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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Zechariah 4

Verses 1-14


Zechariah 4:0

A. A Golden Candelabrum and its Two Oil Feeders (Zechariah 4:1-5). B. Divine Grace the Source of Strength and Success (Zechariah 4:6-10). C. The Means by which that Grace is obtained (Zechariah 4:11-14).

1And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man who Isaiah 2:0 waked out of his sleep; And said to me, What seest thou? And I said,1 I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, and its oil-vessel2 upon the top of it and its seven lamps upon it, seven pipes each3 for the lamps which are upon the top of it; 3and two olive trees by it, one on the right of the oil vessel and the other on the left of it; 4And I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? 5And the angel that talked with me answered and said to me, Knowest thou not what these are? And I said, No, my lord. 6And he answered and spake to me, saying: This is the word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might and not by power,4 but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah of Hosts. 7Who art thou, O great mountain, before Zerubbabel?5 Be a plain!6 And he shall bring forth the top stone7 with shoutings, Grace, grace unto it! 8And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, 9The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands shall finish it, and thou shalt know that Jehovah of Hosts 10hath sent me to you. For who despiseth8 the day of small things? And they rejoice and see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel, [even] those seven;9 the eyes of Jehovah, they go to and fro through the whole earth. 11And I answered and said unto him, What are these two olive trees on the right of the candlestick and on the left? 12And I answered the second time and said to him, What are the two branches10 of the olive trees, which by means of the two golden spouts11 empty 13the gold12 out of themselves? And he spake to me, saying, Knowest thou not what these are? And I said, No, my lord. 14And he said, These are the two sons of oil which stand before13 the Lord of the whole earth.


In the former vision there was a lively display of the means and ground of the forgiveness of sin. This one advances farther, and shows a positive communication of grace by which all obstacles are overcome and the establishment of God’s kingdom effectually secured.

a. The Vision (Zechariah 4:1-5). Zechariah 4:1. And the angel.… out of his sleep. These words imply a pause between this vision and the preceding one, during which the interpreting angel had withdrawn, and the prophet had relapsed into the condition of ordinary consciousness. This condition, compared with the ecstatic state in which supersensual objects are seen, was like sleep compared with waking. Hence Zechariah needed to be aroused from his ordinary and normal state. This was done by the return of the interpreting angel. The new vision presented to him is striking. A candlestick of gold with an oil-vessel on top, from which the oil flows into each one of the seven lamps through seven tubes; and two olive trees by the side of the candlestick.

Zechariah 4:2. And I said … the top of it. Upon the var. read. see Gram. and Text. The candlestick was formed after the pattern of the one in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-37), but with some remarkable variations. The candelabrum the prophet saw had a round vessel on its top, and seven feeding-tubes for each lamp, and two trees at its sides, none of which were seen in the original pattern in the sanctuary. The precise meaning of the phrase rendered, seven pipes each, lit., “seven and seven,” has been much contested. Hitzig and Henderson propose an alteration of the text, omitting one of the sevens, in accordance with the LXX. and Vulgate. Pressel gains the same end by connecting the first seven with what precedes,— which is harsh, and forbidden by the interpunction. Köhler adds the two together, thus making the number of pipes fourteen, but if the prophet had meant that, he would have said so. It is better to take the text as it stands. Forty-nine tubes are very many to proceed from one oil-bowl, but as we know not the size of either the vessel or the pipes, no judgment can be expressed against the possibility of such a thing. That it was probable, seems to be clearly shown by the fact that the visionary candlestick is a designed enlargement of the real one made by Moses.

Zechariah 4:3. Two olive trees. The meaning of these trees is further explained in Zechariah 4:12-14. The candlestick represents the Church as the appointed light-bearer in a dark world. This is confirmed by such passages in the New Testament as Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:16, Luke 12:35, Philippians 2:15, and by the express statement in Revelation 1:20, “the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” The seven lamps indicated the fullness of the light that was shed, and the seven times seven tubes the number and variety of the channels by which grace was imparted to the luminary.

Zechariah 4:4-5. And I answered … no, my Lord. “I answered,” i. e., to the statement suggested in the visionary scene. The counter-question of the angel implies that the prophet might have learned the object of the vision from the analogy of the golden candlestick in the holy place. Then the angel gives him the answer.

b. Divine Grace the Source of all Strength (Zechariah 4:6-10). Zechariah 4:6. This is the word, etc. The vision was an embodied prophecy intended in the first instance for the guidance and comfort of Zerubbabel; and its sum was given in the abrupt utterance: “Not by might,” etc. That is, the work which the Hebrew governor has undertaken will be carried out not by human strength in any form, but by the Spirit of God. The candlestick gave light, but it could not do this unless furnished with a plentiful supply of oil. So all that was needful for the maintenance of the Church of God on earth, including the restoration of its material centre at the time, the Temple, could be attained only by the same blessed agency. That the oil of the lamps should symbolize the Holy Spirit, is the less strange, as the anointing oil of consecration was understood always to mean this. The attempt of Kliefoth to establish a distinction between the two words שֶׁמֶנ and יִצֶהָר, as if the former always meant anointing oil, and the latter, illuminating oil, is altogether vain. Both are used promiscuously for either purpose, and both may have the same symbolic signification.

Zechariah 4:7. Who art thou, etc. As the resources of the Jewish leader were few, and the obstacles in the way numerous and formidable, the thought contained in Zechariah 4:6 is expanded in a striking form. The exclamation, Who art, etc., gives great vividness to the sentiment, and this is still further increased by the concise force of the appended command, Into a plain! Some understand by the mountain the Persian Empire, which is to be leveled to a plain (Chald., Jerome, Kimchi, Hitzig, Hengstenberg, Keil, etc.). But it is better to take it as a figure of the colossal difficulties which rose mountain high at the continuation and completion of the building of the temple. So Kliefoth, Neumann, and most interpreters. This view includes the other, and at the same time allows of an application of the assurance to the Church in all ages. That a mountain in prophecy usually symbolizes a kingdom, as Hengstenberg insists, surely does not compel us always to understand it in that sense. As one well says, the imagery of the Bible is not stereotype. And he shall bring, etc. The second half of the verse foretells the joyful completion of the Temple. The stone mentioned is not, as Hengstenberg and Henderson say (with whom agrees Dr. J. A. Alexander, in his comment upon Psalms 118:22), the foundation-stone, for which a different phrase is used (Job 38:6, Jeremiah 51:20), but the finishing or gable stone. Nor can the verb be rendered as a simple preterite (Hengstenberg), but in accordance with Vav cons., must be given as in E. V., “And he shall bring,” etc. The nominative to the verb is not Jehovah (Henderson), but Zerubbabel, as the next verse plainly shows. The Jewish leader shall at last bring forth the cope-stone amidst loud acclamations of the people, crying, Grace, grace unto it! i. e., May God grant his grace to the stone and the building it represents, so that it may stand forever.

Ver 8. An additional communication is now made to the Prophet. Its source is not mentioned, but the analogy of Zechariah 4:9 b with Zechariah 2:9-11 indicates the angel of Jehovah as the author.

Zechariah 4:9. The hands of.… sent me. As Zerubbabel had laid the foundation of the house of God (Ezra 3:8-10; Haggai 2:18), so should he finish it. A confirmation of this promise is given in the next verse.

Zechariah 4:10. For who despiseth.… whole earth. The construction here is much disputed. Many (LXX., Targum, Peshito, Vulgate, Calvin, Ewald, etc.) make the second clause the apodosis of the first, thus, “for whoever despises the day of small things, they shall see with joy,” etc. But מִי, cannot be rendered whoever, when followed by a preterite with Vav cons. Keil and Wordsworth retain the interrogation, but consider it=a denial; in the sense that no one who hopes to achieve, or does achieve, anything great, despises the day of small things. But this gets a meaning out of the text by first putting it in. It is better to take the clause as a general challenge, “Who despises,” etc., i. e., with reason. Then follows the ground of the question in the rest of the verse, the staccato Style of which is well explained by Pressel as a climax, of which the steps are three, namely, (1.) Those seven, already mentioned in the previous vision. (2.) They are the eye of Jehovah. (3.) They sweep through all the earth. These seven eyes, the seven-fold radiations of the Spirit of Jehovah (comp. on Zechariah 3:9), gladly see the plummet, etc. However discouraging the small beginnings may be in themselves, the willing coöperation of the divine Spirit ensures success to the enterprise of Zerubbabel. The plummet in the hand indicates the work he is engaged in.

c. The means by which this aid is secured (Zechariah 4:11-14).

Zechariah 4:11. And I answered.… left. The main portion of the symbol has now been explained, but there remains one feature untouched,—the olive trees on either side of the candlestick. Accordingly the Prophet asks the interpreting angel. But without waiting for an answer, he renews the question with a slight modification. The repetition seems to indicate a conviction in his mind of the great significance of this new and peculiar feature of the candelabrum.

