The Vision of the Horns and the Craftsmen
Zechariah 1:18 Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, there were four horns.
With the first vision having concluded with a promise from the Lord to comfort Zion; the second now begins to reveal the details of God’s plan. Several times throughout book of Zechariah the prophet transitions from one vision to the next with the statement, “then I lifted up my eyes” (Zech 2:1; 5:1; 5:9; 6:1). This possibly indicates he was bowing in reverence and needed to regain focus for the visions to come; or in one instance fell back to sleep during the arduous night (Zech 4:1). This is reasonable considering all eight of these visions were received by him in a single night and therefore must have exhausted him (Zech 1:7).
The first thing that is revealed in the vision is four horns that later will be titled the horns of the nations, who are responsible for scattering the nation of Israel (Zech 1:19;21). When scripture uses the term horn it is almost universally accepted to mean a symbol of power and authority, more specifically it is usually speaking of the ruler of a kingdom. For example, in the eighth chapter of Daniel we see a vision of a ram with two horns, one of which was longer than the other; then several verses later it is revealed that the two horned ram represented the kings of Media and Persia with the larger horn being the more powerful ruler (Dan 8:3; 20). Alexander the great is described as a large horn over the kingdom of Greece (Dan 8:21). The Antichrist is described as a little horn (Dan 7:8); who rules over ten other horns that are clearly revealed to be the ten kings of the final world government (Rev 17:12). Jesus Christ was described as a horn of salvation, a fitting title seeing he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s (Lk 1:69). With the abundance of examples set forth in scripture it is easy to see what the term horn implies; just as an animal uses it’s horns to attack and defend itself, so the horn of a nation represents the strength of that nation. However, with so many examples how can we identify which precise horns the prophet Zechariah is speaking of here?
Zechariah 1:19 So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these?” And he answered me, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”
Once again Zechariah turns to the interpreting angel to clarify the vision. The first clue as to the identity of these four horns is that they have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem. The scattering of the nation of Israel is not a myth it is a historical fact known as the diaspora or dispersion. From the inception of Israel as a nation it has been contained in their law that one of the curses for disobedience would be their expulsion from the promised land (Deut 28:64). All throughout the history of Israel from the wilderness wanderings to the period of the Judges, the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, the Roman siege of Jerusalem and even to this very day the nation of Israel is experiencing the chastisement of God for their apostasy. This is why there are Jewish people all over the world; it is a clear fulfillment of the word of God to scatter them for their disobedience and yet to never destroy them as a nation completely (Jer 31:36). Israel is often likened to the burning bush that although experiences the fire of God’s chastisement will never be consumed (Ex 3:2).
When properly understood Israel is the key to understanding world history. The times of the Gentiles are described by Jesus as the period where Israel would be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem would be occupied by the Gentiles (Lk 21:24). This period began with the Babylonian captivity and will not end until the final persecution against the nation of Israel during the tribulation. The key to unlocking Zechariah’s vision is to study this passage alongside the visions in chapter(s) two and seven of Daniel; and then tie in the correlating verses in the Revelation given to the apostle John. Scripture weaves these three books together into a beautiful tapestry, in that they are all clearly apocalyptic in nature with similar visions. By looking at the intersecting lines between them all it will clarify the precise identity of the four horns.
Daniel 2:31 “You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue…
The first vision related to our text was revealed to Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon and interpreted to him by the prophet Daniel (Dan 2:19-45). The dream revealed a great statue representing the gentile kingdoms that would achieve world dominance, beginning with Babylon and ending with the final government of the Antichrist. When God revealed the meaning of this vision to Daniel, he immediately began praising God as the one who changes the times and epochs; removes and establishes kings, and reveals hidden mysteries (Dan 2:19-22). Before Daniel relayed the contents of the vision to Nebuchadnezzar, he said that God had revealed something that would take place in the latter days (Dan 2:28). Daniel then announced that there would be four total global monarchies from the time of the captivity in Babylon until the end of the times of the gentiles. The first kingdom is clearly revealed to be Babylon represented by the head of gold; the second Medo-Persia by the chest and arms of silver; the third Greece by the belly and thighs of bronze; and the final kingdom Rome represented by legs of iron. The fourth and final kingdom also has a final form represented by the feet and toes made partly of iron and partly of clay. The ten toes of the statue are then revealed to represent ten kings of the final empire (Dan 2:44). Daniel concludes his vision by saying that in the days of the final ten kings of the fourth kingdom; God will set up his own kingdom. This will result in the complete destruction of all four of the gentile kingdoms described. The key point of this vision is that the four kingdoms revealed to Daniel correspond with the four horns of Zechariah.
