I am currently teaching the book of Zechariah. For the class, I am producing a translation that I hope will lend itself to certain reading strategies that current English translations do not easily accommodate. The translation is much in the spirit of Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses. It is followed by comments aimed at lay readers, comments that may explain the logic of a particular translation or certain interpretive issues of the text.
18And I lifted up my eyes, and I looked, and there—four horns! 19And I said to the messenger who spoke to me, “What are these?” And he said to me, “These are the horns which scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”
20And Yahweh showed me four craftsman. 21And I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said, “These are the horns which scattered Judah so that no person lifted up their head. And these are coming to frighten them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up a horn against the land of Judah to scatter it.”
18. four horns. The number four figures in this vision, as it does elsewhere in Zechariah. In the context of Zechariah’s visions, the number four denotes wholeness or completeness. The horn is often a symbol for strength and power (Dan 8:7), both divine (Ps 18:2) and human (Jeremiah 48:25).
19. scattered. This word, often used to refer to the agricultural activity of separating wheat and chaff, is used metaphorically in prophetic texts of Judah’s exile (Ezek 5:2, 10, 12; Jer 15:7) and in Leviticus as a penalty for disobedience (26:33).
20. craftsman. The word used here can refer to a carpenter, mason, or a smith; which one is intended here is dependent on the material of the horns in Zechariah’s vision (c.f. 1 Kgs 22:11).
21. lifted up their head. This phrase is used to indicate one’s status (Job 10:15), often in the context of individual or political autonomy (Gen 40:13, 20; Judg 8:28; Jer 52:31).
to frighten them. This verb is used in the Hebrew Bible as an activity of a dominant military power (Judg 8:12; 2 Sam 17:2; Ezk 30:9). The absence of this fear connotes the faithfulness of Yahweh’s people (Lev 26:6), and it is a characteristic of the prophetic hope of Yahweh’s salvation (Jer 30:10; 46:27; Ezek 34:28; 39:26; Mic 4:4; Zeph 3:13).
who lifted up a horn. The production of iron horns for use in battle in the story of Zedekiah (1 Kgs 22:11) may suggest that actual horns served a ritual purpose in battle.