Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Once when I was in college we took a spring break road trip from LA to Grants Pass Oregon. This was a 12 hour drive fraught with danger and excitement. One of my best friends volunteered to drive, which sounded great until he pulled up in a 1986 Buick Skylark. No disrespect to the Skylark, but let’s just say it was well past it’s prime. I thought: No way, this car isn’t going to get the job done. By God’s grace I was wrong!
Sometimes we look around at ourselves, our church, our family, our troubles, and we think: this isn’t going to get the job done. We might doubt our spiritual resolve, the sufficiency of God’s Word, the ability of God’s servants, or even the strength of the church as a whole.
Zechariah’s 5th vision addresses the issue of confidence in God and his work. As the returned exiles sought to rebuild the temple of the Lord they faced fierce opposition and many challenges. God gave his people this vision to encourage them to be confident in him.
Zech. 4:1 The angel who was speaking with me then returned and roused me as one awakened out of sleep. 2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I replied, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top. The lampstand also has seven lamps at the top with seven spouts for each of the lamps.
The awakening here is why Zechariah’s visions are often referred to as his “night visions.” He may not have been literally asleep, but nonetheless a new vision has begun.
The lampstand is not necessarily the menorah of the temple (with 7 branches), but a pedestal which can hold 7 lamps. Given that the rebuilding of the temple is a main feature of this vision, the temple may very well be in view.
3 There are also two olive trees beside it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
Zech. 4:4 Then I asked the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these, my lord?”
Zech. 4:5 “Don’t you know what they are?” replied the angel who was speaking with me. I said, “No, my lord.”
Alongside this lampstand are 2 olive trees. This will be further explained in the vision. Zechariah asks the angel for an explanation of this complex vision, especially the identity of the olive trees. The angel asks if he does not understand their significance. He expected Zechariah to know to one degree or another.
Zech. 4:6 So he answered me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Armies.
In his answer the angel does not explain the details, but rather summarizes the main message of the vision. You need to know that Zerubbabel was leading the building of the temple for the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem. The message was that daunting task would be completed not by virtue of might or strength, but rather because God’s Spirit is at work. The poetic form of the saying “not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit” highlights it as the central point of the vision.
The olive trees next to the lampstand provided an unending supply of oil for the lamp reservoir, therefore the Spirit provides and unending aid for the completion of the task at hand.
7 ‘What are you, great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain. And he will bring out the capstone accompanied by shouts of: Grace, grace to it!’”
The “great mountain” represents the obstacles to Zerubbabel and the people completing the temple rebuilding: lack of money, laziness, enemies, politics, etc. Those obstacles will be leveled, and Zerubbabel will place the capstone on the temple and the people will shout “grace” as he does so.
Perhaps the shouts of grace indicate that God’s grace is made available to the people through the temple. Zechariah and the other returned exiles needed to know that God’s purposes are guaranteed to succeed because God’s Spirit is at work. Remembering this key truth is not easy.
Zech. 4:8 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9 “Zerubbabel’s hands have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of Armies has sent me to you.
The Holy Spirit will complete the temple via the hands of Zerubbabel. The completed temple will itself point to the Branch (i.e., the Messiah—see Zechariah 3:8).
10a For who despises the day of small things?
The NET translates the first clause as “who dares make light of small beginnings?” The point is those who doubted whether or not the temple would be rebuilt will be rejoicing at its completion because God’s Spirit guarantees it will succeed. Those struggling with faith in God were giving in to skepticism, but skepticism wasn’t the only danger.
Zech. 4:10b These seven eyes of the LORD, which scan throughout the whole earth, will rejoice when they see the ceremonial stone in Zerubbabel’s hand.”
The seven lamps are said here to represent the seven eyes of the Lord looking throughout the whole earth. God is aware of all that is going on, and is still advancing his purposes. The “ceremonial stone” is possibly the capstone commemorating the completion of the temple. Nothing escapes God’s eyes, including opposition to rebuilding the temple.
Zech. 4:11 I asked him, “What are the two olive trees on the right and left of the lampstand?” 12 And I questioned him further, “What are the two streams of the olive trees, from which the golden oil is pouring through the two golden conduits?”
Zechariah still does not understand to whom the olive trees refer. These olive trees were perpetually providing oil for the lamp. He wants to know exactly whom God will use to accomplish this important task. Here he clarifies for the reader that the oil is pouring out of the trees and into the receptacle on the lampstand.
Zech. 4:13 Then he inquired of me, “Don’t you know what these are?” “No, my lord,” I replied.
Zech. 4:14 “These are the two anointed ones,” he said, “who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
The two “sons of oil” (anointed ones) are two anointed leaders- Joshua (as high priest) and Zerubbabel (from the line of David, see Ezra 3:2). Joshua and Zerubbabel are the two people God will use to complete this work. In their own way they connected the people to God- Joshua by his priestly function and Zerubbabel by his leadership in completing the temple. It’s key to know that Zerubbabel was descended from David. Through them both the Spirit will ensure the completion of the temple reconstruction.
The Big Picture
The building of the temple and the joint work of Joshua and Zerubbabel point to the future mission of the Messiah as both priest and king. He will both make a sacrifice for the people and be the rightful king. He is the Branch who sent his Spirit to continue his work. Jesus is the Anointed One, the promised savior who guarantees the success of the mission.
This vision wasn’t fulfilled merely by the completion of the rebuilding of the temple in the late 6th century BC. Over 500 years later, Jesus sending the Holy Spirit after his resurrection is further fulfillment.
In Ephesians 1:13-14 the apostle Paul writes, “In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.”
Our salvation is guaranteed to be a success because we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Our future inheritance is a sure thing because it’s not achieved by might or power, but by God’s Spirit.
Taking It Home
God’s saving purposes are guaranteed to succeed because of God’s Spirit. While we may look around and doubt the outcome, there is no questioning God’s presence and purpose. So what?
First, don’t lose hope. We need not fear judgment, because not only was the temple built, but the Great High Priest made his sacrifice for us. It was God’s Spirit that accomplished Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection- and so there is no need for fear. We need this truth when we feel guilt for our sin.
Second, don’t trust in your abilities. When we face adversity or failure, we must remember that our success is not dependent on our strength, but on God’s Spirit.
The problem with skepticism is that it doesn’t take into account God’s greatness. When you doubt yourself, or your church, remember that God’s Spirit is the one at work.
When they began the reconstruction of the temple it didn’t look like much. But those who “made light” of the small beginnings would see their skepticism turn to joy. Skepticism doesn’t take into account God’s greatness.
Third, don’t tolerate doubt. The problem with doubt is that it doesn’t take into account God’s sovereignty. The eyes of the Lord and the anointed ones remind us that God is sovereign even over the rebuilding challenges Israel is facing. The same is true for us. When we doubt the success of our salvation, or wonder if the church will last, we have forgotten that we serve a sovereign God.
The doctrine of God’s knowledge of all is meant to be an encouragement. Not only does he know what you are going through, he has sent his anointed leaders to execute his plan. God’s saving purposes are guaranteed to succeed because of God’s Spirit.
- Praise God that the success of our salvation doesn’t depend on our good works. Praise him that Jesus’ death on our behalf guarantees that our sin has been paid for.
- Praise the Holy Spirit for sealing us until Jesus’ return. Praise him for convicted us of sin, teaching us the truth, and leading us in righteousness.
- Ask God to give you confidence in him. As you identify areas of doubt, pray for strengthened faith in God’s Spirit.