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[Zec 1:20-21 NASB20] [20] Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen. [21] And I said, "What are these coming to do?" And he said, "These are the horns that have scattered Judah so that no one lifts up his head; but these [craftsmen] have come to frighten them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up [their] horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter it."

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Incidentally, some Bibles place this passage at the beginning of Zech. 2, rather than the end of ch. 1. In any case, two of the four horns are easy to identify while the four craftsman or smiths are not so clear.

Four Horns

Historically, around 690 BCE. Assyria nearly conquered Judah, capturing every major settlement except Jerusalem. Since this nation forced many citizens of northern Israel and other nations into exile it probably did so with leaders of the towns is conquered in Judah as well. Babylonia succeeded in conquering the whole country of Judah and taking many people as captives to Babylon (not to mention those who fled elsewhere). Persia is sometimes mentioned as a third candidate. Other possibilities are Egypt, Syria, Ammon, Moab and Edom. Some commentators suggest that the prophet's number four may not imply exactly four nations but the totality of military forces that cause people in Judah to flee.

Four Craftsman

The four craftsmen/smiths are harder to narrow down. What is clear is that they represent forces used by God to heal what was done by the four horns. In terms of contemporary people, Zechariah himself speaks of two "anointed ones" - apparently Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua. Zerubbabel is mentioned specifically as a builder.

9 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this house, and his hands will finish it. Thus you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has scorned such a day of small things will rejoice to see the capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel. (Zech 4)

Zerubbabel and Joshua were succeeded by Nehemiah and Ezra, who completed Jerusalem's restoration; and that does make four. So this may be the solution in terms of a near-term fulfillment of the prophecy. Historically we may certainly include Cyrus of Persia as a candidate along with later Persian leaders who helped restore Jerusalem and allowed Judah to reconstitute itself. Nations should also be considered: Persia allowed the Jews to return and rebuild. Greece and Rome also enabled significant building projects and a large degree of religious tolerance (with notable exceptions). The Maccabean leaders who revolted and established an independent Jewish nation in the second c. bce also should not be ruled out.

Long-view interpretations are literally all over the map. The Talmud speaks four anointed ones: the Messiah son of David, Messiah son of Joseph, the Righteous Priest and Elijah.

Who are these four craftsmen? Rav Ḥana bar Bizna said that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida said: They are Messiah ben David, Messiah ben Yosef, Elijah, and the righteous High Priest, who will serve in the Messianic era. (Sukkah.52b)

But as is often the case with the Talmud, other rabbis had different opinions. Four kingdoms that protected or would protect Judah is a frequent alternative. Modern Christian commentators often attempt to correlate Zechariah's craftsmen/smiths to the Book of Daniel's horns and kingdoms or similar imagery in the Book of Revelation. But when we get into interpretation of Last Days prophecy applied to contemporary events, the possibilities are too numerous to consider here.

The four craftsmen or smiths are a symbol that is open to very wide interpretation. Zerubbabel, Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah are possible near-term candidates. Cyrus of Persia and his successors are other likely possibilities. Nations rather than individuals may also be "craftsmen." Beyond that, the candidates mentioned by various commentators are very numerous.

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In Zechariah 1:18, there were four horns; in Zechariah 1:20, there were four craftsmen. According to the angel explanation;

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 1:21 NIV)

Therefore the horns were Judah's enemies but the craftsmen were helping Judah against them. To understand who the craftsmen were, let's review some backgrounds.

It begun with Jeremiah's prophesy of 70 years desolation of Jerusalem and its subsequent promise from God;

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10 NIV)

The Lord did not just bring them back to Jerusalem, He promised their safety as well, that in the book of Ezekiel, He said;

25 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob.

26 They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbors who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.’” (Ezekiel 28:25-26 NIV)

In Ezekiel 25-29, those nations the Lord rebuked included Amon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. They were Judah's neighbouring nations and from time to time Judah had conflict with.

Now the book of Zechariah started with that seventy years passed and it's time for the Lord's commitment be fulfilled. It started with a vision of four horses or four horsemen. There was a man mounted on a red horse, standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses (Zech 1:8 NIV). The myrtle trees is an apt symbol for restoring and establishing the Lord's promises. It had mentioned in the book of Isaiah;

12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”

With these understanding, the word 'four' should not be read literally, instead its sacred meaning of 'completeness'. That is, the Lord promised to bring the exiles back to Jerusalem and would completely protect them from harm by scattering all their enemies, so that they could rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and restore their dedication to God in a peaceful surrounding.

Hence the four craftsmen represented the magnificent deeds of the Lord, as He suppressed all surrounding nations to protect Israel from harm.

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