Daniel 7:2-3 … I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. “And four great beasts were coming up from the sea…
Daniel’s next vision (Dan 7:1-28) is strikingly similar to Zechariah’s in that both of the visions came by night and both prophets employed the use of an interpreting angel. The number four is in focus again as Daniel now sees four beasts which will be revealed to be the same four kingdoms from his prior vision. When scripture uses the term beast it is often describing a nation, whereas the term horn is describing the leader of that nation. However, the terms can be used interchangeably to mean either the king or his kingdom (Dan 7:11; 24). Zechariah described the four horns in his vision as the horns of the nations that have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it (Zech 1:21). Similar to how a wild animal raises it’s horns to attack; these gentile nations represented as beasts have a king or horn that is hostile towards Israel. The first beast Daniel saw was a lion representative of Babylon; the second a bear representative of the Medo-Persian empire; and the third was a leopard indicative of the kingdom of Greece. The fourth beast could not be likened to any animal in existence. Daniel describes this beast as different from all of the rest and exceedingly terrifying. The beast had iron teeth and bronze claws which link it with the kingdoms of Greece and Rome, as well as ten horns. The angel then clarifies the vision by explaining that the fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will devour and crush the entire earth, and the ten horns are ten kings (Dan 7:23-24).
Revelation 13:1 … Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns…
Over 600 years later the final beast from Daniel’s vision appears in the Revelation given to the apostle John. Here the identity of this final kingdom is revealed as being like a leopard (Greece), with the feet of a bear (Medo-Persia), and a mouth like a lion (Babylon). Therefore, the final beast of Daniel is an amalgamation of the first three kingdoms led by a confederation of ten kings. Since we understand the fourth kingdom of the statue of Daniel to be Rome represented by iron; and the fourth beast of Daniel seen with iron teeth it is reasonable to conclude this fourth and final kingdom is a revived Roman empire. This final world government will be led by a global confederacy of ten kings who will rule with the Antichrist, and yield their power and authority to him in order to wage war against the Lamb (Rev 17:12-14). This is the government that Christ will destroy at his second coming when he sets up the kingdom of God; and it’s chief components are the four horns that Zechariah describes as having scattered and oppressed the nation of Israel.
To summarize what we have learned so far; the four horns correlate to the four kingdoms revealed in the statue of Daniel. These kingdoms are then further described in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, and most clearly disclosed in the Revelation given to saint John. All of the prophets agree that there are going to be four great world powers that will scatter and oppress Israel from the time of the captivity in Babylon until the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth. The number four is consistent from the kingdoms of the statue, to the beasts, to the horns of Zechariah, and finally clarified in the Revelation. Therefore, we must conclude that the four horns are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and a future revived Roman empire.
Zechariah 1:20 Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen.
The word for craftsmen can mean a jeweler (Ex 28:11), an engraver (Ex 35:35), a carpenter (2 Sam 5:11), a stone mason (2 Sam 5:11) or a blacksmith (1 Sam 13:19). Regardless of the specific interpretation chosen all of these trades involve breaking up hard materials such as wood, metal, and stone as well as cutting large materials down to size. Unlike the four horns, nowhere else in scripture do we see these four craftsmen mentioned. Therefore, we can conclude that the four craftsmen are directly related to the four horns.
Zechariah 1:21 I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head; but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter it.”
