Zechariah 1 Explained: Verses 18-21

Zechariah 1 Explained

Zechariah 1 explained: Let’s turn our attention to the book of Zechariah and the first chapter. Zechariah 1 is where we’ll be studying today. And this is really the last time that we’ll be in this first chapter of this book.

We’ll be studying verses 18-21 which constitute the second vision given to this prophet on this single night back around 520 BC.

The first vision that was communicated to this man concerned God once again returning in mercy to his people.

And that was in accordance with the original introduction to this book where God promised to return to his people if they would but return to him. They did turn to him. And so, according to his original promise in the beginning of this chapter, God in the first vision promised to return to his people.

And so, now we’re in this second vision. And the message of this vision is this: God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People. Let’s read Zechariah 1:18-21 to begin with and then we’ll get into the explanation of this passage.

KJV Zechariah 1:18 ¶ [Then/Once again] [lifted I up mine eyes, and saw/I looked], and [behold/this time I saw/before me were] four horns.

19 [And/So] I [said unto/asked] the [angel/angelic messenger] [that talked/who was speaking] with me,

What [be/are]these?

[And he answered me/He replied],

These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.

20 [And/Then/Next] the LORD [shewed/showed] me four [carpenters/craftsmen/blacksmiths].

21 [Then said I/I said/I asked],

What [come these/are these coming/are these going] to do?

[And he spake, saying/And he said/He answered],

These [are the horns/horns are the ones] which have scattered Judah,
so that [no man did lift up his head/there is no one to be seen/no one could raise his head]:

but [these/these craftsmen/the blacksmiths] [are/have] come to [fray/terrify] [them/Judah’s enemies],
to [cast out/throw down/cut off] the horns of the [Gentiles/nations], which [lifted up their horn over/have thrust themselves against] the land of Judah to scatter [it/its people].

And that ends this second vision. It’s very short. But the message is plain. God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People.

And I’m not sure what you thought you might hear as you came to church this morning. I’m not sure that any one of us here would have been wishing that we could hear a message from God’s word about the destruction of our enemies.

Perhaps you feel like you really don’t have any enemies. Maybe you don’t sense any sort of friction with anyone else in this life. Or maybe there’s friction – but it’s of such a kind that you wouldn’t describe it as enmity with another person.

And yet, for us Christians – we all – if we’re really doing God’s work, we do tend to accumulate people in our lives that don’t like what we stand for. They don’t like what we stand against.

And I trust that we’re not gaining enemies because we’re crooked – because we lie or we steal or cheat. I hope that we’re not gaining enemies because we gossip or do poor work on the job or are morally bad examples to others around us. We can gain enemies for all of those reasons and more.

But for a Christian who’s actually walking with the Lord – yes, you will gain enemies in this life. And they might even speak kindly to your face. But behind your back, they really do communicate quite a bit of hostility.

And of course, the situation tends to be worse for our brethren across the globe. In Muslim nations, simply to profess faith in Jesus Christ might get you disowned by your family. Your very life might be immediately imperiled for the mere act of trusting Jesus Christ to save you from your sin. There are unfortunately even videos out there online that display the murder of Christians by their enemies. This kind of thing is happening today!

Throughout the history of this world, God’s people have experienced persecution by their enemies. You can think of the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church against those whom they considered to be heretics – people who taught and preached that salvation from your sins comes from trusting Christ alone – apart from your works.

Throughout history then and into the present day, God’s true people have experienced a great deal of suffering at the hands of their enemies. And as God’s suffering people were following the Scripture, they have not resisted and they have not fought back. They have been like sheep going to slaughter.

And you might get the idea from all of that, that God doesn’t really care all that much. God doesn’t care about the sufferings of his people at the hands of their enemies.

But he actually does. And I can say that – not just because I want to say or believe that – but because God puts passages in the Bible – like the one in front of us today – to prove this point. He proves that he really does care about the sufferings of his people at the hands of their enemies – and that eventually, God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People.

So, let’s get into the details of this passage and study out this message from Zechariah 1:18-21.

Verse 18

We’ll read once more verse 18.

KJV Zechariah 1:18 ¶ [Then/Once again] [lifted I up mine eyes, and saw/I looked], and [behold/this time I saw/before me were] four horns.

So, Zechariah starts this scene by letting us know that he lifted up his eyes. And every commentary I read on this passage mentions that Zechariah must have been pondering his first vision at this point. And they picture him as kind of with his head down and eyebrows furrowed and considering the meaning of that first vision.

But really, that phrase concerning someone “lifting up” his “eyes” is used frequently in the Old Testament not to portray that someone had his head down and had to physically lift up his head to see something. It’s more of a term that lets us know that a person suddenly became aware of some reality that he was previously unaware of.

