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God’s Word for You

Zechariah 1:18-19 Four horns

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 17, 2022

The Second Vision

In the first vision we learned that the Lord was very angry with Israel’s enemies, but not what this meant for them. Now we will learn what God can and will do to those who oppose his people.

18 Then I lifted my eyes and saw four horns! 19 I said to the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?” He said to me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”

In ancient times and all throughout the Scriptures, horns symbolize power and strength. Amos 6:13: “Did we not take Karnaim with our own horns?” And Jeremiah 48:25 says, “Moab’s horn is cut off; her arm is broken.” And David says about Christ: “He is my shield and the horn of my salvation; my stronghold” in Psalm 18:2. There are many more examples, especially in Daniel and in Revelation.

In the opposite sense, the loss of a horn is the loss of strength, the loss of a war, and the loss of life. Jeremiah says in Lamentations 2:3, “In fierce anger he has cut off every horn of Israel.” And anyone who has grown up in a home with animal horns mounted on the wall understands that they represent the victory of a successful hunt.

Here, the prophet sees four horns. Does the number four signify the compass points, or the more ancient concept of the four winds? This, then, would be all of the enemies of Israel, from every corner and every direction. Some think of specific enemies of Israel. One group suggested is Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Rome. Luther counters this: “The Romans had not yet done the Jews any harm or scattered them, as the angel here says of the horns, because the Romans at that time were not yet so powerful.” Another group some suggest is Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Egypt. But Luther also counters this: “The Persians had done the Jews much good” (it was the Persians who sent the Jews home from their exile) “and had not yet scattered them” (LW 20:179).

It seems better to take the horns as all of the (four) parts of the world (East, West, South and North), and really a way of describing the Gentiles who scattered the Jews. The one uniting factor in all of the nations that truly oppressed and scattered Israel was that they were not Israel’s relatives, such as the Moabites, Ammonites, or Edomites. They were Gentiles like the Babylonians and Assyrians. And the Egyptians were Gentiles, too. Egypt received some of the scattered exiles like Baruch and Jeremiah who were forced to go there by the wicked heretic Johanan son of Kareah who rejected God’s prophetic word (Jeremiah 43:1-7).

One other suggestion worth considering here is that these are another way of describing the well-known enemies of mankind: the devil, the world, and our sinful human nature. Professor Laetsch wants to round this number up to four, with two enemies on the outside (hostile nations and Satan) and two enemies on the inside (sin and wickedness). This divides “sinful flesh” in the usual grouping into actual sins as opposed to original sins or simply temptations.

Perhaps Zechariah was considering all of these things. The verse that follows hints that he was deep in thought about this for some time, until another part of this vision caught his attention, and he lifted up his eyes to see what came next.

The enemies that surround each one of us should never be underestimated. The world is more and more hostile to the Word of God every day. There are many people who think that by holding up “Love one another” (John 13:34,35; Romans 13:8, etc.), they can dismiss any other passage of the Bible. They think they’ve discovered an exegetical Golden Fleece. But Jesus said that we make disciples by “teaching all nations to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), not only to love one another, but to subordinate ourselves to the will of God, including accepting all of the things he forbids as sins. When we remind one another of these things, we are being truly loving, “being merciful to those who doubt, snatching others from the fire to save them” (as Jude says in his letter, 1:23-24). Those who hold up one passage to say that it’s more important and supersedes all the rest is the very definition of a heretic. But God shows his love to all those who love him and keep his commandments.

Our Savior Jesus rescues us from all sins when we fail to keep his commands, even when we fail to love one another by warning that people’s sins, their lifestyle choices, their rejection of certain parts of God’s word, are equally as sinful and damning as turning away from all of his word. Pray for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to cover over our failures, our sins, and our attitudes, and to restore us to him. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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