Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 3. God of Correction
Zech 1:18,19a Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”
Recap: We have seen in verses 1 to 6 the Lord’s call to His people for their hearts to be fully turned back to Him. A whole-heart commitment to God has to be the starting place for all things in the Christian life, and certainly in the life of the Church. Then yesterday we saw in verses 7 to 17 the first ‘vision’ he received, of riders who returned from observing the earth, who returned with reports that the world was at peace. We noted how that could be unsettling for Israel. Cyrus had returned them to the Land with the instruction to rebuild the temple, and they had come and started it, and yet still Jerusalem was in ruins, the land still devastated and the temple only half started – and all the while the rest of the world seemed at peace. Those who had done this were at peace; Cyrus had brought peace across his dominions and Darius had later inherited that. Peace there may have been but no one else seemed to care about their state. But then there was always the worry that one of these days some marauder might come through the Land again. They felt rather alone and insecure. And then Zechariah gets this second vision, an extension of this vision in the night.
The Second Vision – Part 1: There two parts to this simple and short vision. He has been taking in the import of the previous vision and then looks up and sees something new. “Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns.” (v.18) We need to think about horns in the Bible. There is nothing special about a horn, they are what you find on cattle! They are the defensive part of the animal, the sign of its strength. When Israel were instructed to make a bronze altar for the Tabernacle it had to have a horn at each corner (Ex 27:2), as if to warn people to stay away except when they were to tentatively reach out with their finger with blood (Ex 29:12). The horns signified the strength of the Lord that might act as protection (see 1 Kings 1:51). It is only when we come to prophetic literature that we sense that horns signify strength of powers and authorities (see Dan 7:7,8-) The lamb before the throne in Rev 5 had seven horns and seven eyes. Seven is the number of perfection so he is the one with all might and power who sees all things. So now in this vision there are four horns, four powers or authorities. Zechariah raises the question and gets an answer: “I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?” He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.” (v.19) So in the first part of this simple vision, the focus turns to those who had left Israel and Jerusalem like this.
The Second Vision – Part 2: But then he is shown something else: “Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen.” (v.20) It is apparently clear what or who they are for he doesn’t ask about their nature, only their activity: “I asked, “What are these coming to do?” (v.21a) He senses they are there in the vision for a purpose and so the Lord explains it: “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.” (v.21b) i.e. these ‘craftsmen’ have come to deal with the ‘horns’, the agents of God (presumably angels), have come to pull down those authorities. This is an extension of the Lord’s declaration back in v.15 “I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’” i.e. I called them to be instruments of discipline (implied) but they went too far, they allowed themselves to be carried away and cause more hurt, more harm, more destruction than was needed. They and the world need to know that they are accountable to me, and you need to know that I am a God of justice and a God of protection, so you can get on with the rebuilding without having to fear that they will come again.
Fulfillment? We aren’t told who these ‘horns’ are but in the past Aram had been a major adversary, (as well as lesser enemies such as the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites) followed by Assyria, followed by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. With the fall of Babylon in 539BC the Persian Empire had prevailed as the dominant power, first with Cyrus and other following kings. Round about 330BC the Persian Empire was overcome by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. These downfalls, history may record as just happenings but in the economy of God it is His will that prevailed.
Lessons? There are two sides of the lessons here, first in respect of nations hostile to Israel, and then to Israel themselves. So, first, in respect of other nations. The Bible is quite clear that God uses other nations to discipline Israel when they turn from Him. His goal was to establish Israel and now maintain them, to enable them to be a light to the Gentiles and to create a godly environment into which to bring His Son to redeem the world. It was important to maintain Israel and we always need to keep that in mind when reading the Old Testament. So yes, He will take sinful intentions of neighboring nations and even major empires (as above) but they need to realize that even though He uses them He will hold them accountable where they overstep the mark!
The second lesson is in respect of Israel and there are similarities to what we’ve just said about other nations. The Lord seeks to bless Israel to create this nation that stands out in the world and is a witness to Him, as well as being the environment into which to bring His Son, but that does not mean they can get away with acting like a spoilt and rebellious son. They will be disciplined and that will, at times, be very painful. But as well as this, Israel can rest secure in the knowledge that the Lord is there for them, even when they are being stupid. The Old Testament is, in some ways, a history of their folly and God’s grace and mercy. When they ‘fall off the rails’ God will act by bringing discipline to get them back on track, but when they are coming with good, open and cleansed hearts (as now) they can rest secure that He is there to bless them with all good things, and protect them from bad.
And Us? There were times when Israel were rebuked for appearing good and spiritual (e.g. Isa 58) and using the right words (e.g. Jer 7). Our danger is that we can look respectable, seem to be doing good works, use the right words and yet miss out on the very fundamental issue. What is that? That we let Jesus (the head of the Church) rule over his ‘body’ and empower it, lead it, envision it, inspire it, guide it and use it by his Spirit. Can I ask again, before the beginning of the shutdown of the 2020 Pandemic, was your part of the Church, your local church, acting as a Spirit empowered and gifted body doing the things Jesus did (see Jn 14:12) – all the things – can we say we were empowered by the Spirit, envisioned to see our potential by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and clearly used by the Spirit? Very often I look around the things we do – good things reaching out to bless the community – and wonder, any secular club could do many of these things! What are we doing – proclaiming the Gospel, seeing lives changed, delivered and healed (literally) – that can only be done by the power of God, that a secular club could not do?
If we cannot answer positively to these questions we ask again, has the Lord allowed the Pandemic to halt us in our tracks to have time to see our shortcomings and start crying out for His Presence and Power to come to His Church and transform it. Does it need changing from being a moribund church that is institutional (that focuses on human organisation and planning) and denominational (that, again, is organisation-orientated and which creates boundaries or divisions within the Church), both of which appear miles away from the New Testament pattern and Jesus’ express instructions? Covid-19 may have a greater use, to get the world’s attention, but for the Church has it a disciplinary purpose designed to hold us to account and challenge us in order for us to become the body we were designed to be? Whatever the answer, we can rest in the knowledge that whenever the Lord brings disciplinary action and He uses the ways of the enemy, it is always under the umbrella of “thus far and no further” (as seen in Job 1 & 2), but let’s not miss the main point. We are designed to be, like Israel were, a light to the rest of the world and the place in which Jesus can express himself to the world. May we become that more than we have.