The Fifth Vision: The Lampstand and Olive Trees
1Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. 2He asked me, "What do you see?"
I answered, "I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. 3Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left."
4I asked the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?"
5He answered, "Do you not know what these are?"
"No, my lord," I replied.
6So he said to me, "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
7"What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’"
8Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9"The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.
10"Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
"(These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.)"
11Then I asked the angel, "What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?"
12Again I asked him, "What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?"
13He replied, "Do you not know what these are?"
"No, my lord," I said.
14So he said, "These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth."
In Jerusalem, at the time of Zechariah’s writing of this book, there were two leaders of the people. Joshua was the high priest, and so led the people in their worship of God. Zerubbabel was the governor. He guided the people in the rebuilding of the Temple, so, in effect, he led the people in their service of God. Recall that in the fourth vision of Zechariah (Zech. 3), Joshua’s filthy garments were removed and were replaced by the Lord with clean garments. This was a prophecy that the priesthood of Israel and, by extension, the people of Israel would be cleansed, that their sin would be removed in one day. This must surely have been an encouragement to Joshua the high priest, whose primary role was to mediate between the Israelites and God, and bring before the Lord the peoples’ sacrifices for atonement. So, whereas the fourth vision was intended to be an encouragement for Joshua the high priest of Israel, the fifth vision of Zechariah is an encouragement to the Zerubbabel the governor of Israel, who leads the people in their service of God. For surely, "if the religious leader in Israel needed heartening for his duties, the civil head required it also" [Feinberg, 288].
Zechariah relates his vision: "Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep" (vs. 1). It appears that Zechariah was still in a sort of stupor from the previous vision, possibly in astonished slumber at the magnificence of the blessings shown in the fourth vision. "He asked me, ‘What do you see?’ I answered, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left’" (vss. 2–3). Zechariah, accustom to getting help in these visions, immediately asked: "What are these, my lord?" In a mild rebuke at Zechariah’s haste to get help in understanding the vision, the angel replied: "Do you not know what these are?" (vs. 5). Zechariah certainly must have recognized the "lampstand". It was the seven-branched lampstand of the Temple (see Ex. 25:31–40), embellished with extra implements: a bowl on top, seven channels to the lights, and two olive trees on its sides. Zechariah, not phased by the angel’s mild rebuke, apparently wanted to be told the meaning of the vision without figuring it out for himself. He replied to the angel’s question: "No, my lord."
So, in response, the angel jumped right to the message of the vision, without even explaining the symbolism of the implements in the vision: "So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the Lord Almighty’" (vs. 6). And a beautiful message it is, a message that not only applied to Zerubbabel and the remnant as they served the Lord, but that also applies to any service we do for the Lord. The success of any service we do for God does not depend on our inherent power or might, but by the power and might that we receive from the Spirit of the Lord. "Man’s weakness is no hindrance in the work of God, because He supplies the power of the Spirit of God." [Feinberg, 290].
This is a comforting thought, because as we serve God, we invariably run into obstacles, encounter difficulties. Many times, these difficulties are bigger than we are. No problem! If God wants the work completed, He will supply the power and might to overcome the obstacle. This He promised Zerubbabel: "‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of "God bless it! God bless it!"’ Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.’" (vss. 7–9). The "mighty mountain" spoken of here represents the obstacles and difficulties that Zerubbabel was facing as he led the people of Israel to rebuild the Temple. Some of the obstacles that Zerubbabel faced were an active attempt to frustrate the plans to rebuild (see Ezra 4:1–4), administrative difficulties (see Ezra 5:3–5), lethargy on the part of the people (see Haggai 1:4), discouragement due to comparison to the former glory of the Temple (see Haggai 2:3), and smallness of vision (see Zech. 4:10). The Lord specifically promises Zerubbabel that he would complete the Temple. The fulfillment of this promise would be a sign of the truth of the visions that Zechariah received: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of the temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you." And so, the visions of Zechariah must be true, because indeed Zerubbabel did finish the Temple (see Ezra 6:14–18).
The Lord continued speaking to Zechariah: "Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.)" (vs. 10). It seems to be a part of human nature to get discouraged easily. We are impatient when we do "small things" for God, because we want to do mighty works for God. In this way, we "despise the day of small things." We should not. We should not "despise" any work of God, big or little. "The day of small things" is necessary before the great works of God can be done. God normally does not place His people in charge of great works until they have proven themselves by faithfully serving Him during many "days of small things." After demonstrating their faithfulness during the "days of small things", the Lord will say to them: "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things" (Matt. 25:23). And so, we must not "despise the day of small things." Rather, we should rejoice in any work we do for God, big or small. Only God can see, with his "seven eyes… which range throughout the earth", the ultimate importance of any work done for Him. He is the Master Manager. He, by His Spirit, apportions His work so that all of it is successfully completed. God only knows what your small work for Him will grow into. Many times, through a cascading effect, a small work has great consequences. Trust in Him, and rejoice in the "day of small things."
Zechariah is still curious about the symbolism of the elements in the vision: "Then I asked the angel, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?’ Again I asked him, ‘What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?’ He replied, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ ‘No, my lord,’ I said. So he said, ‘These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth’" (vss. 11–14). First, Zechariah asks about the olive trees, then he asks about the two olive branches, from which oil is pouring into the bowl which feeds the lamp. The angel does not answer the first question, thus implying that Zechariah should figure it out for himself. The second question, concerning the olive branches, the angel does answer: "These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth." Given the subjects of these last two visions, the angel is probably referring to Joshua and Zerubbabel, when he speaks of the "two who are anointed."
The olive branches are the only element in the vision that the angel explains. We must figure out the rest. And so, let’s make a stab at it. Whatever interpretation that we come up with must be consistent with the message of the vision, which is, we were told by the angel: "‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty." This message is being given specifically to Zerubbabel, who is directing the remnant of Israel in their task of rebuilding the Temple of God. So, what do we have in the vision? A lampstand, with a bowl that is being fed with oil by two olive branches, part of an olive tree. From the bowl are channels that transport the oil to the seven lights of the lampstand. What is the lampstand symbolic of? Lampstands in the Bible seem to be symbolic of the people of God, as lights of the world. In Revelation, Jesus stands among seven lampstands, and there, we are told, the seven lampstands symbolize seven churches (see Rev. 1:20). In Zechariah, the lampstand would similarly symbolize God’s people, in this case the remnant in Israel who are rebuilding the Temple of God. Oil, in the Bible, is normally symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God’s Spirit is working through are said to be "anointed." And so, the olive tree must represent God, who is providing a constant, uninterrupted supply of oil. This oil flows through the two olive branches, which we know symbolize "the two who are anointed to serve the Lord." "They are Joshua and Zerubbabel in their official capacities as God’s channels through whom the Spirit of God manifests His power and grace to the whole nation." [Feinberg, 292]. The oil flows into the bowl, and then through the channels to the lampstand. And thus, the Spirit of God flows through His people, so that "by His Spirit," the work of God gets done. This interpretation of the elements fits the message of the vision to Zerubbabel.