Zechariah, Prophet of the Restoration
4. The Lampstand and the Olive Trees
The Lampstand and the Olive Trees! Picturesque symbolism this, relating somewhat of Israel's ancient ceremonial to its reality in the Kingdom of God. It is evident that this fourth chapter of Zechariah is looking forward into the future much more than it looks back into the past, for it displays as its main feature the active operation of the Holy Spirit in a world where the supremacy of God is unchallenged, and this happy state is not yet.
Zechariah saw a golden lampstand, reminiscent of that which stood in the "Holy" of the Tabernacle and later in Solomon's Temple. It had the seven lamps, apparently carried on seven arms diverging from a central column, but there the similarity ended. Each lamp on Bezaleel's construction had its own reservoir for oil which had to be filled daily by the attendant priests. The lampstand seen by Zechariah possessed a central "bowl", a common oil container, from which seven pipes radiated to the lamps so that they drew a continuous supply of oil from the bowl and needed no replenishing. On each side of the lampstand stood an olive tree, with branches overshadowing, and from each tree a "funnel" or connecting pipe leading to the bowl. From the olives on the trees a continuous supply of olive oil flowed through the two funnels into the bowl and from thence to the seven lamps so that their light was continuous; they never went out.
In answer to the prophet's question the revealing angel told him that the vision was a symbolic representation of the manner in which the Holy Spirit of God would execute the Divine purpose. "This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel" he said (ch.4:6‑10) "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel... shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone". At first sight there may seem to be no rational connection between a lampstand with two olive trees and a mountain becoming a plain with an emerging headstone. There is, however, one readily discernible link—the work of God denoted by the angel's words is executed by the power of the Holy Spirit; the principal element in the symbol is the olive oil, flowing from the two trees into the lamps and giving light. The Holy Spirit is frequently symbolised by olive oil, as witness its use in the anointing of the Levitical priesthood in symbol of dedication to Divine service, and Peter's application of the same to Jesus; "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38). This allusion is almost certainly derived from Psa.45:7 in which the victorious Messiah in the days of his glory is addressed; "God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows". That the followers of Christ, dedicated to his service, participate in this anointing is clear from 1 John 2:27 and the phrasing of this verse makes crystal clear that it is the possession of the Holy Spirit that constitutes the anointing, and thus the fact that this is the meaning of the oil in Zechariah's vision is confirmed.
Now the two olive trees are called by the angel "the two anointed ones, that stand by the LORD of the whole earth" (ch.4:14). "Sons of the oil" is the literal Hebrew expression. These trees are the twin sources of the oil which flows to the lamps and gives universal enlightenment. There is only one time in history when two channels of the Holy Spirit are discharging their duty simultaneously side by side, and there is sevenfold illumination in consequence, and that is in the Millennial Age, when the Lord's twin instruments, the Christian Church in Heaven and the restored and converted Holy Nation on earth, are engaged in their work of sending the light and life of the Divine call worldwide. "Nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising" said Isaiah of the earthly Holy Nation (Isa.60:3 RV). "The light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days" he says again in Isa.30:26 and this might well be the basis for our Lord's words describing the position of his followers of this present Age, the Church, when He said of that coming day "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).
The lampstand, then, represents the Millennial Kingdom on earth, shedding its light—which implies life—upon all mankind, dispelling the darkness of sin and leading men into the light of eternity. The oil, flowing from the trees into the lamps and therein converted to light, indicates the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh through the medium of the earthly and heavenly aspects of the "Servant", the two anointed companies who have been found fitted for the task of world conversion. In Nature, of course, the tree does not create the oil; it is able to produce oil only because it receives energy and power from sunlight with which so to do. So in the reality, the Lord's servants are not originators of the Holy Spirit of power; they are mediums for its transmission and the power comes to them from the centre and source of all life and power—the Eternal.
