Zechariah 4:1-14 – Since the day the Lord created and called Israel, His desire has been that she be the keepers, messengers and servants of His Word and light who would take His Word to all people. Because of her sin, she failed at that task. The events of this book took place shortly after Israel’s return from the 70-year Babylonian captivity into which God sent her as discipline for her disobedience and sin. The remnant who returned wondered if the Lord had forsaken them in light of their current circumstances.
What we have covered so far in the first four visions given to Zechariah give Israel hope and assurance that He hasn’t. The Lord promised to choose Jerusalem as His own city. He promised to remove and destroy the enemies of Israel. Jerusalem would be very great, dwelling in a peace that the Lord promised would come. Zechariah’s fourth vision involved the cleansing of Joshua the high priest, indicating that a day was coming when the nation and its people will be forgiven and cleansed. However, the purpose for which God chose Israel—to be the light to the nations—had not yet been accomplished.
There was still a question to be answered: Can Israel become the light God called her to be? The fifth vision that is in this chapter provided the answer and, in the process, dealt with their immediate need to rebuild the Temple. The central message is that the temple would not be completed by men’s skills or his efforts, but by the Spirit of God (Zechariah 4:6).
Another key piece of this vision is the “lampstand” or menorah that stood in the “Holy Place”. Three truths are given by God to Israel and to us in this vision.
1) God’s work will be accomplished by God’s Spirit in Zechariah 4:1-6.
2) God’s work must not be ignored even if it begins in a small way in Zechariah 4:7-10.
3) God’s work values people more than organizations Zechariah 4:11-14.
Zechariah 4:1-6 – The angel awoke Zechariah and asked him what he saw. He replied that he saw a lampstand all of gold with seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it. The angel asks Zechariah what he saw, he replies: “a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps” (Zechariah 4:2). This seven-branched candelabra, was similar to the one in the holy place of the Temple. The major theme of this book is the rebuilding of the Temple and this vision is consistent to that theme.
In the Temple, the menorah provided the only source of light in the holy place. Because no natural light ever entered the holy place, the light of the menorah represented the light of God. Within the inner chamber, the Holy of Holies, the Shekinah glory glowed above the mercy seat. Above and a bit behind the menorah was a bowl that contained the oil for the lampstand. Olive oil flowed from this bowl to supply the individual lamps. That bowl led to seven pipes that fueled the seven lamps. In Zechariah 4:3 Zechariah sees “two olive trees … one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left” (Zechariah 4:3).
In Zechariah 4:12 the prophet asks about the two olive branches. The word “branches” may also be translated as “clusters” of fruit on the olive trees. The idea is that oil of these clusters provided a “golden oil” that flowed through the golden pipes to keep the lamps burning. In Zechariah 4:4-5 in angel asks Zechariah if he knew these were all about. When Zechariah says he does not know the angel gives Zechariah a word for the governor Zerubbabel.
The word is one of the most important truths in Scripture “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). The previous vision focused on Joshua the High Priest, this one focuses on Zerubbabel the governor. What the message means is that any work that God’s people were going to do would only be accomplished by the power of the Spirit of God. Relying on human resources, human wisdom and human strength would make their efforts worthless.
The community had tried to rebuild the temple by their own strength on their return from Babylon 16 years earlier, but those efforts were continually stymied (Ezra 3:8-13). Human effort without the supply of the “oil” of the Holy Spirit would burn itself out.
What the golden olive oil was to the seven fluted oil lamps the Spirit of God is to all aspects of any work done in His name; God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision and power. Those who resist this principle will learn the hard way that they will be powerless to do God’s work. Listen to what C. Campbell Morgan says about the importance of the Lord’s work done by His Spirit and not our own efforts:
Not by resources, nor by resoluteness. These may be high, pure, and mighty; but in so far as they are human they cannot accomplish the work of God in the world. By might and by power, by resources and resoluteness, we may be able to legislate for [ourselves]… we can do much on the human level; but by these things we cannot shine as lights in the world.…
We are very far from believing that. If I were asked to-day to give what I think to be the reason for the comparative failure of the Church of God in missionary enterprise, I would say that we are terribly in danger of imagining that by our own splendid resources and resoluteness we can accomplish the work.
