Fifth Vision: The Lampstand and Two Olive Trees
Zechariah chapter 4 contains one of the most important images and one of the most famous sayings in all the Old Testament. The 2 olive trees serve as the basis for the 2 major witnesses in the Book of Revelation, while the saying, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord," has pushed Christians throughout the centuries not to rely upon their own powers but upon the might and power of the Spirit of God.
A side issue. The Holy Spirit begins to play a more prominent role in the latter prophets than He did in the first books of the Old Testament. Throughout Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, etc., the prophets predict not only the coming of the kingdom of God and His Messiah, but also the coming of the Spirit of God. In fact the Spirit of God is the One who makes the kingdom of God a reality and anoints the Messiah so that He can usher in the kingdom of God. With the emphasis of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus, we see that Jesus was the Messiah who ushered in the kingdom of God. The fact that we have the Holy Spirit living in us because we have confessed Jesus means that Jesus truly is the Messiah who pours out His Spirit upon His followers and that we are in fact members of the kingdom of God. This kingdom has not been consummated. Yet Jesus will return and with His Spirit complete everything He began at His first coming.
THE FIFTH VISION: The Lampstand and Olive Trees (4:1-14)
God is about to do something wonderful in the Israel's midst. In fact it is something that only God Himself could do: "'Not by might, that is, military might; nor by power, that is, all human strength and power in general, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord." What is about to happen that only God's Spirit could do? He is going to use Zerubbabel to finish the Temple. It is 519 B.C., and although Zerubbabel laid down the foundation of the Temple in 536 B.C., it was not yet completed. Now it is finally going to be completed. In fact it will be completed in just a short 3 years by none other than Zerubbabel himself, the one who started it 17 years earlier. This is a divine act because of the amount of work yet to be and because of the short amount of time left to complete the Temple.
Jeff Fitzhugh, Johnny Rhodes, Matt Conner, and I along with a few others experienced just this movement of God's Spirit in 1998. We went to Belize to help build a sanctuary and a parsonage for the Baptist church there. When we arrived, we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the project. We just looked at each other and said, "Well, we'll do what we can do," thinking all along that it was not going to get finished.
Things went from bad to worse. Not only did we have a huge task before us, most of the crew including me got sick. One day I was sitting on top of the parsonage roof, bending over the edge, vomiting up everything in my system. It was one of the worst 24-hour bugs I've ever had. All of us were dropping like flies. There was NO WAY that we were going to finish that parsonage and sanctuary.
As if by a miracle though, by the end of the week both projects were completed. When we dedicated the sanctuary (called a "temple" in Spanish), we were just stunned at what had happened. We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not by might, nor by power, but by God's Spirit that this was accomplished. The same thing was happening in the building of Zerubbabel's temple. God was going to make Zerubbabel so successful that he was going to overcome all obstacles. The huge mountains of obstacles were going to become like the plain; that is how successful Zerubbabel was going to be in overcoming his obstacles.
Zechariah now asks a very strange question: "Who has despised the day of small things?" Why would Zechariah ask such a question? Because after Zerubbabel completed the Temple, the Jews were going to be dismayed at how small and non-glorious the Temple was going to be when compared to Solomon's Temple. Yet this Temple was not to be despised. Haggai, the prophet who prophesied at the same time Zechariah was prophesying, predicted that the glory of this new Temple would surpass the glory of Solomon's Temple, if only the people would follow the Lord.
Up to this point Zechariah has focused on the rebuilding of the city and the Temple. He has described the preparation of the new chief priest, Joshua. But what about the contents of this new Temple? Just like Solomon's Temple had a golden lampstand standing in the Holy Place, so this new Temple of Zerubbabel was going to have a golden lampstand; HOWEVER, this new lampstand was going to outshine the one previously made by Solomon.
Zechariah sees a golden lampstand with 2 olive trees, one either side. The lampstand has 7 branches with a bowl at the top of each branch. From each bowl come 7 spouts which extend to the olive trees. The olive trees then pour golden oil into the bowls to ensure that the lampstand is continually lit, that it continually sheds light.
The question then becomes what is meant by the lampstand and the 2 olive trees? A thorough reading of the text shows that the lampstand must refer to the nation of Israel itself. Although through the Bible God is called the light of the world, there are also numerous other places where the people of God are called the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15). Whereas it is true that we are lights ONLY BECAUSE GOD'S LIGHT SHINES THROUGH US, the fact remains that because God's people DO reflect His light, God's people then ARE lampstands. (The golden lampstand in the Temple then symbolizes not only God as the light of the world but His people likewise as the light of the world.)
Why though does this golden lampstand symbolize God's people as light and not God Himself? It is because God does not need people to pour oil into Him in order for Him to light up the world, whereas in this particular case the lampstand needs the 2 olive trees, 2 special human beings, in order to produce light.
Now who are these 2 olive trees? Zechariah claims that they are the 2 ANOINTED ONES, the 2 God has filled with His Spirit in order to lead His people. In this particular instance the 2 leaders are specifically Joshua, the high priest and spiritual leader of the people, and Zerubbabel, David's descendant and the political leader of God's people. If God's people are going to shine the light of God into the world, then they are going to need the help and leadership which Joshua and Zerubbabel are going to provide.
