Zechariah 4 Commentary: We’re going to be studying the fifth vision given to Zechariah. So, let’s turn our attention to the 4th chapter of that book – Zechariah chapter 4.
We’ll cover only the first 7 verses of this chapter today, but let’s go ahead and read the whole chapter for context.
[Read Zec 4]
Angel Wakes Zechariah
So, the first thing we discover in this new vision is that Zechariah has fallen asleep and that he needs to be awakened.
KJV Zechariah 4:1 ¶ [And/Then] the [angel/angelic messenger] [that talked/who was speaking/who had been speaking/who talked] with me [came again/returned/then returned], and [waked/roused/woke/wakened/awakened] me, as [when…] a [man/person] that is [wakened/awakened] [out of his/from his/from] sleep,
Now, it’s hard to know why Zechariah had fallen asleep here. It’s not that he was bored with what he was seeing. We already saw in the last vision involving Joshua the high priest that Zechariah was pretty excited about the proceedings.
So, it’s not boredom that led Zechariah to sleep. Rather, it seems that receiving visions like Zechariah is experiencing can be an exhausting process.
Twice, the prophet Daniel – after receiving a vision from the Lord – says that he sank or fell “into a deep sleep with his face to the ground” (Dan 8:18, 10:9) Daniel also reported to being “exhausted and sick for days” after receiving one of his visions. (Dan 8:27)
The point is that apparently receiving visions from the Lord can be quite a draining experience. And this is probably why Zechariah falls asleep and has to be awakened at this point by the communicating angel. Not because he’s bored – but because he’s exhausted.
Angel Asks Zechariah a Question
Well, this angel has a question for the previously-sleeping prophet in verse 2.
2 [And said unto/He said to/He asked/And he said to] me,
What [seest thou/do you see]?
Now, this question is a fairly common one that God tends to ask his prophets as he’s giving them visions.
He asked Jeremiah this question three times, Amos twice, and Zechariah twice. So, prophets do tend to get this question from the Lord not infrequently.
And of course, the Lord doesn’t need information from these prophets. It’s not that he can’t see whatever it is that he’s calling attention to and needs the prophet’s help to discover what’s there.
The Lord is asking this question to get the prophet thinking and to introduce the prophet to the subject that he wants to expound upon.
Zechariah Answers Angel’s Question
So, what is it that the Lord wants to show Zechariah in this vision that is going to setup the message of this vision? We continue verse 2 discovering that right in front of Zechariah there is a golden candlestick.
[And I said/I replied/I answered],
I [have looked, and behold/see, and behold,/see] a [candlestick all of gold/lampstand all of gold/menorah of pure gold/solid gold lampstand], [with/and] [a/its] [bowl/receptacle] [upon/on/at] [the top of it/the top/it], and [his seven/its seven/seven] [lamps/lights] [thereon/on it/upon it], [and/with] [seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:/seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it;/fourteen pipes going to the lamps./seven channels to the lights./seven oil funnels to the lamps upon it:]
So, Zechariah sees a candlestick or lampstand made of gold. I think the setup is that there is some sort of bowl or receptacle at the top of this item and probably seven pipes going down the main body of the lampstand leading to fourteen lamps – seven on each side of the lamp. That’s my understanding of what Zechariah is seeing here.
Now, in Hebrew, the word we have translated for us as “lampstand” or “candlestick” is actually menorah. You’ve heard of that, because to this day for the Jewish holiday of Hanukah they light this kind of thing – this menorah.
And of course, the Jewish holiday of Hanukah – which was instituted a few hundred years before Christ’s first coming – is not the first time God’s people used this kind of lighting device. The menorah was a main piece of the holy furniture in the Tabernacle. It was placed in the holy place on the south side opposite the table. So, one of these items was found in the Tabernacle.
And then in the Temple, there were – not just one, but – ten menorahs.
So, I would imagine that in the context of Zechariah’s time there was a heightened awareness of the Temple furniture – since the main task of the Jews at this point in their history was to rebuild the Temple. And surely on the mind of many would have been the awareness that the Temple was supposed to have several of these menorahs. And so, that’s just what the Lord is showing to Zechariah.
Now, of course, so far in this vision, there’s nothing that unusual. All that Zechariah is being shown is a golden menorah. People have seen those before.
