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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Zechariah 4

 

 

Verses 1-14

EXPOSITION

Zechariah 4:1-14

§ 7. The fifth vision: the golden candlestick.

Zechariah 4:1

The angel that talked with me. The interpreting angel is meant. Came again, and waked me. It is thought that the angel, who is said (Zechariah 2:3) to have gone forth, now rejoined the prophet and renewed his colloquy with him. But the expression in the text is probably only equivalent to "aroused me again" (comp. Genesis 26:18; 2 Kings 1:11, 2 Kings 1:13, etc.). Absorbed in awe and wonder at the contemplation of the preceding vision, the prophet had fallen into a state of exhaustion and torpor, as Daniel slept after his great visions (Daniel 8:18; Daniel 10:8, Daniel 10:9), and the apostles were heavy with sleep on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:32). From this mental prostration the angel arouses him to renewed attention. Or what is meant may be that the change wrought on the faculties by the Divine influence was as great as that between natural sleeping and waking.

Zechariah 4:2

What seest thou? The angel does not show the vision to the prophet, but makes him describe it, and then explains its import. This vision of the candlestick, with its seven lamps fed by two olive trees, signifies that the work of rebuilding the temple, and preparing the way for the Church of the true Israel, was to be accomplished by relying, not on human resources, but on Divine aid. Thus were Zerubbabel and his people roused to perseverance and energy in their good work, of which the final sucess is assured. I have looked; ἑώρακα, "I have seen." A candlestick all of gold. The candelabrum as described differs in some particulars from that in the tabernacle, though the same word, menorath, is used in both cases (Exodus 25:31; Exodus 37:17, etc.). In Solomon's temple there were ten candelabra (1 Kings 7:49), which were carried away to Babylon when Jerusalem was taken (Jeremiah 52:19). The single candelabrum of Zerubbabel's temple is mentioned in 1 Macc. 1:21; 4:49, 50. The one sculptured on the arch of Titus may be a truthful representation of that in Herod's temple, but probably is not the same as that in the second edifice (comp. Josephus, 'Ant.,' 14:4, 4). The candelabrum in the vision differed from the original one in three particulars: it had a central reservoir; it had also seven pipes; and it was supplied with oil by two olive trees. With a (its) howl upon the top of it. The "bowl" (gullah) is a reservoir for oil placed at the top of the candelabrum; and from it tubes led the oil for the supply of the lamps. In the tabernacle each lamp was separate, and trimmed and filled by the ministering priests; the mystic lamps needed no human agency to keep them supplied. They were fed by the "bowl." The word is translated in the Septuagint, λαμπάδιον: in the Vulgate, lampas; hence some have supposed that, besides the seven lamps, there was another large light in the centre; but the Greek and Latin rendering is mistaken, the word meaning "a fountain" (Joshua 15:19), or "a ball" (1 Kings 7:41), or "a round bowl" (Ecclesiastes 12:6). And seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof. The Hebrew is, literally rendered, seven and seven pipes to the lamps which are upon its top. The LXX. translates, καὶ ἑπτὰ ἐπαρυστρίδες τοῖς λύχνοις τοῖς ἐπάνω αὐτῆς, "And seven vessels for the lamps which are upon it;" so the Vulgate, Septem infusoria lucernis, quae erant super caput ejus. These versions imply that there was one supply pipe to each of the lamps, which seems most natural. In this case, the first "seven" in the text must be an interpolation. Commentators who regard the present reading as correct have taken various ways in explaining it. Some multiply the number into itself, and make the pipes forty-nine; but this is unwarranted by Hebrew usage (Henderson). Others add the numbers together, making fourteen; but here again the copulative vav, which implies diversity, is an objection. The Revised Version has, "There are seven pipes to each of the lamps, taking the words distributively; but the number of tubes seems here to be unnecessarily large. Dr. Wright considers that there were two pipes to each lamp, one set connecting each to the central bowl, and one connecting the several lamps together. One, however, does not see of what particular use the second set is. Dr. Wright, p. 84, gives a drawing of the candelabrum with its appurtenances, according to his notion of the vision. The Authorized Version seems to give the correct idea of the passage, whether we arrive at it by rejecting the first "seven," or by considering that it is repeated for emphasis' sake, as Cornelius Lapide and Pressel think: "Seven are the lamps upon it—seven, I say, and seven the pipes." Take it as we may, the point is that the oil is well and copiously supplied to the several lights.

