I saw, and behold, four horns. And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah and Israel and Jerusalem.
And Jehovah showed me four carpenters. Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to terrify them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted ‘up their horn over the land of Judah, to scatter it.-ZECHARIAH i. 18–21.
THE text describes the vastation, or laying waste, of the church, by false principles, originating in evil loves; and, afterwards, the restoration of the church, by the Lord, by driving out the false principles and establishing a new church, in which were spiritual truths.
In the symbolic language of the Scriptures, a horn represents power, because it is a weapon, by means of which power is used. Swords, clubs, guns, etc., in the hands of men, and the horns, claws, etc., of animals, add greatly to the power which the individual can exert, And so in symbolism these things represent the power which they help to exercise.
In our mental life, in an orderly state of mind, the power of our love is exerted by means of the truth which we know and love and use. And so, in this good sense, a horn, represents the power of truth against evil, falsity, and sin.
But, if our life is disorderly and unregenerate, we do not depend upon the Lord’s truth, but upon false principles, notions of our self-derived intelligence, which are mental darkness. And then, that which we regard as our power, is the power of falsity against goodness and truth. Hence, in this bad sense, a horn represents this power of falsity, exerted in the mind, against the Lord’s truths, which are the laws of human life. And such power of falsity destroys the life and principles of the church, in the mind which cherishes falsities; and also in the church in the aggregate, when such falsities prevail among men.
Horns are frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, in several aspects, and in both good and bad senses. The central life of our Lord is the Divine Love; and His Divine Power is exerted by means of His Divine Truth. And so, whenever horns are mentioned in the Scriptures as belonging to the Lord, they represent His Divine Truth. And horns are often mentioned as belonging to men, to represent the power given to men, by the Lord, by and in the Divine Truth, revealed to men.
Among the Israelites, the suggestive force of these symbols was increased by prevalent customs. Horns were often worn as articles of ornament, and as representative of existing conditions. For men, a metallic band or fillet, was worn around the head; and from the front of this band there extended forward and upward, diagonally, a slender horn of metal, from a few inches long to a foot long, and often highly ornamented, And for women the horn was often much longer; and it extended almost perpendicularly, from a setting in a cap, or other head-dress. When the person held his head high, his horn was held up, or exalted; but when the man was depressed in spirits, and his head drooped, his horn was held low. And thus the position of the horn represented the state of the wearer’s mind. And thus the horn, as a representative, became very familiar to the Israelites.
CEREMONIAL HORNS, ETC.
Horns were also used in ceremonials, The olive oil, used for anointing priests and kings, was kept in flasks made of the horns of cattle, somewhat resembling the old-time powder-horn. At each of the four corners of the altar of incense, and also of the altar of burnt-offerings, there was a representation of a horn, symbolizing the power of truth, in worship.
But when the church degenerated, and her worship became hypocritical, it is said in the prophecy through Amos iii. 14, ” I will visit the transgressions of Israel; I will also visit the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground;” by which is meant that the power of the church shall perish, because of evil in the men of the church.
And in the symbolic visions of the prophets, many horned beasts were seen, which are especially mentioned. Daniel, in vision, saw a certain goat with a notable horn. At another time, he saw dreadful beasts with prominent horns: one beast had ten horns. And John saw a great dragon with ten horns. All these bad beasts represented falsity, warring against the Lord’s truth, for the destruction of the church.
In such cases, the truth became obscured, in the minds of men who depended upon self-derived intelligence. The falsities which sprang from evil, thus scattered the truths of the church, breaking up the life of the church. For the church can live from the Lord, only, and in the knowledge of the Lord, and in the love and practice of the Lord’s revealed principles. And sometimes, when such a state of mind became somewhat general among the people of the church, the people were dispersed, scattered among the nations, in captivity to the Gentiles.
And this condition is represented, in the symbolic imagery of the text, by the horns which “scattered Judah and Israel and Jerusalem.” Judah represents the church as to its goodness, or love; Israel represents the church as to its truth, or wisdom : and the city of Jerusalem represents the church as to the doctrines taught in the church. And goodness, truth, and right doctrine, are all scattered from the mind of the man who indulges in falsities, and who depends upon his own self-derived notions, instead of the Divine Truth.
There were four of these horns shown to the prophet. In symbolism, in general, even numbers refer to the life of the will, or heart, and thus represent man’s condition as to love, or goodness; while odd numbers refer to the life of the understanding, or intellect, and thus represent the man’s condition as to truth, intelligence, and knowledge.
Two, as a number, represents goodness, because of the union of love arid wisdom, the two uniting in a righteous life. Four is twice two: and it includes two in a double form ; thus, in one sense, representing goodness both inwardly in the mind, and outwardly in the conduct.
