The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah/Chapter 03

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(Chapter I. 18–21 Hebrew Chapter II. 1–4)

And I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns. And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. And Jehovah showed me four smiths. Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations, which lifted up their horn against the land rf Judah to scatter it.


THIS second short vision is in a sense a continuation of the comforting message contained in the first, for it shows how the Gentile nations against whom Jehovah is " very sore displeased," because they have each in turn " helped forward the affliction " by scattering Israel and treading down Jerusalem, shall themselves be broken and dissipated. The prophet had probably been absorbed in thought and meditation en what he saw and heard in the first vision; but being directed, perhaps, by the interpreting angel to look up again, he beheld not only with the outer eye, but with the eyes of his soul and whole inner being, which had been prepared for the reception of these Divine revelations "four horns" and on his appealing to his angelic teacher, who stood by his side, for the meaning of these, the brief answer is given: " These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem."

The "Horns"

Let us briefly ponder over the symbolism of these two verses before proceeding to the second part of the vision.

" Horns " are used in Scripture as emblematic of power and pride of conscious strength (Amos vi. 13; Ps. Ixxv. 4, 5, xcii. 10), and are sometimes explained by the sacred writers themselves as representing the ruling powers of the world (Dan. viii.; Rev. xvii. 312).

The number " four " may also, but in a secondary sense, stand, as some contend, for the four directions of heaven, or the four " corners " of the earth, and be designed to indicate the universality of the enmity which is directed against Israel. In that case, to use the language of a learned commentator who thinks only of the past, the four horns would " represent the enemies of Israel on every side: Edom and Egypt in the south; the Philistines in the west; the Ammonites and Moabites in the east; and from the north the Syrians, Assyrians, and especially the Chaldeans."

Or, according to another commentator who views this prophecy in relation to the then present, " the number four refers to the four cardinal points of the horizon, indicating that wherever God's people turned there were enemies to encounter."

But there can be no doubt, according to our judgment, especially if we remember the fact that it is the character istic of Zechariah's visions and prophecies, that the Divine messages contained in them are generally based on revela tions already granted to the former prophets, that in this vision of the four horns there is a direct reference to the four great world-powers, differently represented by the four metals in the great image, and four great beasts in chaps, ii. and vii. of Daniel's prophecies the only four empires which were, or are, to rise till the kingdom of Messiah, the fifth of Daniel's visions, overthrows and absorbs all others in its universal dominion. This was the view of the most authoritative of Jewish commentators. Thus Kimchi says, " These are the four monarchies and they are the Baby lonian monarchy, the Persian monarchy, and the Grecian monarchy, and so the Targum of Jonathan has it (instead of four horns), the four monarchies."[1]

Some commentators have raised an objection to this view on the ground that the power which overthrew the Israel of the northern kingdom was Assyria, and that other powers besides, such as Egypt, etc., have had their share in breaking up the two Israelitish states, and have argued from the use of the perfect, or preterite zeru (" have scattered "), that the dispersion was presented to the prophet as an already accomplished fact by powers which had already then been in existence; but to this objection it is sufficient to answer that, though it is true that other powers beside had had a share in afflicting and scattering Israel, and that the northern kingdom had been overthrown by Assyria, the prophetic Scriptures, and especially the prophecies of Daniel, upon which this vision of Zechariah is based, deal with a definite and particular period as pre eminently the one during which Israel is " scattered " and Jerusalem " trodden down," and that these " times of the Gentiles " begin, not with Shalmaneser, nor with Senna cherib, but with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, " the head of gold " of the great image which he himself beheld in a dream (Dan. ii. i).

It is true that Israel, as far as the northern kingdom of the ten tribes is concerned, had been overthrown and a considerable number transported into Assyria; but it was not till a hundred and thirty years later, when the sceptre was finally plucked out of the hands of the last king of the House of David who reigned in Jerusalem, by Nebuchad nezzar, that the united dispersion of Judah and Israel commenced, and the special period of their national woes and humiliations which were to extend during the whole course of these four great Gentile world-empires, was inaugurated.

