By Edward Dennett
The apocalyptic character of this part of the prophecy is seen again from verse 1, showing, as it does, that this is one of a series of visions which passed before the eyes of the prophet. "And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep." The prophet was in the condition of Daniel by the banks of Ulai when Gabriel was sent to make him know what should be in the last end of the indignation. (Daniel 8:15-19) Awakened by the angel, he beheld "a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof; and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof." (vv. 2. 3.) Such was the vision. Then we have the angel's explanation of the general meaning of it (vv. 5-7), together, as growing out of this, a special message, "the word of the Lord," to Zechariah (vv. 8-10); and finally, the interpretation of the two olive trees.
Before entering upon these several points, it may be observed that the candlestick is the well-known candlestick — the seven-branched candlestick — of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40), and that it ever was the symbol of the light of God in the perfection of testimony — testimony in the power of the Holy Spirit on the earth — first in Israel, and then in the Church. (Rev. 1) There are several differences from the original candlestick to be noted. First, the bowl upon the top of it; next, each lamp (see margin) would seem to have seven pipes for the conveyance of the oil from the bowl to the lamps; and lastly, the two olive trees with their branches and golden pipes, through which the oil was supplied to the bowl. Generally speaking, it was no doubt a revelation of the perfect order in government and testimony which Jehovah would establish in Jerusalem in connection with the royal, the Melchisedek, priesthood of Christ. In its full accomplishment it would be, as another has written, — "the royalty and the priesthood of Christ, which maintain, by power and spiritual grace, the perfect light of divine order among the Jews. The work was divine; the pipes were of gold. The thing ministered was the grace of the Spirit, the oil which fed the testimony, maintained in this perfect order."
To comprehend the meaning of the candlestick will enable us to understand the angel's answer to Zechariah. (v. 6.) The time had not yet come, as we know, for the establishment of the kingdom, when Christ will sit as a priest upon His throne; in fact, a poor, feeble remnant only of the people had returned from captivity; and these, without any visible signs of Jehovah's presence, were engaged, amid doubts and fears, in the erection of the temple. But Jehovah watched over the people. His eye and His heart were on their work, and He would animate their drooping spirits, supply them with new energy for their service by directing their gaze, through the prophet, to the glories of the future, and by teaching them that their feeble work was itself the promise of the fulfilment of all His purposes of grace towards His ancient people. Hence it is that when Zechariah enquires, "What are these, my Lord?" the angel replies, "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. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shall become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it." (vv. 6, 7.)
This explains most clearly the application of the vision to the circumstances of the moment. There was, as already stated, the exhibition of the perfection of the light of God's order in the future, a testimony to the fact that God never forgets His ultimate purposes. But there was also a present application; and on this account it is that the explanation of the angel takes the form of a message to Zerubbabel — to Zerubbabel who, as governor of Judah, together with Joshua the high priest, was the leader of the people in the work of building the temple. (Ezra 5:2; Haggai 2:2, &c.) Zerubbabel was therefore taught that the time had not yet arrived for the display of Jehovah's might or power on behalf of His people; but that if it were, as it was, a time of feebleness, God's Spirit was working to secure, both in the hearts of the people and in their service, all that His name and interests required, and hence that the character of the moment demanded dependence upon, and confidence in, God. This was doubtless a needed lesson for Zerubbabel in his trying position — a position rendered more trying by his own fears. It is comparatively easy, even for the natural man, to engage in the service — the outward service — of God, when He intervenes in power to sustain His servants and to secure the result; but it is only the man of faith who can labour on amid discouragements of every kind, who can trust to a power not seen to uphold and prosper, and is assured that the Spirit, who is invisible in His working to the natural eye, is even more mighty than manifested power. There are many Elijahs indeed who prefer the strong winds and the earthquakes to the all-efficacious still small voice of the Spirit of God.