So, Lot lifts up his eyes and notices the fertile Jordan River valley. God tells Abraham to lift up his eyes and look at the land that he will give him some day future yet to us. Abraham lifts up his eyes to become aware of angelic messengers or the presence of Mount Moriah in the distance or a ram caught by his horns. Isaac lifts his eyes and notices the approaching of camels. Rebekah lifts her eyes to notice Isaac. Jacob lifts up his eyes to see a dream from God.

And there are many other instances of this phrase in the Old Testament. But the gist of them is that the person doing this action is becoming aware of some reality.

And that’s just what’s happening here with Zechariah. He’s becoming aware of this reality of these four horns.

And we’re given no other information besides the presence of these horns. Questions that come to my mind and to the minds of other people who have studied this passage would include things like –

  • What do these horns look like?
  • Are they hollow or not?
  • Are these horns just sitting on the ground?
  • Are these horns attached to some animal(s)?
  • Is it one animal with four horns?
  • It is four animals with one horn each? Four rhinos?
  • Is it two animals each with a set of two horns?

And the fact is that we’re just not told at this point. Now, I think certain questions might be answered as we go along in the passage, but for now, we’re left with a lot of questions.

And once more, we see in this book that we’re not alone with the questioning. Zechariah himself – who is there and who sees these horns with his sense of perception – he himself has to ask about these horns in verse 19.

19 [And/So] I [said unto/asked] the [angel/angelic messenger] [that talked/who was speaking] with me,

What [be/are]these?

Now, recall that this angel who speaks with Zechariah was found in the first vision as well. And there he helped explain some things to the prophet. And he’s not the same being as the angel of the Lord. He’s a different angel or messenger. And his purpose in these visions is to guide Zechariah through this intentionally obscure and confusing material.

So, this angel has something to say about these horns.

[And he answered me/He replied],

These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.

Now, who can call to their mind a time when literal horns scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem? Literal is the key word there. OK, that never happened. So, the horns in this dream take on some sort of significance – but they’re not literal. And what I mean by that of course is that God isn’t expecting us to remember a time when literal animal horns – or whatever they are – scattered his people.

These horns then stand for – or represent – something. What is it?

Well, whatever they are – they have scattered three land territories – Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. And they of course didn’t scatter dirt. They scattered the people who lived in those places. God’s people!

So, Zechariah is ministering in a time right after the Babylonian exile. What nation had scattered Judah prior to the exile? Who scattered that people into the exile? That would be Babylon.

And the same thing is true of Jerusalem. Babylon ultimately scattered the people of that place as well.

But for Israel – if God is referring here to the Northern Kingdom, then Babylon didn’t scatter them. Assyria did. Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and sent them into captivity.

So, these horns then are representative of nations – at least two of them, from what we’ve just considered.

And these nations have scattered God’s people. That term “scattered” is what happens when a person threshes wheat. He runs a threshing sledge over it – a wooden board with stones embedded in it – and that separates the grain from the chaff – the light stuff that is attached to the grain naturally. And that light stuff – that chaff – is then scattered to the wind. It blows away.

This what these nations have done to God’s people – scattered them as if they were completely insignificant things that had no weight – no importance.

And we can take note that this is so often how the enemies of God’s people treat us. The Muslim who beheads a Christian in Libya or Tunisia acts as if the man is light as chaff – worthless. The Communists in China who persecute and oppress God’s people there assume that these poor Christians are to be lightly treated. And even in our own country, the Christian who is persecuted in the public arena by angry godless people, again the treatment that this kind of person receives at the hands of their enemies, equates to the way that a farmer would treat chaff – light, insignificant, unimportant, despicable.

And unless God steps in, it seems that this is the way that it’s going to be forever. That God’s people will be trampled on and scattered by their enemies endlessly.

But God does get involved from time to time. And he did so in Zechariah’s day. And that’s what he’s going to focus on now. Verse 20.

20 [And/Then/Next] the LORD [shewed/showed] me four [carpenters/craftsmen/blacksmiths].

Now, in the next verse, Zechariah is going to ask the function of these carpenters. But I think we need to figure out first the identity of these people. Who are they?

This term “carpenters” is used of people who have skill in some sort of craft. Tubal-Cain was a “carpenter” of brass and iron. And of course, in that context, “carpenter” isn’t the best word to describe someone who works with metal. You might call him a craftsman to make the term more generic. This term is also used of a person who would make a ring to put on your finger. So, in that sense this word could even mean “jeweler”.

Ultimately, the word has reference to someone who can skillfully work with his hands and create something worthwhile with those hands – whatever the medium – wood or metal or jewels. So, I think a term like “craftsmen” is probably best in this case.

So, that’s the identity of these four people. They’re craftsmen of some sort.

But what have they come to do in Zechariah’s vision? That’s what Zechariah wants to know as well! Verse 21.

21 [Then said I/I said/I asked],

What [come these/are these coming/are these going] to do?

