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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 4

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Zechariah 4:0


Vision of the Lampstand and Olive TreeThe Fifth Vision: A Golden Lampstand and Two Olive TreesThe Vision of the LampstandFifth Vision: The Lamp-Stand and the Olive Trees
Zechariah 4:1-7Zechariah 4:1-7Zechariah 4:1-2aZechariah 4:1-6a
Zechariah 4:2-4
Zechariah 4:5a
Zechariah 4:5b
Zechariah 4:8-10Zechariah 4:8-10a[TEV Reorders verses][NJB Reorders verses]
Zechariah 4:10-14Zechariah 4:10bZechariah 4:10-14
Zechariah 4:11-14 Zechariah 4:11-12
Zechariah 4:13a
Zechariah 4:13b
Zechariah 4:14
God's Promise to ZerubbabelThree Sayings About Zerubbabel
Zechariah 4:6-7Zechariah 4:6
Zechariah 4:7
Zechariah 4:8-10aZechariah 4:8-10a

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 4:1-7 1Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. 2He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; 3also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” 4Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?” 5So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” 6Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts. 7'What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”'“

Zechariah 4:1 “the angel who was speaking with me” This refers to the angel guide (cf. Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah 1:19; Zechariah 2:3; Zechariah 4:1, Zechariah 4:4, Zechariah 4:5; Zechariah 5:5, Zechariah 5:10; Zechariah 6:4). These angel guides and interpreters are common in apocalyptic literature (cf. Ezekiel 8:2-3; Ezekiel 40:3-4; Daniel 7:16; Daniel 8:16-17; Daniel 9:22; Daniel 10:18-21).

“returned” Because of the use of this same word (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal IMPERFECT) in Zechariah 4:1 and 6:1, “and came again” is a better understanding (cf. NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB). Possibly the angel had left so that the prophet could rest.

“and roused me, as a man who is wakened from his sleep” The prophet was resting. However, this was not a dream, but a vision.

Zechariah 4:2 “What do you see” This Hebrew word “see” (BDB 906, KB 1157) is a literary marker for a new vision. It is used two times in this verse. See full note at Zechariah 1:8.

“lampstand” This is the Hebrew word menorah (BDB 633), which is literally “lamp.” There are two temple precedents: (1) Exodus 25:31-40; Numbers 8:1-4, a lampstand in the Tabernacle which had seven branches and (2) 1 Kings 7:49, a lampstand in Solomon's temple which had ten branches. However, this vision may be a different kind of lampstand. The description does not fit the menorah of the temple.

“seven lamps” Each of the branches was topped with a bowl which contained seven wicks.

NASB“seven spouts” NKJV“seven pipes” NRSV“seven lips” TEV“places for seven wicks” NJB“seven openings”

This Hebrew word (BDB 427) can refer to pipes (cf. NKJV) and thereby relate to Zechariah 4:12 or it refers to the indentions on the bowl's outer rim into which wicks were laid (cf. NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB).

Zechariah 4:3 “two olive trees” The lamps burned olive oil, so these are symbolically the two sources of YHWH's abundant illumination, power, and provision (cf. Zechariah 4:11-14). These same two symbols, the lamp and olive tree, are also used in Revelation 11:3-4.

Zechariah 4:4 This fifth vision returns to the pattern of one through four, where the prophet asked the interpreting angel for an interpretation of the vision (cf. Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah 1:19; Zechariah 2:2; Zechariah 5:6, Zechariah 5:10; Zechariah 6:4).

“my lord” This is the Hebrew term adoni (cf. Zechariah 3:5). See note at Zechariah 1:9.

Zechariah 4:5 The angel questions Zechariah (cf. Zechariah 4:3), the point being, that without supernatural help Zechariah (i.e., all humans) could not receive the revelation.

Zechariah 4:6 “Zerubbabel” There is some confusion connected with Zerubbabel.

1. his genealogy

a. son of Shealtiel (cf. Ezra 3:2, Ezra 3:8; Ezra 5:2; Nehemiah 12:1; Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:12, Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2, Haggai 2:23)

b. son of Pedaiah (cf. 1 Chronicles 3:17-19), a relative of Shealtiel

2. his relationship to Sheshbazzar

a. both were of the line of David (cf. Ezra 1:8)

b. both were governors of Judah appointed by the Persian court

c. both were involved in rebuilding the temple (cf. Ezra 5:14-16 vs. Haggai 1:14)

He was apparently the grandson of the exiled Davidic king, Jehoiachin (cf. Ezra 3:2; Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27). He was born and raised in exile. He becomes the symbol (cf. Haggai 2:23) of the restored Jewish Davidic leader (cf. 2 Samuel 7:0), but he was never king and he was not succeeded by a relative of David. His main task was the rebuilding of the second temple. He is usually mentioned in connection with Joshua (seed of the exiled high priest).

