I The Eight Symbolic Visions, B The Communication of the Visions, 2 The Vision of the Horns, Text: 1:18-21, Title: Ironic Doom


This passage is about history. For those of you who hated history in school, relax, this is not a classroom lecture. However, I want us to understand that history is full of ironies. The conquerors become the conquered. History is a fickle mistress. Events and people famous now will fade into the mists of time as the public moves on to the newest thing, doomed to obscurity. We see that in the great kingdoms that invaded and destroyed Israel. Daniel foretold it in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:37-43, Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. Ultimately all these great kingdoms, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome were turned to dust and are only in the history books. Yet as Daniel records, in the days of the last kingdom in an obscure village in a despised land a king was born and Daniel writes in 2:44, “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is he greatest irony of history, that the great were reduced to dust and ashes and the the weak and obscure lives forever. In our text today these kingdoms live again in the writing of Zechariah to again be destroyed. Let us consider the dangers, the deliverers, and the design.

I The Dangers

The dangers are represented by the four horns in verses 18 and 19, Then I looked up—and there before me were four horns! I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?” He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.” They represent the traditional military enemies of Israel. Horns are a symbol of power. In the worship of Israel during the sacrifices the horns of the altar were smeared with blood as part of the sacrificial rite. God is a horn as we read in II Samuel 22:2 and 3 He said, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, the God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my Savior you save me from violence. Blood on the horns of the altar was being placed on the Lord who bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Jesus is identified as the horn of our salvation in Zachariah’s song in Luke. Laying hold of the horns of the altar also became known as a place of temporary refuge for a criminal since they represented the power and presence of the Lord. For example we read in I Kings 2:28, When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. The horns in this vision, however, are wicked horns, horns of devilish power. Horns are used to represent anti-christian powers in Daniel and Revelation. In the history of the ancient people of God we discover that they were surrounded by their enemies. Thus there are four horns in the vision representing the four points of the compass, North, East, South and West. ‘Four’ is a number expressing completeness. When they were obedient God was in the middle with them and Zion, Jerusalem, was impregnable, but when they were disobedient God left them to their own resources and they were conquered. The same is reproduced in our individual lives as Christians and in the life of the Church. In his hymn “A Mighty Fortress” Martin Luther wrote, “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.” We too are surrounded by enemies. Peter reminds us that the Devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Paul reminds us to put on the whole armor of God because our battle is not with flesh and blood but with evil principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age. Israel thought God would protect them no matter what else they did as long as they had the temple and the sacrifices. He didn’t and He won’t protect us either if we follow the idols of this present evil age.

II The Deliverers

The deliverers are called craftsmen here in verses 20 and 21, Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I asked, “What are these coming to do?” He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise his head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.” The Hebrew word translated craftsmen can describe someone who works in wood, metal or stone. The word combines overlapping roots meaning plow as in cutting furrows, or cutting in metal or stone such as engraving, or hammering in wood. it is a word which describes the activities of artificers who made idols. Here is another irony. The idol makers become the idol destroyers. If we look at secular history we see the idol makers destroying one another. For every one of the four horns there was a cleaving “artificer” to beat it down. For every enemy of God’s people, God has provided a counteracting power adequate to destroy it. All opposition to God’s people eventually would be overthrown. And we know that ultimately this comes down to one “carpenter” Jesus our Savior. So Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. These powers and authorities are the same ones Paul tells us to be armed against in Ephesians 6, principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and they are undone by Jesus death and resurrection. Their power is broken, and they are publicly shamed.

III The Design

This entire passage demonstrates God’s design. We have a sovereign almighty God who is in control of the destinies of nations. This entire vision is reminding the prophet and the people that nothing that has come their way is an accident of history. The subject of God’s government in the world is one of the sublimest that can engage the human mind, and is beset with difficulties calculated to confuse many thoughtful people. However, we may be certain that as small as is our planet is in comparison with millions of other orbs that are spread through the universe and as insignificant as are its human tenants, God superintends it for His glory and the blessing of those who trust in Him. In Daniel 2, before he interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream Daniel prays and we read his words in verses 20-22, “Then “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. The providence of God means God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass as we read in Daniel 4:35, All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” All His decrees include creation, and redemption, and predestination, and election. They include how we are made, what we experience and every event and circumstance of our lives. This is the truth that underlies the threats and promises shared through Zechariah. God threatened Israel and He carried it out. However, just as surely, He will keep His covenant promise not to forsake them as we read in 1:16, Therefore this is what the Lord says: “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,” declares the Lord Almighty. In these days we have heard much about the battle over our origins. Evolutionists oppose those who advocate intelligent design. Many of us do not want to become involved in a contest between science and the Bible. But we should not miss the point that there is a greater issue hidden in this debate. Christians affirm, of course, that the multiplicity of complex wonders in creation cannot be explained by chance. But more importantly they should not miss the point that everything is by design; not just the amazing anatomy of living things, but the events of history and the events of our lives. History in this world had a beginning and it will have an end with the final judgment and the glorious return of the Lord Christ. History is linear. It is moving toward God’s goal. And all that happens serves that end, by design. Every promise written on the pages of Scripture, every one of them, requires that God is in control, or they cannot be kept.