Here we receive more information about the four horns and then a full explanation of the craftsmen. We see the horns described as having scattered Judah to the point that no man lifts up his head. Similar to how Job during his affliction could not lift up his head, this term has the idea of shame, degradation, and severe oppression (Job 10:15). Recall that all eight visions are connected to each other; the horns that have oppressed Israel are the same as the nations who are at ease and whom the Lord is fiercely angry with from the first vision (Zech 1:15). These are the nations that the man riding upon the red horse will return to judge because although God used them to discipline Israel, they went beyond his designs and treated them with cruelty. Therefore, the Lord pronounces judgement upon these nations; revealing that these craftsmen have come to terrify them. This word can mean to make tremble, frighten or even quake such as when mount Sinai shook at the giving of the law (Ex 19:16). These nations represented as wild beasts have raised their horns against the land of Judah and now the Lord is sending the craftsmen to cut them down to size.
The final piece of the puzzle is to identify these four craftsmen. The first horn Babylon was conquered by Medo-Persia, the first craftsmen. The prophet Isaiah even predicted that God would raise up Cyrus the Persian monarch to conquer Babylon and as a result the nations would tremble (Is 13:17; 41:5; 45:1). Then the second horn Medo-Persia was conquered by Greece the second craftsmen. The third horn Greece was finally conquered by Rome the third craftsmen. However, Rome the fourth horn has never been hammered by any craftsmen. The Roman empire fragmented due to division and invasion of Germanic tribes, and much of the land became what is now known as the European union. During the tribulation a revived Roman empire will arise and combine the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece into a final beast that will devour the entire earth. Similar to how the statue of Daniel was destroyed by a stone cut out without hands (Dan 2:45); and the final beast was led by a little horn (Dan 7:8) that was destroyed by the Son of Man (Dan 7:13); likewise, the final horn Zechariah saw was the Antichrist, who will be destroyed by the final craftsmen Jesus Christ.
Haggai had prophesied a time coming when the Lord would shake all of the nations and destroy the authority of the gentile kingdoms (Hag 2:7; 2). Now Zechariah arrives on the scene and with each vision divulges more details of God’s master plan. The man on the red horse who is angry with the nations is also the final craftsmen. Just as God promises to shake all the nations, even so he will send this final craftsman to make them tremble; as it is written, “all the men who are on the face of the earth will shake at my presence” (Eze 38:20). When Christ returns the hearts of men will fail them from the terror and expectation of what is to come upon the world; for the powers of heaven will be shaken (Lk 21:26). On that fearful day not only will the four horns be gathered against Jerusalem, but all of the nations as well (Zech 12:9); and the fourth craftsman will come to terrify them.
Jeremiah 30:11 ‘For I am with you,’ declares the LORD, ‘to save you; For I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you, Only I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly And will by no means leave you unpunished.’
In conclusion dear reader, take a moment to marvel at the high imperial sovereignty of your creator. All four of these horns: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome have all historically oppressed Israel. These kingdoms fill our history books, they occupy our movie theaters as the greatest nations that have ever existed. There military was more powerful, they had more wealth, they subjugated, oppressed, and almost destroyed Israel dozens of times. Yet where are they today? Where are these powerful nations today? The little despised nation of Israel has outlived all of her oppressors. Israel has withstood the attempted genocide of Haman; the brutal slaughter of roughly 80,000 Jews by the Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes; the Roman siege of Jerusalem that resulted in over a million Jewish deaths; the holocaust brought about by Hitler and the current brutal attacks by Hamas. Israel ever is and will always be the bush that does not burn for God is in her midst!
Finally, during the tribulation all four of these horns will all be amalgamated into a final government that will bring about the worst holocaust the nation of Israel has ever seen (Dan 12:1). This will be the times of Jacob’s trouble, but he will be saved out of it (Jer 30:7). These nations led by the Antichrist will arrogantly lift up their horns one last time against God’s chosen nation. However, on that day the Lord Jesus will come back and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle (Zech 14:3). Yes, Christ will march in the storm winds of the south to save his people! (Zech 9:14). On that day the final craftsmen will come back to terrify the horns; he will shatter the kings of the earth; he will judge among the nations and lift up his head in victory (Ps 110:5-7). Then Israel will never be oppressed again; and her King will reign from sea to sea (Zech 9:8). Oh, nations if only you knew the doom intended for you, perhaps you would flee to the Son of God for mercy. Oh, Israel if only you knew the glory in store for you, perhaps you would not have rejected your King!
Isaiah 45:22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.