Zechariah 4 – Between Two Olive Trees

Zechariah 4 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans

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Today’s PassageZechariah 4

The visions continue with Zechariah 4. After his angel guide snaps him out of an apparent lapse in attention, Zechariah sees a lampstand with seven lamps and two olive trees. He asks the angel their significance, and the angel offers an explanation that, upon my first read-through, still didn’t shine much light on the scene. So here I am, trying to figure out what the angel means when he tells Zechariah what the vision means.

When asked the import of the lampstand and its accompanying paraphernalia, the angel doesn’t even give a direct answer for another six verses. After incredulously asking if Zechariah really doesn’t know what these items are, declaring God’s self-sufficiency, and giving encouragement for Zerubbabel, the governor of Jerusalem, the angel finally explains a genuine legitimate element of the vision. He states: “But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth” (10). There we go: the lamps represent the eyes of God. They’re a sign of God’s pervasive awareness of the world.

So, there’s one puzzle piece. We don’t exactly have it in place yet, but it’s there on the table. What about the two olive trees? What’s their deal? Asked twice, the angel tells Zechariah: “These are the two anointed ones [literally, “sons of fresh oil”] who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (14). The trees in some fashion represent attendants of the Lord.

So, the seven lamps are God’s eyes and the two olive trees are sons of fresh oil. If that didn’t do much to clarify things for you, then you’re in good company, namely the company of me. What is God trying to get across to Zechariah? What’s he trying to get across to you and me? What is a son of fresh oil? I expect this chapter has more than one point to make, many of which have straight-up eluded me, but here’s one thing I notice: a recurring point of the passage is God’s self-sufficiency in restoring Jerusalem and the temple.

And that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, the notion that God is at the top of the ontological pyramid is pretty central to Christianity. But this passage contains the familiar line “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” (6). It’s God’s message to Zerubbabel, and it continues: “What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'” (7). God can reduce mountains to flat ground, down to the last stone, and it’s by his grace–his unmerited favor–that Zerubbabel will complete his reconstruction undertakings.

Zechariah even observes an apparent sign of God’s self-sufficiency in the vision. Turning the words into a clear mental picture presents some challenges–verses 2-3 constitute only seventy-one thousandths of a picture, if the old adage is right–but the oil from the olive trees appears to be fueling the lamps. Zechariah asks the angel, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” (12). The lamps remain fueled and lit without any human intervention. The whole arrangement is self-sustaining.

In the same way, God is autonomous, existing independently of any other being. And if he’s decided that there will be a temple again, there will be a temple again.

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