This prophecy is one of the first eight visions given in succession to Zechariah during one night. Significantly these eight visions are followed by the symbolic crowning of the high priest Joshua, the son of Josedech in Jerusalem. The prophet Daniel describes what the Gentile nations will do over the period of history up to the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom. This book describes God’s program and what He will do during the same time period, known as the Times of the Gentiles. The unity between conservative Christian and Jewish commentators regarding most of the images attests to the validity of the interpretation of the visions.
The Prophet Zechariah by Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel Cir 1512
In Zechariah 1:15, the red-horse rider vision is the first of the eight and a key vision supporting the other visions that follow it. In that vision God makes is quite clear that He is very displeased with the Gentile nations because of their treatment of Israel and implied that a punishment would be coming to them. Therefore this vision of the horns and smiths should be viewed as a continuation, or fulfillment, of the events of the first vision. During the entire Time of the Gentiles the Jews have been horribly persecuted. God wants Israel to receive a sense of comfort that He is working behind the scenes to address the excessive punishment the Gentiles have and will continue to apply to Israel. The Temple is of immense importance to God and the life of the Israelites. It is through this vision, which is being given in 520 B.C. that the Lord is implying that Israel was now free from oppression and could start rebuilding the Temple that the Babylonians destroyed in 586 B.C.
18And I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, four horns. 19And 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. (ASV, 1901)
The Hebrew word for “behold” is heenay and it is a command to “pay attention to what will follow”. Zechariah, still in his vision state, lifts up his mind’s eyes and sees four horns. Remember that an angel who speaks to Zechariah’s mind is living outside of time and space in the spiritual world as he speaks to Zechariah’s spirit. The vision is written in the Hebrew perfect tense that means the action is completed regardless of whether the event occurs in the past, the present, or future. It is important to understand this because the next vision discusses the completion of some events that are yet future to the time of Zechariah and our time (2013) as well. Without considering this Hebrew grammatical concept it becomes difficult to identify the horns and the smiths of this vision and we are left guessing at their identity. Therefore, in the perfect tense of prophetic vision, everything appears to occur simultaneously when Zechariah sees the four horns and smiths together. In English grammar we can view this as the future perfect tense. Therefore think of these four horns, though successive in time, are being shown to Zechariah all at once, and the antagonism and cruelty to the nation Israel is already past and gone, even though some still has yet to happen in the future. He sees the horns and simply says to the communicating angel “What are these?” Then the text continued, “And he[the angel] answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” In other words the angel is referring to the four Gentile Empires described in Daniel chapters two and seven. Horns were used as a symbol of military strength and power in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalm 75:10; Ezekiel 29:21; Micah 4:13). Here they represent the four powerful nations who displaced the Jews, captured, and occupied Jerusalem. Zechariah has experienced two of these régimes in his lifetime, Babylon and Medo-Persia and realized that there are more to follow. The four horns (world empires) that subjugated the Jews are:
Rome (or the governmental system of Imperialism)
Alexander The Great Artist Unknown
20And Jehovah showed me four smiths. 21Then 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 of Judah to scatter it (ASV 1901).
Immediately following the vision of the horns is the vision of the “smiths” or craftsmen. Apart from the final and total overthrow of allied Gentile world-power in the future, the prophet is allowed to see what is described as an incremental process of the decay and overthrow of the four great empires. The smiths are skilled artisans, which in the Hebrew is charasheem. These are literally, “workmen,” or “craftsmen,” as some versions render the word. The Bible writers used a pattern of Hebrew text that is called “chiasmus order” to give meaning to their writings or to highlight details of particular importance. For example, a reversal in the order of words in two parallel phrases, as in “He went in, out went she” provides emphasis and additional information. The pattern of the Hebrew text in chiastic order suggests a mashcheet or a destroyer. It is the job of the mashcheet to bring to ruin and the smiths are the craftsmen who specialize in destruction. This is also seen in Isaiah 54:16 and Ezekiel 21:36 which are translated as “workers of destruction”.
It is important to recognize the difference between what the horn represents and what the smith represent. The “horn” is a governmental regime that scattered Judah and frightened the Jews. The “smiths”, or craftsman represent those individuals who terrify and cast down the nations that subjugated Israel. It is also important to note that while an individual leader will overthrow and conquer a regime repressive to the Jews, eventually the individual’s own governmental regime will turn into a “horn” and persecute the Jews again. Historically we know what empire the “horns” are, and likewise, we also know from history who the “smiths” are. They are:
Cyrus the Great of the Medes and Persians who conquered Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. The actual event is recorded in the sixth chapter of the book of Daniel wherein Darius the Mede conquered Babylon and Belshazzar the successor king of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was killed. Herodotus follows with an account of the siege of the city, and its subsequent fall in 539 B.C. to the Persian king Cyrus (same Darius as kings took more than one name). Besides the Bible and Herodotus, one other source confirms this story. That is the famous “Cyrus Cylinder” found at Babylon and now housed at the British Museum.
Alexander the Great of the Greeks conquered the Medes and the Persians. He conquered Jerusalem in 332 B.C. and invaded Media in the summer of 330 B.C and took control of the Medo-Persian Empire.
Pompey the Great of the Roman Imperialistic Republic took the city of Jerusalem in 63 B.C. and appointed Hyrcanus II as High Priest and Antipater the Idumaean who is killed by his sons Phasael and Herod the Great.
King Jesus will have the Antichrist (the last of the imperialistic dictators who will assume power over the entire world) and the
False Prophet thrown in to the eternal Lake of Fire ending the Times of the Gentiles and ushering in the Messianic Kingdom.
Another way to connect the horns and smiths is in a chart:
Horns of Jewish Persecution
Smiths of Destruction
Darius the Mede
Medo Persian Empire
Alexander the Great
Pompey the Great
Imperialistic World Empire
King Jesus Christ
The time is coming when the nation Israel will no longer be under the yoke of any Gentile nations. In order for this to happen, they all must confess belief in Jesus their Messiah:
13And Jehovah will make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if thou shalt hearken unto the commandments of Jehovah thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them, 14and shalt not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them (ASV 1901).
This verse sums up the final status of Israel after the Times of the Gentiles are complete. The persecutions will be complete and the Jews will have prominent positions in the world’s government under King Jesus in the Millennial Theocratic Kingdom.