Zechariah 4 Meaning: We’ll be studying the second half of Zechariah’s 5th prophecy today. So, let’s turn our attention to Zechariah chapter 4 – the fourth chapter of the Old Testament minor prophet Zechariah.
Last time we studied the first seven verses of this chapter. And so, let’s just try to recover some of the things we saw in those verses.
First, Zechariah needs to be awakened by the angel that’s guiding him through these visons. And I said that this is probably because receiving visions is apparently a fairly exhausting process – as we see in the life of the prophet Daniel.
Well, then the angel asks Zechariah what he sees in this new vision.
Zechariah answers that he sees a golden candlestick or in Hebrew he sees a menorah. And this menorah is a little difficult to picture.
It seems to me that there’s a column in the middle with the bowl on top to receive the oil for the lamps. That’s the easy part.
The layout of the lamps is the kind of controversial part. Are there three lamps on each side of the column with the seventh lamp somehow in the middle, making seven lamps? Or are there seven lamps on each side of the column for fourteen total lamps? I’m not sure – but it’s got to be one of those arrangements.
Also, this menorah is like the ones that would have been used in the temple that the Jews were rebuilding at this point in their history. So, there’s a reason that God is showing Zechariah a menorah for that prophet to go and talk to and encourage his people to go rebuild his temple.
Then Zechariah saw two olive trees – one on either side of the menorah. We don’t know why they’re there yet, but that should become clear in these last seven verses today.
This sight prompts Zechariah to inquire about the meaning of these things – this menorah and the two olive trees.
The angel then expresses some amazement that Zechariah doesn’t understand the meaning intended by these objects in this vision and asks Zechariah if he really doesn’t understand. Zechariah replies humbly that he in fact does not understand the meaning of this vision.
So, the angel explains that this vision is meant to communicate that the rebuilding of the temple won’t happen by human might or power – but it will happen through the Lord’s Spirit helping his people do the work. And we saw that the Lord’s Spirit used the Lord’s prophets to encourage the people to do God’s work.
The Lord then compares the task of rebuilding the temple to a mountain. But he maintains that the governor of the Jews, Zerubbabel, is going to flatten that mountain, as it were, and bring out the capstone to the temple – the last stone to be laid – joyfully exclaiming about the Lord’s grace that has led the whole process.
So, that gets us through verse 7 of this chapter.
Let’s read verses 8-14 and then study the details of the rest of this vision.
[Read Zec 4:8-14]
Zechariah 4 Meaning: Message Continued
So, the message that the Lord had started in verses 6 and 7 is continued in verse 8
8 [Moreover/Also/Then/And] the word of the LORD came [unto me, saying,/to me, saying/to me as follows/to me]
So, here’s something else that the Lord wants to communicate to his people – and especially to their governor Zerubbabel – through the prophet Zechariah.
And it has to do once more with the rebuilding of the temple.
9 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the [foundation/foundations] of this [house/temple];
his hands [shall/will] [also/and x] [finish/complete] it;
So, in case there was some confusion about the Lord’s previous statement concerning the mountain being flattened by Zerubbabel and the fact that Zerubbabel was going to bring forth the capstone of the temple, the Lord makes explicitly clear what he plans to help Zerubbabel to do.
Zerubbabel had laid the foundation of the temple by this point in history. That’s what Ezra 3:8-10 says. I’ll read that.
KJV Ezra 3:8 ¶ Now in the second year of [their coming/the coming of the group that included Zerubbabel the governor] unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD.
9 Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.
10 ¶ And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.
And so, Ezra 3:10 mentions “builders.” Now, of course, the Levites were the main workers in the temple and they’re mentioned several times. But yet Zerubbabel plays his role in this process, too. He has a part in laying the foundation of the temple. That’s what God is saying back in Zechariah 4:9.
So, just like Zerubbabel had a part in laying the foundation of the temple – of starting the process of rebuilding it – so, too, Zerubbabel according to God’s promise would have a role in finishing that temple.
And when this happened, it would prove that the Lord of Hosts had sent the one who’s speaking here.