At this point Zechariah's vision adds on another element which lifts the vision up to a much higher level. Zechariah claims that the eyes of the Lord are roaming throughout the earth. Now that is strange because the Jews for the most part were confined either to the land surrounding Jerusalem or to Babylon. Why would these eyes then roam throughout the whole world?
The prophecy by adding this element shows us that the golden lampstand and olive trees, while symbolizing the Jews and their leaders, actually point to a much greater lampstand and much more exalted leader. Whereas it took 2 men in Zechariah's day to be the political and religious leaders, a day would come when these 2 offices would be combined. After another 500 years Christ, THE "Anointed One" would come, who would serve as both high priest and king of His people. Moreover, the lampstand He would serve would be none other than the church. Whereas the lampstand of the Jews did shine brightly in those days, the brightness of Christ's lampstand, the church, is so brilliant that it vastly outshines the light of the Jews. In fact the light of Christ's lampstand, the church, is so bright that it is almost as if the Jews are in darkness. [This may seem far-fetched until you remember that the apostle John actually calls the church a "lampstand" (Rev. 1:20), a direct reference to Zechariah's vision. In John's vision Christ, the Anointed One, is taking care of the lampstands.)
THE SIXTH VISION: The Flying Scroll and Woman in the Ephah (5:1-11)
In the previous vision of the lampstand and 2 olive trees, it appears that everything is going to turn out completely rosy for the Israelites. The 2 olive trees are going to deliver oil perpetually to the lampstand of Israel so that she might shine forever. Yet this is not going to happen automatically nor inevitably. Something stands in the way of this happening: sin in the land of Judah.
First, Zechariah sees a large scroll flying over the face of the land, a scroll measuring 30 feet long and 15 feet high, a huge scroll by any measure. In fact the scroll is so large that it could come only from the hand of God Himself. As the scroll flies over the face of the land it purges from the land those who swear falsely and those who steal. It roots them out from the land of Judah.
Why are these 2 categories of sinners targeted when in our opinion far worse crimes are being committed? A closer examination shows that the first sin of swearing falsely (perjury in court) is found in the first 5 of Moses’ 10 Commandments (the 4th commandment), while the command not to steal is found in the second 5 of the 10 Commandments (the 8th command). Swearing falsely then represents not only the 4th command but actually the first 5 commands, while thievery represents the second 5 of the 10 Commandments. In other words, the scroll is actually pronouncing judgment on those who break ANY of the 10 Commandments and not just the 4th and 8th.
Second, Zechariah sees an ephah, the largest container Israelites would use. It measured 1 cubic foot, that Is, one foot wide, one foot long, and one foot deep. When the lead cover on top of the ephah was removed, a woman named “Wickedness” popped up out of the ephah. She is forced back down into the ephah. Then the lead cover was placed back on top of the ephah so that she could not escape from it. The ephah then was taken to Shinar, near Babylon, where she was released and placed on her pedestal. The fact that she was placed on a pedestal probably indicates that she was an idol, representing the idolatry Judah had fallen into. Just like the scroll purged the land of transgressors against the Law of Moses, so this vision shows that idolatry was to be removed permanently from the land of Judah.
Whatever else this vision is communicating, it is saying that God is not going to bring great blessings into our lives without our participation. Although we cannot transform ourselves, although we cannot save ourselves, nevertheless God does demand that we commit to Him before He does do these wonderful things on our behalf.
C. S. Lewis picks up on just this principle in The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe the 4 Pevensie children leave England for the magical land of Narnia where the great lion Aslan (Jesus) lives. They find the land of Narnia under the spell of the White Witch. In her reign of terror over Narnia she has turned several of the good creatures into stone. She must be defeated; the 4 children are told that they are the ones who must battle the White Witch if Narnia is to be free forever of her spell. The children go to war; yet the White Witch proves to be too strong for them. In fact at the moment when it seems like the witch has bested Peter, Aslan shows up and kills the White Witch. He then turns and breathes upon the stone statues, transforming them into live creatures again. Only Aslan could kill the witch and transform the creatures; however, He was not going to do this until the children had committed to going to battle.
In the same way, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader a boy named Eustace acts so beastly that he actually turns into a beast, a dragon! He is so upset by this turn of events and tries to turn himself back into a little boy by using his huge dragon claws to rip the dragon skin off his body. But each time he rips the dragon skin off, he finds another layer of dragon skin beneath. At that point Aslan shows up and offers his services. Eustace is naturally scared of the dragon but realize this is his only hope and chance. So he submits to the lion. The lion doesn’t force Eustace; Eustace has to submit, which he does. The lion then claws off the dragon skin, revealing a little boy beneath the skin.
Paul claims that the same is true of us. Although God alone is the One who can transform us, we must submit ourselves, we must commit ourselves to the process. Paul writes: “I urge you . . . to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice . . . .” First, we must give ourselves to God, and then, and only then, doeos the following happen: “Be transformed.” Paul doesn’t write: “Transform yourself.” He knows that can’t happen. Rather he command us to allow Christ to transform us. But again, this happens ONLY AFTER WE HAVE GIVEN OURSELVES TO HIM. In the same way, God wants to give Israel a glorious future; however, she must commit to that future by removing sin and idolatry from her land. There is no other way.