Zechariah 4. Israel as a Light to the Nations

In the previous vision, Israel's spiritual cleansing and their reinstatement as a priestly nation were portrayed, while this one emphasises their calling to be a shining light in a dark world.

The lampstand and olive trees (4:1-14)

Although the vision of the lampstand and the two olive trees refers to the time of the rebuilding of the temple during the time of Zerubbabel, it will have its final fulfilment during the coming reign of the Messiah.

Zechariah says: "Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, What do you see?" (4:1-2). This situation reminds us of the prophet Daniel, who reacted in a similar way because of the profoundness of the revelations which were made to him. He said: "Now as he [Gabriel] was speaking with me, I fell stunned and in deep unconsciousness with my face to the ground; but he touched me and set me upright - where I had stood" (Dan. 8:18; Amplified Bible). Zechariah was also set upright and strengthened to keep on beholding what the angel was revealing to him, and to record it.

In this vision, Zechariah saw a golden lampstand with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes connected to each of the lamps. Next to the bowl were two olive trees, from which oil was supplied to the bowl which served as a vessel from where oil continuously flowed to the seven lamps to keep them burning.

The lampstand represents Israel as a light to the nations potentially in Zechariah's time, but actually so during the millennial reign of the Messiah. They will be spiritually cleansed from all their iniquities, and their testimony of salvation proclaimed among the nations (Jer. 33:7-9). They will be a blessing to the Gentiles and fill the earth with fruit (Isa. 27:6; Zech. 8:23). The glory for everything that is achieved will be given to the Messiah who dwells in Jerusalem: "In that day you will say: Praise the LORD, call upon His Name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His Name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitants of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!" (Isa. 12:4-6).

The constant supply of oil to the lampstand will ensure its continuous shining. In the dark night of God's judgements upon the world during the day of the Lord (the tribulation period) He will save and cleanse the remnant of Israel and make them a shining light to the world: "Arise, My people! Let your light shine for all the nations to see! For the glory of the Lord is streaming from you. Darkness shall cover all the people of the earth, but the glory of the Lord will shine from you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see the glory of the Lord upon you" (Isa. 60:1-3; Living Bible). "You shall be named the Priests of the LORD, men shall call you the Servants of our God. you shall have double honour" (Isa. 61:6-7).

In this vision it is clearly indicated that the secret of the lamps' burning is the abundant and uninterrupted supply of oil. This is a well-known symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. The Lord said to Moses: "And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually" (Ex. 27:20). It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that the light of God's kingdom can shine in the world. The command to have a lampstand in the temple, with seven lamps that were to be kept burning day and night, signified the uninterrupted presence of the Lord among His people through the work of His Spirit.

The oil was also used to anoint the priests, thereby emphasising the principle that unless God anoints a person with His Spirit he cannot minister as a priest to serve God and to address the people on His behalf. "And [Moses] poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to sanctify him" (Lev. 8:12). David praised God for anointing his head with oil (Ps. 23:5). Solomon said, "Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil" (Eccles. 9:8). This indicated a pure and sanctified life. In the New Testament, oil is likewise a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 25, the wise virgins took oil in their vessels with them to keep their lamps burning. This is a way of picturing the Spirit-filled life. The foolish virgins did not have enough oil and are therefore identified as foolish, carnal believers.

In explaining the continued supply of oil to the lamps, the angel impressed upon Zechariah' heart the all-important role of the Holy Spirit in enabling people to do the Lord's work on earth - in this case the rebuilding of the temple by Zerubbabel: "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, o great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain" (4:6-7). The angel not only suggested that Zerubbabel would finish the temple through the abundant supply of God's Spirit (4:9), but that every obstacle (great mountain) to the building would be removed. The message is also clearly conveyed that human power and military strength could not accomplish the task, but Spirit-empowered workers under the leadership of Zerubbabel would be able to do so.

"The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it... For who despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb-line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth" (4:9-10). Zerubbabel began the work of rebuilding on the ancient foundations, and he would also complete it by laying the capstone (4:7). The plumb-line in his hands symbolises his personal supervision of the building-project, and also the care that should be taken to ensure the correct vertical lines of the walls and to work according to a fixed plan.