[and/Then] [thou shalt/you will] know that the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all/Almighty] [hath/has] sent me [unto/to] you.
Now, this statement is admittedly difficult to understand. We’re all going to need to gird up the loins of our mind and get ready for action here in trying to figure out what the Lord is saying.
First of all, notice who is speaking at the end of verse 9. When this person says that you will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent me to you, who is this person? Who is “me?”
Well, look at verse 8. Whose word is this that comes to Zechariah? It’s the word of the Lord. And Lord is in all caps, which means it’s God’s covenant name – YHWH.
So, the one who is speaking is the Lord himself – God – Yahweh. And therefore, the one who is identified as “me” at the end of verse 9 is also the Lord.
But once more, we’re amazed at the fact that the Lord is sending the Lord. Do you see that at the end of verse 9? When Zerubbabel finishes the temple, then the Jews will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent the Lord to them.
Or to put it another way, which I’ve already explained and defended before – the Jews at this point will know that God the Father has sent God the Son – the Lord Jesus Christ.
“But wait,” you might think! “Zerubbabel would have finished the temple around 500 years before Jesus Christ came to this earth. And when Zerubbabel finished the temple, we don’t all of the sudden see the Jews receiving Jesus. Jesus hadn’t even come yet at this point.
And this is where I’m compelled to see Zerubbabel as representing some other person after him. To be sure, the Lord is encouraging the Jews of Zechariah’s day that Zerubbabel would indeed literally finish rebuilding the temple in their day. But I think that the Lord also intends to look forward to some one and some reality beyond Zerubbabel and the temple of Zechariah’s day.
Let me show you another place in Zechariah where this happens – where the person that is identified is not ultimately the one that God is talking about. Turn to Zechariah 6 for a moment. And let’s read verses 9-15.
KJV Zechariah 6:9 ¶ And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
10 Take of them of the captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah, and of Jedaiah, which are come from Babylon, and come thou the same day, and go into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah;
11 Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest;
12 And speak unto him, saying,
Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying,
Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:
13 Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between [them both/both offices of priest and king].
14 And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the temple of the LORD.
15 ¶ And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the LORD, and ye shall know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God.
So, this is a lot of information and one day soon we’ll get to this passage and study it in detail if the Lord wills, but what I want us to notice here is that Joshua is spoken of initially. And then immediately God starts talking about this individual referred to as the Branch in Zechariah and Jeremiah. This is the Messiah. And God says that he will build the Temple.
So, is it Joshua who’s going to rebuild the Temple? Well, yes. We see him being a part of rebuilding the Temple in Zechariah’s day.
And yet, God is looking forward to a future time where the Messiah will actually be the one to rebuild the Temple. But he combines both of those realities into the same message without much warning or explanation as to the fact that he’s doing that.
Is he saying that Joshua will rebuild the temple or that Messiah will? Yes! Both men will rebuild the temple – but at different times in history.
And I think something similar is happening back in our vision for today in Zechariah 4. In verse 9 we were told that Zerubbabel started the Temple and that he would finish it. And he literally did back around the early 500s BC.
And yet, I believe that God is also looking forward to this time when his servant the Branch rebuilds the Temple. Zerubbabel’s descendant, the Messiah, will rebuild the Temple. Did you know that Zerubbabel is the ancestor of the Messiah Jesus Christ? The genealogies in both Matthew and Luke assert this fact.
So, at that point when the Messiah rebuilds the Temple – I believe after the Great Tribulation – then the Jews will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent him – that God the Father had truly sent God the Son.
But back to Zechariah’s day, before Messiah comes and rebuilds the Temple, at this point in Jerusalem all they have is an altar and the Temple’s foundation laid. All the walls are broken down. The enemies around them could come in at any moment. It was a very pathetic situation that they found themselves in.
It was the kind of time period in the Jews history that would lead them and others to think very lightly of what God wanted them to do.
And that’s why God asks this rhetorical question in verse 10.
