What are the horns mentioned in Zechariah 1:19-21?
When interpreting a verse, we need to look at it in context first:
Zech. 1:12 Then the angel of the Lord said, “O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?”
Zech. 1:13 The Lord answered the angel who was speaking with me with gracious words, comforting words.
Zech. 1:14 So the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.
Zech. 1:15 “But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster.”
Zech. 1:16 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord, “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem.”’
Zech. 1:17 “Again, proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “My cities will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.”’”
Zech. 1:18 Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, there were four horns.
Zech. 1:19 So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these?” And he answered me, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”
Zech. 1:20 Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen.
Zech. 1:21 I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head; but these craftsmen have come to terrify 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.”
These words were spoken through Zechariah at the end of Israel’s 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Babylon had since been conquered by Persia, and the prophet hears the Angel of the Lord asking the Father how much longer Israel must endure God’s judgment. The Father answers the Angel of the Lord (i.e., Christ) in v.13, yet Zechariah doesn’t share His answer with us.
Then the Angel of the Lord affirms that the Lord is very jealous for Israel and will show compassion upon them and build His house (i..e, the temple) again in Jerusalem. Moreover, the Lord confirms that Zion will rise in a day to come, speaking of the coming Kingdom on earth. These promises remind the reader that Israel’s distress under Gentile rulers was not intended to destroy them, and eventually the Lord will give Israel her proper place on earth as He promised.
Then the Lord gave the prophet a vision to confirm His promises to bring judgment against Israel’s Gentile oppressors and to bring comfort to Israel. Four horns brought terror to the prophet, but then four “smiths" or craftsmen appeared to hammer the horns into submission. Horns are symbols of power or authority in scripture, and a smith is one who brings strong things into submission, like a blacksmith working metal into shape.
Therefore, the four horns represent the four stages of the Age of Gentiles describes in Daniel 2 and 7, which are the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, which will place Israel under Gentile authority. Eventually, these four horns will be brought into submission to Christ Himself at His Second Coming.
You can learn more about the Age of the Gentiles represented by these horns by listening to our Daniel Bible study.