As for the use of the perfect or preterite, and the fact that the prophet sees the four horns together, we have to remember that it is the tense of prophetic vision to which everything appears present. In the same way the prophets, for instance, described the sufferings and death of Messiah the perfect Servant of Jehovah who was to appear centuries after their day as already past, and speak of the future glory of Israel as already come. And thus, also, these four powers, though successive in time, are exhibited to Zechariah together, and their antagonism and cruelty to God's people as already past and gone, " as each would be at the last, having put forth his passing might and perishing."

But the question may be asked, What consolation could the prophet derive or communicate to the people from a vision of four powers, two of whom at least had not yet arisen, who would in turn take up the work of scattering Israel? And the answer, dear reader, is, that though it may have been intended as an indication to the prophet, and a forecast that the final deliverance of Israel and the overthrow of Israel's foes, was, from the prophet's point of time, yet remote, the wonderful and consoling fact set forth in the vision remains; that in spite of all the great Gentile powers, who would each in turn take up the work of scattering and afflicting Israel, Israel would not be wholly swallowed up nor be overwhelmed, but would remain when all those powers should have disappeared, and would triumph in God's deliverance when the memory of their mighty enemies should be buried in shame and oblivion.

To us, looking back upon a period the length of which was unforeseen even by prophets, embracing some two and a half millenniums during which this comparative handful of people have been " scattered " and " tossed " about, by and among the nations, without being destroyed from off the earth, and without losing its national characteristics and identity, the marvel of Israel's continued preservation must appear much greater than to any one living in the time of Zechariah or Daniel, and can only be accounted for by the special providences and interpositions of Him who swore that so long as the sun and the ordinances of the moon and the stars continue, so long should Israel continue a nation before Him " for ever "; and who said in advance, even before the course of these four great Gentile world-powers, who would be permitted to scatter Israel, commenced: " For I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to save thee: for I will make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee; but I will not make a full end of thee, but I will correct thee in measure (or with judgment ), and will in no wise leave thee unpunished" (Jer. xxx. I i). Well might the inspired writer of Ps. cxxix., looking back, not only on the particular period embraced in the prophetic " times of the Gentiles," but on the whole course of Gentile oppression, exclaim in the name of the remnant of Israel:

" Many a time (or, more literally, greatly ) have they afflicted me from my youth; yet they have not prevailed against me."

" Israel's national youth, or childhood," to borrow words of our own from elsewhere, " was in Egypt, even as we find in Hos. xi. I, which literally reads, When Israel was yet a child (the word being the same as youth in the I2pth Psalm), I loved him, and from the time that he was in Egypt I called him my son " that is, from the very beginning of their history, when God began to love Israel, the nations began to hate them; and from the very time when God first called them " His son, His first-born " (Ex. iv. 22, 23), the nations began "to afflict them" (Ex. i. 1 2), and to lay plans for their extermination. Yes, from the very commencement of their history have the plowers mercilessly

" Plowed upon his back;

" They made long and deep their furrows " (Ps. cxxix. 3).

And " yet," in spite of it all, " they have not prevailed against him"

This is Israel's final shout of triumph, even as in a sense it has been their national song and their defiant answer to the nations all through the ages.

To commence with Israel's " youth " deep and terrible was the pain and laceration when Egypt plowed upon his back; but who came off worst in the end? Egypt was plagued; Pharaoh and his host were drowned; but of Israel we read, " The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Truly Egypt, with all its worldpower, did " not prevail against him" 4 Then not to mention Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites, and other small powers there came Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, each of whom in turn afflicted Israel much, and made deep and long their furrows; but where are all these powers? They have crumbled away and died, but Israel lives, and they have " not prevailed over him"

Then came the centuries of dispersion, when it might be supposed that a comparative handful of men, scattered on the great ocean of humanity, would soon be swallowed up of the multitude. As a matter of fact, every force was brought to bear against them with terrible severity. Their enemies were united, and seemed confident of success. The Crusaders went from west to east with the cry " Hierosolyma est perdita! "[2] and perpetrated wholesale massacres of the Jews as a commencement of their " holy " wars. Again and again apostate Christendom in the dark ages showed its zeal for the Jewish Messiah, who teaches His followers to love even their enemies, by burning whole communities of Jews, numbering sometimes thousands of souls, on one huge scaffold; but in spite of it all Israel lives " they Jiave not prevailed over him "; for there are more Jews in the world after all the centuries of banishments, massacres, and untold sufferings, than there have been at any previous point of the world's history; and the Jews at the present day, as is proved from official statistics, in some parts of the world increase in proportion to their Gentile neighbours at the ratio of three and four to one.

Alas! the sufferings of Israel are not ended, and even in this twentieth century we read almost daily of Jewish massacres and atrocities worse than any which disgrace the annals of the dark ages; but Czardom[3] and the corrupt bureaucracy of that unhappy empire will pass away, while Israel will still sing, " Yet they have not prevailed against me And there is yet a future, or final, culminating " affliction,"

"trouble," or " tribulation," as the same Hebrew word is elsewhere rendered, awaiting Israel after a large remnant of them are returned to their land in a condition of unbelief, when all nations will be gathered in a final siege of Jerusalem (Zech. xiii., xiv.); but even then, when the nations cry, " Come, let us destroy them from being a nation, that the name of Israel be no more held in remembrance"

(Ps. Ixxxiii. 4) one more blow, and the Jewish nation will be no more the answer of the saved remnant, who are delivered by the sudden appearance of their Messiah, will be: "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah " Yet they ttave not prevailed against me.

Israel is indestructible. The bush may burn, but it cannot be consumed, because God has said: " Though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee."

But to come to the other points in this vision which need explanation. The peculiar structure of the sentence and the unusual designation of the chosen people as "Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem," in ver. 19, has given ground to many, and some of them very fanciful interpreta tions, but there can be no doubt that it is an all-inclusive term for the whole nation which for a time, as a punishment on the House of David, had been rent asunder and divided, so long as the northern kingdom continued, into "Judah" and " Israel," but which after " Jerusalem " (which was the metropolis and religious centre of those who feared Jehovah in both kingdoms, and is therefore mentioned separately) was overthrown, were together sharing the same destiny of being " scattered " by the horns of the Gentiles, even as they are included in the same common and united hope of restoration and blessing, no longer as two separate kingdoms, but as one, under the true Son of David.

The " Carpenters " or Smiths

Apart from the final and total overthrow of confederated Gentile world-power at the time of the end, the prophet is also made to see what we may describe as the gradual process of the decay and overthrow of the four great empires in turn.

" And Jehovah showed me four carpenters?" literally, " workmen," or " smiths," as the R.V. renders the word. The Hebrew Knn } harash, designates a cunning workman or artificer in either wood, stone, or metal. And as the prophet evidently sees them coming on the stage of his prophetic vision in readiness for work, with, perhaps, the tools or implements of their trade in their hands, he asks:

"What come these to do? " And the answer, evidently of the Lord Himself, though it may have been through the interpreting angel, is: " These (are) the horns whicJi have scattered Judah"

This first sentence in the reply is a repetition of the statement in the preceding verse, but words are added which are meant to emphasise the greatness of Israel's sorrow and affliction during the period of their being tossed about by these " horns "; for their sufferings have been such (literally, " according to the measure," i.e., in such a manner) " tJtat no man did lift up his head" so heavily did oppression weigh upon them, but these (the harashim, or " workmen ") are come to fray (literally, " to terrify ")

"them, and to cast down the horns of the nations ivhich are lifting up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it"

(i.e., the inhabitants or population of if].