“Not by might nor by power” This is the Hebrew term (BDB 298) which usually refers to human physical strength, although it often refers to God's gracious endowment of help to the needy and faithful. Here it is parallel with “power” (BDB 470). Human effort, ability, and ingenuity are not capable of fulfilling God's plan. Only God's power can accomplish His will but He chooses to use human instrumentality.

“but by My Spirit” This is an OT way of speaking of the very presence and power of God. It was often understood as the active force of God's word and will (e.g., Numbers 11:17, Numbers 11:25, Numbers 11:29; Isaiah 63:11, Isaiah 63:14; Nehemiah 9:20). From this developed the concept of the Spirit as God's personal agent (cf. Haggai 2:5). This was the recognition of the need for God's power and presence to overcome all of the political, spiritual, and physical barriers. Only divine action could fulfill God's promises.

It is possible that since the two olive trees are discussed in Zechariah 4:11-14, that here the oil itself is being discussed. If so, then the Spirit is identified with the oil. A special anointing oil was used to install leaders into office (priests, kings, and possibly prophets). The Spirit is the agent of the empowering for service.

So far in Zechariah we have been introduced to several powerful spiritual personalities.

1. LORD/YHWH (e.g., Zechariah 1:1)

2. LORD of hosts (e.g., Zechariah 1:6)

3. LORD/adon (e.g., Zechariah 1:9)

4. the angel of the LORD (e.g., Zechariah 1:11)

5. Satan (e.g., Zechariah 3:1)

6. those who were standing there (e.g., Zechariah 3:4)

7. My Servant the Branch (e.g., Zechariah 3:8)

8. My Spirit (e.g., Zechariah 4:6)

Some of these are different titles for God, while others refer to angelic beings. There is an incipient plurality in God expressed in different persons. See Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible.


Zechariah 4:7 “What” This Hebrew PRONOUN (BDB 566) may be “who.” The mountain is a metaphor for obstacles: physical, personal, and spiritual (e.g., Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 41:15; Isaiah 45:11) and refers to the rebuilding of the second temple. However, it may refer to the Samaritan opposition (cf. Ezra 4:0) or to Jewish apathy (Haggai).

“the top stone” This refers to rebuilding of the temple, but also may relate to Zechariah 3:8-9, which links it somehow to the Messiah or the stone of Daniel 2:44-45 (i.e., the eternal Messianic kingdom). See Special Topic: CORNERSTONE, especially I. D.

“Grace, grace to it” The Hebrew term (BDB 336) is doubled for emphasis. It is also used in Zechariah 12:10 for God's grace or favor. This probably refers to God's blessing on the rebuilt temple (cf. Ezra 3:10-11).

This Hebrew term can also mean “beauty” (cf. NEB, TEV). It is unsure if this is an affirmation to God or about God's work.

Verses 8-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 4:8-10 8Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 9”The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. 10For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabelthese are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.”

Zechariah 4:8 The revelation is of God, not Zechariah!

Zechariah 4:9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this house” This text causes controversy when one compares it with Ezra 5:16 and Zechariah 3:6. There are several possible solutions.

1. Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are the same person.

a. both princes of Judah

b. both called governor

c. both returned from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem

d. both involved in laying the foundation of the second temple

2. Sheshbazzar repaired and restored the sacrificial altar, but not the temple itself.

3. The foundations were started by Sheshbazzar, but discontinued and restarted later by Zerubbabel.

4. For a good discussion of the possibilities see Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 216-219.

Also note that this is a figure of speech because Zerubbabel himself probably did not work on the temple itself, but delegated others.

“Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me” Although NASB (1971) and NKJV have the PRONOUN “me” capitalized, most other English translations, including the 1995 Updated NASB, do not. This phrase probably relates to Zechariah (cf. Zechariah 2:8, Zechariah 2:9, Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 4:9; Zechariah 6:15). See Special Topic: Know.

Zechariah 4:10 “For who has despised. . .small things” Some speculate that Zechariah (or other current leaders) was taken into captivity as a young man and was now very old. He remembered Solomon's glorious temple, and this second temple was quite modest compared to it. The differences were somewhat discouraging to the people (cf. Ezra 3:12; Haggai 2:3).

“these seven” There is disagreement among English translations as to where this should be placed in the text.

1. as subject of “will be glad” (NASB, NKJV)

2. as relating to “the eyes of the Lord” (NRSV)

They may relate to the “seven faceted stone” of Zechariah 3:9 or to the seven branched and cupped lampstand of Zechariah 4:2. However, their function relates to the four angelic horsemen of the first vision and the four chariots of the last vision.