Zechariah 4:3

Two olive trees. These, as explained in Zechariah 4:12, discharged the oil from their fruit-bearing branches into conduits which led to the central reservoir. Without man's agency the oil is separated from the berry and keeps the lamps constantly supplied (comp. Revelation 2:4).

Zechariah 4:4

What are these, my lord? The question may refer to the two olive trees, which were a novelty to the prophet, who, of course, was well acquainted with the form and use, if not the symbolism, of the candelabrum. But it may also be taken as desiring information about the whole vision.

Zechariah 4:5

Knowest thou not? The angel speaks not so much in surprise at the prophet's slowness of comprehension (comp. John 3:10) as desirous of calling his most serious attention to the coming explanation.

Zechariah 4:6

This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel. The Lord's message unto Zerubbabel is the purport of the vision, viz. that his work will be accomplished through the grace of God alone. Not by might. Septuagint, "not by great might;" but the Vulgate, "not by an army." The word is almost synonymous with the following, translated power; and the two together mean that the effect is to be produced, not by any human means, however potent. Doubtless Zerubbabel was dispirited when he thought how much there was to do, how feeble the means at his disposal (Nehemiah 4:2), and how formidable the opposition; and nothing could better reassure him than the promise of Divine aid. But by my Spirit. The angel does not say expressly what is to be done; but the purpose that filled the minds of Zechariah and Zerubbabel applied the word. The operations of the Spirit are manifold, and his aid alone could bring these mighty things to pass. The oil is a figure of the grace of the Holy Spirit; and as the lamps are not supplied by human hands, but directly from the olives, so the good work now undertaken shall be supported by Divine means (see on verse 14).

Zechariah 4:7

Who art thou, O great mountain? The "mountain" is a figurative expression to denote the various difficulties that stood in Zerubbabel's way and impeded the carrying out of his great design. Before Zerubbabel. The Vulgate affixes these words to the former part of the clause, but the accent is in favour of the Authorized Version. Thou Shall become a plain; literally, into a plain! A command. All obstacles shall be removed (comp. Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 49:11; Matthew 17:20; Luke 3:4, Luke 3:5). Septuagint, τοῦ κατορθῶσαι (intrans.), "that thou shouldst prosper;" "ut corrigas" (Jerome). He shall bring forth the headstone thereof. "He" is evidently Zerubbabel. He shall commence and put the finishing stroke to the work of rebuilding the temple. Many commentators take this stone to be the one that completes the building, "the topstone." But it may well be questioned whether a building like the temple could have any such stone. An arch or a pyramid may have a crowning stone, but no other edifice; nor is there any proof that such a topstone was known or its erection celebrated. It may be a mere metaphor for the completion of the work. It is better, however, to take it as the cornerstone, to which we know great importance was attached (comp. Job 38:6; Psalms 118:22, etc.). This stone, on which the building rests, Zerubbabel will bring forth from the workshop; as the next verses say, his hands have laid the foundation. That action, already past, is represented as future, the regular commencement of the work under Zerubbabel's direction being intimated, and its happy conclusion promised. Septuagint, καὶ ἐξοίσω τὸν λίθον τῆς κληρονομίας, "And I will bring forth the stone of the inheritance"—the meaning of which is obscure, though Jerome explains it by considering it an allusion to Christ. With shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it! All the by standers, as the stone is placed, shout in acclamation, "God's favour rest upon it!" (Ezra 3:10). The LXX. seems to have mistaken the sense, rendering, ἰσότητα χάριτος χάριτα αὐτῆς, "The grace of it the equality of grace" (John 1:16); and to have led St. Jerome astray, who translates, "Et exsaequabit gratiam gratiae ejus," and comments thus: "We all have received of his fulness, and grace for grace, that is, the grace of the gospel for the grace of the Law, in order theft the Israelites and the heathen who believe may receive equal grace and a like blessing." The Targum recognizes here a Messianic prophecy: "He will reveal the Messiah whose Name is spoken of from all eternity, and he shall rule over all the kingdoms."

Zechariah 4:8

The word of the Lord came unto me. The word came through the interpreting angel, as is clear from the expression in Zechariah 4:9, "The Lord hath sent me unto you." He explains more fully what had been already announced figuratively.

Zechariah 4:9

Have laid the foundation. Zerubbabel had commenced the rebuilding in the second year of the return, in the second month (Ezra 3:8); it had been hindered by the opposition of the neighbouring people (Ezra 4:1-5, Ezra 4:24), and was not resumed till the second year of Darius. Shall finish it. The temple was finished in Darius's sixth year (Ezra 6:15). Thou shalt know, etc. The truth of the angel's mission would be proved by the event, viz. the successful issue (comp. Zechariah 2:9, Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 6:15; Deuteronomy 18:22). The completion of the material temple was a pledge of the establishment of the spiritual temple, the Church of God.