So, what do craftsmen tend to do? What does a person who works with wood or metal – what’s their job? Well, to work with wood or metal, right?

Only, these craftsmen in this vision aren’t working with wood or metal. They’re going to be working with horns – perhaps ivory, is the idea.

So, what are they going to do with this ivory? Continue in verse 21.

[And he spake, saying/And he said/He answered],

These [are the horns/horns are the ones] which have scattered Judah,
so that [no man did lift up his head/there is no one to be seen/no one could raise his head]:

Now, by the way, you need to note that Zechariah did not ask again about those horns. He knows about the horns already because he asked about them before.

And the angels’ response before let Zechariah know that these horns were nations that had conquered and dispersed God’s people.

So, when the angel once more mentions these horns, it indicates that he can’t get them out of his mind. And he doesn’t want them and their significance to leave our minds either.

In fact, the angel follows-up on what he said before about these horns and this time he mentions a further effect that these horns had on God’s people. Yes, they scattered God’s people. We heard that already.

But something that’s scattered can be gathered once more – sometimes fairly easily. But the effect of these horns was such that the angel says that “no man did lift up his head.”

Now, when a man can’t lift up his head, you can guess why that is.

Perhaps it’s because he’s afraid and so he won’t even lift up his head because if he does he’ll be discovered and attacked again. You think of these awful mass shootings in our country and you hear stories that come from those shootings where some of the people who know they can’t escape – they just pretend to be dead. In that sense, they don’t lift up their heads.

Or maybe a person doesn’t lift up his head because he’s exhausted. These nations surely would have done that to God’s people – exhausted them.

And yet, the ultimate reason that a person might not be able to lift his head is because he’s no longer living. He’s dead. And I think that’s the idea here. These nations – these horns have gored and scattered God’s people and killed a great many of them. They have no strength. To a large extent, they have no life.

And that’s what Zechariah and his fellow-Jews experienced in their days. They returned to God’s land. They returned to do God’s work. And maybe they were expecting it to be easy. But it certainly was not. It was incredibly difficult. And it was very discouraging for them.

And you might feel that way yourself. You know God has work for you. But the nature of the work is tedious. There are many enemies. There is much opposition. There is little encouragement.

But you and I need to realize this truth – that ultimately, God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People – enemies that are physical, yes. But even those enemies that are the bigger problem for us – those that are unseen. Our non-flesh-and-blood enemies.

And that’s just the message of hope and encouragement that God ends this second vision with at the end of verse 21.

but [these/these craftsmen/the blacksmiths] [are/have] come to [fray/terrify] [them/Judah’s enemies],
to [cast out/throw down/cut off] the horns of the [Gentiles/nations], which [lifted up their horn over/have thrust themselves against] the land of Judah to scatter [it/its people].

So, now we see the purpose of the craftsmen. In this vision, they are coming to terrify the horns. Those horns that had been such a terror to Judah – to God’s people – they themselves were going to experience terror.

Now, note that God’s people are not taking vengeance on their enemies here. You might have been a little uneasy with the title of this message – that God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People. Maybe you were a little worried that this message was going to encourage retaliation against those who are our enemies. Maybe it crossed your mind that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ prayed for those who were murdering and blaspheming him.

Yes, all of that is true. We are supposed to love our enemies. As they slap us on one cheek, we have orders from our Commander to present the other cheek to them. We are called to be sheep in the midst of wolves. We as Christians find ourselves in what seems to be a very unenviable position – of being the target of the entire world system – and at the same time, “de-clawed” as it were – sheep, with no natural defenses. We are weak and vulnerable by design.

And so was Judah at the time of these vision to Zechariah. They had no king on earth, leading them in physical battle. They themselves weren’t going to be able to do anything to these horns.

And that’s why God was going to send craftsmen as it were to terrify these horns – these nations that had scattered God’s people. But it’s God doing this.

And these craftsmen of course did not include Judah. These were other nations. And what’s really interesting to think of is that a few of these craftsmen-nations later on would themselves become those horns.

So, let’s consider some possibilities as it comes to the identity of these horns and craftsmen.

By the way, I’ll start this discussion with the admission that some scholars think that the reference to there being four horns and four craftsmen is meant to indicate that these entities come from all over the place. They’re surrounding God’s people. They come as it were from the four winds – from the four corners of the earth – the four cardinal directions – north, south, east, and west.

And I’d personally rather not adopt that kind of interpretation. I think that we can probably identify some good candidates for these four horns and craftsmen.

So, here’s a try.

Number Horn Craftsman
1 Assyria Babylon
2 Babylon Medo-Persian
3 Medo-Persia Greece
4 Greece Rome

So, Assyria was maybe the first horn since we’re told that these horns scattered Israel as well as Judah and Jerusalem. And Assyria scattered Israel.