Fully to appreciate the relation between the lampstand vision and the "headstone" application it is necessary to examine the structure of the chapter. It is very possible that some dislocation of the text has occurred at a very early date; verses 11‑14 have to do with verses 1‑5, and the message respecting the headstone, which appears in the centre of the chapter, would seemingly be more appropriate at the end. If in fact there has been such dislocation it must have occurred quite soon after the writing of the book, for the Septuagint, which was translated from the Hebrew Scriptures about 250 B.C., has the same arrangement as our A.V. Zechariah probably did not complete his writings until late in his life which would hardly be more than two centuries before the Septuagint. In between these two dates came the time at which the Old Testament canon was closed, reputedly by Ezra, and it might well have been then that the slight confusion in the text occurred. There is no difference to the interpretation of the chapter in either case, but the re‑arrangement does cause the passage to run more smoothly and understandably, and helps to clear up the very obscure A.V. rendering of v.10. An endeavour is made here to offer what is thought to be probably the correct reconstruction.
After beholding the lampstand with its seven lamps (vv.1‑4) and asking the revealing angel "What are these, my lord?" the narrative proceeds. (v.5) Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, no my lord. (6a) Then he answered and spake unto me, saying (10b) Those seven: they (these seven) are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth (11) Then answered I, and said unto him. What are these two olive trees... (12) And I answered again and said unto him, What be these two olive branches... (13‑14) And he answered me and said...These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. (6b) This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord of Hosts (7) thou, O great mountain, before Zerubbabel shall become a plain, and he shall bring forth the headstone shouting, Grace, grace unto it". Then the chapter concludes with a personal word from the Lord to Zechariah (8) "Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me saying, (9) The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of Hosts hath sent me unto you. (10a) For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel". This is then the end of the chapter.
Thus arranged, the chapter first describes the vision of the lampstand and olive trees, and the angel's explanation (vv.1‑6a.10b‑14) picturing the Lord's two anointed ones, Israel and the Church, commencing their work in the Millennial Age as channels of the Holy Spirit to the world of men; next it presents the angel's declaration respecting the demolished mountain and the setting of the headstone (vv.6b‑7) picturing the passing away of the kingdoms of this world at the instance of the victorious Christ in kingly power in the same Age; finally it records the word of the Lord to Zechariah himself (vv.8‑10a) assuring him that the completion of the Temple in his own day under the administration of Zerubbabel was to be a sign to his fellows of the Divine authority behind his prophecy. On this assumption the chapter is consistent and logical.
On this basis, after saying in verse 14 that the two olive trees are the two anointed ones which stand by the Lord of the whole earth, the angel concludes his explanation of the lampstand by saying (in v.10b) and referring obviously to the seven lamps, "those seven: they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through all the earth". Chapter 3 speaks of the stone, laid before Joshua the High Priest, which had seven facets or eyes, a seven‑sided stone, so to speak, picturing the universal surveillance of the "stone" Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, in the earth during the Millennial Age. Now here in chapter 4 the same idea is expressed but this time the universal power and surveillance of the Holy Spirit "in that day" is pictured by the sevenfold light from the lampstand, also going forth into all the earth, the "seven eyes of the Lord".
With this picture in mind it is easier to comprehend the second section, the angel's message regarding the mountain and the headstone. The great mountain which is to become a plain is of course the mountain of the kingdoms of this world. "It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains,…and all nations shall flow unto it" (Isa.2:2). "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain" (Isa.40:4). The picture here is that the holy city, the New Jerusalem, comes down to earth out of Heaven (Rev.21) and as a city crowning the summit of a great mountain ("the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" Rev.21:16) rules supreme over all the earth. Zerubbabel here is an alias for the Messianic King, the Lord Jesus Christ. Zerubbabel himself neither moved a mountain or saw any earthly kingdom fall prostrate before him. He died as he lived, a governor of Judea, subordinate always to the Persian King. But Zerubbabel as the representative of royal power in Judea at that time fitly pictures the King who shall reign in the day which sees the reality of the vision. And this is where the "headstone" comes into the picture.
