Commentaries on Zechariah’s vision in chapter 4 of Zechariah

Zechariah

THE SOURCE OF POWER

Zechariah 4:1Zechariah 4:10.

THE preceding vision had reference to Joshua the priest, and showed him restored to his prerogative of entrance into the sanctuary. This one concerns his colleague Zerubbabel, the representative of civil power, as he of ecclesiastical, and promises that he shall succeed in rebuilding the Temple. The supposition is natural that the actual work of reconstruction was mainly in the hands of the secular ruler.

Flesh is weak, and the Prophet had fallen into deep sleep, after the tension of the previous vision. That had been shown him by Jehovah, but in this vision we have the same angel interpreter who had spoken with Zechariah before. He does not bring the vision, but simply wakes the Prophet that he may see it, and directs his attention to it by the question, ‘What seest thou?’ The best way to teach is to make the learner put his conceptions into definite words. We see things more clearly, and they make a deeper impression, when we tell what we see. How many lazy looks we give at things temporal as well as at things eternal, after which we should be unable to answer the Angel’s question! It is not every one who sees what he looks at.

The passage has two parts-the vision and its interpretation, with related promises.

The vision may be briefly disposed of. Its original is the great lamp which stood in the tabernacle, and was replaced in the Solomonic Temple by ten smaller ones. These had been carried away at the Captivity, and we do not read of their restoration. But the main thing to note is the differences between this lamp and the one in the tabernacle. The description here confines itself to these: They are three-the ‘bowl’ or reservoir above the lamp, the pipes from it to the seven lights, and the two olive-trees which stood on either side of the lamp and replenished from their branches the supply in the reservoir. The tabernacle lamp had no reservoir, and consequently no pipes, but was fed with oil by the priests. The meaning of the variations, then, is plain. They were intended to express the fuller and more immediately divine supply of oil. If the Revised Version’s rendering of the somewhat doubtful numerals in Zechariah 4:2 be accepted, each several light had seven pipes, thus expressing the perfection of its supplies.

Now, there can be no doubt about the symbolism of the tabernacle lamp. It represented the true office of Israel, as it rayed out its beams into the darkness of the desert. It meant the same thing as Christ’s words, ‘Ye are the light of the world,’ and as the vision of the seven golden candlesticks, in Revelation 1:12Revelation 1:13, Revelation 1:20. The substitution of separate lamps for one with seven lights may teach the difference between the mere formal unity of the people of God in the Old Testament and the true oneness, conjoined with diversity, in the New Testament Church, which is one because Christ walks in the midst. Zechariah’s lamp, then, called to the minds of the little band of restored exiles their high vocation, and the changed arrangements for the supply of that oil, which is the standing emblem for divine communications fitting for service, or, to keep to the metaphor, fitting to shine, signified the abundance of these.

The explanation of the vision is introduced, as at Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah 1:19, by the Prophet’s question of its meaning. His angelic teacher is astonished at his dullness, as indeed heavenly eyes must often be at ours, and asks if he does not know so familiar an object. The Prophet’s ‘No, my Lord,’ brings full explanation. Ingenuously acknowledged ignorance never asks Heaven for enlightenment in vain.

First, the true source of strength and success, as shown by the vision, is declared in plain terms. What fed the lamp? Oil, which symbolises the gift of a divine Spirit, if not in the full personal sense as in the New Testament, yet certainly as a God-breathed influence, preparing prophets, priests, kings, and even artificers, for their several forms of service. Whence came the oil? From the two olive-trees, which though, as Zechariah 4:14 shows, they represented the two leaders, yet set forth the truth that their power for their work was from God; for the Bible knows nothing of ‘nature’ as a substitute for or antithesis to God, and the growth of the olive and its yield of oil is His doing.

This, then, was the message for Zerubbabel and his people, that God would give such gifts as they needed, in order that the light which He Himself had kindled should not be quenched. If the lamp was fed with oil, it would burn, and there would be a Temple for it to stand in. If we try to imagine the feebleness of the handful of discouraged men, and the ring of enemies round them, we may feel the sweetness of the promise which bade them not despond because they had little of what the world calls might.

We all need the lesson; for the blustering world is apt to make us forget the true source of all real strength for holy service or for noble living. The world’s power at its mightiest is weak, and the Church’s true power, at her feeblest, is omnipotent, if only she grasps the strength which is hers, and takes the Spirit which is given. The eternal antithesis of man’s weakness at his haughtiest, and God’s strength even in its feeblest possessors, is taught by that lamp flaming, whatever envious hands or howling storms might seek to quench it, because fed by oil from on high. Let us keep to God’s strength, and not corrupt His oil with mixtures of foul-smelling stuff of our own compounding.

Next, in the strength of that revelation of the source of might a defiant challenge is blown to the foe. The ‘great mountain’ is primarily the frowning difficulties which lifted themselves against Zerubbabel’s enterprise, and more widely the whole mass of worldly opposition encountered by God’s servants in every age. It seems to bar all advance; but an unseen Hand crushes it down, and flattens it out into a level, on which progress is easy. The Hebrew gives the suddenness and completeness of the transformation with great force; for the whole clause, ‘Thou shalt become a plain,’ is one word in the original.

Such triumphant rising above difficulties is not presumption when it has been preceded by believing gaze on the source of strength. If we have taken to heart the former words of the Prophet, we shall not be in danger of rash overconfidence when we calmly front obstacles in the path of duty, assured that every mountain shall be made low. A brave scorn of the world, both in its sweetnesses and its terrors, befits God’s men, and is apt to fulfil its own confidences; for most of these terrors are like ghosts, who will not wait to be spoken to, but melt away if fairly faced. Nor should we forget the other side of this thought; namely, that it is the constant drift of Providence to abase the lofty in mind, and to raise the lowly. What is high is sure to get many knocks which pass over lower heads. To men of faith every mountain shall either become a plain or be cast into the sea.

Then follows, on the double revelation of the source of strength and the futility of opposition, the assurance of the successful completion of the work. The stone which is to crown the structure shall be brought forth and set in its place amid jubilant prayers not offered in vain, that ‘grace’-that is, the protecting favour of God-may rest on it.

The same thought is reiterated and enlarged in the next ‘word,’ which is somewhat separated from the former, as if the flow of prophetic communication had paused for a moment, and then been resumed. In Zechariah 4:9 we have the assurance, so seldom granted to God’s workers, that Zerubbabel shall be permitted to complete the task which he had begun. It is the fate of most of us to inherit unfinished work from our predecessors, and to bequeath the like to our successors. And in one aspect, all human work is unfinished, as being but a fragment of the fulfilment of the mighty purpose which runs through all the ages. Yet some are more happy than others, in that they see an approximate completion of their work. But whether it be so or not, our task is to ‘do the little we can do, and leave the rest with God,’ sure that He will work all the fragments into a perfect whole, and content to do the smallest bit of service for Him. Few of us are strong enough to do separate building. We are like coral insects, whose reef is one, though its makers are millions.

Zerubbabel finished his task, but its end was but a new beginning of an order of things of which he did not see the end. There are no beginnings or endings, properly speaking, in human affairs, but all is one unbroken flow. One man only has made a real new beginning, and that is Jesus Christ; and He only will really carry His work to its very last issues. He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. He is the Foundation of the true Temple, and He is also the Headstone of the corner, the foundation on which all rests, the apex to which all runs up. ‘When He begins, He will also make an end.’

The completion of the work is to be the token that the ‘angel who spake with me’ was God’s messenger. We can know that before the fulfilment, but we cannot but know it after. Better to be sure that the message is from God while yet the certainty is the result of faith, than to be sure of it afterwards, when the issue has shattered and shamed our doubts.

If we realise that God’s Spirit is the guarantee for the success of work done for God, we shall escape the vulgar error of measuring the importance of things by their size, as, no doubt, many of these builders were doing. No one will help on the day of great things who despises that of small ones. They say that the seeds of the ‘big trees’ in California are the smallest of all the conifers. I do not vouch for the truth of the statement, but God’s work always begins with little seeds, as the history of the Church and of every good cause shows. ‘What do these feeble Jews?’ sneered the spectators of their poor little walls, painfully piled up, over which a fox could jump. They did very little, but they were building the city of God, which has outlasted all the mockers.

