Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, 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.”
Zechariah 4:6Zechariah was sent by God to encourage Zerubbabel the rince, Joshua the high priest, and the people of God who had returned to Canaan out of the Babylonian captivity. After over fifteen years of inactivity they needed to be encouraged to return to the task of rebuilding the temple and the city. They were all quite discouraged.
The remnant of Israel had left Babylon and returned to Canaan with great expectations. But these were dashed on the hard rocks of Samaritan interference. They had all set out with great joy and enthusiasm. They had made the 900-mile journey back to Canaan and remained enthusiastic when they found the piles of rubble in Jerusalem and began to clear away the destruction. They laid out the foundation and set up the altar of burnt offerings.
And then the interference began. It continued until the emperor himself commanded them to cease all restoration of the temple and of Jerusalem’s walls. For over sixteen years they did nothing to rebuild the temple—that on which their whole system of worship was based. They became convinced that they could do nothing about it. They were a relatively few people in a large land; they were surrounded by nations larger and stronger than they; and they were compelled to obey the emperor. They felt small and insignificant. They felt that their efforts were small and feeble. It was a day of small things (v. 10).
It was in order that Zechariah might arouse the people to action that he was given a vision of a golden candlestick. With this vision go the words of our text to Zerubbabel. These words are good words for every officebearer to remember. Especially are they to be remembered when our combined strength seems to fail and our efforts seem to be so frail. God declares then and today a truth that every officebearer is to take to heart. When anything good is accomplished in the church of God, it is not by human power, nor by human strength. Rather it is all by and because of God’s Spirit! The praise goes to Him, precisely because it is all of Him, and through Him, and by Him.
The words of God in our text are at the end of a vision God gave to Zechariah. The vision is about a seven branched candlestick — it had three arms on each side of the center shaft. In his vision the candlestick is of pure gold, i.e., it has great value. Along with the candlestick, Zechariah saw a bowl above it, with seven pipes or tubes running from the bowl to the top of each of the seven arms of the candlestick. The idea is obvious: the bowl was filled with oil, and through the pipes a constant supply of oil was brought to the candlestick. And Zechariah saw two olive trees, one on each side of the bowl, with a golden pipe from each tree bringing oil to the bowl (v. 12). This provided the candlestick, not only with a continuous flow of oil, but also an abundant supply.
There were, in the vision, things that Zechariah understood, and there were things that he did not understand. A seven-armed candlestick was familiar to Zechariah and to Zerubbabel, as well as to any child in Israel. It was a candlestick of this kind that was one of the three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place. It, along with the table of showbread and the altar of incense, represented the people of God living in close communion with the infinitely perfect God. God’s people may have been separated from Him by the veil, but they were under the same roof, in both the tabernacle and in the temple. The candlestick, specifically, portrayed God’s people (Rev. 1:20) as the light of the world because of their relationship with God. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is the sole source of light. God is light because He is the God of infinite perfections. When God establishes an intimate friendship with His people, then they are brought out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9; Eph. 5:8). Then they are lights in the midst of the spiritual darkness of this world. This Zechariah understood.
The candlestick needed the oil in order to function, to give light. God’s people have no light in themselves, just as a candlestick without oil is only a piece of furniture. Zechariah also understood the meaning of the oil. Oil, in Scripture, represents the Holy Spirit. When one entered into an office he was anointed with oil. This signified that the Holy Spirit was selecting him for this office and that the Holy Spirit would qualify him to function in that office. The people of God are the light of the world only because the Spirit of Christ is in them. It is by His Spirit that God realizes the intimate relationship with His people in Christ. And it is this Spirit in them that enables them to shine as light.
The part of the vision that Zechariah did not understand was the two olive trees that were on each side of the bowl. First, Zechariah asks, “What are these?” (vv. 4, 11, 12). The angel, in turn, emphasizes Zechariah’s lack of understanding by asking him, “Knowest thou not what these be?” (vv. 5, 13). And Zechariah must admit that he does not know: “No, my lord” (vv. 5, 13). The angel asks this of Zechariah in order to show Zechariah (and us) the importance of knowing the meaning of the two olive trees for understanding the entire vision. When this portion of the vision is repeated in verses 11 – 14, then let us be aware of the fact that the answer recorded in our text is parallel to the answer in verse 14, “Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” Scripture is interpreting Scripture.
The vision was shown to Zechariah, but it was “the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel.” Zerubbabel was one of the “anointed ones” (v. 14). He was a prince, of the tribe of Judah, the governor—the nearest that they could come to having a king. Zerubbabel was appointed by Cyrus to lead the children of Israel back to the land of Canaan.