But what surely no one would be expecting is the fuel source for this menorah, which is described for us by Zechariah in verse 3.
3 [And/also/There are also/Also there are] two olive trees [by/beside/above] it, one [upon/on] the [right side/right] of the [bowl/receptacle], and [the other/one] [upon/on] [the left side thereof/its left side/the left/its left].
So, now picture this menorah with the bowl on the top of a large column. And from that bowl, there are seven pipes on each side running down and to the side to where seven small lamps are on each side. And surrounding all of that are two olive trees – on the right and the left.
So, that’s what Zechariah sees. It’s plain to him what he’s seeing – he’s even able to describe it to this angel who’s speaking to him.
Zechariah Asks Angel a Question
And yet, Zechariah has no idea what the meaning of all of this is. And so, he asks in verse 4.
4 [So I/Then I/I/And I] [answered and spake to/said to/asked/inquired, and spoke to] the [angel/messenger] [that talked/who was speaking/who spoke/who talked] [with me, saying,/with me,]
What are [these/these things], [my lord/sir]?
Now, Zechariah’s question initially might sound like he doesn’t know what he’s seeing. But that’s of course not the case. He has just accurately described for this angel what he sees. It’s a menorah surrounded by two olive trees. That much Zechariah knows.
So, when Zechariah asks, “what are these?” he’s not saying that he can’t make-out what these things are or that he can’t identify the objects that are in his view.
What Zechariah is inquiring about is the meaning of these things. What does it mean that he’s seeing a menorah surrounded by two olive trees? What is the significance of what he’s being shown?
Dialog Between Angel and Zechariah
And apparently, the angel thinks that the meaning is sort of obvious. At least that’s how I tend to read the angel’s response in verse 5.
5 [Then/So/And] the angel [that talked/who was speaking] with me answered and said unto me, [He replied… or He answered…]
[Knowest thou not/Do you not know/Don’t you know] what these [be/are]?
So, I don’t want to read too much into his response, but I say that this sounds like the angel is maybe a little surprised that Zechariah doesn’t understand the meaning of this vision of the menorah and olive trees.
And if you had never read beyond chapter 4 and verse 5 of this book, you would have no clue either what the meaning of this vision is.
If I were to open it up here and ask each person to come up to the podium and explain for us the meaning of this vision, I don’t know what the exact number would be, but I would guess that a number of us wouldn’t be able to explain the meaning of this vision yet.
But this angel seems almost surprised that Zechariah doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. One translation has the angel saying, “Don’t you know what these are?” That, to me, sounds like a near amazement that Zechariah can’t figure this out.
And we need to remember at this point that angels are oftentimes let in on more than we humans know. Angels are constantly – especially in this book – they’re the ones sent with a message from God. They already know the message. It’s the humans that they’re sent to that don’t.
Angels – at least some of them – have direct access to God’s presence. There are scenes in the Bible where angels are given access to God’s heavenly courts.
And so, it’s an interesting and humbling thought that sometimes our ignorance amazes angels.
And your response to that concept that you are lower than the angels could produce frustration and anger. Or you could respond like Zechariah responds at the end of verse 5 with frankness and humility.
[And I/So I/I] [said/responded],
No, [my lord/sir].
So, Zechariah sees this menorah surrounded by two olive trees and he has no idea what it all means. We’ve gone through five verses and we don’t know what we’re reading yet! And if you’re tempted to be frustrated about that, take a cue from Zechariah who deals with this all in stride and with an honest and humble response.
Angel Explains Vision
So now, the angel is going to start clarifying some things about this vision. And it turns out that this vision is intended to be very encouraging to Zerubbabel – who is the governor of Judah at this time in history – according to what we read in verse 6.
6 [Then/Therefore/So] he [answered and spake unto me, saying,/said to me/told me]
[This is/These signify] the word of the LORD [unto Zerubbabel, saying,/to Zerubbabel]
Not by [might/strength/LXX: mighty power], [nor/and not] by [power/LXX: strength], but by my [spirit/Spirit],
[saith/says] the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all/Almighty].
So, that’s what this vision means – at least this is the beginning of the explanation of what this vision means.
