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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Zechariah 4

 

 

Verses 1-14

The Fifth Vision. The Living God Among His People - the Golden Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (Zechariah 4:1-14).

It will have been noted that the work of the Messiah has been connected with the High Priest and not with Zerubbabel the Prince. Clearly the work of cleansing and atonement was seen as being closely connected with the priesthood (compare Isaiah 52:15). Now, however, for the purpose of ensuring the building of the Temple Zerubbabel comes to the fore. It is he who is the present prince of Judah and it is for this that he has been raised up. But it should be noted that he does it in close connection with the High Priest Joshua, for it is these two who are represented as ‘the sons of oil’.

Zechariah 4:1-2

‘And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me as a man who is awoken from sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” ’

The idea here might be that Zechariah sees himself as being awoken to new truth. He had been ‘asleep’ and now he is ‘awake’. But more probably it indicates his awakening from his heavenly trance in which has been present at the heavenly court. Now he has been brought down to earth. We note that he is now restored to his old questioning self.

Zechariah 4:2

-3 ‘And I said, “I have seen, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with its bowl on top of it and its seven lamps on it. There are seven lips to each of the lamps which are on the top of it. And two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on the left side of it.” ’

The prophet sees a golden lampstand with seven lamps on it each of which has seven lips in which the wicks would be placed. This must be seen as representing the sevenfold lampstand in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40) although it is very different in design. There is a greater intensification of seven indicating its divine perfection (for seven was seen as the number of divine perfection throughout the Near East).

Similar lampstands have been found at Ugarit, Dan, Gezer and Lachish. The ones at Ugarit had round bases with a bowl with seven spouts at the top.

In the tabernacle the lampstand was the representation of God as the light of Israel. No man, apart from ‘the Priest’ once a year, could enter the Holiest where God would sometimes reveal His presence in full glory. Thus the lampstand, sevenfold in its divine perfection, was the reflection of that glory.

Here in Zechariah the lampstand signifies the presence of the living God, and the all-knowingness of God (Zechariah 4:10). A man’s life was often called his ‘lamp’ (Job 21:17; Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 24:20 see also 2 Samuel 21:17; 1 Kings 11:36), and the lampstand, once removed, signified the death of the church (Revelation 2:5). So the lampstand represents life. In that case the lampstand here represents the living God, ‘the Lord of the whole earth’, fully present and fully aware. He is ‘the Light of the world’, but it is a light that must first be known in Israel.

So the sevenfold lampstand indicates that God is present with His people and is ready to show His power in a divinely perfect way. The two olive trees, rather than feeding the lampstand, are themselves fed by it (‘golden oil’ for the golden lamp - Zechariah 4:12). The lampstand indicates the presence of God’s Spirit ready to act through the two ‘olive trees’ (Zechariah 4:6).

The olive trees in fact represent the two men who have been anointed with oil, the two ‘sons of oil’ (Zechariah 4:14), the High Priest and the Governor who stand beside the lampstand in the light of the omniscience and living power of God, just as later we are told that the two ‘sons of oil’ stand by ‘the Lord of the whole earth’ (Zechariah 4:14).

This contradicts the common view that the lampstand represents God’s people as a witness fed by the olive trees, but that view is not borne out by the narrative and the applications actually given here. Here it is describing the Spirit as empowering Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6). It is true that the seven lampstands in Revelation represent God’s witnesses (as the olive trees do here) but they have in the midst of them the glorious Son of Man as the lampstand is in the midst here. Then the church has become one with Him and is part of His revelation of Himself as the light of the world. But that is progressive. Here the golden lampstand, the living God, there the living Christ. Here the olive trees, the servants of God, there the lampstands. The final idea is similar.

Zechariah 4:4-5

‘And I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, “What are these my Lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No my lord.”

The prophet is puzzled by the vision and politely asks the angel for an explanation.

Zechariah 4:6

‘Then he answered and spoke to me saying, “This is the word of YHWH to Zerubbabel saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says YHWH of Hosts.’

The vision is a message to Zerubbabel and indicates that the power of God’s Spirit is at work through him. He must recognise that what he is to accomplish will not be by human strength or authority, but by God’s divine activity.