With Zerubbabel was Joshua the high priest (3:1). Joshua joined Zerubbabel in leading Israel back to Canaan. He was given charge of those items of the temple taken by Nebuchadnezzar and returned by Cyrus. They are the two anointed ones, the ones God selected and qualified by His Spirit to represent God to His people and to represent His people to God.
This word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel (and to Joshua) is to arouse and encourage them in the performance of the offices to which they had been called and qualified. With this word of Jehovah they are being shown that they are simply to busy themselves in their offices. It is their office that qualifies and equips them for the work of leading the people to start anew the great task of re-building. They need only busy themselves in their offices, and God’s Spirit will use them to accomplish His purpose. The effect of their work can be left up to God and His Spirit to accomplish. The work will not be accomplished by human might or earthly power. Rather it is accomplished by the Spirit of Jehovah of hosts. This is God’s word to His anointed prince. The promise of God is that before Zerubbabel the mountains shall become a plain (v. 7), and the hands that laid the foundation of the temple some sixteen years earlier would soon finish it (v. 9). Therefore, though things seem to be very small and doomed to fail, the people of God are not to despise the day of small things (v. 10).
This was the word of Jehovah to His anointed prince, who was inclined to fear and doubt that the temple and Jerusalem would ever be built. This is the word of Him who, as the perfectly self-sufficient One, never changes in His relationship of friendship with His people. This word to Zerubbabel is not simply words. Rather, it is the powerful word of Him who speaks and it is. God’s word has irresistible force and infinite efficacy. He can speak and the enemies of His people will topple before Him and them. The emperors of the earth are as nothing before His word. And this word is also the means by which God works the power of grace in Zerubbabel, so that he and Joshua are inspired to arouse the people to the work of rebuilding the temple.
This is the word of Jehovah, who established and maintains a special relationship with His people. He is jealous for Jerusalem and Zion (1:14) and is very displeased with the heathen (1:15). So close is this relationship that “he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (2:8b). His promise is to come and dwell in the midst of Zion (2:10).
And He is Jehovah “of hosts,” because He is sovereign of all the universe. All the hosts of creation do His will and serve His purpose, namely, the glory of His name and the salvation of His church. He is “the Lord of the whole earth” (v. 14), possessing and exercising control over every portion of His creation. The point is that when this Lord, Jehovah of hosts, is for us, then the small nation of Israel in Canaan need fear nothing. All the other nations of the earth are as nothing before Him and His people. They can be assured that nothing can be against them.
The word of Jehovah makes it absolutely clear that neither the arousing of the people to the work of rebuilding nor the work itself will be accomplished by the might and power of man. “Might” has the idea of a combination of forces. This can be the combined talents in an individual or it can be the combining of the talents of several people. “Power” has the idea of panting as the result of exertion. Israel’s shining as the light of the world and the worship of God as commanded in the ceremonial law will be restored, but this will not come about as the result of the ingenuity or persistent efforts of men. God will use man, but always in such a way that man knows that he is only an instrument in God’s hands. Zerubbabel and Joshua are means in God’s hand. They are not to labor as if they must accomplish everything in their own strength. Nor are they to think that they can help God with their efforts. Rather they must know that they are and will continue to be qualified by the Spirit and that the Spirit will use their feeble, but faithful, efforts to accomplish His purpose.
While every human effort must fail and prove to be useless in itself, God’s work will be carried on by the Spirit of Jehovah. As the Spirit inclined their hearts to return to Canaan, so He would incline their hearts to rebuild. The God of hosts could have given them an abundance, but He is pleased to give them small things. This is so that He might make them (and us) look upon Him in complete dependence on His Spirit. All the opposition of their enemies will become powerless. The work of Jehovah is carried on by the power and grace of His Spirit.
This is what gives the churches and those delegated to the broadest assembly in our churches real and true confidence. We might be easily and quickly troubled because the cause of God seems to be so small and apparently unsuccessful. The power of the lie is great. God does give blessings, but it seems to be so small in size, especially when compared with the world. At other times it seems that God places before His church insurmountable mountains, so the opportunity to preach His Word to all nations is impossible.
We must keep learning that it is the work of God always—also when He uses the instrumentality of our obedience in the calling to build His house. Zerubbabel and Joshua were to remember that they had been qualified by His Spirit (as are the delegates appointed to synod). As they faithfully obey God to arouse the people with God’s Word, they must not measure success by size. Rather, they must pray and trust the Spirit to use their obedience and their communication of God’s Word to His people. The Spirit is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. So great is the Spirit of God, that if He be for us, then nothing and no one can be against us.
“No human power delights Him, No earthly pomp or pride;
He loves the meek who fear Him And in His love confide.”