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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Zechariah 4

 

 

Introduction

Zechariah 1-8.

Unlike Haggai, Zechariah would appear to have written his own prophecies, but the original document, which has not come down to us quite complete, has been edited with sundry introductory notes and contains, apparently, some interpolations. Of the latter, Zechariah 1:2-6 is an instance. There is here nothing peculiarly characteristic of Zechariah, though in so short a book arguments from style must not be pressed. It is, however, strange that when the restoration of the Temple was going on apace, Zechariah, with his hopeful temperament, should preach a sermon implying the continued impenitence of the people. Probably a later exhortation has been substituted for the original opening, deemed for some reason unsuitable. "The former prophets" implies a contrast with the later prophets, Jeremiah being assigned to another era. While the section would suit better the situation at the beginning of Haggai's ministry, it is not quite in his style, and it suggests sins more serious than the apathy which he attacks. The author of Zechariah 1:2-6 seems to have expanded Zechariah 1:7 f.

The nature of Zechariah's activity is clear from his own words. The first utterance which can be certainly ascribed to him (Zechariah 1:7-17) is dated Feb. 24, 519 B.C. At this date the revolts which had broken out against Darius in various parts of the Persian empire were being rapidly quelled, and the disappointment of the hopes raised by Haggai in the previous Oct. (Haggai 2:6 f.) had caused depression in Judah. Zechariah, however, did not lose courage, predicting the overthrow of the nations and the completion of Zion's restoration. But he protested against the fatuity of Zerubbabel's advisers, who, untaught by the lesson of the exile, wished not only to restore but to fortify Jerusalem, a project which aroused Samaritan jealousy and caused Persian intervention.

The prophecies of Zechariah are of supreme importance through the light which they throw on the internal history of Judah. For some reason not definitely stated, an attempt was made to deprive Joshua of the High-priesthood. Joshua apparently belonged to the community which had remained in Palestine during the exile (p. 573), and consequently when Zadokite priests returned from Babylonia, friction inevitably arose, since the latter would regard Joshua as an upstart fit at best for the subordinate position of Levite (see Ezekiel 44:10-14). Moreover, Joshua and Zerubbabel seem to have quarrelled personally. Zechariah boldly championed the cause of Joshua, declaring that so long as his conduct was blameless he ought to be the head of the Temple. Zerubbabel also had his own sphere of usefulness, and both should work together for the good of Judah.

According to Ezra 6:15 the Temple was finished on March 3, 515. This is probably the date of the completion of all building operations within the Temple area, the Temple proper having been completed much earlier. At any rate on Dec. 4, 518, the work was progressing so well, that a deputation was sent, apparently by Zerubbabel, to the religious leaders to inquire whether the fasts commemorating the disasters of 586 should still be observed (Zechariah 7:1 ff.). Zechariah replied that they should henceforth be observed as holidays, since the restoration of the Temple was an earnest of the restoration of national prosperity.

From a literary point of view Zechariah makes a new departure, inasmuch as he delivers his message in a series of allegories purporting, like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, to be a dream. The germ of this style may indeed be found earlier (1 Kings 22), but the development of it is Zechariah's. These allegories or word-painted pictures, though to us they may appear somewhat bizarre, were clearly as intelligible in his age as our own political cartoons are in ours. Another new feature in his prophecies is the avoidance of the apparent familiarity in speaking of the Lord which is characteristic of the older literature. This may be due partly to increased reverence, partly to the decline of poetry and the growth of a more prosaic literalism. Thus, though he uses freely the old formula "saith the Lord," he represents himself as addressing the Lord not directly, but through the mediation of an angel who interprets to him the meaning of what he sees.

Zechariah's teaching is characterised by sanctified common sense. Although he hoped to see Zerubbabel actually king of Judah, he was not blind to the dangers of the course he was pursuing. Recognising as clearly as any Zadokite priest the need of a rallying point for Jewish religion, he was free from the petty narrowness which could see no merit in any priest of another guild. In an age when, as it would seem, the civil and the religious leaders were striving for the pre-eminence, he declared that each had his own proper sphere. He recognised the value of fasting if performed in the right spirit, but he did not desire that the children of the bride-chamber should fast while the bridegroom was with them.