Men might look with contempt on the humble beginning, but other eyes than theirs looked at it with other emotions. The eyes which in the last vision were spoken of as directed on the foundation stone, gaze on the work with joy. These are the seven eyes of ‘the Lord,’ which are ‘the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth’ {Revelation 5:6}. The Spirit is here contemplated in the manifoldness of His operations rather than in the unity of His person. Thus the closing assurance, which involves the success of the work, since God’s eyes rest on it with delight, comes round to the first declaration, ‘Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit.’ Note the strong contrast between ‘despise’ and ‘rejoice.’ What matter the scoffs of mockers, if God approves? What are they but fools who look at that which moves His joy, and find in it only food for scorn? What will become of their laughter at last? If we try to get so near God as to see things with His eyes, we shall be saved from many a false estimate of what is great and what is small, and may have our own poor little doings invested with strange dignity, because He deigns to behold and bless them.

Zechariah 4:1-3. And the angel came again, and waked me — This seems to indicate, that the prophet’s attention was very deeply engaged by the foregoing vision; that all the powers of his mind were wholly engrossed by it; so that he had even fallen into a kind of trance, or ecstasy, when he was roused again by the angel, to attend to what follows. And said unto me, What seest thou? — Thus the angel still further excites his attention. And I said, Behold a candlestick of gold — This represented the church of God, Jewish and Christian, set up for the enlightening of this dark world, by diffusing the light of divine truth. The candle, or lamp, is God’s, the church is but the candlestick; but it is all of gold, signifying the great worth of the church, composed of the excellent of the earth. This golden candlestick had seven lamps, branching out from it by so many sockets, in each of which was a burning and shining light. The Jewish Church was but one; and though the Jews that were dispersed had probably synagogues in other countries, yet they were but as so many lamps belonging to one candlestick; but now, under the gospel, Christ is the centre of unity, and not Jerusalem, or any one place; and, therefore, seven particular churches are represented, not as seven lamps, but as seven several golden candlesticks, Revelation 1:20. This candlestick had one bowl, or common receiver, on the top, into which oil was continually dropping; and from it, by seven pipes or conduits, it was conveyed to the seven lamps; so that without any further care, they received oil as fast as they wasted it, and so were kept always burning. And the bowl too was continually supplied, without any care or attendance of man, from two olive-trees, (Zechariah 4:3,) one on each side of the candlestick, which were so fat and fruitful, that, of their own accord, they poured plenty of oil continually into the bowl. So that nobody needed to attend to this candlestick, to furnish it with oil; it tarried not for man, nor waited for the sons of men: the scope of which is to show, that God easily can, and often doth, accomplish his gracious purposes concerning his church by his own wisdom and power, without any art or labour of man. And though sometimes he makes use of instruments, yet he neither needs them, nor is confined to them, but can do his work without them, and will, rather than it shall remain undone.

4:1-7 The prophet’s spirit was willing to attend, but the flesh was weak. We should beg of God that, whenever he speaks to us, he would awaken us, and we should then stir up ourselves. The church is a golden candlestick, or lamp-bearer, set up for enlightening this dark world, and holding forth the light of Divine revelation. Two olive trees were seen, one on each side the candlestick, from which oil flowed into the bowl without ceasing. God brings to pass his gracious purposes concerning his church, without any art or labour of man; sometimes he makes use of his instruments, yet he needs them not. This represented the abundance of Divine grace, for the enlightening and making holy the ministers and members of the church, and which cannot be procured or prevented by any human power. The vision assures us that the good work of building the temple, should be brought to a happy end. The difficulty is represented as a great mountain. But all difficulties shall vanish, and all the objections be got over. Faith will remove mountains, and make them plains. Christ is our Zerubbabel; mountains of difficulty were in the way of his undertaking, but nothing is too hard for him. What comes from the grace of God, may, in faith, be committed to the grace of God, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

The angel came again – The angel (as before Zechariah 2:3) had gone forth to receive some fresh instruction from a higher angel or from God.

