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Studies in the




6.   The Fifth Night Vision




(Zech. 4:1-14)


           We have seen how the visions from the LORD brought comfort to Israel in therestoration to the land; but that outward restoration would have been of little lasting value if there had not been spiritual renewal--cleansing from sin and a re-commissioning for spiritual service (the last night vision in chapter 3). But the salvation of chapter three’s vision necessarily required and paved the way for the empowerment by the Holy Spirit for any effective spiritual service, whether building the temple, or being a light to the nations.

            It had been God’s plan that Israel was to be a light to the nations, a witness to the world of God’s provision of salvation and blessing. This was first made clear to Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), who was a witness as he “made proclamation of Yahweh by name” at the altar” (12:8). And when God made Israel his holy nation at Sinai, they were to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:5, 6). As they came into the land God told them to proclaim peace to the nations (Deut. 20:10-15; the Book of Jonah).  And so they had a great mission, but they would not be able to accomplish any of it independently of God.

            And what was written of Israel, for that generation and for the generation that is restored to divine favor at the end of the age, is also instructive for all who are redeemed by the death of Jesus the Messiah.  We who are now a kingdom of priests must find divine enablement for the ministry given to us, just as they did for their service. And that is what the fifth vision addresses.


I.   The Symbolism of the Prophet’s Vision (4:1-5) 


            Zechariah was apparently overwhelmed by the last vision, because the interpreting angel had to get his attention. He “awakened” him as one who awakens someone from sleep--as one awakens someone from sleep. So he was not asleep; but he had to be activated from the spiritual exhaustion that resembled sleep (compare Dan. 10:9; Luke 9:32).  If the prophet was going to receive the next vision, he would have to be alert.

            This vision, although symbolic, was more familiar to the prophet. There was a golden lampstand, just like the lampstand in the sanctuary. That lampstand had a central shaft, and then out each side were three branches that turned upward, making with the central shaft seven shafts in a row upon which the little oil lamps would be placed in a row to be the light in the sanctuary. 

            But there are several differences between what was in the sanctuary and what the prophet saw here. First, there was a receptacle, a vessel or basin on top of it, that is, over the seven lamps, so that the oil flowed by gravity to the lamps.  Second, there were seven pipes through which the olive oil flowed from the basin to the lamps, seven for each lamp, and so a total of forty-night pipes. And third, on the right and on the left of the lampstand were two olive trees that supplied an abundance of golden olive oil that was carried to the basin by two additional pipes. These additional features clearly stressed the automatic and abundant supply of oil for the lamps, requiring no human activity in the process.

            Zechariah as usual asked for the meaning of this unusual sight.  And the angel’s response was, “Don’t you know what these are?” This answer indicates that the vision was clear enough and should not have required any further explanation, especially since the meaning of the lampstand and the oil was well-known in Israel. But this short answer by the angel suggests that the meaning of the lampstand in the sanctuary would provide the basis for the interpretation which would extend to the typological significance for the end of the age. 

            The biblical typology of the tabernacle and its contents finds fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The corresponding significance of the lampstand is the revelation that Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12; Matt. 5:14), reflecting his deity and his glory by the power of the Spirit (Heb. 1:9; Rev. 1:4).  But in the Old Testament the lampstand also symbolized Israel’s vocation to be a light to the nations. But because Israel turned to idolatry and refused to be a testimony to God’s saving grace, the lampstand was removed from her for the times of the Gentiles. And so as ancient Israel was to be such a powerful witness, now the Church must be. We are now the light of the world (John 8:12; Matt. 5:14, 15); and the one Church of God in every place was represented by the seven golden lampstands (Rev. 2:1--3:22).  The Church by this symbolism is a spiritual unity under the headship of Christ, and yet also individual witnesses to the Gospel (individual lampstands in the seven churches).

            Oil in the Bible, and clearly in this passage, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The basin over the lampstand indicates a full reserve of spiritual power from the Holy Spirit. And the many pipes carrying the oil to the lamps speaks of the increased supply of oil. The point is that the program of God will begin with a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, especially at the end of the age with the beginning of the kingdom (see Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5]). Each lamp will shine brightly because of the abundant and constant supply of the oil. 

            Thus, in the fulfillment of the vision, Israel will be a constant, bright, steady witness to the world--not only in the small way they began to be in 500 B.C., but also in the full way at the end of the age (Rom. 11:15). But the witness will not be by their own efforts, but by supernatural enablement. That is why one of the promises of the New Covenant to Israel was that the Spirit would be poured out in full measure.

            The two olive trees are called “sons of oil,” meaning “anointed ones.” These two trees represent the two anointed offices in Israel, kingship and the priesthood--the two themes so common in Zechariah (we will return to it in chapter 6). But here there are two branches from the two trees; they represent the contemporary incumbents of Zechariah’s day--Joshua the High Priest, and Zerubbabel the Judean prince. They had the task of leading the nation in its spiritual and civic rebuilding in order that it might again be a significant witness to the nations. They would need the power of God’s Spirit to accomplish such a goal for God--anything for God.

            Ultimately, the two offices would be united in the person of Jesus Christ, our Davidic King and our High Priest (after the order of Melchizedek and not Aaron; see Ps. 110). And by the power of the Holy Spirit in him, the light will shine the brightest; and the faithful believers, Gentiles now and Jews in the future, will carry this light to the world.


