God’s Word for You
Zechariah 1:20-21 Horns lifting up horns
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 20, 2022
20 And the LORD showed me four craftsmen. 21 I asked, “What are these coming to do?” He said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could lift up his head, but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter its people.”
The horns were the enemies of Judah, the nations that oppressed them, abused them, and scattered them away from their homeland. But now four craftsmen have come. It pleases God to meet adversity with something meek or small. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” Paul said. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). So when God’s people are faced by these horns, which stand for the strength of the Gentile nations, God does not match them with equal armies and strength. It is not four heavenly horns that appear. It is four ordinary craftsmen: a smith, a carpenter, a bricklayer, a housepainter, or whatever craftsmen he used. They are really angels, but in the forms God commanded.
Now, we should not imagine that these craftsmen have done nothing but minor mischief before these enemies. It’s true, of course, that a blacksmith can make a horse lame, a carpenter can make a door stick or a floorboard loose, a bricklayer can weaken a wall or destroy an archway, and a painter can seal up a window so that it cannot be opened. But these things are not what is truly meant here; the examples come from imagination and experience, but not from the text. Also, it is tempting to read too much into the possibility that by “craftsman” we could read “carpenter” and think of the Savior’s family vocation when the people of Nazareth asked about Jesus, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3). What we really should see is that these were workmen, commanded by God to do their work, ordinary though it might have seemed, and they accomplished it.
Their work was to terrify those nations and to destroy their power, “throwing down their horns.” To be terrified by God is something that happens within the conscience. Where consciences still function, the terror of God causes the sinner to pause, to stop what he is doing, and to have an opportunity to be called back by the gospel in repentance to submit to God and ask forgiveness. Luther writes: “The conscience is so delicate, weak, and helpless a thing that, once it has been terrified, the great concern and greater comfort of the holy word can barely renew it to keep it from becoming more and more desperate every day” (LW 20:22).
The craftsmen did their obedient work. They threw down the horns of the enemies, and notice the strange image of verse 21: the horns of the nations had lifted up their horns, which is to say, the strength had brought out all of its strength; there were no reserves, nothing was held back from the way the pagan Gentiles were punishing the people of God. But the obedient angels fought against them. They stirred up other enemies to make war against these foes, and even their reserves, the strengths brought out from each strength, the horn from each horn, was terrified and thrown down.
This was not an act of preaching law in order to make way for the gospel. This was an act of protection on God’s part. It was what we do when we’re preparing a meal for our children and the cats come and jump up on the counter and try to have a bite for themselves. We brush the cats aside like the Lord brushing aside the Gentiles, or we lift them down off the counter like the Lord removing the pagans from the Promised Land, so that we can give our children good things to eat. The others will get their share later, for the Righteous One sees to the needs even of the animals (Proverbs 12:10), and “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
But all of this act was for the good of God’s people. Not that they deserved his love, nor do we, but when he shows his love, he holds none of it back. His blessings come uncountable, overwhelming us with his compassion and his grace. He covers our sins and he leaves them in the past so that we stand before him forgiven, cleansed, bathed by his grace. This mercy of his endures forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith