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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Zechariah 4

 

 

Verses 1-3

1. In this vision the interpreting angel appears first.

Came again — The angel seems to have withdrawn temporarily; in the fourth vision he appears — if at all — only in Zechariah 3:1. Perhaps “he came again and waked me” is equivalent to “he waked me again,” to see a new vision. Evidently Zechariah recognizes that his condition during the visions is not the same as during the intervals that elapse between the separate visions.

Waked me — What the prophet has seen and heard has overpowered him; he has become spiritually exhausted, and has fallen into a state resembling sleep (Luke 9:32); out of this condition the angel rouses him to show him the new vision.

What seest thou? — The angel addresses this question to the prophet as soon as he opens his eyes (see on Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2; compare Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13).

The principal features of the new vision are described in Zechariah 4:2-3.

I have looked — R.V., “seen”; perhaps better, I see.

A candlestick all of gold — This candlestick may have been suggested by the candlestick in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31; 1 Chronicles 4:20), which was of gold, but in some respects the candlestick in the vision differs from its prototype.

With a bowl upon the top of it — This means a reservoir for the oil used in the lamps. The oil holder was absent from the candlestick in the tabernacle; there the oil was supplied daily by the priests. However, the bowl may have been suggested by the cups (Exodus 25:31; Exodus 25:33-34), though the Hebrew word used here is entirely different, and the cups served only as ornaments.

Seven lamps — How they were attached is not stated.

Seven pipes — To supply oil from the reservoir. This is another feature absent from the candlestick in the tabernacle. The Hebrew is literally “seven and seven pipes to the lamps,” which admits of a twofold interpretation; either, fourteen pipes to the seven lamps, that is, two to each, or, in a distributive sense, seven pipes to each one of the seven lamps (so R.V.), a total of forty-nine. The Hebrew permits either interpretation, and either is thinkable; the latter is more in accord with Hebrew usage. No indication is given how or where the pipes were connected with the lamps. LXX. and Vulgate omit one “seven” and read “seven pipes to the lamps,” that is, one to each, which simplifies the picture and may be original.

Which are upon the top thereof — The meaning seems to be that the lamps are on the top of the candlestick; the same statement is made concerning the oil holder, which makes it very difficult to determine the exact relative position of the different parts of the candlestick. Some commentators favor the omission of the words as an erroneous repetition from the first part of the verse.

Two olive trees — Another feature absent from the tabernacle (compare Revelation 11:4). One was upon the left, the other upon the right side of the oil holder; in Zechariah 4:11 it is said that they were beside the candlestick, which is equally true. Two branches from these trees, one from each, supplied the oil for the lamps.


Verses 1-14

The fifth vision — the golden candlestick and the two olive trees, 1-14.

The fourth and fifth visions are closely connected; the former centers around the person of the ecclesiastical head, Joshua, the high priest, the latter around that of the civil head, Zerubbabel, the governor. In the vision Zechariah beholds a golden candlestick with seven lamps; on top was a reservoir of oil connected with the lamps by pipes. Beside it stood two olive trees; from the overhanging branches of these oil flowed continually into the reservoir and from it into the lamps.

It may not be possible to determine the meaning of every feature of the vision, but its general purpose is clear. (See p. 592.)


Verse 4-5

4, 5. The prophet fails to understand the vision, and he turns to his companion for an explanation.

Answered — See on Zechariah 1:10.

These — The contents of the entire vision, not only the trees. The interpreting angel expresses surprise that the prophet, who should be familiar with the symbolism of the temple, does not understand the vision, “Knowest thou not what these are?”


Verse 6

6. When the prophet confesses ignorance the angel proceeds to explain.

This — The entire vision. All the features were needed to complete the picture which was to serve as the means of instruction; but the angel attaches here a symbolic meaning only to one feature, the mysterious oil supply; the other features are of secondary importance, though a symbolical meaning is attached also to the two branches (Zechariah 4:12), and perhaps to the lamps (Zechariah 4:10). The message was intended primarily for Zerubbabel, the civil governor. The interpretation is given in a single sentence.

Not by might, nor by power — By human strength or military power.

By my spirit — As the oil is supplied to the lamps without human efforts, so Zerubbabel will be able, without the ordinary human resources (compare Nehemiah 4:2), but assisted by the divine Spirit, to carry to completion the task which he has undertaken. This is not to be understood as a commendation of inactivity, but as a promise to one whose resources are exhausted, that Jehovah will not permit him to fail in his noble endeavor. For spirit see on Joel 2:28. What was the enterprise that baffled Zerubbabel is not stated, but Zechariah 4:7 shows that the prophet is thinking of the rebuilding of the temple, for which both Haggai and Zechariah pleaded, and to the completion of which the two are said to have contributed much (Ezra 5:2).


Verses 7-10

Zechariah 4:7-10 contain a message of encouragement, addressed, on the basis of the vision, by the prophet to Zerubbabel (see on Zechariah 2:6). Most commentators regard the verses out of place, since Zechariah 4:11 forms the natural continuation of Zechariah 4:6. They are suitable in the mouth of Zechariah and they embody some ideas suggested by the vision (Zechariah 4:10), so that they cannot be removed entirely from the latter, but the connection would become smoother if Zechariah 4:7-10 were placed after Zechariah 4:14. Marti thinks that the account of the vision is contained in 1-6a, 10b-14, while the rest, 6b-10a, Contains the message.

Zechariah 4:7 is in the form of an apostrophe to the obstacle which threatens to thwart the purpose of Zerubbabel.

