of iron, which represent the Roman empire that followed after that of Greece (v. 40). The two legs may be representative of the two main divisions of the empire (East and West). This kingdom eventually became feet mixed with iron and clay (v. 41-43); which may represent the admixture of the Roman empire with the people groups it conquered. The ten toes (as informed by Daniel 7) represent a revived form of the Roman empire divided among ten different kings. (Note that, between the time of the legs of iron and the feet mixed of iron and clay is an undisclosed period of time. This is the time of the church age. The ten-nation revival of the Roman empire will precede the return of Christ. (see Revelation 17:12.)

b. These four empires are also represented in Daniel’s dream of chapter 7 as four beasts— clearly set forth in verse 17 as “four kings which arise out of the earth”:

i. The Babylonian empire (v. 4); represented as a lion. Its two wings symbolize the swiftness with which it conquered. But its two wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man; and a man’s heart was given to it; which probably symbolized the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar described in chapter 4.

ii. The Media-Persian empire (v. 5); represented as a bear. It makes its appearance “suddenly” (see the end of Daniel 5). It was raised up on one side; probably representing the fact that the Persian portion of that empire soon exceeded and gained dominance over the Median portion. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; which may represent a prey captured and consumed; but it also may symbolize the three chief cities of the Babylonian empire that Media- Persian captured.

iii. The Grecian-Macedonian empire (v. 6); represented as a swift and deadly leopard or panther—swift on its own; but whose swiftness is further described by two sets of wings as a representation of the remarkable swiftness with which Alexander the Great conquered so much of the world. It was shown as having four heads; which represent the four divisions of Alexander’s kingdom to his four generals after his sudden death at the age of 33: Greece and Macedonia to Ca sander; Thrace and Asia Minor to Telemachus; Syria and the Middle East to Seleucus; and Egypt to Ptolemy.

iv. The Roman empire (v. 7-8).; represented by a creature more horrifying than the others—“dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong”. Its huge iron teeth, and the fact that it devoured and trampled the “residue” (of the others), symbolizes its extreme strength and brutality.

2. These four “horns” are said by the interpreting angel to “have scattered Judah (which is the southern kingdom), Israel (which was the northern kingdom), and Jerusalem (which was specifically the center of Jewish worship where the temple—which Zechariah’s prophecy was meant to encourage the building of—was located). It might be objected that only two of these empires had any significant impact on the Jewish people by the time of Zechariah—that is, specifically, Babylon and Media-Persia. But it needs to be remembered that Zechariah’s prophetic book is describing all of God’s for His people from that time and far into the future—even up to the time of the bodily return and earthly reign of Jesus.


A. Zechariah says that the Lord then showed him “four craftsmen” or “carpenters” or “smiths”—that is, skilled workers in metal, wood or stone (v. 20). Their number seems to be intended to parallel the four “horns”. And because the “horns” are clearly figurative, these “craftsmen” should be taken as figurative as well.

1. Note that it was the Lord (i.e., YHWY) that revealed these craftsmen to Zechariah. Clearly, they’re something that the covenant-keeping God of Israel wanted His distressed people to know about and be comforted by. But their mission was something about which Zechariah felt the need to ask; not saying “What are these?” as he did with the horns, but rather “What are these coming to do?”

2. In answering the question—as if to give emphasis to the distress of God’s people— the interpreting angel speaks again of the horns and says, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could lift up his head”. The craftsmen, then, are presented in the context of these four distressing “horns”. But that these are no ordinary craftsmen is clearly shown in the fact that they “terrify” and “cast out the horns of the nations that lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it” (v. 21).

B. These four remarkable craftsmen, then, “terrify” and “cast” out the world empires that distress the people of God. And their identity is—once again—best understood in the light of Daniel’s prophecy:

1. The first craftsman would be associated with the kingdom of Media-Persia; and specifically with Cyrus who cast down the kingdom of Babylon (see Daniel 5:25- 28). Note that though Darius was the king who received the kingdom of Babylon (see Daniel 5:31), it was his general Cyrus who had actually conquered it for him. That God would represent Cyrus as a “craftsman” should be no surprise to us; since He speaks in Isaiah 44:28 of Cyrus by name a century and a half before his time; and says, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ and to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” And in Isaiah 45:1, we read; “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut . . .”

2. The second craftsman would be associated with the kingdom of Greece; and specifically with Alexander the Great, whom God used to conquer Media-Persia and the surrounding nations (see Daniel 8:3-8, 20-21). Alexander laid siege against the Phonetician city of Tyree in 332 B.C. during his campaign against Persia; and to do so, he used the debris of the old abandoned city to build a causeway (a little over a half a mile long) from the coast to the island fortification. Of his remarkable feat —nearly two centuries before it occurred—we read in Zechariah that God Himself takes the credit and says; “For Tyree built herself a tower, heaped up silver like the dust, and gold like the mire of the streets. Behold, the Lord will cast her out; He will destroy her power in the sea, and she will be devoured by fire” (Zechariah 9:3- 4).

3. The third craftsman would be associated with the Roman empire; which conquered and took possession of the empire of Greece (see Daniel 2:40; 7:7, 19, 23-25)—after it had been divided among Alexander’s four generals. It too—dreadful as it was; and dreadful as it shall yet be—is a kingdom that God raised up to serve His sovereign purposes.

4. And in keeping with Daniel’s prophecy, the fourth Craftsman is associated with the Kingdom of Jesus Christ; who conquers not only the Roman empire (that empire of old that was visited by Him in His earthly ministry, as well as the revived Roman empire of the future at the time of His coming), but also all the earthly kingdoms that proceeded it. This Kingdom is the one represented in Daniel as the stone “cut without hands” (Daniel 2:34); which struck and shattered all the other nations, and itself became “a great mountain” that “filled the whole earth” (v. 35). It is the kingdom God will set up “which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people”; and that shall “stand forever” (v. 44).

* * * * * * * * * *

As Psalm 110:1-2 says, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies your footstool.’ The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!” The resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand even now—awaiting the Father’s call to begin His rule. This is Israel’s hope; and for those of us who are in a relationship with King Jesus by faith, her hope is also ours!

No wonder Zechariah referred to these as “good and comforting words” (1:13)!

Charles L. Feinberg, God Remembers: A Study of Zechariah [Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1979], p. 30.

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