In this chapter of the book of Zechariah, the prophet receives another word-picture from the Lord, given by an angel. Remember that the Jewish people had been restored to Jerusalem, brought back from captivity in Babylon by the decree of Emperor Cyrus of Persia, whom God had stirred up to support this good work. The work of rebuilding the destroyed temple had begun, but the building project languished in an incomplete state. The people of God had grown tired and disinterested in the project, and enemy nations living nearby had taken advantage of the situation to stymy the project, persuading King Artaxerxes to order the construction to stop (Ezra 4:23.) The future looked bleak for finishing what had been started (the rebuilding of the temple,) but God had more messages of hope to give to his people to motivate them with encouragement to rebuild and to trust in Him to provide necessary materials and undo obstacles. This chapter gives us encouragement that our hope is not in our own efforts or abilities, but that we may labor in hope that God will complete that which He has started.
Zechariah chapter 4
1And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.
2 And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, 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:
3 And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
4 So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?
5 Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
6 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.
7 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.
Zechariah had fallen asleep. The Angel woke him up to give him another prophetic revelation of what God had planned for His people. How often is it that we receive God’s words of comfort and are lulled to sleep by it instead of paying careful attention and actively applying it to our hearts and lives[i]? Yet God’s messenger the angel is gracious and patient to wake Zechariah out of his sleep with even more comforting words of hope, of what God has in store for his people. God is gracious to awaken his people by continuing to prompt them, despite their sleepiness. In the time of Zechariah, the center of God’s presence among his people was located in Jerusalem. The Church of God at the time was located there, symbolized in the vision God gave to Zechariah by one golden lampstand with seven lamps burning on it. This was something that was commanded to be used in the temple of old, which must have seemed to Zechariah to be but a faint memory of past glory after all those years in Babylon, but the angel shows it to him to give him hope that the temple will be rebuilt and that God will be worshiped as in old times. The lamps’ supply of oil would never go out because it is supplied by God Himself, “by my Spirit”, and not by the efforts of men. Although the people of God may seem lazy and distracted at times to do the hard work of building the temple of the Lord, God Himself will sustain her through a supply of his own Spirit. He has mysterious ways of keeping the spiritual life of his chosen people aflame by his Spirit.
Today, in the new covenant, the Church of God is no longer depicted by only one lampstand, but by seven lampstands (Revelation 1:20), symbolizing the dispersion of the worship of God in many locations over the entire world. (Seven is the number of perfection and completeness in the Bible.) The Church of God is no longer confined to one location in Jerusalem, but is spread out over the entire world. Though the building of God’s Church through evangelism and discipleship may seem like a futile and useless effort to the eyes of human understanding, God promises to bless His people still. We may seem small and insignificant in the eyes of the world and ready to die out at any moment. But the One who gives the life of the Spirit to His Church is the One who gives it a continual supply of His Spirit that will never go out. Our faith as Christians, and as the Church of Christ, is not in our ability to build the Church, but in the promise of Him who said, “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 The Church of Jesus Christ will never end, and it will be completed, through God working in it by a never-ending supply of his Holy Spirit.
8 Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
9 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.
10 For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
11 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?
12 And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?
13 And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
14 Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
It is easy to think little of small beginnings. Though the Church of Jesus Christ, as we see it in the world, may seem to be relatively few in number and weak in comparison to all of the forces of evil in the world that combat it, the One through whom God has started the work will also finish it. Zerubbabel is the King of Judah and ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:12) He came out of captivity in Babylon with the nation of the Jews to rule as God’s anointed. He is a picture and foreshadowing of King Jesus, the Christ (anointed One) and Ruler of God’s people. God promises that the temple will be rebuilt completely within Zerubbabel’s reign. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. What has been started through Him will be completed by Him. God places one olive tree on either side of the lampstand pictured to Zechariah, symbolizing His endless provision of oil to the lampstand. These are trees planted by the Lord, two “anointed” ones. The two trees most likely are symbols of the two prophets that God sent to Judah during this time of rebuilding: Zechariah and Haggai, to encourage the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:1.) Through his Spirit, God anoints and appoints the ministry of the word to bring his gracious words of comfort and grace to his people. The Church of Jesus Christ is the “pillar and ground of truth” in the world (1 Timothy 3:15.) By means of his Spirit, he supplies her with life, and the offices necessary for her nourishment, especially the gospel ministry. Let us never forget where the life and strength of the Church comes from when we grow weary and are tempted to think that it is completely insignificant. Through His holy Church God is accomplishing His purposes in the world to save many souls and make disciples of Christ for His everlasting glory. He will accomplish His purposes despite the opposition of the world. As the Church of Jesus Christ, this is our comfort and hope.
[i] Cf. Matthew Henry’s commentary.