When Zerubbabel and Ezra began leading the Jewish people back from captivity, one of the first things to be rebuilt for the new Temple was the Altar, even before laying the foundation for the Temple (Ezra 3:1-3). Since the altar for the sacrifices was outside the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies Ezra and Zerbbabel felt they should build the altar first in order to reinstitute the sacrificial system. It was by means of blood sacrifices that under the Law one could approach God.
For 70 years there had been no blood sacrifices, so there had been no real possibility of approach to God in accordance with God’s Word. In order to reestablish this connection with the Lord, the altar was rebuilt. Once the altar was rebuilt and the sacrificial system re-instituted, they they began working on the rest of the Temple. The laying of the foundation is found in Ezra 3:8-13. There was a great feast with rejoicing and weeping in Zechariah 4:11-13 because the work was now under way.
The younger men rejoiced greatly to see the Temple beginning to be rebuilt, however, among those who returned from Babylon were some old men who remembered the First Temple in all its glory. There was huge difference between the small foundation rebuilt by Zerubbabel and the massive foundation and Temple that Solomon had built. The older generation wept rather than rejoiced because, to them, the Second Temple was of little value in comparison to the original one.
Thus, with the foundations laid, there was both weeping and rejoicing. Perhaps it was this negativity that caused the enemy to come in and hinder the construction of the Temple. The Samaritans, wished to join in the rebuilding of the Temple in Ezra 4:1-3. Ezra and Zerubbabel rejected them from participating because they had corrupted the true worship of Jehovah, they were not correct in their theology and thus were turned away.
The Samaritans retaliated against the returning Jewish remnant and did what they could to frustrate the continuation of the building of the Temple according to Ezra 4:4-6. They began writing to the Persian authorities to cease the rebuilding of the Temple as Ezra 4:23-24 tells us. This is how work on the Temple was forced to end for a period of 15 years. All the Israel had was an altar and the foundation of the Temple.
Zechariah 4:11-14 – Two olive branches are described in this vision in Zechariah 4:12 and we are told that the oil went through them as well as through the pipes. These branches in all probability were Joshua and Zerubbabel, who represented the offices of high priest and king. With Zechariah they represent three offices which foreshadow the coming Messiah.
Joshua is clearly defined as the high priest in Zechariah 3. Although Zerubbabel never ruled as king or was anointed king, he was in the genealogical line of the Kings of Israel (Matthew 1:12) and was the leader of Israel at that time, and as such had a right to the throne of David because He was actually of David’s line. These personages therefore provide an answer for the question of Zechariah 4:12 concerning the identity of the two olive branches: They represent the high priest and the king of Israel.
Priests and kings were always anointed with oil, a ceremony not ascribed to prophets. This is an image of Israel’s great high priest and king who was anointed by God “with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psalm 45:7). They are also said to “stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14). In Revelation 11:4 we read of the two witnesses who are said to be “the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.”
Their responsibility is to bear witness of the Messiah, who will first come to destroy the nations who have resisted the Lord and then become both the King over the nations and the High Priest ruling and ministering in Israel. The message of this fifth vision was to encourage the remnant in Israel in Zechariah’s day. The Temple would be rebuilt along with the city of Jerusalem. But, far more important, Israel as a nation would eventually know forgiveness of her sins and fulfill the purpose for which she was created, for one day God will bring His glory to Israel (Isaiah 46:13).
Gold is a symbol of diety and is another picture of Israel’s returning Messiah and His coming reign as both King and Priest to Israel and the Nations. Jesus is the channel through which the golden oil (Holy Spirit) will flow to Israel. He is the deity represented by the gold, and through Him flow all that Israel and the nations need to be God’s testimony to the world both now and especially during His millennial reign.
The nation of Israel will be as “a stick snatched from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2), cleansed and forgiven and filled with the Spirit of God. The pattern is always the same. The Lord plucks sinners from the fire, cleanses and forgives them, and, by the power of His Holy Spirit, enables them to be His shining light in a world darkened by sin.