10 ¶ [For who/Who] [hath despised/has despised/dares make light of] [the day of small things/small beginnings/LXX: the small days]?
A valid question, of course. But what we see from biblical history is that probably most of the Jews were doing this. They were despising the day of small things – the small beginnings of rebuilding the Temple.
And so, God admits that the beginnings of rebuilding this Temple in Zechariah’s day were indeed small. They appeared to be insignificant.
And yet, God now is going to look forward to the glorious conclusion of this seemingly-insignificant beginning as we continue in verse 10.
[for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven;/ But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel–/These seven eyes will joyfully look on the tin tablet in Zerubbabel’s hand./Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel./LXX: surely they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet of tin in the hand of Zorobabel:]
So, what does this mean?
Well, this “plummet” or “plumb line” or even perhaps “tin tablet” has something to do with Zerubbabel finishing the Temple. It’s similar to him bringing the capstone with shouts of “Grace!” from earlier in this vision.
In fact, this one word in English – “plummet” – is actually two words in Hebrew. It’s a combination of “stone” and “tin.” A stone of tin. Maybe a stone encased in tin? Maybe like a capstone.
So, we just read that “those seven” are going to rejoice when Zerubbabel brings this stone to the temple – again probably indicating the completion of this building. So, who are “those seven?”
Well, the closest reference to “seven” is in verse 2 of this chapter, speaking of seven lamps and seven pipes that bring oil to those lamps.
But that’s actually not what God is referring to here when he mentions that these “seven” will rejoice when Zerubbabel is finished rebuilding the temple. Look what he says at the end of verse 11.
[they/these/these seven] are the [eyes/LXX: seven] of the LORD, [which/LXX: that] [run to and fro/range to and fro/constantly range/range/LXX: look] [through/throughout/across/LXX: upon] [the whole/LXX: all the] earth.
Do you remember the last vision we studied? It was a vision about Joshua, and how God was cleansing Judah’s religious system. And in that vision Zechariah was shown a stone with seven eyes. So, I think that the Lord is referring here back to that previous vision with these seven eyes.
And it’s likely that these seven eyes represent God’s omniscience. He knows everything because he can see and perceive and understand everything.
And those eyes of the Lord that run all over the world will rejoice when in this small city in this small country, a small temple is being built. And yet, this more than anything is what is going to bring joy to God’s eyes.
And in light of that, who is going to despise the day of small things? Who is going to think little of the rebuilding of this temple? Well, we know who isn’t going to despise it. And that’s the Lord himself.
So, that’s the end of the angel’s explanation of what Zechariah is seeing. Zechariah asked about the meaning of the vision of the menorah with the two olive trees surrounding it. And this was the response he received.
Zechariah 4 Meaning: Zechariah Asks About Olive Trees
But you have to admit that there are still some questions remaining concerning this vision. The angel did nothing to explain to Zechariah the meaning of these individual items in the vision – the menorah and all of its parts and the two trees.
And so, after asking, “What are these?” and getting the response he got from the angel, Zechariah is going to follow-up on that question with another more specific question.
11 [Then/Next/And] [answered I, and said unto him,/I said to him/I asked the messenger/I asked the angel]
What are these two olive trees [upon/on/which are on] the right [side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?/of the lampstand and on its left?/and the left of the menorah?/and the left of the lampstand?]
Alright, so as I said Zechariah gets more specific. The question this time is not simply, “What are these?” but now he’s asking for the particular identification of the two olive trees that are on either side of the menorah.
Zechariah 4 Meaning: Zechariah Asks About Olive Branches/Extensions
And before the angel is able to respond, Zechariah asks one more question about what he’s seeing. And actually, what he asks about next concerns a reality that I think we were previously ignorant of. Let’s read that.
12 [And I answered again, and said unto him,/And I answered the second time and said to him/Before he could reply I asked again/Again I asked him]
What [be/are][these/the]two [olive branches/extensions of the olive trees/branches of the olive trees] [which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?/which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?”/which are emptying out the golden oil through the two golden pipes?”/beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”/that are by the side of the two golden pipes that pour into and communicate with the golden oil funnels?]