And awakened me – As a man is awakened out of sleep. Zechariah, overwhelmed by the greatness of the visions, must have sunk down in a sort of stupor, as after the vision of the ram and he-goat, as Gabriel was speaking with him, Daniel says, “I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground, and he touched me and set me upright” Daniel 8:18; and again at the voice of the angel, who, after his three weeks’ fast Daniel 10:9, came to declare to him Daniel 10:21 the scripture of truth; and at the Transfiguration, “Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they were awake, they saw His glory.” Luke 9:32. Osorius: “Wondrous and stupendous mysteries were they which were shown to the divine man. He saw the Branch of the Lord; he saw His invincible might; he saw His brightness of Divine Intelligence and Providence; he saw the amplitude of beauty and dignity. Nailed then and struck still with amazement, while he revolved these things in his mind, sunk in a sort of sleep, he is borne out of himself and, mantled around with darkness, understands that the secret things of Divine Wisdom cannot be perfectly comprehended by the mind of any. This then he attained that, his senses being overpowered, he should see nothing, save that wherein is the sum of wisdom, that this immensity of the divine excellence cannot be searched out. By this sleep he was seized, when he was roused by the angel to see further mysteries.”

CHAPTER 4

Zec 4:1-14. Fifth Vision. The golden candlestick and the two olive trees. The temple shall be completed by the aid of God’s Spirit.

1. waked me—The prophet was lying in a state of ecstatic slumber with astonishment at the previous vision. “Came again, and waked me,” does not imply that the angel had departed and now returned, but is an idiom for “waked me again.”By the golden candlestick is foreshowed the good success of Zerubbabel’s foundation, Zechariah 4:1-10; by the two olive trees the two anointed ones, Zechariah 4:11-14.

The angel that talked with me; Christ, who for some time had left Zechariah, and bestowed some time on new dressing, and cleansing, and adorning Joshua, the high priest.

Came again: this is the fourth time of Christ’s revealing his mind to this prophet by vision.

Waked me; either roused him out of a drowsy fit and bodily sleep, or out of an ecstasy, or wonder, that surprising him, he was as if asleep; or shaked him out of a sluggish negligence, or an observance of these things.

ZECHARIAH CHAPTER 4

By the golden candlestick is foreshowed the good success of Zerubbabel’s foundation, Zechariah 4:1-10; by the two olive trees the two anointed ones, Zechariah 4:11-14.

The angel that talked with me; Christ, who for some time had left Zechariah, and bestowed some time on new dressing, and cleansing, and adorning Joshua, the high priest.

Came again: this is the fourth time of Christ’s revealing his mind to this prophet by vision.

Waked me; either roused him out of a drowsy fit and bodily sleep, or out of an ecstasy, or wonder, that surprising him, he was as if asleep; or shaked him out of a sluggish negligence, or an observance of these things.

And the angel that talked with me,…. See Zechariah 1:9,came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep; into which he fell, after he had had the former vision; see Daniel 8:18.

And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.

Ch. Zechariah 4:1. came again and waked me] Or, returned and waked me, i.e. waked me again. Comp. Zechariah 5:1. “The prophet intimates that he lay as one weighed down with ecstatic sleep, through wonder and astonishment at the preceding vision.” Rosenm. Comp. Daniel 8:18; Daniel 8:27; Luke 9:32The Fifth Vision. The Golden Candlestick, Zechariah 4:1-14. Roused by the Interpreting Angel from a sleep or stupor, into which he appears to have fallen, Zechariah 3:1, the prophet sees a golden candlestick or lamp-stand. Like that originally placed in the Tabernacle, it has seven lamps, but they are fed by a bowl placed above them, from which the oil is conveyed into them by pipes, Zechariah 4:2. The bowl itself is supplied with oil by two olive-trees, standing one on either side of the lamp, which empty their oil into the bowl, each through a golden tube, Zechariah 4:3; Zechariah 4:12. At the request of Zechariah, Zechariah 4:4, the Interpreting Angel, with some show of surprise that explanation should be needed, Zechariah 4:5, explains to him the meaning of the vision. It is intended to encourage Zerubbabel in the work of re-building the Temple, by impressing upon him the truth, that as that candlestick gave forth its light, in silent, ceaseless splendour, unfed and untended by human agencies, so the work in which he was engaged, of restoring the material Temple and setting the golden candlestick in its place again, and so preparing the way, first for the Jewish Church, and then for the Christian Church, which that candlestick symbolised (Revelation 1:20), to shine in the world, should be accomplished, not by human resources, but by the Spirit of God, Zechariah 4:6. The great principle involved in the symbol and thus enunciated is now applied to the case in hand. The mountain of difficulty, which stands in the way of Zerubbabel, shall sink down into a plain. With shouts of festive joy he shall set in its place the crowning stone of the edifice, Zechariah 4:7 Yet again, by a repeated assurance conveyed to the prophet through the Angel, Zechariah 4:8, Jehovah confirms the promise to Zerubbabel, that his hands which have begun shall complete the work, and prove in doing so the divine mission of the angel, Zechariah 4:9. Despicable as it might appear in its feeble beginnings in the sight of man, the eyes of Jehovah, which were not only fixed upon it with unceasing watchfulness (Zechariah 4:9), but ran to and fro through the whole earth to take cognisance of and deal with every hindering and every helping influence, rejoiced to see the progress of that house, Zechariah 4:10. Not satisfied with this exposition of its main scope, the prophet asks for information as to some of the details of the vision. What, he would fain know, is the significance of the two olive-trees, Zechariah 4:11, or yet more precisely, of the two branches of them, which through the two golden tubes empty their oil into the bowl of the lamp, Zechariah 4:12. The answer, again given with some show of surprise at the question, Zechariah 4:13, by the Interpreting Angel, is calculated by its obscurity rather to fix attention on the chief lesson of the vision, than to interpret the details to which reference is made. Suffice it to know that the olive trees represent agencies, by which the Lord of the whole earth is pleased to supply the requirements of His Church, Zechariah 4:14.