Zechariah 4:10

For who hath despised the day of small things? The "small things" are the weak and poor beginning of the temple (Haggai 2:3); as the Targum glosses, "on account of the edifice, because it was small." Small as the present work was, it was a pledge of the full completion, and was therefore not to be despised. So the question is equivalent to, "Can any one, after these promises and prophecies, presume to be doubtful about the future?" For they shall rejoice, etc. The subject of the verbs is that which comes last in position, the seven eyes of Jehovah; and the verse is best translated thus: "For (i.e. seeing that) these seven eyes of Jehovah, which run through all the earth, behold with joy the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel." The work is not contemptible, since the Lord regards it with favour, watches, and directs it. The LXX. and Vulgate (followed nearly by the Authorized Version) make the despisers the subject of the verbs, and lamely dissociate the final clause entirely from the preceding. The version given above is in accordance with the Masoretic accentuation. The plummet; literally, the stone, the tin; τὸν λίθον τὸν κασσιτέρινον; lapidem stanneum, "the stone of tin" (Vulgate). Tin is not found in Palestine; it was imported by the Phoenicians in great abundance, and from them the Jews obtained it. The supply must have come from Spain or Britain. With those seven. The preposition is an interpolation of the Authorized Version. It should be, "even these seven," explaining who are "they" at the head of the clause. The eyes of the Lord. The "seven eyes" have been already mentioned (Zechariah 3:9, where see note). They are expressive of God's watchful providence and care. Which run to and fro. This clause further enforces the previous image (2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3).

Zechariah 4:11

Then answered I. The prophet had received a general explanation of the vision; he had probably understood that the candelabrum represented the theocracy, of whose restoration and life the temple was the symbol and vehicle. One point was still obscure, and he asks, What are these two olive trees? (Zechariah 4:3). To this question no answer is immediately forthcoming, the answer being delayed in order to augment the prophet's desire of understanding the vision, and to induce him to make the question more definite.

Zechariah 4:12

The prophet perceives the chief point in the mystic olive trees, so he alters his question the second time, asking, What be these two olive branches? (shibbolim); Vulgate, spicae, "ears," as of corn, so called, as Kimchi supposes, because they were full of berries, as the ears are full of grains of corn. Which through the two golden pipes, etc.; rather, which by means of two golden tubes are emptying the golden oil out of themselves. The oil dropped of itself from the fruit-bearing branches into two tubes, spouts, or channels, which conveyed it to the central reservoir. The Revised Version renders, "which are beside the two golden spouts;" like the Vulgate, quae sunt juxta duo rostra aurea. The LXX. has, οἱ κλάδοι οἱ ἐν ταῖς χεροὶ τῶν δύο μυξωτήρων ("beaks," "noses") τῶν χρυσῶν—where "in the hands" or "by the hands" may be a Hebraism for "by means of." The golden oil; Hebrew, the gold. The oil is so called from its colour. The Greek and Latin versions lose this idea altogether, In quibus sunt suffusoria ex auro (Vulgate); "leading to the golden vessels".

Zechariah 4:13

Knowest thou not? (comp. Zechariah 4:5). The angel wishes to impress upon the prophet whence came the power of the theocracy and the Divine order manifested therein.