In nature there are four quarters, or points of the compass, North, South, East, and West, to represent all the general conditions of the human mind, natural intelligence, spiritual intelligence, spiritual love, and natural love.
But when a man has degenerated in character, these representatives, in their reference to him, change their representation to the opposite quality. Thus, in the evil man, the North, South, East, and West denote conditions of falsity and of evil. And these are the mental conditions which are induced by the four horns mentioned in the text, the power of falsity, which had scattered judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.
CARPENTERS, OR SMITHS.
But it was the Lord’s intention and plan to restore the church, by counteracting the evil effects of falsities in the church. And we must remember that such falsities, being derived from evil, are not merely false doctrines, taught in the church, but false principles, loved in the heart, and cherished in the thought, and practised in the life, and encouraging selfish lusts instead of righteous loves, and vicious thoughts instead of true ideas. And, in order to break the force of these vicious falsities in human minds, the Lord brought against them the literal sense of His Divine Word, truth in ultimates, as applied to man’s every-day practical conduct, so that the man could see what he should do in his daily life.
And we can clearly see the great power exercised by plain literal truths, laws of conduct, which hold the man strictly to a certain course of action, whatever may be his own notions, or theories. And thus, by keeping a man’s attention upon his action, the practical work he is doing, his mind can be released from the deadening influence of falsities, at least gradually, if he can be led to be willing to be so released.
These practical truths are the carpenters whom Zechariah saw in the vision. The Hebrew word here translated ” carpenter,” in the common version of the Bible, is, in the American Revised Version, rendered” smiths.” Evidently, the word refers to men of skill, mechanics, artificers, craftsmen, who are skilful in the use of iron tools. And iron tools represent truths in their literal aspects, for practical application.
And these skilful mechanics were sent out to ” fray” (i.e., to frighten, or terrify) the four horns, or falsities, and thus to drive these falsities, from the minds of the men of the church. If a man can be kept in good work, doing good according to the revealed truth of the Lord, even in outward form, his mind will become more and more open to new truths, which agree with the practical good that he is doing; and, gradually, he can be led out of former false notions.
But, in the man’s mind, the new practical truths, as working rules of daily conduct, must enable the reform to reach the same levels of thought and of feeling which the falsities occupied. And so there are “four carpenters” to “fray”. the four horns; i.e., the new truth can reach and overcome every form and phase of the old falsity, if the man will allow the good influence to operate within his mind. And so, in the first vision of Zechariah, there were four horsemen, who were searching into the spiritual conditions of the church.
And this balance of four against four may well suggest to us the balance of power, the equilibrium, maintained in our minds by our Lord, in the operations of His Divine Providence, so that we may be always in spiritual freedom to turn to goodness and truth, and to resist evil and falsity. Whatever may be our actual temptations, there is always present with us, adequate spiritual help and protection, which we may use if we are willing to do so. In Isaiah liv. 16, 17, we read, “Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals, in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work. . . . No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee, in judgment, thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah.”
LIFTING THE HEAD.
It is said that these horns ” scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head;” i.e., conquered men, crushed and humiliated them, so as to break their courage and independence. The head, as the highest part of man’s body, represents his ruling-love, with its intelligence.
The effect of the oppression of a man’s mind by false ideas, drawn from evil, is to crush all that is noble, spiritual, and manly in him. But the new truths, taught in the letter of the Divine Word, and there put in a form to be brought into practical use, will scatter the ” horns of the Gentiles,” and will enable the man to lift up his head, again; i.e., to elevate his interior manhood, and to regain spiritual intelligence.
Literally, “the horns of the Gentiles” were the dreadful falsities learned by the Israelites from the surrounding heathen nations. But spiritually, those heathen are within our own natural minds.
The general literal intent of the vision in our text, was to encourage the Jews, and to assure them that their present national afflictions would come to an end, and that better days were in store for them. The Jew expected better days to come to him in better external conditions : but the intelligent Christian looks for his “better days” in inward changes, in the improvement of his own character, under the Divine leading and teaching.
Zechariah says, “Jehovah answered the angel who talked with me, with good words and comfortable words.” And our Lord always answers our every sincere inquiry for spiritual life “with good words and comfortable words.”
The text representatively illustrates our Lord’s deliverance of Israel, in the distant past, and His promise to overthrow her enemies in the future. And the history of Israel, as narrated in the Scriptures, presents, to our enlightened intelligence, a representative and symbolic picture of our own individual careers. And while the record may well make us serious, yet it gives us also ample reason to rejoice in the possibilities before us, in the measure in which each of us is willing to become, like Nathaniel of old, spiritually, “an Israelite, indeed, without “guile.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903