Those who have despised small things refer to the people who did not believe that the small beginnings of the reconstruction work would lead to any significant results. The work of the Lord always has a small beginning as it is not backed by extensive manpower and vast resources of money and other support services. The work is accomplished in such a way that people would see God's blessing upon the project, and His gracious provision in all their needs. That is why Zerubbabel would bring forth the capstone of the completed building with shouts of, "Grace, grace to it!" (4:7).

The seven eyes symbolise God's world-wide scrutiny; nothing is hidden from His eyes. In His omniscience God sees and knows what everyone does: "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3). "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). Because of His perfect knowledge He will, through the Holy Spirit, strengthen and guide His true servants who only rely only on Him (Ps. 33:18; 2
Chron. 16:9).

Towards the end of the interpretation, clarification is given on the two olives trees that supply the oil to the lampstand. The two branches with olives poured their oil into the golden pipes, through which it flowed into the bowl and then through the 49 channels to the seven lamps. The interpreting angel told Zechariah that the two olive trees "are the two anointed ones who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth" (4:14). The branches refer to the anointed priests and kings, in this case Joshua and Zerubbabel, who typify the Messiah as the Priest-King of Israel.

The final fulfilment of this vision will only be in the millennium, when Jesus will reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem (Acts 15:16-17; Rev. 19:16). God says: "In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth" (Jer. 33:15).

This anointed King is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, and is called a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9-10). The abundant supply of the oil of the Holy Spirit flows from His throne of grace. As mortal men we cannot live lives that are pleasing to God unless we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and also continuously filled and anointed by Him to fulfil our ministries: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace in times of need" (Heb. 4:15-16).

During the Messiah's reign He will not only, through His Holy Spirit, supply divine grace to Israel but also to believing members of the nations. Israel, being spiritually connected to the divine supply of grace offered by the Messiah, will truly fulfil their calling as a light to the nations: "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit" (Isa. 27:6).

During the coming tribulation period, there will be a prelude to the Messianic era when Christ, as Priest-King, will finally fulfil the symbolism of the two olive trees. During those dark days after the rapture of the true church, two special witnesses will be raised up by God to prepare Israel on the soon coming of the Messiah as the promised Priest-King. Their ministry will also see a partial fulfilment of the function of the two olive trees in that they will show Israel the way to the only Source of grace and divine power, and that is the Messiah Himself, who was rejected by their fathers. In Revelation, the following is said about these two men: "And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth" (Rev. 11:3-4).

Various commentators are of the opinion that the two witnesses will be Elijah and Moses in mortal, physical bodies, who will return to the land and people of Israel. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that Elijah and Moses will personally be sent back to earth to be slain by the Antichrist and his evil forces, which would involve Moses dying for a second time. It is more likely that two outstandingly gifted and godly Messianic Jews will be raised up in the spirit and power of Elijah and Moses. The prophecy about the return of Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5-6) was partially fulfilled by John the Baptist (Matt. 17:10-13). But John only acted "in the spirit and power of Elijah" and thus fulfilled the typical role of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah (Luke 1:17). He denied that he was Elijah himself (John 1:21).

The spiritual power of Moses and Elijah was derived from God through the Holy Spirit, thus emphasising the key verse of this chapter: "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts" (4:6). These great men of God had no power or influence in themselves. Moses tried to evade his calling because of his personal weakness: "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue. So the LORD said to him, Who has made man's mouth? . Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say" (Ex. 4:10-12).

Elijah was also on the point of despair when he said to the Lord: "The children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life" (1
Kings 19:14). But he was also encouraged to continue with his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. He was so mightily used of God that after he was taken up into heaven, Elisha cried out: "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!" (2
Kings 2:12). Because of the mighty deeds that God did through Elijah, he was worth to Israel far more than their armed forces. He was Israel's unstoppable chariot in the struggle against their enemies. With his sudden departure they were left without defence.

There are so many pastors and spiritual leaders today who resort to human power, influence and money to do the work of the Lord. Psychological techniques of motivation are used to muster support and drive their campaigns. These are all in vain without the anointing of God's Spirit. We need Spirit-filled and Spirit-led leaders who are humble and unworthy servants of the Most High God, so His message can be clearly proclaimed and His saving grace be experienced by many people. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts."