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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3484. B.C. 520.

In this chapter the prophet is called to contemplate a fifth vision of the most sublime and mysterious import.

(1,) He sets a candlestick of pure gold, with its seven lamps, communicating, by seven pipes, with a bowl at the top, which serves for a reservoir, and is constantly supplied with oil from two olive-trees standing on each side of the candlestick, Zechariah 4:1-3 .

(2,) He inquires into the meaning of the vision, and receives an answer, which, though it might, in some sort, apply to the circumstances of the temple then building, yet, from the solemnity of the manner and terms used, must be considered as pointing to something far higher, even the final and complete establishment of Christ’s holy, catholic church, not by any human means, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, surmounting all obstacles thrown in the way, Zechariah 4:4-7 .

(3,) A special prediction is annexed, that Zerubbabel, who had begun, should have the honour of finishing the building of the temple; the accomplishment of which is made a sign, or proof, of Zechariah’s divine mission, Zechariah 4:8-10 .

(4,) The meaning of the seven lamps is explained, and of the two over-hanging branches of the olive-trees on each side of the candlestick, Zechariah 4:11-14 : see Blayney.

Verses 1-3

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.

Verses 4-5

Zechariah 4:4-5. So I answered, &c. Namely, after I had seen and discerned; What are these, my lord Observe how respectfully he speaks to the angel, calling him his lord; those that would be taught, must give honour to their teachers. He saw what these things were, but inquired what they signified. It is very desirable to know the meaning of God’s manifestations of himself, and of his mind, both in his word and by his ordinances and providences. The angel answered, &c., Knowest thou not what these be? This might be said, not with a view of reflecting on the prophet’s want of discernment, but merely to excite his attention: so Capellus observes. Blayney, however, thinks that, by this question, the angel meant to censure the prophet’s dulness in not perceiving “what a reasoning and reflecting mind, versed in the allegories of prophecy, might in some measure at least have discovered.” Thus also Henry: “If he had considered and compared spiritual things with spiritual, he might have guessed at the meaning of these things: for he knew that there was a golden candlestick in the tabernacle, which it was the priest’s constant business to supply with oil, and to keep it burning; when, therefore, he saw in vision such a candlestick, with lamps always burning, and yet no priests to attend it, nor any occasion for them, he might discern the meaning of this to be, that though God had set up the priesthood again, yet he could carry on his own work for and in his people without them.” And I said, No, my lord He makes an ingenuous confession of his ignorance.

Verse 6

Zechariah 4:6. Then he answered, Not by might nor by power, &c. That is, Zerubbabel and Joshua, with the Jews under their conduct, shall finish the temple and re-establish the Jewish state, not by force of arms, nor by human power, but by the aid of my providence and grace; just as the lamps are supplied with oil in a secret and invisible manner, without the help of man. Thus the angel answers the prophet’s question, “not by descending to an explanation of particulars, but by giving the general purport of the vision; the design being, not to gratify a partial curiosity, but to comfort and encourage an almost desponding people by the assurance that God would, not by those human means, in which they were sufficiently sensible of their own deficiency, but by his own Spirit, render his church triumphant over all opposition.” Blayney. We may observe further here, that what is done by God’s Spirit, is done by might and power; but this stands in opposition to visible force. Israel was brought out of Egypt, and into Canaan, by might and power: but they were brought out of Babylon, and into Canaan the second time, by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts; working upon the spirit of Cyrus, and inclining him to proclaim liberty to them, and upon the spirits of the captives, inclining them to accept the liberty offered them. It was by the Spirit of the Lord that the people were excited and animated to build the temple, and therefore they are said to be helped by the prophets of God, Ezra 5:2; because by their mouths the Spirit of God spoke to the people’s hearts. It was by the same Spirit that the heart of Darius was inclined to favour and further that good work, and that the sworn enemies of it were infatuated in their counsels, so that they could not hinder it as they designed. Observe, reader, the work of God is often carried on very successfully, when yet it is carried on very silently, and without the assistance of human force: the gospel temple is built, not by might or power, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; namely, the force of truth and love, which, through the Spirit of the Lord, are mighty to pull down strong holds, and bring men’s hearts and lives into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Thus the excellency of the power is of God, and not of man.