In the first place then Zerubbabel is to be directed to the only source of power — to the Spirit of God; in the next he is sustained by the promise of the successful issue of his work. The great mountain should "become a plain: and he should bring forth the headstone [of the temple] with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it." (v. 7.) By the mountain, we apprehend, is symbolized all the obstacles that lay, in the way of the completion of the work. It is a figure gathering up the whole of the difficulties, as well as the opposition encountered, the details of which are given in the book of Ezra. But all these — whatever the activity, power, or influence of the adversaries — are nothing to God; and they are likewise nothing to the man of faith when resting alone upon the power of the Spirit, and when walking in the path of God's will. It is thus that the question is triumphantly, not to say defiantly, put, "Who art thou, O great mountain?" It is indeed an exultant challenge, bringing out the confident assurance that before Zerubbabel it should become a plain. (Compare Isaiah 40:35.) The Lord Jesus, it is more than probable, referred to this scripture when He said to His disciples, "Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done." (Matthew 21:21.) For what is the mountain in this case? It was doubtless the Jewish nation in its unbelief and opposition to grace, that enmity of the Jews which was ever the obstacle to the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles, and which, overcome by the faith of the disciples, finally disappeared as the Jews were merged in the sea of the nations. But whether this or that, it affords abundant encouragement in the Lord's service, as it will enable His servants to regard the most insurmountable difficulties as occasions only for the display of almighty and victorious power through the working of the Holy Spirit.
The headstone is connected with the completion of the building; the foundation-stone had long since been laid (see Ezra 3:10; Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1); and hence the promise refers to the conclusion of the work, which should be accompanied by the joy of the people, and their acknowledgment in their joy that grace, Jehovah's favour, had accomplished all. As a symbol, the headstone, equally with the foundation-stone, points to Christ. This will be seen from the words, "The stone which the builders refused is become the head[stone] of the corner." (Psalm 118:22.) And it is possible that the passage in Ephesians may connect itself with this: "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20), teaching that He is both the foundation and the crown, the beginning and the end, of the house of God.
Following upon this, another message is given to the prophet, concerning Zerubbabel, even more explicit as to his completion of Jehovah's house, and adding the assurance that the eyes of the Lord would rejoice when they saw the plummet in his hands, on the work being finished. "Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 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. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shalt see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven: they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth." (vv. 8-10) Here we have, then, a solemn renewal of the assurance that nothing should hinder Zerubbabel from the execution of his work. The hands that laid the foundation of the house should finish it; and we are thereby taught that no opposition or enmity, not all the subtlety of the adversary, can hinder or even impede, the progress of the work of God, when His people labour in dependence on Him, and count alone on His sustainment and protection. Such an assurance could not fail to comfort the hearts of this feeble remnant at such a moment; for it was not only that the house should be completed, but also that Zerubbabel's hands should finish it. If they did but believe the message, with what courage would they proceed with their labours! Appearances might be, as indeed they were, all against them, but under the influence of faith, they would be able to say, We know that our work will prosper because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Compare 1 Cor. 15:58.) Once again the fulfilment of the prophecy (see Zech. 2:9, 11) is given as a proof of the fact that the Lord of hosts had sent His angel to the prophet.
The question then comes, "Who hath despised the day of small things?" Some, if not all, had been tempted to do this (Ezra 3:12); for they had compared the meanness of the present building with the glory of that of Solomon. They had been thus discouraged by comparing the present with the past, and, in their discouragement, they had low thoughts of the work on which they were engaged. They are now shown that, in this state of mind, they were not in fellowship with the mind and heart of God; that the question was not concerning the outward glory of their work, but what were God's thoughts about it. They had been repining and were unbelieving while God's heart was upon His people, and His eyes were waiting to express their joy when they should see the building completed — for this is the meaning of the plummet in the hands of Zerubbabel.1 It would be well for us if we carefully treasured up this instruction; for we also are slow to learn that the importance of any service depends upon God's estimate of it. If we have once lost fellowship with Him as to our work, our spiritual energy and perseverance are gone, we cease to look to the only source of our strength, and give place, at the same time, to doubts if not despair, because we have commenced to walk by sight instead of by faith. Let us learn then, with these returned captives, that the meanest service, as to its outward character, is worthy, of all our devotedness and zeal if the mind and heart of God are upon it, if He has put it into our hands, and that nothing is to be despised, no day of small things, when it contains in itself the pledge and guarantee of the fulfilment of the purposes of God.
