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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


E. The gold lampstand and the two olive trees ch. 4

This vision would have encouraged the two leaders of the restoration community, Zerubbabel and Joshua, by reminding them of God’s resources, and it would have vindicated these leaders in the eyes of the Israelites. Chapter 3 brought Joshua forward to encourage him, and chapter 4 does the same to Zerubbabel. The chapter contains the vision (Zechariah 4:1-5), two oracles concerning Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6-10), and the interpretation of the vision (Zechariah 4:11-14). It presents Israel as the light of the world under Messiah, her king-priest. The amillennial interpretation sees no fulfillment in the future for Israel, only in the church.

". . . after Israel as the priestly nation of God has been cleansed from all defilement and has entered into the restoration of her priestly calling, then she is prepared to fulfill God’s original purpose in her as the bearer of light and truth to all the surrounding nations in their idolatry and paganism." [Note: Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 69.]

"Vision five forms a matching pair with vision four, both in terms of its juxtaposition to it and its subject matter. Both deal with cultic persons or objects (the high priest and the menorah respectively), both mention historical persons contemporary to the prophet (Joshua and Zerubbabel), both refer to temple building, and both reach their climax on a strong messianic note." [Note: Merrill, p. 145.]

Verse 1

Zechariah’s guiding angel roused the prophet from his visionary slumber. Evidently when the last scene of his vision ended Zechariah remained in a sleep-like condition. Even in an ecstatic state human beings remain dull and obtuse to divine revelation and must receive supernatural enlightenment.

Verses 1-5

1. The vision 4:1-5

Verses 2-3

The angel asked the prophet what he saw, and Zechariah replied that he saw a golden lampstand with a bowl above it. Lampstands generally, and the lampstands in the tabernacle and temple particularly, held removable lamps (Exodus 25:31; 1 Kings 7:49). Their purpose was to support these light-bearers. Symbolically a lampstand represents what supports whatever bears light (cf. Matthew 5:16; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:5). This seems to be the figure in view in 1 Timothy 3:15 where Paul called the church the pillar and support of the truth. The purpose of the church is to support individual Christians who bear the light of God’s truth in a dark world (cf. Revelation 1:20). Ultimately the light is the Lord Himself (John 1:8-9; 1 Timothy 3:16). In the case of the present vision the lampstand represents the temple and the Jewish community, which were to hold the light of Israel’s testimony to Yahweh up to the rest of the world. The bowl on top of this lampstand contained oil that constantly replenished the lamps (cf. Zechariah 4:12).

"Lamp pedestals excavated from Palestine cities were . . . cylindrical in shape, hollow, and looked rather like a tree trunk. They were usually made of pottery, and had a hole in the side, into which a spout could have been fixed. . . . Zechariah’s lampstand (menora) was probably just a cylindrical column, tapered slightly towards the top, on which was a bowl. Innumerable pottery versions of bowl lamps show how the rim was pinched together to form a holder for the wick, the better the light needed the more the places for wicks, seven being the most popular number. . . . The picture is of seven small bowls, each with a place for seven wicks, arranged round the rim of the main bowl. . . . What would be unusual would be such a lampstand in gold. With its seven times seven lights it would be both impressive and effective." [Note: Baldwin, pp. 119-20.]

The Hebrew text has "seven and seven pipes to the lamps." Most conservative commentators understood the number of pipes (spouts) connecting the large upper bowl to the individual lamps below to be distributive, indicating seven each for a total of 49 such pipes. This presents the picture of a somewhat "spaghetti-like configuration" [Note: Merrill, p. 148.] "with an excess of plumbing." [Note: Leupold, p. 85.] Nevertheless this interpretation seems to be truest to the text. Another view is that there were two pipes connecting the bowl to each of the lamps for a total of 14 pipes. The Septuagint simply omitted one of these sevens resulting in one pipe connecting them for a total of seven. The large number of pipes probably stresses the abundant supply of oil from the reservoir to each lamp.

There were seven lamps, one resting on each of the seven branches of the lampstand, and each lamp had seven spouts (lips). Most such earthenware lamps that archaeologists have found had only one spout for a wick. Here the picture is of a full complement of lamps (seven) that manifested the full complement of light (seven flames from each lamp).

There were also two olive trees, one standing on either side of the bowl. Human maintenance of the lamps was unnecessary since the oil flowed from the trees to the reservoir to the lamps. This important feature of the vision stresses God’s singular provision of the oil (cf. Zechariah 4:6).