O great mountain — Since the prophet is thinking of the rebuilding of the temple, the mountain cannot be a figure of the hostile Persian power, or of the power of the world as opposed to the kingdom of God; it is rather a “figure denoting the colossal difficulties which rose up mountain-high at the continuation and completion of the building of the temple.” These difficulties will be completely removed before Zerubbabel. The headstone [“topstone”] — The topmost stone completing and crowning the building. The anointed of Jehovah will put the final touch on the building while the watching multitude will break forth in songs and cries of rejoicing and benediction.

Grace, grace unto it — Not only to the stone, but to the completed temple. These are the words of the cry, a petition that Jehovah may bestow his grace and favor upon his newly completed dwelling place.

Zechariah 4:9-10 contain a new message of encouragement and promise to the prince, introduced by Zechariah 4:8.

Moreover — In addition to the message contained in Zechariah 4:7.

Shall also finish it — He will surely carry to completion the building enterprise (compare Ezra 6:15).

Thou shalt know — The completion of the temple will be an external attestation of the prophet as a divinely sent messenger (Zechariah 2:9; Zechariah 2:11).

Who hath despised the day of small things? — Or, who despises (G.-K., 106g). The question implies disapproval of the people’s apathy toward the temple, and of their excuses that their resources are insufficient to build a temple worthy of Jehovah (Haggai 2:3). If Jehovah is satisfied, who has a right to think lightly of the present house, though it be small? 10b states why there is no ground for despair. R.V. is preferable to A.V.: “For these seven shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel; these are the eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” The thought may be brought out even more clearly by a free rendering: “For these seven eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth, shall rejoice when they see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.”

Those seven — Not the seven eyes of Zechariah 3:9 (see there). The use of the demonstrative would seem to indicate that the eyes are referred to in the immediate context; if so, the seven lamps (Zechariah 4:2) must symbolize the seven eyes. Seven is used as a sacred number expressing the idea of completeness or perfection (see Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Numbers”). The eyes of Jehovah sweep over the whole earth; nothing can escape them.

Shall rejoice, and shall see — Better, shall rejoice when they shall see (G.-K., 164a). The eyes are a symbol of the divine care and providence, which is world-wide.

The plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel — A sign that he is engaged in building, or at least that he is superintending the work. If Jehovah takes such delight in the restoration of the temple, what folly for men to despise the enterprise! The text of Zechariah 4:10 may be in some disorder, but the general sense is clear.


Verses 11-14

11-14. The two olive trees are still a mystery to the prophet; he therefore asks his companion to explain their significance.

Answered — See on Zechariah 1:10.

What are these two olive trees — Said to be standing upon the right and upon the left of the candlestick; in Zechariah 4:3 they are located more precisely beside the oil holder, because their connection is primarily with it. On the trees the prophet sees two branches different from the rest, whose significance he does not grasp, so without waiting for a reply to his first question he addresses a second one to his companion.

R.V. gives a more accurate translation of Zechariah 4:12 b: “What are these two olive branches, which are beside the two golden spouts, that empty the golden oil out of themselves?”

What be these two olive branches — Perhaps they were the only branches bearing fruit; at any rate, they must have been different from the rest, so that they attracted the prophet’s special attention. The word here translated”branches” is used elsewhere of ears of corn; it is probably selected on account of the shape of the branches.

Which are beside the two golden spouts (R.V.) — The last word occurs only here in the Old Testament, and its meaning is uncertain; pipes (A.V.) is probably incorrect, a different word being used in Zechariah 4:2. It seems to denote the receptacle and channel which received the oil from the branches and transmitted it to the reservoir; perhaps funnel-like cups, one connected with each branch. Margin R.V. suggests a different translation, “which by means of the two golden spouts empty”; but the sense remains the same.

That empty the golden oil out of themselves — If the marginal translation is correct the subject of the relative clause refers back to branches; if the reading embodied in the text is accepted it becomes uncertain whether the reference is to branches or to spouts; however, the uncertainty does not affect the sense. The expression “out of themselves,” which is literally “from above themselves,” would seem to favor spouts as subject; they receive the oil from the branches above. On the other hand, the grammatical form favors branches.

Golden oil — Literally, gold. Not real gold, as some have supposed, but golden oil, so called because of its pure brightness; undoubtedly an intentional play upon words, golden spouts and golden oil.

Zechariah 4:13 is almost identical with Zechariah 4:5. The interpreting angel expresses astonishment that the prophet should fail to understand this part of the vision, but, when the prophet confesses ignorance, he supplies the explanation. 14.

The two anointed ones — Literally, the two sons of the oil (compare Isaiah 5:1). The last word has the article in Hebrew, the well-known oil, namely, the oil used in official anointings (compare Leviticus 21:10; 1 Samuel 10:1). There can hardly be any doubt that the two branches symbolize Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the prince. If a distinction is made between the symbolic meaning of the two trees and that of the two branches, the trees may be said to symbolize the offices of high priest and civil ruler, the branches the occupants of the offices. However, such a distinction may not have been intended. The two trees had to be brought in to make possible the introduction of the two living branches. The oil is produced by a power behind the branches; in like manner, the two leaders are not the originators of the spirit’s power symbolized by the oil; it originates in Jehovah: they are only the channels through which the spirit manifests itself. Some have understood the two branches to signify the Jews and Gentiles respectively, or the believers among these two, or the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, or two angels, but these interpretations are unnatural.

That stand by the Lord of the whole earth Stand by goes back to the same Hebrew expression as stand above in Isaiah 6:2; it indicates an attitude of service, and the whole is equivalent to “who are the servants of the Lord of the whole earth.” The idea that in order to do this they are to be removed from earth into heavenly places, “near to God and beyond our ken,” is not implied; they are his servants while faithfully discharging the duties of their offices (compare Zechariah 3:7).

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/zechariah-4.html. 1874-1909.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
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