Zechariah 4:14

The two anointed ones; literally, the two sons of oil; so the Revised Version; Vulgate, filii olei; Septuagint, υἱοὶ τῆς πιότητος, "sons of fatness" (comp. Isaiah 5:1). By them are intended the two powers, the regal and the sacerdotal, through which God's help and protection are dispensed to the theocracy. Oil was used in appointing to both these offices (comp. Le 21:10; 1 Samuel 10:1). The expression, "son of," in many cases denotes a quality or property, like "son of Belial," "son of might;" so here Dr. Alexander considers that "sons of oil" means people possessed of oil, oil bearers, channels through which the oil flowed to others. Zerubbabel and Joshua are representatives of the civil and priestly authorities, but the text seems expressly to avoid naming any human agents, in order to show that the symbol must not be limited to individuals. Nor, indeed, must it be confined to the Jewish Church and state; it looks forward to the time when Jew and Gentile shall unite in upholding the Church of God. That stand by the Lord of the whole earth; i.e. ready as his ministers to do him service. There is a reference to this passage in Revelation 11:4, where the "two witnesses" are called "the two olive trees.; standing Before the Lord of the earth" (Perowne). The vision, as we have seen, prefigures primarily the completion of the temple and the restoration of its worship, and secondly the establishment of the Christian Church by the advent of Messiah. The several parts of the vision may be thus explained. The candelabrum is a symbol of the Jewish Church and theocracy, in accordance with the imagery in the Apocalypse, where the seven candlesticks are seven Churches (Revelation 1:20). It is made of gold as precious in God's sight, and to be kept pure and unalloyed; it is placed in the sanctuary, and has seven lamps, to indicate that it is bright with the grace of God, and is meant to shed its light around at all times, as Christian men are bidden to shine like lights in the world (Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15). The oil that supplies the lamps is the grace of God, the influence of the Holy Spirit, which alone enables the Church to shine and to accomplish its appointed work. The two olive trees are the two authorities, viz. the civil and sacerdotal, through which God communicates his grace to the Church; these stand by the Lord Because, instituted by him, they carry out his will in the ordering, guiding, extending, and purifying his kingdom among men. The two olive branches remit their oil into one receptacle, because the two authorities, the regal and priestly, are intimately connected and united, and their action tends to one end, the promotion of God's glory in the salvation of men. In Messiah these offices are united; he is the channel of Divine grace, the source of light to the whole world.

HOMILETICS

Zechariah 4:1-7

The Church revived.

"And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me," etc. The imagery of these verses is twofold; but their subject seems one. By the "candlestick" expressly mentioned in Zechariah 4:2 (comp. Revelation 1:13; Revelation 2:1; also Matthew 5:14, Matthew 5:15; Philippians 2:15), and by the temple tacitly referred to in Zechariah 4:7, we understand, spiritually, the same thing, viz. in the first instance certainly the Jewish Church of that time. And what this twofold imagery seems intended here to set before us respecting this Church is

I. THE SECRET OF ITS RESTORATION TO LIFE. Under this head we have set before us the question:

1. Of Church work. What is the great duty of a Church in this world? Is it not, like a lamp or candlestick, to give light, to be a continued witness to men respecting things unseen and eternal—a standing testimony in favour of truth and righteousness, and against error and sin? in ether words (Art. XX.), "a witness and keeper of Holy Writ"? See again references supra; and note, in connection with this duty of spiritual light giving on the part of a Church, the various grounds of the praise or blame administered in Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22.

2. Of Church needs. The returned remnant of the Captivity, with their altar again set up (Ezra 3:3), their feasts again begun (Ezra 3:1-13 :;4), their temple in course of re-erection (Ezra 3:10; Ezra 6:14), and their ancient priesthood again restored (Zechariah 3:1-5), had now become such a witness. They were a "candlestick" or lamp again "lighted." How unequal in themselves to so important an office! How weak, how inexperienced, also how greatly endangered! Above all, how greatly needing that sacred unction, or "oil," of God's grace, of which we are told here (comp. also Acts 10:38)!

3. Of Church supplies. How ample, according to the vision described in Revelation 3:2, Revelation 3:3, the provision made for supplying this revived lamp with this oil! What besides is meant by the different features of this vision the prophet knows not (Revelation 3:4), and the angel tells not, at present. But, at any rate, they seem to signify that abundant provision is made.

II. THE COMPLETENESS OF THIS RESTORATION. In the seventh verse, as noted before, the figure is changed. The Church of the restored Captivity is before us now under the metaphor of a building inhabited by God himself, as often in God's Word (see Hebrews 3:6; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5). And the purport of this change seems that of representing, not only as before the adequacy, but also now the actual effectiveness, of the provision here made. It should eventually be with that spiritual house as with the material house which they were then building as its image and type. This true:

1. As to external obstacles. The greatest of these, even if like a "great mountain" itself in bulk, should become," before Zerubbabel"—baying the Spirit of God on his side—like a plain.

2. As to final victory. To use a well known modern expression, there should be "the crowning of the edifice" of the Church. All that the pre-Captivity Jewish Church had really been in the world this restored Church should now be, up to the very "headstone"—the last stone to be put in its place—with every mark of triumph ("shoutings") and favour ("grace") as well (Revelation 3:7).