"The two olive trees represent Joshua and Zerubbabel, whose witness in that day is the prototype of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12. Actually no human being can be the real source of the power that actuates God’s witness. It is only as Joshua, Zerubbabel, or any other human being represents Christ, the true Priest-King, that he fulfills this vision. In their fullest significance the two olive trees speak of Christ, the LORD’s Priest-King (cp. Psalms 110:4)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., pp. 966-67.]

Verses 4-5

Zechariah asked the angel for an explanation of what he saw. The angel asked if he did not understand what these things represented, but Zechariah said he did not (cf. Zechariah 4:13).

Verse 6

The angel announced a word of explanation from Yahweh that Zechariah was to pass on to Zerubbabel, the descendant of David who became the leader of the first group of returnees from exile. [Note: See David L. Petersen, "Zerubbabel and Jerusalem Temple Reconstruction," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 36:3 (1974):366-72.] He was to tell him, "not by might [Heb. hayil] nor by power [Heb. koah] but by the Spirit [Heb. ruah] of Yahweh of hosts."

"This principle is an elliptical sentence: ’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts,’ a kind of motto, as it were, to guide all endeavors and enterprises of the nation in these evil days. If we were to complete the ellipsis we might formulate the statement somewhat after the following fashion: If success is to be gained in the achievements of the people of God it will not be secured by what man can do but by the Spirit’s work." [Note: Leupold, p. 87. See also Thurman Wisdom, "’Not by Might, nor by Power, but by My Spirit,’" Biblical Viewpoint 24:2 (November 1990):19-26.]

Since Zerubbabel was leading the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of the community, the Lord’s word to him was a word of encouragement. These restorations would not need an army of workers, as Solomon’s temple did (1 Kings 5:13-18), nor unusually strong laborers. The strength of the workers, in fact, failed because the work was so strenuous (cf. Nehemiah 4:10). The work would succeed because of the supernatural grace (help) that the Lord would provide by His Spirit (cf. Genesis 1:2; Exodus 15:8; Exodus 15:10; Exodus 28:3; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:17-29; Judges 3:10; Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14; Judges 15:19; 2 Samuel 22:16; Ezekiel 37:1-14). This is, of course, true of any work that seeks to carry out God’s will in the world (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Verses 6-7

The first oracle 4:6-7

Verses 6-10

2. Two oracles concerning Zerubbabel 4:6-10

The writer inserted two oracles that Zechariah received from the Lord concerning Zerubbabel at this point because they help clarify the meaning of the vision.

Verse 7

A great mountain would become a plain before Zerubbabel. Mountains epitomize large obstacles (cf. Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 41:15; Isaiah 49:11; Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23; 1 Corinthians 13:2). They are also symbols of kingdoms (cf. Isaiah 41:15; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:45; et al), but that is not the meaning here. The whole process of temple restoration seemed like a mountainous job to the few exiles who returned from captivity. In addition, there was much opposition to building (Ezra 4:1-5; Ezra 4:24), and the Israelites themselves proved unwilling to persevere in the task (Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:1-9). Nevertheless, God would reduce this mountain to a flat plain by assisting the workers.

Furthermore Zerubbabel would bring forth the top stone, the final stone on the project, with shouts of "Grace, grace to it." The joyful cry of the people as they saw the last stone put in place would voice their prayer that God’s blessing would now rest on the beautiful structure that His grace had made possible.

"There is nothing that makes the heart of God’s people more ready to overflow with the truest joy than to witness success or the fulfillment of God’s promises in the work of the kingdom." [Note: Leupold, p. 90.]

Verses 8-9

Another word from the Lord also came to Zechariah about Zerubbabel. This appears to be another oracle that the writer inserted here because it is appropriate at this point. He promised that as Zerubbabel had laid the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:8-11; Ezra 5:16), so he would also complete it (cf. Ezra 6:14-18). Construction began on the foundation of the temple in 536 B.C. and the last stone went in place in 515 B.C. The date of this oracle is unclear, but it probably came in 519 B.C. or perhaps shortly before that (cf. Zechariah 1:7). Ezra 5:16 credits Sheshbazzar with laying the foundation, but Ezra 3:8 and Zechariah 4:9 give Zerubbabel the credit for doing it. Probably Zerubbabel finished the work that Sheshbazzar had started. The Lord promised that when the temple was complete the people would know that it was indeed the Lord who had sent the messenger who brought this message to Zechariah. The messenger in view appears to be the angel of the Lord (cf. Zechariah 1:11-12; Zechariah 2:8-9; Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 3:1; Zechariah 3:5-6).