So, it appears that in addition to the presence of these two olive trees there are pipes coming from those trees and somehow emptying out the olive oil from those trees into the menorah so that the lamps will have this olive oil as fuel.
Like I said last time, I picture these pipes as something like the kind of taps that people put into sugar maple trees to gather syrup from the sap of those trees. But of course, no one taps olive trees. Olive oil doesn’t come from the sap of the olive tree, but rather it comes from pressing the olive fruit.
But this is a vision after all and we’ve already seen that these visions don’t always need to correspond to literal reality. You can have a stone with eyes on it – which never happens in reality. But this can happen in a vision sent from the Lord.
So, it appears that Zechariah is seeing some sort of extensions coming from these olive trees that are providing this menorah with oil to burn for the purpose of light.
Zechariah 4 Meaning: Dialog Between the Lord and Zechariah
Well, once again, the angel reacts with incredulity that Zechariah doesn’t understand the meaning of these things.
13 [And he answered me and said,/He replied]
[Knowest thou not/Do you not know/Don’t you know] what these [be/are]?
And once more, Zechariah responds with humility.
And I said,
No, [my lord/sir].
So, the prophet honestly admits his ignorance – just like we need to do as we’re studying through these visions. It’s OK to admit that you don’t know what certain things mean in these visions. Of course, we would hope that after we’re given the explanation we’ll know better what’s being communicated.
Zechariah 4 Meaning: The Lord Explains the Olive Trees
And so, the angel answers one more time Zechariah’s final question in this vision.
14 [Then/So/And] said he,
These are the two [anointed ones/who are anointed/lit: sons of oil], [that stand by/who are standing by/who stand by/to serve] the Lord of [the whole/all the] earth.
Let’s try to figure this verse out.
First, notice that these two anointed ones are represented in this vision by two olive trees. What comes from them – what pours out of them – produces light. They stand by the Lord of the whole earth ready to serve him – and actually serving him.
So, who are these two? Your mind might want to go immediately to the book of Revelation. And we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but for now, let’s just stay here. In the whole context of Zechariah – and in particular in chapters 3 and 4, have we seen two characters who have been the focus of these last two chapters?
What human being has been the central focus of this chapter – chapter 4? Zerubbabel.
And what human being was the central focus of chapter 3? Joshua.
And so, I would say that in context, these two olive trees have to be Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. They – like those trees – are working and the product of their work is providing light for God’s people. It’s ultimately providing a restored temple and biblical religious system. And from these things, God would give light to Israel and to the world.
So, the two olive trees represent Joshua and Zerubbabel.
Now, let’s consider Revelation for a moment because it seems that that book says something really similar to what we have here n Zechariah 4.
In Revelation 11 we see mention of two witnesses who stand before the God of the earth. They’re going to minister during the first part of the Great Tribulation, be killed by the Antichrist, and then be resurrected.
And God says that they are two olive trees and two candlesticks. Now, this description sounds really similar to what we saw in Zechariah 4. Except, in Zechariah 4 we had two olive trees but only one candlestick.
So, if we’re trying to compare Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4 then we are probably safest to recognize some similarities and also the difference. The main difference is that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are not just the olive trees but also the candlesticks themselves. Whereas, the two anointed ones in Zechariah 4 are just the olive trees who produce the oil for the work done by the candlestick.
And to get any more conclusive about the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, we’d need to conduct a study on that.
Anyway, we’ve now reached the end of Zechariah 4. The Lord is giving Zechariah and Zerubbabel and all of his people encouragement that the temple would be rebuilt in their day – and that he was going to use not just the high priest Joshua to do this, but also Zerubbabel their governor to accomplish this work.
Just like the Lord had previously had to abandon the religious system and leaders of his people – but was now restoring those – so too, the Lord had previously abandoned Israel’s civil leadership. But now he is demonstrating a great desire to use them once more – as we’re seeing in the case of Israel’s civil leader Zerubbabel.
And, next time the Lord will move on to the matter of a flying scroll.