Zechariah 4:12. I answered the second time, etc. Here it is the branches of the oil trees he inquires about. These are emphasized, apparently, because they are the link of connection between the candelabrum and the trees, and because the peculiarity of this part of the symbol lay in the fact, that the supply of oil came without any intervening agency directly from the source in nature. These branches through spouts discharge at once their oil, which is called gold, because of its color or preciousness. A similar use of this word is found in Job 37:22, where it is said, “Gold cometh out of the north,” gold being put for the golden brightness of the sky (E. V., fair weather). The later critics incline to take the word literally.

Zechariah 4:13. To awaken his attention still more to the importance of this portion of the symbol, the angel asks the Prophet if he understood its meaning, and being answered in the negative, proceeds to give the necessary information.

Zechariah 4:14. These are the two sons of oil, etc. “Sons of oil”=supplied with oil, i. e., anointed ones. “Stand before”=are servants of. These sons of oil are not the believing members of Israel and the Gentiles (Kliefoth), for this would confound the olive trees with the candlestick; nor Haggai and Zechariah (Hoffman, Baumg., etc.), nor Joshua and Zerubbabel considered as individuals (Henderson, Pressel), for the supply of oil to the candlestick, i. e., the communication of grace to the Church, could not be made to depend upon the lives of two mortal men. The phrase rather denotes the regal and priestly offices which were the chief media in the Old Testament for conveying God’s gracious gifts to the Church, and which at the time of the vision were represented by Joshua and Zerubbabel. The appropriateness of the designation lies in the fact that unction was the ceremony by which persons were inducted into these offices.

The peculiar encouragement of this vision appears in the circumstance that the Church was still represented by a stately candelabrum, made as formerly of solid gold, but furnished with far more numerous pipes of communication, and supplied with oil, not by the daily service of the priests, but from living olive trees at its side which continually poured in a fresh and abundant stream of the golden liquid.


1. The Church is a golden light-bearer, and therefore at once precious and luminous. Precious in the sight of God as chosen and called and honored by Him. Zion is his peculiar inheritance, its members are his jewels, acquired by an immeasurable ransom. Notwithstanding, therefore, their fewness or obscurity or imperfections, they are properly symbolized by an article made of solid gold. But this article is as significant in its use as it is in its material. It is a candlestick or lamp-stand. Its object is to give light. Hence our Lord said to his followers, Ye are the light of the world. This has been one of the chief functions of the Church in all ages. For the greater part of the race has always been in the condition described by Isaiah (Isaiah 60:2), “Darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the peoples.” This was the natural and necessary result of depravity, “their foolish heart was darkened.” They often made great advances in civilization, but there was no corresponding growth in religious opinion or practice; on the contrary, “professing themselves to be wise they became fools.” All the true and pure light the ancient world enjoyed streamed out from the candlestick which God set up in his chosen people. With all their imperfections the Jews preserved the knowledge of the true God and of the mode of acceptable worship; and their sacred books were a torch from which many a minor light among surrounding nations was kindled. Still more largely was this the case when the new economy was established. It was intended to be diffusive and propagandist, but only by the force of light,—the manifestation of the truth. It courted the day. It disowned the unfruitful works of darkness. It demanded intelligent faith and adherence. Never was there a more unscriptural maxim than that which claims ignorance as the mother of devotion. The Church is now, as she always was, a light-bearer, and seeks to accomplish her objects by mental and moral illumination. Nor is there the least ground for the not infrequent charge of unfriendliness to the progress of discovery in physical science. Zion holds firmly that the author of nature and of revelation is one and the same, and that it is quite impossible that there can be any real discordance between the two forms of God’s self-disclosure. She objects to hasty inferences and unsound deductions, but knowledge, true knowledge of all kinds, she welcomes as akin to her own nature, and subservient to those great ends for which the Most High has set up his golden candlestick in this dark world.