We should note, however, that the oil is elsewhere a symbol of dedication, not strictly a symbol of the Spirit. Anointing is always a symbol of dedication to God. It will be because he and Joshua are fully dedicated and obedient that the Spirit will be able to enable them to do His work. Their testimony will especially be made through the building of YHWH’s house (Zechariah 4:9).

Zechariah 4:7

‘Who are you, oh great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain. And he will bring forth the headstone with shoutings of “Grace, grace to it.” ’

The task that lies before him is like a great mountain to climb, but because God is at work He will succeed. That mountain will become a flattened plain easy to walk over. The prophet is aware that the huge task of building the Temple will not be easy. It will require great resourcefulness and dedication, but it will be successfully accomplished and the headstone, which signifies near completion of the task, will be laid to great shouts celebrating the grace of God.

The passage reminds us that there is a sense in which God’s moving forward of His work is dependent on our willingness to be dedicated. Whatever the task may be, if we are not ready then He will not act. But once we respond fully and the time is ripe then nothing will prevent the fulfilment of His work.

Zechariah 4:8

‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to me saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house. His hands will also finish it, and you will know that YHWH of Hosts has sent me to you.” ’

God gives His guarantee that what Zerubbabel is willing to commence God will bring to completion. Zerubbabel has acted in faith in relaying the foundations and now God will seal his faith with the finalisation of the work by his hand. This time nothing will be allowed to stop it. When that is done it will be evidence to all that the prophet was sent by YHWH.

But it important to note that while Zerubbabel will successfully build the Temple no other advances are connected with him. He is jointly responsible for a new beginning, but it is only a beginning. Whatever people’s messianic hopes may have been, they are not expressed here.

Zechariah 4:9

‘For who has despised the day of small things? For they will rejoice and will see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel, even these seven who are the eyes of YHWH. They run to and fro through the whole earth.’

‘The day of small things.’ The beginnings may not seem very auspicious and may appear to be a small thing, but it would be a mistake to despise such a beginning. When the governor takes the plummet in his hand and lays the final headstone all will rejoice at the great success that has been achieved. But it is only the beginning. Greater things are yet to be. But we note that the seven eyes of YHWH rejoice in the plummet in Zerubbabel’s hand equally with the bringing forth of the Branch. For the humble work of the former will produce the sprouting of the latter.

And those who rejoice will not be just the earthly watchers, but ‘the seven who are the eyes of YHWH’ who cover the whole earth. This last may refer back to the scouts of chapter 1 who walked through the whole earth and saw that it was at rest. The idea behind seven is the divine perfection and completeness of the eyes. They are universal. And they will see the fulfilling of the triumphant purpose of God. (If they refer to the scouts, and if we want to be pedantic. this would then mean that beside the rider of the red horse there were two red horses, two sorrel horses and two white horses (Zechariah 1:8)). In our view the picture he gives full support to the rendering ‘eyes’.

However the number seven occurs in Zechariah 3:9 and Zechariah 4:2 referring to the facets on the stone in Joshua’s turban, specifically described as ‘seven eyes’ or ‘springs’, and the seven ‘lamps’ on the lampstand. This would seem also to indicate that the stone in Joshua’s turban and the seven lamps both indicate God’s omniscience and wide-ranging power and authority. It is because of these that both Joshua and Zerubbabel will be finally successful. Thus the seven eyes and the seven lamps symbolise the divine light and the divine life which reveal all and make it known. They indicate that nothing is hidden from the God Whom they serve.

Zechariah 4:11

‘Then I answered and said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right side of the lampstand and on its left side?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are these two olive branches which are beside the two golden spouts (or pipes) that empty the golden oil out of themselves?” And he answered me and said, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two sons of oil who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” ’

The interpretation often made here is that the olive trees feed the lamps. But this is based on certain unsupported assumptions that are made and must be questioned. It can equally mean that the two olive trees are fed by the lampstand. This is supported by the fact that what is transferred is ‘the golden’ (oil is assumed). It is the lampstand which is associated with gold not the olive trees. Thus the idea is that it is the Lord of the whole earth Who ‘anoints’ the olive trees who represent Joshua and Zerubbabel.

(It is actually no more incongruous to have the lampstand feeding the olive trees than to have a lampstand directly fed by olive trees. Olive oil does not flow from olive trees, it is obtained from the fruit of olives. And these were not golden olives!).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/zechariah-4.html. 2013.

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Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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