Summary: God’s work will depend on his power, not just on our ability or resources
We come today to what is the central theme of the book of Zechariah; to the question of the completion of the Temple and how this is to be accomplished. What we find here is a vision (vs1-4), a message from God (6-10a), and an explanation, to some extent at least, of the vision (10b-14).
You may remember that Joshua has been woken in the night by a series of visions. And it seems that since the previous vision, of Joshua standing before the Lord with Satan accusing him, Zechariah’s mind has wandered, and he’s fallen asleep again. But now the angel returns and wakens him, and as he looks up, slightly startled, no doubt with bleary eyes, he sees another vision.
As often happens in this style of writing, the angel asks him "What do you see?" It’s like he’s one of those annoying teachers you probably had at some time, who wants you to discover things for yourself, rather than just telling you what you should know. A bit like Julius Sumner Miller for those who are old enough to remember him. "Why is it so?"
Well, Zechariah looks up and says, "I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips [or channels] on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." It would seem from the further description in v12 that this isn’t a seven armed candle stick like the one in Solomon’s Temple, but rather these are oil lamps being fed by the oil from the olive trees standing on either side. We find the same picture in Revelation 1 where there are 7 lampstands representing the 7 churches. So the lampstand here probably represents the people of God, the nation of Israel. Then if we jump to vs11&12 we get a further description of what he sees. First, these seven, presumably these seven lamps, are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth. Now no-one really knows what that means, except that perhaps they indicate that God is watching what’s happening in the world, or perhaps even that he’s looking throughout the earth for his people who have been scattered and who will be called back when the Temple is restored. Second we’re told that the two olive trees on either side are connected to the lampstand in such a way that they pour oil through two golden pipes into the lampstand to keep it burning.
Well, Zechariah sees these but he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing, so he says, as you would, "What are these, my lord?" He’s just like you or me. He doesn’t have a clue what this is all about, so he asks. Well, the angel isn’t all that helpful. He says "Do you not know what these are?" And Zechariah replies "No, my Lord" So then the angel explains it all to him. "These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth" or "who serve the Lord of all the earth."
Now before we look at what the explanation the angel gives means, let’s sum up what we can work out for ourselves. The lampstand, as I said, stands for the nation of Israel. It’s a golden lampstand, which indicates how precious it is in God’s sight, The two anointed ones, literally ’the two sons of oil’, are Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor. The use of a lampstand as a symbol for Israel, also points us to the Temple, which is yet to be rebuilt. So the point of the vision is that the rebuilding of the Temple is dependent on the work of Joshua and Zerubbabel. Together they will bring about its rebuilding. But obviously there’s a lot more to it than just that. It’s a bit like one of those 3-D pictures that were all the rage a few years ago. Do you know the ones? On the surface they look like one thing, but if you stare at them for long enough you discover, if you’re lucky, that there’s a 3-D image in the background. Well, that’s what we discover here. There’s a lot more to this vision than at first meets the eye.
In fact the message of vs 6-10 begins to bring that out. This is one of those verses that most Christians have heard at some time or another. "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 of hosts. 7What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ’Grace, grace to it!’" The task of rebuilding the Temple is going to be accomplished, not by the cleverness, or strength, or power, of those who have returned from exile, but by the power of God. Just as we saw last week, that the restoration of the nation was the result of the grace of God, so here we discover that the rebuilding of the Temple, as the sign of God’s presence with his people, will be due to the power and wisdom of God alone. Not that they won’t have to do their bit. The prophet Haggai who is prophesying at the same time as Zechariah, makes it clear that they need to be generous in contributing to the cost of rebuilding the Temple. It will be their arms and legs that will be needed to lift the stones into place. But the success of the project will be entirely dependent on God’s Spirit.