Not by might or strength. Not by power. But by my Spirit, says the Lord.
The word translated as “might” here often refers to an army. And where it doesn’t refer to an army it describes the quality of something being powerful or loud or grand.
So, the Lord is saying that something is “not by” this – by armies or the power that they possess.
And this something is also “not by power.”
Power is several times the adjective used in relation to how the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt. In that case, it’s a good thing.
But numerous times, it speaks of not God’s strength but man’s strength. It’s what the judge Samson used to press against the columns of the pagan temple he found himself a captive in. And God is saying here that this is not what he’s looking for either – human strength.
So, it’s not armies that are going to accomplish what God wants accomplished. It’s not human strength and superiority that’s going to do it, either.
It’s by his Spirit.
Well, what’s by his Spirit?
According to verse 7 – it’s some monumental task that Zerubbabel is heading-up that feels like climbing a steep mountain. And the Lord is going to directly address that mountain in verse 7, asking it a question.
7 [Who art thou/What are you], [O/you] [great/mighty] mountain?
So, the Lord addresses this mountain. And I wouldn’t be surprised – because this is a vision that God is developing before Zechariah’s eyes – if there was actually a mountain now that appears in this vision. Maybe it’s off in the distance or closer by.
But here stands this mountain. And the Lord denounces it and really mocks it. As if to say to a person, “Who are you?!” But because it’s an inanimate object he refers to it not by the question of “who” but with the question, “what.” What are you?
And the answer that that kind of question is expecting is “Well, I’m nothing! That’s what I am!”
But mountains are something. Try to walk through one and you’ll soon discover that there is some real substance to that mountain.
But what God’s going to say here is that Zerubbabel is going to flatten this mountain.
[before/Because of] Zerubbabel [thou shalt become/you will become] [a plain/a level plain/level ground]:
And again, maybe in this vision, Zechariah is seeing this actually happen. Zerubbabel comes up to this large mountain and all of a sudden, the mountain flattens out. I don’t know. That’s a possibility. It is a vision, after all.
So, that much is clear in a way. There’s a mountain. God speaks to it and tells it that Zerubbabel will flatten it.
But as is often the case in these visions, we’re left wondering what is the real meaning behind what’s being presented in the vision. Is Zerubbabel actually in real life going to go find a mountain and literally flatten it?
No. And the reality that’s encapsulated in this vision about the mountain is expressed in the last few words of verse 7.
[and/then] he [shall/will] bring [forth/out] the [headstone thereof/the top stone/temple capstone] [with/to] [shoutings, crying,/shoutings of/shouts of]
[Grace/God bless it!], [grace unto it/Grace!” because of this/God bless it!].
So, what did we just see? The mountain that was under discussion – in reality is not a literal mountain at all.
How do I know that?
Well, do mountains have headstones? The kind of stone that you top-off a building with. Do mountains naturally have those? Do they need that kind of stone? No.
Mountains do not need headstones. But I know what does. An ancient building would need a headstone.
And let’s all think really hard about an ancient building that would have been at the center of Israel’s thoughts at this point in their history.
Remember, the Jews had been kicked-out of Jerusalem and Judah by the Babylonians in 586 BC. They had remained in exile in Babylon and then in Persia for about 70 years. And now, they’re back in the land. God sent them back to rebuild an ancient building. What was that building?
It was the temple – the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. It had been destroyed by Babylon. And the Lord now sent his people back to Jerusalem to rebuild that building. That building that – when it was finished – would have a final headstone placed on the top of it.
And so, what we see God saying here is that this headstone will indeed be placed on the temple. And Zerubbabel will be the one to do it.
Now, the project felt like it was a mountain. Impassable! Arduous to scale! Too much for any mere man.
And they were right. God says here in this vision that this kind of activity is not going to be accomplished by armies. Not by might. And it’s not going to be accomplished by human strength.
The only way that God’s work will get done is by God’s spirit. And there should have been no question in the minds of these people that God’s Spirit was indeed going to work. He had sent them back to this city for this very purpose. Was God really going to abandon them?
Well, it felt like it to them. In fact, you need to remember that these people got discouraged about the work and they just quit for 16 years. That’s detailed in Ezra 4.