Observe, in conclusion:

1. How strikingly these promises were fulfilled. Besides all that we read concerning the days of the Maccabees (as referred to probably in Hebrews 11:35-38), how much more spiritual life remained in the Jewish Church even to the times of the gospel! See indications of this in Luke 2:25, Luke 2:38; Matthew 27:53; Mark 15:43; Acts 2:5, etc. See indications, also, as to the extent to which the witness or "light" of this Church had told on the Gentile world in Luke 7:5; John 12:20; Acts 10:1; Acts 13:43, Acts 13:50 ( τὰς σεβομένας); Acts 17:4, Acts 17:17.

2. How great a lesson this teaches. There was nothing in this Case but the secret working of God's Spirit thus to keep this Church in existence; no "might," no "power." On the contrary, many obstacles—persecutions, enemies, corruptions, and so on. So plain is it how much can be done (and done only) in the way of Christian organization, labour, and progress by the sacred oil of God's Spirit. "Utilis lectio, utilis eruditio, sed magis utilis unctio, quippe quae docet de omnibus."

Zechariah 4:8-14

The Church sustained.

"Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house," etc. These verses continue the metaphors of the previous portion, but in the opposite order. Zechariah 4:1-7 begin with the "olive trees" and end with the "house;" Zechariah 4:8-14 begin with the "house" (Zechariah 4:8-10) and conclude with the "trees." We may look on this latter passage, therefore, as a kind of additional message ("moreover," Zechariah 4:8) on the same general subject and to the same general purport as before. The principal difference is in connection with the questions of order and depth. As we learned before not a little, first as to the secret, and secondly as to the completeness, of the restored life of the Jewish Church, so here we learn very much more

I. ITS COMPLETENESS. As conveyed, we suppose, by what is said respecting the material "house" (or typical Church) then in process of erection. We find this described in Zechariah 4:9, Zechariah 4:10. And of the promise contained therein we may notice:

1. How peculiarly explicit it is. Not only is the work which Zerubbabel had begun to be finished; it is to be finished by "his hands," and therefore, of course, in his time. Not only, again, is it to be so far finished as to be capable, as it were, of habitation and use; but so far finished as to be ready for that most absolutely ultimate of all building processes, the process of testing the work done. How graphic the description of this! "They shall see the plummet in the hands of Zerubbabel."

2. How exceedingly deliberate it is. To start the work of erecting this temple—to begin such a true spiritual Church restoration—was a great thing. To accomplish it, a still greater. If accomplished, indeed, that of itself would be a sufficient proof of a true mission from God (see the end of Zechariah 4:9; also, to some extent, 2 Samuel 7:12, 2 Samuel 7:13). Especially would this be so in that "day of small things," when even well wishers—persons ready to "rejoice" in such a tiring, if really accomplished—as it were "despised" the idea. All this was known, all this was recognized, when the promise was given.

3. How fully assured it is. Was there not One "sent" to accomplish this, even that Angel-Jehovah represented by the "stone" of Zechariah 3:9? And was there not sent also, of necessity, together with him, a full supply of all that was necessary to accomplish these wonders? (See end of Zechariah 3:10, and the reference there to "those seven" eyes to be found on that "stone;" also Revelation 5:6; 2 Chronicles 16:9; and compare end of 2 Chronicles 16:6 in this chapter.) To secure that "stone" is to secure that sevenfold blessing, and all it involves.

II. ITS SECRET. A yet further point, in regard to this, seems revealed to us in that which comes next. It is not enough to have the blessing referred to, so to speak, in reversion. If the Church is to shine as a living witness, some channel of communication must be in existence by which it can be always supplied therewith without fail. To understand the emblem employed (as before described in Zechariah 3:3) to represent this, we may notice:

1. The prophet's ignorance of its meaning. See this five times referred to, viz. in Zechariah 3:4, Zechariah 3:5, 11, 12, 13. Whatever he meant, therefore, it is evidently something the nature of which is so far occult and secret that even the eyes of a prophet might fail to discern it at first.

2. The angel's surprise at his ignorance. "Knowest thou not?". The prophet ought to have discerned it, although he did not.

3. The explanation that follows. (Verse 14.) An explanation which seems to show us:

See illustrated here also, in conclusion:

1. God's great love for his people. He gives his Son for them in order, afterwards, to give them his Spirit as well (John 4:10; Galatians 4:4-6). He buys these earthen vessels for a sum beyond cost, in order, then, to fill them with an ointment which is also beyond cost!

2. God's great care for his Church. Whatever the objects of the "ministry of angels," God has entrusted specially to men the duty of keeping alight among men the "candlestick" of his truth. How often this light has been all but extinct (Genesis 6:5-8; Genesis 12:1 compared with Joshua 24:2; 1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 7:3; 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14; Psalms 12:1; Isaiah 53:1; Micah 7:2; Revelation 11:7-10)! Yet how wonderfully preserved throughout; and to be preserved to the end (Matthew 16:18)!

HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH

Zechariah 4:1-7

The Church in three aspects.

I. SYMBOLICALLY REPRESENTED. (Zechariah 4:2, Zechariah 4:3.) Candelabrum.

II. DEVOUTLY CONTEMPLATED. (Zechariah 4:5.) Humble, earnest, reverent inquiry.

III. DIVINELY INTERPRETED.

1. The unity of the Church.

2. The spiritual use of the Church.

3. The Divine care of the Church.

4. The future glory of the Church. The Church should be:

Zechariah 4:2

On seeing.

The question, "What seest thou?" suggests—

I. THE SLUMBER OF THE SOUL. (Zechariah 4:1.) Want of consciousness and activity. Delusions (Isaiah 29:7), Peril (Mark 13:36).

II. THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL. (Zechariah 4:1.) "The angel" may be taken to illustrate the various ministries employed by God to quicken and rouse his people. Providence. Loss of health, property, friends, and such like incidents. Word of the truth. Law and gospel. The Spirit of Christ. (1 Kings 19:11, 1 Kings 19:12; John 16:8-13; Revelation 1:10-20.)

III. THE GLORIOUS THINGS REVEALED TO THE AWAKENED SOUL. The question. Mark:

1. The time. When the soul was awakened; not before (Isaiah 1:4; Luke 9:32).

2. The purpose. To stimulate activity. "I have looked." Must use our own faculties.

3. The reset. Manifold things revealed. As we are, so will our sight be. Press thee question, "What seest thou?" In nature.

"O lady, we receive but what we give,

And in our lives alone does nature live."

(Coleridge)

Human life. Life all confused and dark, a maze without a plan, or the hand of God. Holy Scriptures. God. Truth. Immortality. Christ. "We see Jesus" (Hebrews 2:9).—F.

Zechariah 4:5

The learner and the learned.

I. THE SPIRIT OF THE LEARNER. Humility. The first thing to know, as the ancient sage said, is that we know nothing. Love of truth. For its own sake. To be sought for as hidden treasure—with ardour and delight. Obedience. Not merely readiness to receive, but courage to act. Faithful carrying out of principles. Progress. Step by step, in the spirit of self-sacrifice "When first thine eyes unveil, give thy soul leave to do the like" (Vaughan).

Study is like the heaven's glorious sun,

That will not be deep search'd with saucy looks;

Small have continuous plodders ever won,

Save base authority from others' books."

(Shakespeare.)

II. THE SPIRIT OF THE LEARNED.

1. Wisdom. Not mere knowledge, but insight into character, and capacity to turn knowledge to the best account.

2. Kindness. Hence patience with ignorance and prejudice. Loving endeavour to give to others what has been good and a joy to themselves.

3. Faithfulness. Not hiding what should be told; not making compromises of principle; not striving for the mastery, but for the victory of truth.

4. Humility is as much the character of the learned as of the learner (cf. Newton likening himself to a child gathering shells).

"Were man to live coeval with the sun,

The patriarch-pupil would be learning still,

And dying leave his lesson half unlearnt."

F.

Zechariah 4:6

The secret of power.

Power is indispensable. It is not in numbers, or organization, or method. These are good, hut not enough. It is not of man, though it is by man. Must look higher. It is of God. Life is from life. The highest life can only come from the highest life. "Not by might," etc. Apply to—

I. THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH. Talent, culture, wide sympathies, zeal and eloquence, not enough. Even truth not enough. Need more. "My Spirit." There must be a right relation to God. There must be the quickening of the soul with the life of God—the energizing and elevating of the natural powers to the highest capacity and use. This influence is necessary both for preachers and hearers.

II. THE WORSHIP OF THE CHURCH. In the Church God draws near to us and we draw near to God. As a Father to his children he speaketh unto us; as children unto a Father we should speak unto him.

1. Praise.

2. Prayer.

3. Hearing of the Word.

4. Communion.

5. Times of refreshing.

It is only as we are quickened from above that our worship is hearty and true (cf. John 4:23), acceptable to God, and profitable to ourselves.

III. THE WORK OF THE CHURCH. Life must precede work. As individuals, in the society to which we belong, and in our daily life, we are called to serve God. Every one has his place and his work. It is as we carry out faithfully the duty committed to us that the cause of the Lord will prosper, and "his kingdom come" at home and abroad.—F.