2. But the Church like the moon shines only with a borrowed light. She has no resources of her own. All depends upon the central Sun of Righteousness, not only for illumination, but for every other kind or degree of influence. This is a fundamental truth of Scripture and experience. In religious development, outward or inward, the efficient cause always lies back of what is seen. God uses human instruments, and rarely, if ever, operates independently of them, but when they effect their aim, the power comes from above. A sailing vessel perfectly appointed and manned, cannot move in a calm. The most ingenious machine accomplishes nothing, if motive power be withheld. In like manner the Church is helpless if forsaken of the Spirit of God. A new birth, a new creation, a resurrection from death in trespasses and sins,—these are objects which mock all the array of mere human agencies. Only He who made the soul and breathed into it of his own inspiration can recast the broken mould and bring back the fair image so sadly marred by sin. Hence the unspeakable importance in all Christian work of giving due honor to the Spirit. Neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase. The Apostles were held fast in Jerusalem until the Spirit was poured out from on high. Then and not before, the Word had free course and was glorified. And so it has been ever since. Whether in individual conversions or in mighty movements among races and nations, the effect is due to a divine and supernatural cause. In the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, so long as this truth was recognized, the work went on; but when an arm of flesh was introduced and reliance placed upon government or policy, a retrograde movement began. God is jealous for his honor; his glory He will not give to another. If his people will not receive the doctrine that all real advances are made by his Holy Spirit, then He teaches them by sore experience that nothing can be done by might or by power, by the very best human appliances. Leviathan is not so tamed. “He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood, and laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” Only “He that made him can make his sword to approach unto him.”
3. The contempt of small beginnings especially in religious matters has been quite a common feeling. Yet such a feeling is rebuked by the whole experience of the Church of God. The prospect of a godly seed on the earth once lay wrapped up in a childless man, “and him as good as dead;” and yet there sprang from Abraham as many as the sand which is by the sea-shore innumerable. The stripling David was reproved by his brothers and derided by Goliath, yet a stone from his sling laid the giant low. The Psalmist sings of a handful of corn on a bleak mountain top, which yet yields a harvest that rustles like the lordly woods of Lebanon; and the Prophet tells of a worm Jacob which threshes the mountains. Samaritan scoffers laughed at the first feeble walls of restored Jerusalem, yet there came a time when to suppress the sedition of that city strained the last resources of imperial Rome. Twelve men went forth to give the Gospel to the world, and before the end of the first century, believers were found all the way from the shores of Britain to far Cathay. In the sixteenth century one man entered the lists against the anti-christian corruptions of the time, and Leo X. spoke contemptuously of , “Brother Martin,” but in the issue one half of Europe was emancipated from the papal yoke, and the Man of Sin received a fatal blow. The finest wit of Great Britain set the polite world on a broad laugh at the “consecrated cobblers” who commenced the work of East Indian missions; yet today the whole Church of Christ honors that heroic vanguard of Hindoo missionaries, and the friends of the wit would gladly sponge out his misplaced jests. The law of Providence is to begin with a day of small things. A little leaven hid in the measures of meal at last affects the entire mass. The smallest of seeds when planted grows into a tree upon whose branches the fowls of the air may lodge. No mature grain ever springs instantaneously from the earth. It is “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” The oak which has withstood the storms of a thousand years was once an acorn. The mighty river which fertilizes a continent began with a tiny streamlet which even an infant’s hand could divert. It becomes no one, least of all a believer, to deride a feeble beginning. No matter how small it may be, yet if carried forward in faith and prayer, neither man nor angel can tell whereunto it may grow.
4. The effusion of the Holy Ghost is not an arbitrary thing. Whitsunday stands in direct relation with Good Friday and Easter. The lamps of the candlestick give light because the manifold tubes convey oil in a constant flow from the central reservoir. But how is this reservoir kept full ? By living trees whose supply is perpetually renewed. These living trees are the priesthood and kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ. By his sacrifice the blessed Lord procured the measureless grace of the Holy Ghost, and by his enthronement at the Father’s right hand He has power to shed down the life giving influence in streams as mighty as those which made Pentecost forever memorable. These trees are living, ever-living. The blood of the one great ransom is ever new (καινός, recens); it does not clot so as to be inefficacious; it belongs to an unchangeable priesthood; it endures to the uttermost in point of time. So the session on high is uninterrupted. Our Lord sat down forever on the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12), and therefore always holds his ascension gifts to be dispensed at will for the preservation, the extension, and the exaltation of his Church. The oil of grace cannot fail, just because the Lord Jesus is an eternal priest and an eternal king. Here is a valid ground for faith, hope, and prayer. There is no machinery by which the most fervid evangelist can yoke the blessed Spirit to his methods and measures. But the varied and repeated and emphatic promises of the One Mediator (John 14:16-17; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-11; John 16:13-15) encourage every toiler in the vineyard, however feeble or obscure, to look up to the priest upon his throne, with an absolute conviction that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that it cannot hear. If the Saviour in the days of his flesh, had the Spirit without measure, how much more must He now, in his glorious exaltation far above all heavens! The wonders of Pentecost were explained by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:33) as an immediate gift of the ascended Saviour, who “having received of the Father the promise of the Spirit, hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” The supply of spiritual gifts depends upon the perpetual intercession within the veil; and in vain do we look for oil in the lamps if by conceit or neglect we neglect the olive-branches from which alone the supply is maintained.