Who are these workmen, or smiths? " Symbols of Divine judgment " in a general way, says one learned com mentator. " Symbols of the instruments of the Divine Omnipotence by which the imperial power in its historical forms is overthrown," says another. But while it is true that this part of the vision is designed to show to the people of God in a general way, " that every hostile power of the world which has risen up against it, or shall rise up, is to be judged and destroyed," the number four standing over against the four horns does not only suggest that " for every enemy of God's people God has provided a counter acting power adequate to destroy it,"[4] but points to four powers also successive, though in the vision, like the four horns, presented together. And, if I am asked to state more definitely which four powers, I answer the first was the Medo-Persian, which by the hand of Cyrus broke down the horn of Babylon; the second was the Grecian, which by the hand of Alexander terrified and humbled the power of Persia; the third was Rome, which in its turn prostrated and trod down the power of Greece.[5]

This last, the most terrible of all, not only acted as one of the " workmen " or " smiths " to terrify and break down the great world-power which immediately preceded it, but, in relation to the Jewish people and the Church of God, still exists as the last of the four horns; and in its revived form, under the leadership of the Satan-possessed head of the final confederacy of apostate Gentile world-powers, will bring about the climax of all the sorrows and the sufferings of Israel in the last " great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be." It is to that time that the 7th chapter of Daniel refers: " After this I saw in the night vision, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible and strong exceedingly, and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet, and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns" (explained in ver. 24 of the same chapter as signifying " ten kings " or " kingdoms "). " I considered the horns, and behold there came up among them another, a little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots, and behold in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things"

(Dan. vii. 6-8). But it is just then when the strength and pride and ruthless cruelty and blasphemy of apostate world-power summed up in its head reaches its climax, that " the horn of the Gentiles " shall finally and for ever be broken and cast out; for then the last " workman " or " smith " who, though seen by the prophet with the other three, is altogether diverse from them, and is only included in the vision with the others in order to present a full and complete view of the overthrow of all the four horns, shall suddenly appear to accomplish His terrible work of judg ment. " I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a Son of Man, and He came even to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him (to be invested formally with the Kingdom immediately before He comes in the clouds of heaven to take possession of it); and there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion," and His kingdom " shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever " (Dan. vii. 13, 14, ii. 44, 45, R.V.).

  1. He does not name the fourth. Abarbanel's explanation is to the same effect. The following passage is from Hengstenberg: "If we inquire more particularly what four empires are referred to, the first must be the Babylonian, which was not yet completely humbled, as the third vision shows, although it had received a fatal wound from the Persian smith (or carpenter ). The second is the Persian. That the Grecian must have been recognised by the prophet as the third, is evident from the expression in chap. ix. 13, I stir up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Javan. The fourth is not named. The connection with Daniel is apparent here also, for in his prophecy the approaching dominion of Greece is expressly and amply referred to; whilst the fourth monarchy, on the other hand, is left without a name,"
  2. Or, " Hep! Hep! " which is an abbreviation formed from the three initial letters of this Latin phrase; the English corruption of it is " Hip! Hip! "
  3. This was written in 1908.
  4. Lange.
  5. The following curious passage about the four carpenters or "smiths" is from Kimchi's Commentary:
    " And the Lord showed me four workmen, ... in order to cut off the horns that is to say, each kingdom shall he a carpenter, to cut off the kingdom that preceded it, for the Babylonian monarchy fell by the hand of the Persians, and the Persian by the hand of the Greek, etc. Or, the carpenters may signify in a parable the angels the supernatural princes who are appointed over the king doms; and our Rabbis of blessed memory have interpreted the verse of the days of the Messiah, saying, Who are the four carpenters? R. Simon Chasida says they are Messiah the Son of David, the Messiah the Son of Joseph, and Elias, and the righteous priest. This passage, quoted by Kimchi, is found in the Talmud, Succah, fol. 52, col. 2, where Rashi says, in his commentary on the authority of Bereshith Rabha, that the righteous priest means Shem the son of Noah, who is there supposed to be identical with Melchizedek. The legend about the angels is thus given in the Pirke Eleazar: The Holy One, blessed be He, descended with the seventy angels who surrounded the throne of His glory, and confounded their language into seventy nations and seventy languages, each nation with its own writing and language, and over each nation He appointed an angel, but Israel fell to His portion and lot, and therefore it is said, The Lord's portion is His people. "