Zechariah 4:7-10

Encouragement to Christian workers.

I. THOUGH THE WORK BE DERIDED, IT IS GOD'S WORK. Therefore we are sure it is right and good. We can throw ourselves into it with all our heart. Patience. What is of God cannot fail.

II. THOUGH THE DIFFICULTIES BE GREAT, THEY ABE CAPABLE OF BEING OVERCOME, Difficulties are a test. They show what spirit we are of. They separate the chaff from the wheat. Remember "Formality" and "Hypocrisy" in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' Difficulties are a challenge. They put us on our mettle. Courage mounteth with occasion. Once we can say, "It is our duty," nothing should daunt us (Acts 5:29; Acts 20:24). In A.D. 1800 Napoleon wanted to cross the Alps with his army into Italy. He asked Marescot, chief of the engineers, "Is it possible?" He replied, "Yes, but with difficulty." "Let us, then, set out," was the order of the great captain (1 Corinthians 9:25). Difficulties are our education. It is not ease but effort that makes men. "Our antagonist is our helper," said Burke. "He who has battled, were it only with poverty and hard toil, will be found stronger and more expert than be who could stay at home from the battle, concealed among the provision waggons, or even resting uuwatchfully, abiding by the stuff" (Carlyle). So it is in all spheres of activity. "To overcome, we must conquer as we go." Difficulties lead us to a deeper and truer appreciation of our dependence upon God (Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:31, Romans 8:37).

III. THOUGH THE PROGRESS BE SMALL, ULTIMATE SUCCESS IS CERTAIN. God's Word is sure. He is truth, and cannot lie. He is love, and cannot betray. He is almighty, and cannot be defeated. The laying of the foundationstone, in his Name, implies the completion of the structure; and, by faith, we already hear the shoutings and the jubilant cries as the work is finished. "Grace, grace unto it!"—F.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Zechariah 4:1-10

Man as a student of the Divine revelation and a doer of Divine work.

"And the angel that talked with me," etc. "It is needful to keep in mind that all these successive scenes were presented to the mind of the prophet in vision; and that each vision was distinct, forming a whole of itself, independently of the scenery of those which preceded it, although not so as to preclude connection in the lessons taught, and occasional reference (such as we shall find in the one now before us) to the earlier in the latter. The fourth in the series of visions, then, was now closed; and at the close of it, the prophet represents himself as having fallen into a kind of reverie arising from its disclosures, or from some particular Dart of them, by which his mind was absorbed and unconscious of aught that might be passing mound him. From this state he was roused, as the first verse indicates, by the touch and the voice of the ministering angel, and his attention arrested to a new scenic representation, and the explanation of its meaning" (Wardlaw). I have to confess that the more I look into this vision, as well as into the previous visions, the more I feel my utter inability to attach a satisfactory meaning to all the strange and grotesque symbols that are presented. And my sense of inability has been deepened as! have examined the explanations that have been put forth by biblical critics—some most fanciful and absurd, and many most conflicting. Indeed, it requires a Daniel to interpret dreams; the objects in a dream are generally so unnatural, grotesque, shadowy, a,d shifting, that men seldom try to attach any definite idea to them. I may regard this passage as setting before us man in two aspects, viz. as a student of the Divine revelation, and as a doer of the Divine purposes.

I. AS A STUDENT OF THE DIVINE REVELATION. "I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?" This candelabrum made of gold, with a bowl on the top, its seven lamps and seven pipes, etc; is taken by most expositors to represent the Church of God, and popular preachers go on to draw analogies between the candlestick and the Church. Of course, this is easy work. But the Church of God, as the phrase is, has not, alas! been very golden or very luminous. The ideal Church is all this. The candlestick may, I think, fairly represent the Bible, or God's special revelation to man: that is golden, that is luminous, that is supernaturally supplied with the oil of inspiration. In fact, in the passage, the interpreting angel designates this candlestick, not as the Church, but as the "word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel." I make two remarks concerning this revelation.

1. It has in it sufficient to excite the inquiry of man as a student. The prophet, on seeing these wonderful objects, exclaimed, "What are these, my lord?" He seemed to feel as Moses felt in relation to the burning bush, when he said, "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed." What wonderful things are in this Bible! It is a museum of wonders; and the greatest of all wonders is God manifest in the flesh.

2. It has an interpreter that can satisfy man as a student. The angel to whom the prophet directed his inquiry promptly answered. "Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." The prophet here displays two of the leading attributes of a genuine student of the Divine.

