Would you please explain Zechariah's vision of the "four horns and the four craftsmen," as recorded in Zechariah 1:18-21?


As stated in previous Updates, (361, 360 and 359) when discussing Zechariah’s visions of the “woman in the basket,” the “flying scroll” and “the four chariots,” as recorded in the fifth and sixth chapters, Zechariah’s visions must be viewed, foremost, as containing prophecies for us today and our immediate future.

Zechariah 1:18-21 states:

“(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 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.'”

While some commentaries understand this vision as strictly symbolic with no historical or prophetic meaning attached to the specific nature and identity of the four horns (compare the Broadman Bible Commentary), most commentaries agree that the four horns represent four kingdoms or powers (compare Daniel 7:7, 8, 24; Revelation 17:12) which fight against the house of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and the house of Israel. However, very few seem to understand that the vision does not only relate to the time of Zechariah, but that it is foremost discussing events in the end time. Failing to appreciate this, they are bound to misidentify the real nature of the four horns.

For example, the Ryrie Study Bible writes that the four horns describe the “power of Gentile nations (perhaps Assyria, Egypt, Babylonia, and Medo-Persia specifically) which afflicted and scattered Israel.” This understanding is echoed in The Life Application Bible. A similar, howbeit equally wrong interpretation is offered by The Nelson Study Bible, stating, “The horns that persecuted Israel and Judah included Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and later Greece.”

A better explanation is given by Unger’s Bible Handbook. That commentary seems to understand the prophetic end-time significance of the prophecy. It states regarding the four horns that they “represent hostile nations, i.e., the four great world powers of the times of the Gentiles (cf. [Daniel] 2:37-45; 7:2-8, 17-28), namely, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome (the latter to be revived at the end time, [Daniel] 2:42-44; 7:7, 8, 20; [Revelation] 13:1).”

A similar interpretation is offered by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, stating: “But the Spirit in the prophet looked farther; viz., to the four world powers, the only ones which were, or are, to rise till the kingdom of the Messiah, the fifth, overthrows and absorbs all others in its universal dominion. Babylon and Medo-Persia alone had as yet risen, but soon Graeco-Macedonia was to succeed…, and Rome the fourth and last, was to follow… The fact that the repairing of the evils caused to Judah and Israel by all four kingdoms is spoken of here proves that the exhaustive fulfillment is yet future.”

However, even these last two explanations do not capture the full significance of Zechariah’s vision for end-time events still ahead of us. It is true that the Bible foretold the existence of four world-ruling empires (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome), and also prophesied that the ancient Roman Empire would be revived ten times throughout history, culminating in the tenth and final revival just prior to Christ’s return.

It does not appear that the four horns refer to ancient powers which have long come and gone; rather, the emphasis is primarily directed at four powers in existence at the time of Christ’s return, which will have turned against the modern descendants of the houses of Israel and Judah–as well as spiritual Israel and Judah, the Church of God–and which will have been instrumental in a future occupation and destruction of the city of Jerusalem. (For more information as to the identity of the modern houses of Israel and Judah, please read our free booklet, “The Fall and Rise of Britain and America.”)

We need to realize that the Bible speaks of “ten horns” or ten kings or kingdoms, as existing contemporaneously in the future, and which will give their power and authority to a charismatic political and military leader (“the beast”) for a very short time (Revelation 17:12-13). However, these ten horns–symbolizing kings or kingdoms–are not totally united in approach and goal, and some will be more powerful and influential than others. In the book of Daniel, we read that these last ten kings will be “partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron,” showing that the last “kingdom shall be divided… [and] be partly strong and partly fragile… [and] they will not adhere to one another” (Daniel 2: 41-43). It is therefore likely that some–apparently four–of the ten future kings or kingdoms will be more powerful than the rest and instrumental in persecuting and attacking modern physical and spiritual Israel and Judah.

It is also possible that one of the four horns refers to the “kingdom” (compare Daniel 2:41) of the last revival of the ancient Roman Empire, consisting of ten nations or groups of nations, which will be led by the “beast.” The other three “horns” could then refer to three most powerful allies of the Beast power, which will fight together with the Beast power (the revived Roman Empire) against physical and spiritual Israel. An end-time confederacy of several nations against Israel is described in Psalm 83:5-8. Besides “Assyria”–a reference to modern Germany which will lead the coming last revival of the ancient Roman Empire–countries like Edom (Turkey), Ammon (part of Jordan) and Moab (perhaps part of Iraq) are mentioned (countries which are specifically identified in Daniel 11:41, as not being overthrown by the king of the North or the end-time Beast power).

As is the case with the identity of the four horns, commentaries are equally confused–and perhaps even more so–regarding the identity of the four craftsmen which will “cast out” the four horns who had lifted up “their horn”–signifying agreed-upon single and unified action–against the land of Judah.

A few commentaries suggest that some of the horns turned into the craftsmen. For instance, the Nelson Study Bible writes: “The craftsmen or ‘smiths’ destroyed the horns (v. 19). Historically, Babylon destroyed Assyria, Medo-Persia conquered Babylon, Greece conquered Medo-Persia, and Rome overcame Greece.” Similar, but equally unconvincing, is the explanation in Unger’s Bible Handbook, even though it does allow, at least, for a future end-time fulfillment. It states:

“The Lord then shows the prophet four smiths… These artisans (technicians) symbolize kingdoms which the Lord used to cast down the persecutors of His people Israel. Three of these ‘smiths’ (Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome) were horns, which in turn became smiths. The fourth smith is the kingdom set up by the returning King of [kings] and Lord of lords ([Revelation] 19:16) who destroys the ten-kingdom confederation of the end time ([Daniel] 2:44).”

The problem with this explanation is at least two-fold: First, Zechariah’s vision does not seem to allow for the concept that the horns turn into craftsmen. Rather, we read about four craftsmen who will destroy the four horns. If horns would turn into craftsmen, then–following that rationale–the last or fourth craftsman, allegedly the kingdom of God which Christ will establish here on earth–would have been a prior “horn.”

Secondly, the prophecy deals with the end-time fulfillment of the destruction of all the four horns by the four craftsmen. Contemporaneous horns and craftsmen are described–not one horn following another horn and one craftsman following another craftsman. In other words, at the very end, four existing craftsmen will destroy four existing horns at approximately the same time. Based on this understanding, we must conclude that the four craftsmen are four mighty and powerful angelic beings who will, in unison with Jesus Christ, destroy the four horns which will fight against the modern physical descendants of the houses of Israel and Judah, as well as spiritual Israel and Judah–the Church of God.

We read that Christ will return with His mighty angels to take vengeance on those who persecuted God’s people and who did not obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). We also explained in our last Update (#361) that God will destroy the modern Babylonian system with the help of angels. Our free booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World,” in more detail the role and function of “warrior” angels –such as the archangel Michael–who assist God with the execution of His judgment over disobedient people and kingdoms.

In conclusion, Zechariah’s vision pertaining to four horns and four craftsmen shows that God and His angels are in charge. When the time has come, they will intervene and destroy all enemies of God and of God’s people. Especially when we apply the vision to Christ’s disciples–spiritual Israel–it should encourage them and give them hope for the future–knowing that God cares for His people and that their blood is precious in His sight.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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