II.   The Explanation of the Vision (4:6-10)


A.         The Vision is the Word of the LORD (v. 6).

            The revelation was with symbol, but it was designed to communicate the Word of the LORD. The message is therefore prophetic, both in the sense of foretelling and forthtelling. The former is true prophecy predicting something in the future; the latter is the prophetic sermon rebuking or encouraging the immediate audience. The prophet, and the people, may not have understood all that God had in mind for the future through this vision; but they certainly would understand the message for their own experience.


B.        The Vision is a Message of Encouragement and Instruction (vv. 6b-10).

            The main thrust of this message concerned the immediate application to the re-building of the sanctuary and the city, and the re-establishment of the covenant program. These tasks were formidable to the few Judeans who returned from the captivity. And yet that was their task. The word from the LORD includes several clear promises; and the promises have within them an obvious application.

            1.   The temple will be rebuilt by divine power (v. 6b).  All that the text says is, “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the LORD of armies.” The sentence has no subject and no predicate or verb. It includes only the adverbial modifier of the predicate. It seems to have been expressed as a slogan. But the point of the sentence is that the temple will be rebuilt, but not by human strength. Putting the negative first--“not by might . . .”--stresses the total inadequacy of human strength to do the work of the LORD, then and now. In fact, the repetition of “not” adds to this emphasis even more. Then by the adversative “but” we have the promise: “but by my Spirit.”  And this is a message that comes from “the LORD of armies.” The work will be done by the Spirit of God enabling the people to do the work of God, and not by human effort alone.

            Israel’s history is filled with samples of this principle. When Jacob wrestled with the Angel he learned that his own cleverness and ability would not gain for him the land of promise. So he was named “Israel”--“God fights.” He would get the land only if God fought for him.  Another example of this truth is the battle of Jericho. The city was not defeated by human strength or power, as normal armies would expect. It was defeated by the Israelites’ following God’s unusual instructions by faith. 

            2.   The obstacles to the work will be removed (v. 7a).  The text uses a rhetorical question to express the weakness of the obstacle before Zerubbabel. The word “mountain” in the Bible is frequently symbolic of any huge obstacle in the way (see Matt. 17:20; Ps. 30:7). The mountain is rebuked; it will become a plain before Zerubbabel--the obstacle will disappear!

            3.   The temple will be finished with great joy (vv. 7b, 9).  Zerubbabel will bring the top stone amid the shouts of the people. This is the finishing stone, the last piece as it were, showing that the building was finished. And it would happen soon, for Zerubbabel would do it. That would be the near view, the immediate fulfillment. And so Zerubbabel becomes a type of the Messiah who at the end of the age will build anew.

            The shouts that celebrate this conclusion of the work are, “Grace, grace, to it.”  In other words, when the temple was finished, the people would extol its beauty: “How perfectly beautiful it is.”

            4.   Zerubbabel himself will finish it (vv. 8, 9).  The word from the LORD was that the hands of Zerubbabel started it, and he would finish it. This aspect of the promise would have been a great encouragement).

            5.   God’s Word will be fulfilled (v. 9c).  The announcement simply says, “Then you will know that the LORD of armies has sent me to you.” The completion of the job would confirm that it was the LORD’s work--there would be no other explanation of the success.

            6.   People will no longer ridicule the work (v. 9c).  The work was not very grand--it did not compare favorably with Solomon’s temple. There was no money to count on for the task; there were stoppages of work. And what was constructed seemed like such a little project. The warning is not to despise small things if God is in them, for if God is in them he will be glorified.

            7.   People will rejoice (v. 10b).  When people see the plummet stone in Zerubbabel’s hands, measuring the angles of the construction, they will rejoice. This activity of Zerubbabel confirms the saying not to despise small things.

            8.   God’s knowledge and provision will be understood (v. 10c). “Seven” eyes of the LORD will cover the earth superintend God’s work (see 3:9). It is clear that under the leadership of Zerubbabel the main task of rebuilding the temple will be accomplished. But it will be because of God’s power, not man’s. The Spirit of God will do it.


III.   The Specific Meaning (4:11-15),


            The prophet still wanted to know the specifics of the vision. He blurted out the first question, even though he knew essentially what the answer was--the supply of oil. In his eagerness, the prophet does not wait for the answer but asks another question concerning the two olive trees and the two branches.

            According to the angel, these two trees are two witnesses of the covenant--the priesthood and kingship--two offices that are anointed by God.  On the two trees were the two ears (branches) of olives. These represent the two incumbents from the two offices--Joshua and Zeubbabel.  And they together will foreshadow the Messiah, who will be both priest and king (the “branch” in Zech. 6). The two are standing by the throne of the LORD, “standing by” meaning awaiting his Word. The steady stream of golden oil will keep enabling them to be a light to the world and to rebuild the sanctuary.

            But as with all humans, what they were called to do, they failed. And so Messiah would be the light of the world.




            The message is timeless: anything God calls his people to do will require empowerment by his Spirit. This was true of ancient Israel; it is true of us. To be redeemed and restored to divine favor and blessing is wonderful; but what follows is spiritual service--and we cannot do that by our natural strength, even though when we try there are some things that seem to work, but they do not accomplish all that God wants us to do.  We could not redeem ourselves; and we cannot empower ourselves to do his work on earth.  But the good news is that God the Redeemer has given His Spirit to enable us to do the work he has assigned us. 

            The application for us would be to focus on the New Testament instructions of being filled (=controlled) by the Holy Spirit so that we walk (=live) by the Spirit and see the fruit of the Spirit. This calls for an initial dedication of ourselves to God, a yielding of our lives to righteousness, a life of obedience to the Word of God, and praying continuously for the will of the Lord to be done in us.  All of this, of course, will be based on the confidence that God has given us his Holy Spirit.


 copyright Allen P. Ross