II. AS A DOER OF THE DIVINE WILL. Man has not only to study, but to work; not only to get Divine ideas, but to work them out. "Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it! Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you." The work of the prophet was to convey a message from God to Zerubbabel, and the message he conveyed was a men, age to work. Man is to be a "worker together" with God. I offer two remarks concerning man as a worker out of the Divine will.

1. That though his difficulties may appear great, his resources are infinite. Zerubbabel, in rebuilding the temple, had enormous difficulties. Those difficulties hovered before him as mountains. But great as they were, he was assured that he had resources more than equal to the task. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." By this is meant, not that human might and power are not required, or are utterly useless, but Divine might would give aid to all honest, effort and endeavour. The difficulties in a good man's path of duty rise oftentimes like mountains before him; but let him not be disheartened; those mountains are nothing compared with the might that is guaranteed. "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove," etc.

2. That though his efforts may seem feeble, his success will be inevitable.

(a) It is common to despise small things. Proud man will only honour what seem to him great things—conventionally great. A small house, a small business, a small book,—these are despised.

(b) It is foolish to despise small things. All great things were small in their, beginnings.. London was once a little hamlet; the oaken forest once an acorn. We do not know what really are small things; what we consider small may be the greatest things in the universe.

(c) It is contemptible to despise small things. Truly great souls never do so.

Zechariah 4:11-14

The olive trees and the candlesticks: model religious teachers.

"Then answered I, and said unto him," etc. This is not another vision, but an explanation of the one recorded in the preceding verses. The explanation is that the two branches of the olive tree which, by means of the two tubes of gold empty their oil, is that they represented "two anointed ones," or sons of oil. Perhaps Joshua and Zerubbabel are particularly referred to. "Because," says Henderson, "when installed into office they had oil poured upon their heads as a symbol of the gifts and influences of the Holy Spirit, which alone could fit them rightly to discharge their important functions. Their services to the new state were of such value that they might well be represented as furnishing it, instrumentally, with what was necessary for enabling it to answer the purpose of its establishment." I shall take these two "anointed ones" as types of model religious teachers. Three things are suggested.

I. THEY HAVE A HIGH ORDER OF LIFE IN THEM. They are represented by the olive branches. There are few productions of the vegetable kingdom that are of such a high order as the olive. Though not large, seldom rising higher than thirty feet, it has a rich foliage, beautiful flowers, abundant fruit, and withal is filled with precious oil. One tree contains often not less than a thousand pounds of precious oil. Its fatness was proverbial ( 9:9); it is an evergreen, and most enduring. In short, it is marked by great beauty, perpetual freshness, and immense utility. It was one of the sources of wealth in Judaea, and its failure was the cause of famine. The emblems of a true teacher are not dead timber or some frail vegetable life, but an olive tree. Religious teachers should not only have life, but life of the highest order. They should be full of animal spirits, full of creative genius, full of fertile thought, full of Divine inspiration. Men whose vitality is of a low order are utterly disqualified to be public religious teachers. They should not be reeds, fragile, and with temporary foliage, but like a "green olive tree in the house of God." The curse of the modern pulpit is its lack of vitality, freshness, and power.

II. THEY COMMUNICATE THE MOST PRECIOUS ELEMENTS OF KNOWLEDGE. They "empty the golden oil out of themselves." Whether the expression "golden" here signifies merely the richness of its colour or the preciousness of its property, it scarcely matters. It has been observed by modern travellers that the natives of olive countries manifest more attachment to olive oil than to any other article of food, and find nothing adequate to supply its place. Genuine religious teachers feed the lamp of universal knowledge with the most golden elements of truth. They not only give the true theory of morals and worship, but the true theory of moral restoration. What a high value Paul set on this knowledge! "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." What are the true genuine religious teachers doing? They are pouring into the lamps of the world's knowledge the choicest elements of truth.

III. THEY LIVE NEAR TO THE GOD OF ALL TRUTH. "Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth." They "stand," a position of dignity; "stand," a position of waiting—waiting to receive infallable instructions, ready to execute the Divine behests. All true religious teachers live consciously near to God. To "stand by the Lord of the whole earth" is one thing, to be conscious of it is another. All "stand by" him; but few of the race are practically conscious o! the position and these few alone are the true teachers.

CONCLUSION. Let us, who are engaged in the office of public teaching, try ourselves by these criteria. The olive tree gave what it had in it—gave out its nature. So must we. Manufactured discourses, intellectual speculations, rhetorical flourishes,—these have no oil.—D.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Zechariah 4:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/zechariah-4.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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