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5 Responses to Commentaries on Zechariah’s vision in chapter 4 of Zechariah

  1. Anonymous says:

    The identity of two olive trees is clear: the anointed person, i.e. Jesus, who feeds the believers with the olive oil. The olive trees are the only source of olive oil. Oil represent the Spirit. A lampstand represents the believers with agency role of converting the oil (spirit) it receives into light (goodness).

    In the two olive trees symbolism of Jesus, he will die in good manner, being represented by a statement in Zech 4:12 “empty the golden oil out of themselves”, meaning at certain moment of time he will cease to exist with a natural death, not by the killing.
    As God can not die, two trees must be entities which exist separate from God Himself.

    Consideration of these important verses Zech 4:12-14 suggests a representation of the “mortal nature” of Christ as well as his Preexistence. Thus, the believers should not elevate him as immortal God.

    The believers are represented by a lampstand that has agency role of converting the olive oil it receives into light, this light guides the world toward God. Two olive trees represent Jesus from whom the Spirit inspires the words of God to the believers. Hence, the writings of the believers such as of Moses, David, Daniel, and others, even Zechariah himself, come from the same two olive trees.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Symbol of Jesus as a fat olive tree whose fatness makes the grafting of the wild branches possible.
    Rom 11
    17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. 24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?

  3. madmanna says:

    There is only one symbol for man in Zechariah’s vision and that is man himself represented by the men in the vision. It cannot be anything else inside the vision. You cannot have different things representing the same entity, a man, inside the same vision.

  4. Anonymous says:

    In Hebrew, Zech 4:14 literally reads “Shney Bney Hayitzhar” meaning “Two Sons of the Oil”. The ancient Jews have tried to interpret the meaning of important phrase such as in Talmud and Qumran scrolls. Quotation of “two sons of oil” in Talmud Sukkah refers to two Jewish Messiahs – Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David – before the coming of judgment day. Quotation of “two sons of oil” also appears in Qumran’s scroll 4Q254 on the context of an exegesis of Jacob’s prophesy of Judah’s origin of Shiloh. Shiloh is a prophetic name for the Messiah and the Messianic belief.
    In a nutshell, Zech 4:14 refers to the Messiah, he has Preexistence, he has a form of creation, and he is not immortal, hence he is not God.

    Talmud: Two Jewish Messiahs.
    http://juchre.org/talmud/sukkah/sukkah3.htm#52a
    14 But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, I ask of Thee only the gift of life’.’As to life’, He would answer him, ‘Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you’, as it is said, He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever.15 (Pss.21:4).

    Qumran: Two anointed ones of Jacob’s prophesy on Judah’s origin of Shiloh.
    4Q254
    4. These are the Two Anointed Sons who stand by the Lord of the whole earth, those who keep the commandments of God for the men of the Yahad.
    5. Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of-Israel. And Dan shall be as a snake by the roadside, a viper along the way that bites the horse’s heel;
    6. Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel by the God of your father, who will help you by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above.

  5. madmanna says:

    Jewish writings are just expressions of the opinions of some Jews. The bible is it’s own infallible interpreter.

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