Unhappily Zechariah's countrymen would have none of his counsels of patience. His mission was denied, and his advic disregarded. Only too late did the Church of Judah learn the truth of his reiterated assurance, "Ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me unto you." Had his counsel been followed, the suspicion of the Samaritans would never have been aroused by the attempt to fortify Jerusalem, and the jealousy between Samaria and Judah, at first merely political, would not have been extended to religious matters also. Like Him whose forerunner he was, Zechariah would have gathered Jerusalem's children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and they would not.


Verses 1-7

Zechariah 4:1-7. The Golden Lampstand.—Zechariah dreams that he is aroused by the interpreting angel who shows him a golden lampstand. This section has suffered somewhat in transmission. In Zechariah 4:2 read with LXX . . . "behold, a lampstand all of gold, and a bowl upon the top of it, and seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the lamps," etc. Two insertions have been made. The former (Zechariah 4:6 b - Zechariah 4:10 a), which is a general encouragement to Zerubbabel, is probably due to some scribe's blunder; the second (Zechariah 4:12) appears to be a fragment of a similar allegory by some other writer. Zechariah 4:10 b ought to follow immediately upon Zechariah 4:6 a, thus: (Zechariah 4:6 a) "Then he announced and spake unto me saying (Zechariah 4:10 b), These seven are the eyes of the Lord," etc. The lampstand (not "candlestick") must be imagined as an upright standard with a reservoir for oil upon the top, and seven branches supporting the lamps, each of which is connected by a pipe with the reservoir. On each side of this lampstand are two olive-trees, by which the reservoir supplying the lamps is itself fed with oil. In Heb. idiom one word commonly covers both cause and effect; consequently a lamp, which suggests light, suggests also the result of light, i.e. safety, since darkness involved danger from the lawless (Zechariah 14:6 ff.*, cf. Job 24:13-17). Seven lamps imply an intense light, i.e. a state of things in which there is nothing to fear, such as exists when the two eyes of the Lord are upon His people for good. This state of peace and safety is maintained by Joshua and Zerubbabel, who are compared to the olive-trees which supply the oil for the lamps.

Zechariah 4:14. sons of oil is an absurdly literal translation. Heb. makes good its deficiency in adjectives in various ways, among them by the use of the word "son." Thus "son of death" means "liable to death"; "son of dawn" the star which heralds the dawn; "son of fatness" (Isaiah 5:1) means productive of luxuriance; similarly "sons of oil" means "productive of oil." There is no idea here of anointing, for yiṣhar (the word used here), which denotes vegetable oil, is never used of the oil of unction, which probably was originally animal oil, and is always called shemen.

Zechariah 4:6 b - Zechariah 4:10 a is an address to Zerubbabel apparently belonging to about the same period as Haggai 2:2-9 or at any rate the earlier days of the Temple restoration. In Zechariah 4:6 read mg. Zechariah 4:7 reminds us of Isaiah 40:4, but is not necessarily a quotation. The meaning of the stone (Zechariah 4:7) is doubtful It is scarcely equivalent to "the head of the corner" (Psalms 118:22), for not only would this naturally follow Zechariah 4:9 a, but "bring forth" would not naturally be used in connexion with a building stone, and the Heb. ("the stone the head") is impossible. It is more likely, therefore, though the text is too much mutilated to be corrected with certainty, that the stone belongs to a diadem which is to be placed on Zerubbabel's head (cf. Zechariah 6:9 ff.). The last clause of Zechariah 4:7 is fragmentary; "with" is not expressed in the Heb. The "plummet" in the incomplete sentence (Zechariah 4:10 a) is probably a sign of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Zechariah 4:12. A fragment of some parallel allegory, probably a later imitation of Zechariah's. The translation "the golden oil" is a desperate but hopeless attempt to make sense of a corrupt text.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Zechariah 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/zechariah-4.html. 1919.

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Monday, January 20th, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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