I think some of us feel abandoned by the Lord when things don’t go our way throughout a single day – and these people experienced what seemed to be God’s unwillingness to help them for 16 long boring years!
And this is why God’s people need clear sound God-ordained prophecy – in other words, preaching! Ezra 5:1-2 says this – after 16 years of failure and lack of leadership and going nowhere for God’s people:
KJV Ezra 5:1 ¶ Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, [whose book we’ve now been studying for a few months…] prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. [and here’s the result that can be achieved when God sends his prophets to preach to his people…]
2 Then rose up Zerubbabel [the man we’ve been hearing about so much in this vision!] the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua [the high priest whom we’ve seen in the last vision!] the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
And how do you suppose that the prophets helped God’s people get the work done? Maybe some of the prophets’ ministry was to pick up tools and materials and to start building. But I think more likely their help was in giving encouraging prophesies like Zechariah has been giving in this book of his. The prophets’ main job was to proclaim God’s word to God’s people by God’s Spirit.
So, God sent his prophets after 16 long years of discouragement. And not by might nor by power but by God’s Holy Spirit encouraging his people through his prophets, the mountain of rebuilding the temple was finally completed. And Zerubbabel the governor of the Jews at this point is the one who ends up bringing the finishing touch to the temple with this headstone.
And it’s all by God’s grace. “Grace! Grace to it!” he surely shouted as did all the other Jews when they saw that final stone being slipped into place.
And that’s basically what we hear happening in Ezra 6:14-16
KJV Ezra 6:14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered [how? what did God use to make them prosper?...] through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.
And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
15 And [this house/the temple] was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
16 ¶ And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy,
So, there’s joy as God’s people meet with success as they obey God’s commands through the help of God’s prophets.
Brethren, how we need good solid preaching in our lives! How we need to make this a priority! We ourselves need to be in God’s word daily. We need to talk to one another about God’s word.
When’s the last time you had a conversation with someone in this church about God’s word? Don’t you know that you can be a prophet, too? You can encourage someone with God’s word!
Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians tells that church there that if they all prophesy some lost people will come in and fall on their faces and acknowledge that God is in them of a truth. Do you want that to be the reaction of lost people when they come into our midst? If so, we need to be prophesying – speaking God’s words to one another – and to them.
Paul the Apostle also states in that same section of 1 Corinthians that prophesying builds up the body of Christ. Do you want to build one another up? Start talking to me about God’s word – I’ll make it that personal. Come up to me sometime between or after services and let’s talk about God’s word. I promise you that as we do that kind of thing with each other, we will all be strengthened in our walks with Christ.
We’re just like the Jews of old. We are easily discouraged. We can very quickly be distracted from the tasks that God has for us through that discouragement. And God has given us a providential means to strengthen our faith. And it’s called prophesying – simply, speaking God’s words to one another – talking to each other about what those words mean to you and how they’ve helped you.
This is not just for supposedly super-spiritual Christians and everyone else gets a bye – as if everyone except the pastor and maybe the Sunday School teacher isn’t required to do this. No – we all can be sharing God’s word with each other.
But you really need to actually be reading God’s word in order to even begin to do this kind of activity. So, are you in God’s word in any sort of regular way? If at the beginning of Sunday School we had a time set-aside to talk to someone else in the room about what you’ve been reading in the Bible, would you have anything to say?
Or would your answer be “Well, I honestly haven’t read anything in the Bible this week”? Or would it be, “Well, I read the assigned reading for this day according to my Bible reading plan” with no real ability to share anything beyond the fact that you placed a black X inside of the box next to each of the days of the week?
Or would you actually be able to communicate with someone else how God’s word has touched you this week? How the Bible has instructed you or comforted you or warned you against going astray?
Folks, this is real life and we need real encouragement. And God has ordained that this mutual encouragement be carried out in the context of believers meeting in localities and prophesying to one another.
So, to recap, this is how God would rebuild the temple through Zerubbabel – not by human strength of any sort – but by his Spirit using his prophets to speak encouragement to his people.
And this is also how God intends to do good in the lives of his people today – in the lives of Christians – you and me. By his Spirit. Through his word. Ministered to us by one another and to the lost.
And, next time we’ll study the second half of this vision and see some other really fascinating details in that section as well.