Verses 7-9

Zechariah 4:7-9. Who, rather, What art thou, O great mountain O great obstacle, apparently as insurmountable and immoveable as a high mountain. Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain Thou shalt sink into nothing. The obstacle shall give way, the difficulty vanish, the opposition cease. Removing mountains, or levelling them into plains, are proverbial expressions, denoting the overcoming the greatest difficulties, and removing all obstacles. So that the angel here encourages Zerubbabel to go on with his undertaking of rebuilding the temple, and restoring the Jewish state, assuring him that all the endeavours of the Samaritans, and of others of the neighbouring people to hinder him, would be fruitless, and that nothing should be able to withstand him. As the words of the text proceed immediately from Jehovah, Blayney thinks they appear more dignified, if considered as expressing the same sense by an interrogation, closed by a brief answer, thus: “What art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, a level plain.” He shall bring forth the headstone Namely, of the temple. He shall lay the top or headstone upon the walls of the temple: agreeably to what is said in the next verse, that he should finish the temple, as well as lay the foundation of it; with shoutings, crying Grace, grace unto it Which action of Zerubbabel shall be accompanied with the joyful acclamations of the people, as also with their earnest prayers, wishing all prosperity, and a long continuance of it, to the temple, and those that should worship God therein. As if he had said, As the free favour of God began and finished the building, may the same favour ever dwell in it and replenish it. But although this be the literal sense of the passage, it has undoubtedly also a mystical meaning. As Christ is figuratively intended by the stone laid before Joshua, (Joshua 3:9,) so here it is figuratively signified that God would bring forth, or bring into the world, the Messiah, as the top, or headstone, the last or finishing ornament of the church, God’s spiritual house, Ephesians 2:21. To this sense the Chaldee paraphrase expounds the words: “His Messiah shall come forth, who was named from all eternity, and shall obtain the empire of all the kingdoms of the earth.” And St. Jerome tells us upon the place, that the ancient Jews explained it so. His hands also shall finish He shall have the happiness of seeing the great work, which he hath begun, finished and brought to perfection. And thou shalt know, &c. These may either be the words of the prophet to Zerubbabel, signifying, that when the prediction now uttered was accomplished, it would evidently appear to have been delivered by a divine commission, in which sense similar words must be understood, Zechariah 2:9. Or they may be the words of the angel to the prophet, signifying that when the promise made in the preceding clause was fulfilled, then he would know that God had sent this divine instructer to him, and that the vision was really from God.

Verse 10

Zechariah 4:10 . For who hath despised The sense would be plainer if the particle for were omitted, as it is in most other versions; namely, thus: Who hath despised the day of small things? they shall rejoice, &c. That is, who, or where are they, who despised the small beginnings of my temple, when the foundations of it were laid again in order to rebuild it? They shall be made glad, or they shall now have occasion to break out into joyful acclamations; instead of sorrowing, as many of them did, Ezra 3:12, on account of what seemed contemptible in their eyes. In the work of God, the day of small things is not to be despised. God often chooses weak instruments to bring about mighty things: and though the beginnings be small, he can make the latter end greatly to increase. Though many of the Jews undervalued the mean and unpromising appearance of the second temple when it began to be built, yet, it is here foretold, that when finished they should rejoice in it. “By the day of small things,” says Blayney, “I suppose to be meant the time when the resources of the Jewish nation appeared in the eyes of many, even well wishers, so small and inadequate to the building of the temple, against a powerful opposition, that they despaired of seeing it carried into effect. Such persons would, of course, rejoice, when the event turned out so contrary to their expectations.” Shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel The perpendicular line with which he should try the finished work; with these seven In subordination to the divine providence, expressed by the seven eyes which were on that stone. And those that have the plummet in their hand must look up to these eyes of the Lord, must have a constant regard to the divine providence, and act in dependance upon its conduct, and in submission to its disposals. But both the LXX. and the Vulgate render this clause more agreeably to the Hebrew, dividing it into two distinct sentences, thus: They shall rejoice, and see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel. Those seven [namely, eyes] are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth; that is, his wise and watchful providence is always attentive to the concerns of his church, and is continually superintending and ordering all events for its benefit. It must be observed, however, that here again, as in chap. Zechariah 3:9, (where see the note,) Blayney reads fountains instead of eyes, observing, “The lamps, considered as part of the furniture belonging to the candlestick, that is, the church, can represent no other than the ministers and dispensers of evangelical light and knowledge: in which sense our Saviour says of them, Ye are the light of the world, Matthew 5:14. These, taken in conjunction with their pipes, may not improperly be represented as fountains, or conduits, for conveying and communicating to others the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, with which they are replenished themselves. And as fountains they are said to run to and fro through the whole earth, which was, in an eminent degree, seen in the apostles and first preachers of the gospel; whose sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world, Romans 10:18.”