The prophet then proceeds to enquire, "What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick, and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches, which through [or, by means of, literally 'by the hand of,'] the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones [sons of oil], that stand by the Lord of the whole earth." (vv. 11-14.) The final answer of the angel gives, as we may see, the key to the whole chapter. The details of the symbol are somewhat difficult to seize; for, as will be perceived, one of the questions of the prophet (v. 12) imports an additional particular into the original vision. We find no mention there of the olive branches. Putting now the whole together, there is, first, the seven-branched golden candlestick; then the bowl on the top thereof with "seven pipes" connected with each of the seven lamps; further, there are the olive trees on either side of the bowl; and finally, we have the two olive branches ["spikes of the olive"], which have their two golden pipes by means of which they empty forth the golden oil out of themselves — presumably, though it is not distinctly said, into the bowl upon the top of the candlestick. One thing more may be noted, before giving the interpretation; viz, that the angel, in replying to the prophet, does not answer his two questions, but, evidently regarding the olive trees and the olive branches as one and the same, says, These are the two sons of oil, etc.
Now, without attempting to explain the vision in all its features, the main lines of its significance are easily followed by the light of verse 14. First, the candlestick with its seven branches represents Christ as the Lord of the whole earth. It looks onward therefore to the time when He shall have come, have established His throne in Zion, and when all nations will have owned His universal sway, when He will be "a great King over all the earth." (See Ps. 47:2, and the series Ps. 45 - 48 in their connection.) Then it will be, if we understand rightly, that He will be God's golden candlestick on the earth, "the vessel of the light of God on earth ordained in all its perfection. The candlestick was one, but it had seven branches. It was unity in the perfection of spiritual co-ordination, perfect unity, perfect development in that unity," and thus will only find its complete fulfilment in Christ. Israel was set to be God's vessel of testimony on earth, and it failed, how completely we know. After the Jewish nation had been rejected as God's responsible witness, the Church came into its place; and the letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3) informs us also of its failure. After the Church shall have been removed from the scene, Christ Himself will come, and He will answer to all God's thoughts in the perfectness of His testimony. Already He has been here as the faithful witness (Rev. 1:5), and in that character He was rejected and crucified; on the failure of the Church, which should have borne faithful testimony for God, He presented Himself to her as "the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14), and now we behold Him, again on the earth, in the same character, not now as the rejected One, but as, having made his title good in power and taken possession of His rightful inheritance, the Lord of the whole earth. God's thoughts must be realised (see Psalm 33:11); but the history of the dispensations teaches that they will only be realised in Christ. Man has failed, and will, whatever his privileges, fail in everything, but in Christ all the glory of God will be secured.
In addition to — on either side of — the golden candlestick were there these two olive trees, and the question of the prophet concerning the olive branches would seem to make it plain that the olive trees (the sons of oil) were the two sources whence the light of the candlestick was fed and sustained. What then are these? Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah, Joshua (Zech. 3) was the high priest, and the two combined were therefore a type of Christ as the priest on His throne; and hence the two olive trees, as another has written, "are the royalty and the priesthood of Christ, which maintain, by power and spiritual grace, the perfect light of divine order among the Jews." These are the sources whence this perfect light is fed and maintained.2
The reader's attention may also be directed to the term "golden oil." The candlestick is of gold, and though the oil flows from the olive trees, it is through golden pipes, and the oil itself is "golden." The gold, as ever, represents that which is divine, while the oil is the emblem of the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit here, inasmuch as it is through Christ as Lord of the earth that the testimony will be borne, in all His divine energy, and manifestly so, and hence it is golden, divine oil. The point is interesting in another way. When Jesus walked here upon the earth He lived, acted, and wrought in the power of the Holy Ghost. This was the source of His words, acts, and miracles. After His resurrection He acted still by the same mighty power; for it is written, "He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen." (Acts 1:2.) And now, as it appears from Zechariah's vision, when He will be here in the glory of the kingdom, He also will rule, maintain His rights, bear testimony for God, in the power of the Holy Ghost.
1) As to the expression "those seven," "the eyes of the Lord," see Note on Zech. 3:9.
2) If the reader has followed this interpretation, he will be greatly assisted in reading Revelation 11, for there the two witnesses are said to be "the two olive trees and the two candlesticks standing before the God [it should be the Lord] of the earth" From this it would appear that the subject of their testimony will be to the claims of Christ over the earth in connection with His royalty and priesthood.