Calvin: The material of the candlestick was intended to set forth a mystery. It is indeed true that gold is corruptible; but as we cannot otherwise understand what exceeds the things of the world, the Lord, under the figure of gold and silver and precious stones, sets forth those things which are celestial, and which surpass in value the earth and the world. It was for this purpose that God commanded the candlestick to be made of gold, not that He needed earthly wealth or riches, or was pleased with them as men are.

Wordsworth: Observe the candlestick is golden and the oil is called gold; it is like liquid gold. The Church must be pure and holy; and what she teaches and ministers to the people must be pure and holy also; not adulterated with the admixture of any novel doctrines, such as those which have been added by some to the faith once delivered to the saints, and imposed as necessary to salvation.

C. Bradley: Observe, these Scriptures do not say that there are no enemies, no mountains, no difficulties. They do not make the salvation of the Church that light thing which some of us make it. On the contrary, they suppose it to be in itself a work of the utmost difficulty. But then, Christ, they tell us, is more than equal to. it; He is mighty to save; He can prepare his people for heaven and carry them there, in spite of everything.

John Foster: When good men despise the day of small things, it is because the grand essential of religion, Faith, is wanting. They lack faith in the unerring wisdom of the Divine scheme and determinations; faith in the goodness of God, the absolute certainty that infinite wisdom and power cannot be otherwise than good; faith in the promise of God, that his servants shall in the succession of their generations see his cause advance from the small to the great, though this be not granted to any one separately.

Payson: We ought not to despise the day of small things, because, (1) such conduct tends to prevent its becoming a day of great things. (2) Angels do not despise, etc., but rejoice over even one repenting sinner. (3) Our Saviour does not break the bruised reed, nor quench, etc. (4) God does not despise, etc., but noticed even some good thing found in—the son of Jeroboam. (5) The day of small things is the commencement of great things.

Gill: The lamp of a profession without the oil of grace is a dark and useless thing.


Zechariah 4:1; Zechariah 4:1—The Kethibh וַיּאֹמֶר must be considered a copyist’s error; the Keri, besides agreeing better with the connection and with usage, is found in numerous MSS., and also in the LXX., Itala, Vulg., Targum, and Peshito.

[2]Ver 2.—גֻלָּהּ, which is pointed correctly, may stand for גֻלָּתָהּ, as תְבוּנָם, Hosea 12:2, which escapes the necessity of assuming a masculine גֹל, of which there is no other example.

Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 4:2שִׁבְעָה וְשׁבְעָה, seven and seven, must be taken distributively, for which there is an exact parallel In 2 Samuel 21:20.Cf. 1 Chronicles 20:6.

Zechariah 4:6; Zechariah 4:6.—It seems impossible to establish any distinction between היִל and כֹהַ. Both are used indiscriminately of physical or mental or moral power.

Zechariah 4:7; Zechariah 4:7.—The Masoretic interpunction requires “before Zerubbabel” to be connected with what goes before, and not, as E. V., with what follows.

Zechariah 4:7; Zechariah 4:7.—Be a plain ! is quite as correct a rendering of למישׁוֹר as to supply a future (E. V.), and surely far more spirited.

Zechariah 4:7; Zechariah 4:7.— The Raphe over the last letter of הָרֹֽאשָׁהֿ shows that this word is a feminine form of רֹאשׁ, and in apposition with הָאֶכֶן.

Zechariah 4:10; Zechariah 4:10.—בַז is one of the two instances in which verbs of this class take Pattach instead of Kamets. The other verb is טַח.

Zechariah 4:10; Zechariah 4:10.—“Those seven.” The translation makes this phrase the subject of the verb rejoice. Professor Cowles objects to the “violent inversion,” but this is not worse than to disregard the accents and both the tense and number of the verb, by rendering “who hath despised, etc., Let them rejoice.”

[10]Ver.12.—שִּׁבֲּלֵי, ἅπ. λεγ., lit., ears, here twigs or branches, so called because of their resemblance to ripe ears of grain, or (Fürst) of their undulating motion.

Zechariah 4:12; Zechariah 4:12.—צנְתְּרוֹת. This also is an ἅπ. λεγ. It does not mean presses (Hengstenberg), which is sustained neither by etymology nor taste; nor receptacles (Pressel), which is too vague; but, as E. V., pipes, i. e., tubes or spouts through which the oil was discharged.

Zechariah 4:12; Zechariah 4:12.—There is a play upon words here. The shining oil is like liquid gold; hence it is said the golden spouts pour gold out of themselves.

Zechariah 4:14; Zechariah 4:14עַל (as Henderson suggests) is elliptical for עַל־פְנֵי=before; or it may be (as 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 5:2) lit., above him, which would naturally be the appearance if the Lord was sitting and they were standing.

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.