And who terrified Assyria and did away with them ultimately? Babylon. Babylon is the first craftsman.

But then Babylon itself becomes a horn that scatters Judah and Jerusalem. But then God sends Medo-Persia to terrify Babylon, thus Medo-Persia becomes the 2nd craftsman.

Medo-Persian – though they seemed to be fairly decent to Judah, yet they were used by the people that surrounded Judah to stop work on the temple. Also, we need to remember that Persia is where Haman hatched his scheme to destroy all the Jews throughout the Persian empire. And beyond that who knows what else they did in history that has not been recorded for us in the Scripture.

And then – and this is beyond Zechariah’s time – but Greece then comes along under the leadership of Alexander the Great and terrified Medo-Persia. So, Greece is craftsman #3. And we hear more about Greece in the book of Daniel.

And just like we saw with the two other craftsmen, they eventually become horns themselves that scatter God’s people. And so, we know from history that Greece was eventually led by a man named Antiochus Epiphanes. And he’s the one who sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple that was rebuilt in Zechariah’s time and through his ministry. So, they become a horn for that reason and for numerous other reasons as well.

And finally, Rome comes along and replaced Greece as the final craftsman in Zechariah’s vision.

Now, others might object to my proposed identification of these horns and craftsmen. They might say that Assyria isn’t in view here – but that rather Babylon is the first of the four horns.

The benefit of thinking that way is that you have the same four nations listed here as you do in the book of Daniel. In this case, the Messianic Kingdom becomes the last craftsman. And I suppose that’s possible. But then you start to wonder how it is that Israel was scattered by any of these nations if Assyria isn’t one of the horns.

Either way, I don’t think it’s really possible to pin down whether Assyria is in the picture or if the Messianic Kingdom is. I tend to think that Assyria makes more sense to be included as a horn.

But the point is that God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People.

And so often, he does this – not by strengthening his people to fight their enemies – but he does it in some really unforeseen ways.

Think of the time in the book of Acts where the unbelieving Jews brought Paul the Jewish apostle before the local authority. And that Roman ruler basically told the Jews that he had no interest in hearing their religious disputes. Those Jews were wanting to see harm done to Paul. They had set themselves up as enemies of God’s people. And God worked it out – not through Paul taking up arms and defending himself physically – but God worked through that pagan ruler to the point where it wasn’t Paul who was being beaten – but actually the unbelieving Synagogue ruler was beaten in front of the judgement seat. And what’s really interesting about that is that that man’s name was Sosthenes. And we see elsewhere in the New Testament a man by that name who is at that point a believer. So, in that case, God destroyed the enemies of his people – by giving those enemies some form of light physical chastening – that actually maybe resulted in the salvation of one of these enemies.

Paul the apostle himself was an enemy of God’s people who was “destroyed” as it were through Jesus Christ saving him from his sin and calling him to serve him.

There are some other instances in Scripture of God destroying the enemies of his people that don’t have very happy endings. Like Herod Agrippa putting James to death and then trying to murder Peter. And finally, after God saved Peter, he struck Herod with a really awful plague. Through that series of events, God Destroyed the Enemy of His People.

Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 1 that God will indeed do this to the enemies of his people for eternity. He will repay those who are abusing his people with eternal torment.

Now, I think our reaction to this reality and teaching – that God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People – should be two-fold.

One, we need to pray for these people who count themselves as our enemies. We do need to forgive. We need to turn the other check. Let’s do good to our enemies.

This message of God Destroying the Enemies of His People is not some call to do the destroying work ourselves! That’s God’s business. We need to step aside and let him do what he knows is best. It’s like the craftsmen – none of those craftsmen was Judah. Furthermore, Judah didn’t send those craftsmen. God did. So, let’s allow God to be God with our enemies. And in the meantime, let’s try to win them through patient, holy, Gospel-proclaiming love.

But there’s another way that we should react to this message that God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People. And that’s to take the position of the martyrs in the book of Revelation. They are aware of the mistreatment that they experienced at the hands of wicked men on this earth. And they lived this life and they died as witnesses to Jesus and they died because they were witnesses – they were martyred by wicked men.

And at that point when they’re with the Lord and in heaven, their gnawing question is, “How long?

How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

In heaven, the concern of God’s people who have been abused by their enemies is on the topic of justice.

In this world, we want mercy on our enemies. We want them to experience the mercy and grace and forgiveness that God has bestowed on us through his Son.

But in the next world, we do want justice. We want things to be made right. And even here, that’s part of our burden – that wrongs would be made right – that justice would be served.

It won’t happen perfectly in this life. There will be injustice. You see and hear and read about it every day.

But we all long for a time when Jesus returns and sets up his kingdom on this earth. And all wrongs will be made right. And then finally – in perfection – with wholehearted desire on our parts – God Will Destroy the Enemies of His People.

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