Verses 8-10

The second oracle 4:8-10

Verse 10

The people would be ashamed that they had despised the rebuilding project as insignificant (cf. Ezra 3:12; Haggai 2:3). [Note: See Wayne O. McCready, "The ’Day of Small Things’ vs. the Latter Days: Historical Fulfillment or Eschatological Hope?" in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, pp. 223-36.] The Lord Himself was glad to see Zerubbabel building with his plumb line as His omniscient eyes surveyed all that was happening in the world (cf. Zechariah 3:9; 2 Chronicles 16:9). The Hebrew words translated "plumb line" may mean "separated [i.e., chosen] stone." In this case the idea would be that the Lord, in addition to His people, would rejoice when He saw the capstone put in place (cf. Zechariah 4:7; Ezra 6:16-22). Now His people could serve Him as He purposed.

"Bible history is the record of God using small things. When God wanted to set the plan of salvation in motion, He started with a little baby named Isaac (Genesis 21). When He wanted to overthrow Egypt and set His people free, He used a baby’s tears (Exodus 2:1-10). He used a shepherd boy and a sling to defeat a giant (1 Samuel 17) and a little lad’s lunch to feed a multitude (John 6). He delivered the Apostle Paul from death by using a basket and a rope (Acts 9:23-25). Never despise the day of small things, for God is glorified in small things and uses them to accomplish great things." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 456.]

Verses 11-12

Zechariah asked specifically for an explanation of the olive trees that he had seen (Zechariah 4:4). He also wanted to know the meaning of the two branches of these trees that emptied olive oil into two golden pipes (spouts) that carried the golden oil into the bowl atop the lampstand. "Golden oil" is literally "gold," but clearly olive oil, which is golden in color, is in view. However, it may be the pure quality and value of the oil more than its color that the gold connotes. [Note: Unger, p. 79.]

Verses 11-14

3. The interpretation of the vision 4:11-14

Though some help understanding the vision came through the preceding oracles concerning Zerubbabel, Zechariah still had some questions about what he had seen in the vision. The angel helped him further.

Verse 13

Again the interpreting angel expressed surprise that Zechariah needed an explanation of these things (cf. Zechariah 4:5). He did not want to give an interpretation if Zechariah could figure it out himself. Normally God does not provide additional information until we have done all we can to discover His meaning. To do so would discourage human effort Godward.

Verse 14

He then said that the two branches represented the two anointed ones who stood by the Lord of all the earth. It was their relationship to the Lord that equipped them for their tasks. "Anointed ones" is literally "sons of oil."

"The phrase ’sons of oil’ is typically interpreted to mean that the two individuals mentioned were anointed with oil as the Lord’s special servants (see NIV). However, the word for ’oil’ used here (Heb. yitshar) does not refer to anointing oil elsewhere (the Hebrew term for such oil is shemen) but to fresh oil that symbolizes a land’s agricultural abundance. [Note: Footnote 299: See David L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8, pp. 230-31.] It is more likely, then, that the individuals are called ’sons of oil’ because under their leadership the Lord would restore agricultural prosperity to the land (see Zechariah 3:10, as well as Haggai 2:19). These ’sons of oil’ were, of course, the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel (see Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:7-10; Zechariah 6:9-15)." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 462.]

Nevertheless, the earlier reference to the Spirit’s enablement (Zechariah 4:6) presents these "sons of oil" as empowered by Him. [Note: For an edifying explanation of the similarities between oil and the Holy Spirit, see Feinberg, God Remembers, pp. 74-75.]

Zerubbabel and Joshua point ultimately to the Messiah who combined the royal and priestly offices and functions in one person, the Branch (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; cf. Psalms 110; Hebrews 7). Some of the Jews in Jesus’ day (e.g., the Qumran community) expected two Messiahs, a princely one and a priestly one. [Note: See Helmer Ringgren, The Faith of Qumran, pp. 171-73.] In the Tribulation two other special witnesses will appear (cf. Revelation 11:3-12).

The point of this vision and its accompanying oracles was the Lord’s ability to bring a seemingly impossible project to completion successfully and gloriously through His anointed servants (Messiah, and Zerubbabel and Joshua) and His supernatural enablement (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). The lesson is applicable to any project that God has ordained and called His people to execute, including rebuilding the temple and building the church (Matthew 16:18).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Zechariah 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/zechariah-4.html. 2012.
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