The "headstone" or "corner stone" was the principal foundation stone of a building and served in ceremonial fashion much as do the "foundation stones" of modern buildings, laid in a formal ceremony by some notability and as often as not blessed by some ecclesiastical dignitary. (At least this was the rule a generation or so ago; the concrete and glass monstrosities of the present are usually put up with too much haste to allow for such leisurely preliminaries). The basic idea was the same; the foundation stone in theory determined the position and size and purpose of the building and was in a sense representative of the building. This principle is used in the Scriptures to delineate the Lord Christ as the foundation and sustainer of the edifice which God is building in this Age; first the Christian Church, of whom He is said in Eph.2:20 and 1 Pet.2:6 to be the "chief corner stone", and later the Holy City of the next Age of which he is both chief corner stone and its everlasting light. "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner" sang the Psalmist in Psa.118:22. "Behold" said the Lord through the prophet Isaiah "I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not be confounded" (Isa.28:16; 1 Pet.2:6). Here in Zechariah this same corner stone is brought forth amid general rejoicings to initiate the building of that new Divinely ordained structure which is to succeed the levelling of the "great mountain" of this world. In this context the picture is that of the building of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, upon the ruins of the destroyed "kosmos" of this Age, and the exaltation of Christ as supreme. When earth's new king once asserts his power and authority in the earth He will not desist until his work is finished by the entire human race being brought to a full knowledge and understanding of the Christian Gospel, and every individual has made his deliberate and final choice for good—or evil. "He shall not fail nor be discouraged" says Isaiah of our Lord at this same time "till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles (coastlands)"—the extremities of the earth—"shall wait for his law". (Isa.42:4).
This ends the second section of the chapter. The demolished mountain and the headstone which replaces it, an exhibition of Divine power by the Holy Spirit in contrast to human might and power, of vv.6‑7, have nothing to do with rebuilt Temple in a "day of small things" of vv.8‑10. In any case the one is a revelation to Zechariah by the angel and the other a direct word to him from the Lord. The two sections relate to distinct and dissimilar matters.
It is possible that verses 8‑10 are not intended to have other than a local and immediate prophetic application. The word of the Lord was to Zechariah directly; it told him that Zerubbabel, who had already started building the Temple, would also finish it, and by this sign, said Zechariah to his hearers or readers, they would know that he was a true prophet, that the Lord of Hosts had in truth sent him to them. Those who had despised the "day of small things", the meagre results, so far, of the Jewish restoration in Jerusalem and Judea, would yet rejoice when they saw the plummet—instrument used in building construction—in the hand of Zerubbabel. The R.S.V. puts it very succinctly "For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerub'babel".
The prediction was certainly literally fulfilled. Zechariah had this word from the Lord in the second year of Darius of Persia (Zech.1:1) which was 519 B.C. The Temple was started under the administration of Zerubbabel in 536 B.C., stopped by order of Cambyses of Persia in 529 B.C., resumed by permission of Darius in 520 B.C., and finally completed by Zerubbabel in 516 B.C., three years after Zechariah uttered these words. Throughout that frustrating period of twenty years, with the very existence of the new Jewish colony menaced by powerful enemies, it must often have seemed that the people lived in a "day of small things"; their present situation bore very unfavourable comparison with the glories of the old days before the captivity, when Solomon's Temple was still standing and the city of Jerusalem the wonder of nations. So those who crowded to hear Zechariah's colourful predictions on the occasion of their first utterance, seeing, figuratively speaking, "the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel", realised three years later that the words of the prophet had come true and stamped those words with the seal of Divine authority.
It is possible to draw a parallel with the future. Whether that parallel is intended in this passage may be questioned, but it is true that in the day of Christ's power soon to come, when in the glory of his Kingdom the Holy City shines resplendent and complete, those amongst men who in this day and this life have despised and ignored the apparent weakness and futility of the Divine programme, or have not believed in any God‑given destiny for mankind, will "rejoice" at the then evident power and activity of earth's new rulership. At any rate an earlier prophet, Isaiah, was in no doubt about the fact when he declaimed (Isa.25:9) "It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation". And if, in the wonder and rapture of that moment, they conveniently forget that in the past they were largely unbelievers and agnostics and were only unknowingly "waiting for him" there will be no recriminations on that score from our God. Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, all He wants is to have his erring sons repent, and reform, and come home. That is why the Holy City comes down to earth.
(To be continued)