Verses 11-14

Zechariah 4:11-14. Then answered I Or, Then spake I, the Hebrew word ענה being not only used of giving an answer to a question, but likewise of beginning or continuing a discourse. What are these two olive-trees, &c. The prophet had learned the meaning of the candlestick and its lamps, and now wants to know what the two olive-trees signify; and no answer being given to his question, he immediately proceeds to ask another; and in the answer given to it he acquiesces. Observe, reader, those that would be acquainted with the things of God, must be inquisitive concerning them. They must inquire of those who understand them, and they shall receive information; and if satisfactory answers be not given them at first, or quickly, let them renew their inquiries, praying for light from God, and the vision shall at length speak, and not lie. The prophet’s second question differs a little, yet not much, from the former.

I answered again, says he, What be these two olive-branches? Two principal branches, one from each tree, extending to the golden candlestick, and communicating to it, through two golden pipes, fastened to the golden bowl, the golden oil, out of themselves That is, the clear, bright oil, the best of its kind, and of great value. And he answered, Knowest thou not what these be? If thou knowest the candlestick to be the church, must thou not suppose that the olive-trees and the olive-branches are emblems of the means which God hath provided to communicate to it his truth and grace? The prophet having again acknowledged his ignorance, the angel says, These are the two anointed ones Hebrew, בני היצהר , sons of oil, as in the margin. As by the candlestick we understand the visible church, particularly that of the Jews at that time, for whose comfort this vision was primarily intended, these sons of oil, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth, are the two great ordinances and offices of the magistracy and ministry, at that time lodged in the hands of those two great and good men, Zerubbabel and Joshua. This prince, this priest, were sons of oil, anointed of God, or endued with the gifts and graces of his Spirit, to qualify them for the work to which they were called. They stood before the Lord of the whole earth, to minister to him, and to receive direction from him; and a great influence they had upon the affairs of the church at that time; for their wisdom, courage, and zeal were continually emptying themselves into the golden bowl, to keep the lamps burning; and when they should be removed, others would be raised up to carry on the same work, and Israel should not be left without prince and priest. Thus Grotius, Lowth, Henry, Dodd, and several later interpreters, understand the clause. By the two anointed ones, says Archbishop Newcome, “Zerubbabel and Joshua may be meant; who presided over the temporal and spiritual affairs of the Jews; were the ministers, or vicegerents, of Jehovah; and acted not by their own strength, but by the divine assistance;” Zechariah 4:6. “It is plain,” adds he, “that the golden candlestick is the Jewish state, both civil and religious: and that the oil, with which the lights are supplied, is the Spirit of God, in opposition to human efforts.” But though the candlestick here may primarily signify the Jewish Church, yet, in a secondary sense, it was also undoubtedly intended to be a figure of the Christian Church; and Zerubbabel and Joshua were types of the Messiah, and their offices emblematical of his offices, who, as is said Zechariah 6:13, sits and rules upon his throne, and is a priest upon his throne: who is not only the anointed one himself, but in his mysterious person, as God and man, is the good olive to his church, supplying it with the golden oil of saving grace, and communicating to believers out of his fulness the unction, or anointing of the Holy Spirit, John 1:16; 1 John 2:20-27.

Dr. Blayney, however, gives a different explanation of this passage. By the candlestick, indeed, he understands the church of God, both under the Jewish and Christian dispensations: but, in Zechariah 4:12, instead of two olive- branches, he reads, two orderers of the olive-trees, understanding by the olive-trees “the two dispensations of the law and the gospel, under which were communicated the precious oracles of divine truth, which illuminate the soul, and make men wise unto salvation;” and by the orderers, or directors, of these dispensations, Moses and Christ, the two sons of oil, or anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth, fulfilling his will and executing his commands. “Of the latter of these,” says he, “it is expressly said, Isaiah 61:1, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me, &c. Nor do I conceive that any other can be meant by the two witnesses, appointed to prophesy for a certain time, clothed in sackcloth, Revelation 11:3; the next verse plainly showing, that an allusion is there made to this prophecy of Zechariah, concerning the candlestick and olive-trees, though not with all that accuracy of citation which we should look for at present. These are the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks, standing before the God of the earth, Revelation 11:4.”

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Zechariah 4". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/zechariah-4.html. 1857.
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