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Zechariah 1:21 speaks of the four horns of the Gentiles/nations. Why are there four? What do the four horns of the Gentiles represent?

And I said, “What are these coming to do?” He said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head. And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”

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We need first to look earlier in Zechariah 1, to see that the Lord’s answer to the hostility of the nations is for Jerusalem to be built after the ‘seventy years’ [592-522BC].

 “In the eighth month of second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah… the angel of the Lord said, ‘Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years’ …Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’… 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.”

Zechariah 1:1,12,14,16

God spelled out the judgement of 4 nations for the treatment of Judah (when they were taken into Babylonian exile) in Ezekiel 25 - they were dealt with during the reign of the Persian empire.

  1. Ezekiel 25:1-7 Ammon – haughty over Israel’s misfortune; given to the people of the East, wiped out
  2. Ezekiel 25:8-11 Moab – haughty over Judah’s misfortune; given to the people of the East, not remembered
  3. Ezekiel 25:12-14 Edom – complicit over Judah’s misfortune; laid waste, killing of men and beast by the hand of Israel
  4. Ezekiel 25:15-17 Philistia – complicit over Judah’s misfortune; wipe out Kerethites and destroy those along the coast

There are other places nations named after Ezekiel 25 (Tyre, Sidon & Egypt) but these are dealt with mainly before the Persians (by the Babylonians) or after the Persians (by the Greeks).

We know commonly that Nehemiah built the walls of Jerusalem, but Isaiah goes on to say something different. With verses with a mesh between the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the everlasting kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, with foreigners building the walls.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn … Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favour I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations— their kings led in triumphal procession. For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined.

Isaiah 60:1-2,10-12

The opponents of the construction in Ezra and Nehemiah are different from the proponents for Jerusalem (through their support) in the verses above. Then we get to the verses in question:

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.”

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 their 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.”

Zechariah 1:18-21

The horns that scattered Judah but were also thrown down are these neighbours of Israel in Ezekiel 25 (Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philstia). The craftsmen are representatives of the 4 main kings of Persia (Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II) that both terrified the neighbour nations and contributed to make Jerusalem beautiful, working with materials brought from throughout the Persian empire: [Timber], [Stone], [Gold, Silver & Bronze] and [Precious Stones]. {These 4 kings are mentioned at the start of Daniel 11 - the 4th richer than the rest - perhaps an indication of their increasing power and influence minting coins}

This has come from my website that I am current constructing - Divisions of History

  • Hello math77, welcome to BHSE, glad to have you with us. If you haven't already, please make sure to take our tour, to see how we are a little different from other sites you may know. Thanks! (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour) – sara Oct 6 '19 at 7:12
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They were four kingdoms. The Holy Spirit used horns poetically as a symbol of power. When used in context associated with YHVH, as in 2 Sam. 22:3 and Psa. 18:2 as "the horn of my salvation" it has the positive connotation of the strength and power of our Almighty Protector.

When used in prophesy of judgments announced for the down fall of Israel or Judah, the metaphor became an aggressive action of destruction from foreign nations and armies. Horns were kings or kingdoms of world powers. (1) (2)

As generally can be found, the Holy Spirit provided the definitions / meanings of His metaphors.

Dan. 7:24, "... And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise:" (KJV)

So, when used in prophesy horns were symbols of kings, and powerful rulers.

Zechariah 1:1 identifies the time of this vision which was under the 2nd world power identified in Daniel 2 - the Medes and Persians.

Zech 1:1, "In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius,..."

So Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, the Babylonian world power had already fallen to the second world power of these visions. And, in vs. 12 -

"Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?" (KJV)

we know that 70 years of the exile had been completed when this vision occurred. So, the return to Jerusalem had begun (3). The context of the visions concerned and centered around Jerusalem, for whom YHVH was jealous (vs. 14).

The four "horns" or powers were then associated with four kings / kingdoms that would affect Jerusalem (vs. 19). The four horns of vs. 21 were those world powers that had or would scatter Judah - namely Babylon, Medo-Persian (contemporary with Zechariah), then the Greco-Macedonian, followed by the fourth - the Roman empire.

Excerpt from Barnes Notes on Zech. 1:21:

"These are the horns which have scattered - o "The four horns which scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, are four nations, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians and Romans; as the Lord, on the prophet's enquiry, explains here, and Daniel unfolds most fully Daniel 2; who in the vision of the image with golden head, silver breast, belly and thighs of brass, feet of iron and clay, explained it of these four nations, and again in another vision of four beasts Daniel 7, lion, bear, leopard and another unnamed dreadful beast, he pointed out the same nations under another figure. But that the Medes and Persians, after the victory of Cyrus, were one kingdom, no one will doubt, who reads secular and sacred literature. When this vision was beheld, the kingdom of the Babylonians had now passed away, that of the Medes and Persians was instant; that of Greeks and Macedonians and of the Romans was yet to come. What the Babylonians, what the Medes and Persians, what the Greeks that is, the Macedonians, did to Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, a learned man acknowledgeth, especially under Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes, to which the history of the Maccabees belongs. After the Coming of our Lord and Saviour, when Jerusalem was encompassed, Josephus, a native writer, tells most fully, what the Israelites endured, and the Gospel fore-announced. These horns dispersed Judah almost individually, so that, bowed down by the heavy weight of evils, no one of them raised his head." Though these were successive in time, they are exhibited to Zechariah as one. One whole are the efforts against God's Church; one whole are the instruments of God, whether angelic or human, in doing or suffering, to repel them. Zechariah then exhibits these hostile powers as past and gone, as each would be at the end, having put forth his passing might, and perishing. They scattered, each in its day, and disappeared; for the next displaced it." Source Biblehub

The use of the present perfect tense "have scattered" is from YHVH's perspective of omniscience. The action was determined, and though only part of it had already happened YHVH knew what would happen, and considered it a "done deal". Much as some people say "dead man walking", and "he just doesn't know it yet".

Notes:

1) The Horn as a Symbol - here

2) The Horn Motifs in the Bible and the Ancient Near East by Margit L Suring, 1984 - here

3) Zechariah Overview - here

  • Why was this downvoted? – Jack Oct 7 '19 at 2:29
  • @Jack, I haven't a clue why it was down voted. – Gina Oct 8 '19 at 7:13
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Context is key.

Zechariah 1:17-21 YLT

...

And I lift up mine eyes, and look, and lo, four horns.

And I say unto the messenger who is speaking with me, 'What are these?' And he saith unto me, 'These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.'

And Jehovah doth shew me four artizans.

And I say, 'What are these coming in to do?' And He speaketh, saying: 'These are the horns that have scattered Judah, so that no one hath lifted up his head, and these come in to trouble them, to cast down the horns of the nations who are lifting up a horn against the land of Judah -- to scatter it.'

Notice that these horns scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem in the past. It already happened. Zechariah received this vision under the reign of Darius - after Cyrus let the Jews return to their homeland.

Zechariah 1:1

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, hath a word of Jehovah been unto Zechariah, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, the prophet, saying:

...

I just asked four questions last night that are very relevant to this question:

There are four horsemen, and there are four horns here. All of these kingdoms were at war with either Israel of Judah before both of those kingdoms went into captivity.

  • Please tell me why this was downvoted so I can address it. – Jack Oct 4 '18 at 16:57

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