Zechariah had begun receiving the word of the Lord about halfway through Haggai’s delivery of his own four oracles. Zechariah’s prophecies worked in tandem with the older prophet’s: God was leading the people into deeper intimacy with the Lord, a spiritual revival that began with rebuilding the temple, but would be fulfilled in transformation—or rebuilding—of their spirits, their inner beings.
Yes, Zechariah acknowledged, we are living in the aftermath of God’s wrath, but, “Turn to Me now, God said, and I will turn to you.”
Zechariah is remindful of the donkey, bringing to mind his famous prophecy of the Lord coming in peace, riding on a donkey.
Review of Zechariah’s First Vision
There would be eight visions, given all in a row in a single night.
Zechariah’s first vision, a kingly man on a red horse, with his horsemen among myrtle trees in a deep ravine was an illustration of the Lord’s empathy for God’s people. Now came the second vision.
Vision 1 – God’s pity for God’s people | Zechariah 1:7‑17
Vision 2 – God’s protection of God’s people | Zechariah 1:18‑21
Vision 3 – God’s purpose for God’s people | Zechariah 2:1-13
Vision 4 – God’s purification of God’s people | Zechariah 3:1-10
Vision 5 – God’s empowering of God’s people | Zechariah 4:1-14
Vision 6 – God’s perfecting of God’s people | Zechariah 5:1-4
Vision 7 – God’s purging of God’s people | Zechariah 5:5-11
Vision 8 – God’s protecting of God’s people | Zechariah 6:1-8
An angelic guide helped Zechariah understand what God was showing him, throughout the night.
Vision Two: Four Horns, Four Smiths
And I looked up and saw four horns.
I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these?”
And he answered me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”
Then the Lord showed me four blacksmiths.
And I asked, “What are they coming to do?”
He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no head could be raised; but these have come to terrify them, to strike down the horns of the nations that lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.”Zechariah 1:18-21 (NRSV)
What Does It Mean?
Zechariah saw four horns—like the horns on a bull—and four craftsmen, or smiths—those who worked with wood, stone, or iron.
- Four is not so much about an actual number of adversaries, but rather representing a comprehensive sweep around God’s people—as you and I might say, “the four corners of the earth” or “the four winds” meaning the compass points. Zechariah used the number four elsewhere in his writings to signify the same.
- Horns in the Ancient Near East symbolized power and authority. Altars were given four “horns” on each of their corners, and to grasp a horn was to command sanctuary. Idols representing mighty deities such as Ba’al and the Egyptian Apis were styled as bulls with prominent horns, often covered in gold. Even the one true and living God was similarly described as a mighty bull whose horns would gore the enemies of God’s people. Four horns represented those principalities and powers who “scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”
God had already, earlier in this chapter, said,
And I am extremely angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they made the disaster worse.God, Zechariah 1:15 (NRSV)
Now, God was continuing with that statement in showing how the Lord’s wrath would be expressed against these nations.
- Four blacksmiths represented the greater power of God against the horns. Just as the horns had come from every quarter to scatter God’s people, so now God would bring in an equally sweeping and powerful force that would smash these aggressors.
Interestingly, in Zechariah’s time period, those who smelted and fashioned metals were considered holy workers. Forges were often found within temple precincts, as it was thought some sort of divine or supernatural power was involved to bring forth metal from rocks, and to purify it into weapons and vessels.
When regions were conquered and the people taken captive, metalworkers were among the elite sure to be deported, to serve their new overlords.
It would have been evocative imagery, immense and forceful blacksmiths, their hammers raised, mighty opponents to the raw and primitive power of the bulls with their horns.
The message of reassurance was clear: God was going to deal with Israel’s difficulties. Whatever power was raised up against God’s people, the Lord was going to raise up God’s overwhelming wonder-working might to oppose and throw down the enemy.
Together, Zechariah’s first two visions expressed God’s understanding of the people’s discouragement and feeling demoralized, and God’s intention of bringing them up.
God knew the people had come to Jerusalem a generation earlier with great fanfare, filled with a sense of expectant hope and destiny. But, soon afterwards, in an attempt to keep themselves pure and their mission sacred to God, they had rebuffed Samaria’s overtures and reaped the results. A Samaritan delegation had successfully sued their case before Cambyses and brought back a “cease and desist” order on rebuilding the temple.
Their seven years’ worth of half-finished work was left in shambles, with only the altar of sacrifice fully operational. Thirty long years dragged on, a generation of people grew old and died, and a new generation grew up with a half-built temple. They had simply made do with their reduced circumstances, seeing themselves as completely disempowered.
God had roused Haggai to exhort and build up this new generation, to rouse them into action while at the same time God had raised a new and sympathetic emperor. Although the surrounding peoples had again mounted a vigorous suit, King Darius remained unmoved. The original decree written by Cyrus the Great was located, and Darius adjured the surrounding provinces to support the work.
“I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God: the cost is to be paid to these people, in full and without delay, from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province Beyond the River.
Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests in Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his children.
. . . May the God who has established his name there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem.
I, Darius, make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.”Darius, Ezra 6:8-12 (NRSV)
God’s people had been patient, and they had persevered in making a life for themselves in the midst of the rubble of their now ruined holy city, Jerusalem. They had persevered in at least rebuilding their homes, working the land, re-establishing businesses, marrying and raising up a new generation in the Promised Land. They had persevered in worshiping God and remaining faithful as God’s people.
Now, God affirmed them. “Turn to Me now, and I will turn to you.”
[The Procession of the Bull Apis by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Oil on canvas, 1879 | By Satinandsilk – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84760746%5D