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Bible Commentaries

Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Zechariah 1

Verse 20


‘And the Lord shewed me four carpenters.’

Zechariah 1:20

Carpenters are very useful members of the community. Our text shows us that there is a place for him, and a very important place, too. Happy for us that God has His carpenters, or we should fare but badly in our spiritual conflicts.

Let us think a little about these mysterious workmen, and notice that—

I. God’s carpenters are needed.—How great the need of them was and is the imagery of the vision will show. There was something else besides carpenters to be seen in it. ‘Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns ( Zechariah 1:18). What are the horns? Well, they are not friendly, that is certain. Let us look at these enemies more closely, and inquire, first, as to

Their source. The horns the prophet saw were four in number. Some suppose that there is a reference here to the four great world-powers which successively oppressed the Jewish people.

Certainly the sources of the Church’s woe are manifold and varied. It is not difficult to name four horns which rend and tear the Church in every age. What shall we say to sin, Satan, the world, and death? Are not these universal foes?

Sin! What a foe it is to peace; unforgiven sin! And indwelling sin—the flesh with its affections and lusts—is not this a horn?

Close upon the heels of sin comes Satan. It is still true that ‘the dragon is wroth with the woman, and goes forth to make war with the residue of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ’ ( Revelation 12:17).

Then there is the opposition of the World. ‘Marvel not, my brethren,’ said the Apostle, ‘if the world hate you’ ( 1 John 3:13). ‘If the world hate you,’ said the Master, ‘ye know that it hated Me before it hated you’ (St. John 15:18). If you have never experienced the hatred of the world, you have good reason to question whether you are a servant of Christ at all.

It is quite true that you can’t put down certain things in a ring fence, and say that everything outside that fence is worldly. Some people do, forgetting that worldliness is really life apart from God, and that, therefore, it can follow us, like the atmosphere, anywhere. Yet it remains true that pleasures and pursuits in which God seems out of place, form no inconsiderable part of that world which you and I are pledged to overcome.

Be on your guard against it, for it is a horn indeed; a pushing, powerful, and yet subtle, unconscious influence.

Lastly, there is Death! Yes, Death! What a horn is Death! In our last chapter we dwelt a little on his power. We must be delivered from him, or we shall be all our lifetime subject to bondage.

But now to turn for a moment from the sources of this opposition to its general

Character. The opposition to the Church of Christ has some characteristics which never change. The horns are always pushing, proud, powerful, persecuting, but in other respects how widely do they differ!

There is the horn of ritualism, with its sacerdotal claims, and its dishonour to the one Sacrifice of Calvary.

There is the horn of rationalism, undermining the veracity of Scripture, and casting contempt on our Lord’s own testimony concerning it.

There is the horn of materialism, which refuses to admit the supernatural, and bids its votaries live for the pleasures and pursuits of the passing hour. ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’

There are the horns of animalism and profligacy, daring to say, ‘Evil, be thou my good’; and, like Goliath of old, defying God’s Israel to their face. Here are different forms of evil; but the spirit which actuates them is the same.

But now as to the effect of all this opposition. How far did the horns prevail? ‘No man did lift up his head.’ So it has often been since. The history of the Church, and of the individual Christian, furnishes ample illustrations of just such straits. Again and again it has seemed as if the powers of evil must prevail. But the fortunes of the Church are modelled upon those of her Founder. The path to victory lies through seeming defeat. ‘Out of death comes life.’ ‘When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him’ ( Isaiah 59:19).

II. God’s carpenters are provided.—‘The Lord shewed 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 fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over Judah to scatter it’ ( Zechariah 1:21).

Four carpenters. What shall we say of them? First, that the help which God provides is suitable. These men were skilled workmen. They knew how to deal with horns. No doubt they had their tools with them. They brought their saws, and axes, and hammers, and would soon shear off the horns.

Depend upon it, when God wants to fray a horn He knows where to find a carpenter. God’s instruments are suitable instruments, they are perfectly adapted for the work they have to do. God makes no mistakes. He never puts square pegs into round holes. He knows how to prepare the man for the work, and the work for the man.

But again, we learn from the story that God’s help is seasonable. These carpenters made their appearance just at the right moment. Their arrival was most opportune. God’s help always is. It is often late, but never too late. Finally, I observe that God’s help is sufficient. There were four carpenters, one for each horn.

God forgets nothing and omits nothing. ‘His work is perfect.’ He does not send three carpenters to hammer four horns; He does not give you grace for six trials and then fail you in the seventh. He does not strengthen you against one temptation, and then leave you in the lurch to shift for yourself with another. Not so. Christ is a perfect Saviour. Carpenters, did we say? Why, ‘is not this the Carpenter?’ Is not Christ the Alpha and the Omega, and His people’s salvation? Is He not made to us Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption? Certainly He is; and there is nothing too hard for Him. And note, it is by the Cross He saves. Here is His axe and His hammer and His saw. ‘No wound hath the soul that His blood cannot cure.’

It is by His Cross that He frays the horns. It is by the Cross the enmity of the natural heart is slain ( Romans 6:6). It is by the Cross the world is overcome ( Galatians 6:14). It is by the Cross the prince of this world is cast out (St. John 12:31). By this we conquer. Yes, there is a carpenter for every horn.

There is one thing more. ‘The Lord shewed me four carpenters.’

III. God’s carpenters must be revealed.—How was it that the prophet did not see them earlier? How is it that we so often do not see them? It is not because they are not there; it is because our eyes are dull of vision. What must we do if we are to behold the Divine resources? What did the prophet do? ‘Then lifted I up mine eyes.’

Elevation. That is the first step. Lift up your eyes. It is useless to cast them on the ground. From whence should my help come?’ Why, from Him Who made the hills, and Who keepeth truth for ever. Lift up your eyes, and if there is no help for you on earth, perhaps you will see it in heaven. ‘I lifted up mine eyes and looked.’

Contemplation. That is the second condition. Not a careless, heedless glance, but a steady, serious gaze. It is not enough to take a hurried peep into the heavenly mirror; you must give time and prayer, you must stoop down—down on your knees to look, and you shall not look in vain.

Illumination. This was the third point. ‘He will show you things to come.’ He showed the prophet the carpenters. They were there before, but his eyes were holden that he could not see them. It is illumination we want. ‘The eyes of our understanding must be enlightened,’ or we shall never know ‘what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe.’

Then there will be but one thing more. It is interpretation. The God Who reveals must decipher the mysteries He unfolds. It is not enough to have a vision; we must, like Daniel, and our prophet here, and Peter, in the house of Cornelius, in later days, be made to understand the vision, otherwise we shall miss the way after all. He Who speaks must interpret His message to our hearts, and then we shall not listen in vain.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.


‘Oh, child of God! There have been many horns which have scattered thee. Year after year they have wrought sad havoc in thy plans, and cost thee bitter tears. But thine Almighty Friend is very displeased with them that they have wrought so great a disaster, more than was necessary, and now they shall be frayed. When discipline has fulfilled its purpose, it is stayed; when the refining fire has purged out the dross, the smith no longer blows it with the bellows; when the winnowing fan has ridden the wheat of the chaff, there is no need to winnow it further against the evening breeze. “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and say unto her that her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Zechariah 1". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.