“the plumb line” This word combination (BDB 6, “stone” and BDB 95, “tin, “plummet”) is uncertain. It is the compound word from “stone” and “tin” (cf. 2 Kings 21:13; Amos 7:7-8), which was a building metaphor often used for destruction (e.g., Isaiah 34:11), but in this context, for rebuilding. The plumb line had been in the LORD's hands (i.e., exile), but now is in Zerubbabel's hands for restoration through God's Spirit, who represents His power for His purpose (cf. Zechariah 4:6).

“eyes” This is an anthropomorphic idiom. God knows all things and desires that Judah and Jerusalem be rebuilt and prosper. However, the surrounding nations will be judged.

“range to and fro” This is the Hebrew word “range” (BDB 1001-1002, KB 1439). It is used in several senses.

1. for God's blessing, here and 2 Chronicles 16:9

2. for those seeking God, Amos 8:12 and possibly Daniel 12:4

3. for seeking one who is godly, Jeremiah 5:1

God's knowledge is depicted by horses (chapter 1) and chariots (chapter 6) patrolling the whole earth (i.e., ranging throughout the whole world). Here it means that a special stone (cf. Zechariah 4:7) or a special lampstand (cf. Zechariah 4:2) also symbolize His presence, purpose, and knowledge.

In a sense this metaphor of rebuilding is exactly what the angel of the LORD wanted to see from Zechariah 1:12-17.

Verses 11-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 4:11-14 11Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” 12And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” 13So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” 14Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:11 “What are these” Again the prophet asks the angelic guide for an interpretation of the vision.

“these two olive trees” From the context, both historical and biblical, they represent Zerubbabel and Joshua, who represent the two aspects of the Messiah's person and work, administrative/royal and sacrificial/priestly.

Zechariah 4:12 “the two olive branches” The Hebrew term “branches” (BDB 987) is literally “ear of grain” (cf. Genesis 41:5; Isaiah 17:5) from the idea of “to hand down.” However, in this context it refers to the olive branches that contain olives.

All commentators need to remind themselves that this is an apocalyptic vision. Precision, consistency, and logic are not required! Context (literary and historical) and authorial intent are the key interpretive elements!

“pipes” This word is used only here in the OT (BDB 857). It is possibly the fruit-laden branches of the olive tree. It seems to refer to the two olive trees which supplied oil to the seven branches by means of these golden channels or conduits.

“golden pipes. . .golden oil The same Hebrew term “gold” (BDB 262) occurs twice in this verse. The first designated the channels through which the oil flows. The second use seems to relate to the color of the olive oil itself, which is golden.

Zechariah 4:13 “my lord” This is Zechariah's normal term (adonai) of address to the angelic guide (cf. Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah 1:19; Zechariah 4:4, Zechariah 4:5, Zechariah 4:13).

Zechariah 4:14 “the two anointed ones” This Hebrew word “anointed” (BDB 844 I), which is the word for “fresh oil,” was not used for ceremonial anointing. There is another Hebrew word used for ceremonial anointing in the OT (BDB 602), so the literal phrase “sons of fresh oil” did not have obvious Messianic (i.e., The Anointed One) connotations. It may have the connotation here of blessed ones or prosperity (cf. Zechariah 3:10).

Context, not a lexicon or dictionary, must determine meaning. Authorial intent as expressed in an inspired text must take precedence. A similar lexical problem with the word/concept of anointing is found in James 5:14, where an unexpected non-religious word for anointing is used.

Joshua and Zerubbabel are both God's instruments to accomplish a temporal task (rebuild the temple) and be an eschatological symbol of the coming Messiah as a Priest-King (like Melchizedek, cf. Genesis 14:0).

“the Lord of the whole earth” Zechariah has been using the term adon (BDB 10) to address the angelic guide, but here and in Zechariah 6:5 it refers to YHWH, the creator, sustainer, provider, and lover of all creation (cf. Joshua 3:11, Joshua 3:13; Psalms 97:5; Micah 4:13). It is exactly this universal dimension of God's character which requires Jerusalem and the temple to be restored, because Messiah will come from the Jewish people and nation! God's redemptive plan includes the Gentiles, which surely surprised Haggai and the Jewish leadership (e.g., Zechariah 9:7, Zechariah 9:10; Zechariah 14:16). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How are chapters two and three related to chapter four?

2. Why is the vision so seemingly unrelated to the interpretation?

3. Why are the details so elusive?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Zechariah 4". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/zechariah-4.html. 2021.
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