Summary: supposed to be, right? Not always, and not now. God doesn’t relieve us of all responsibility and do all the work for us. He empowers us, and we get started. And maybe it is a small start. A few boulders moved, a few shovels of dirt thrown to the s
Not By Might, Not By Power
Aug 3, 2008 Zechariah 4
I like to get things done. To make things happen. To accomplish something. To be “productive”. Cut a board, build a fire, assemble a shelf, paint a sanctuary. Part of it is my personality, part of it is a desire that all of us have – to do something tangible, important, worthwhile, significant. And then to look back and say, with pride, “I did that – that was me – I made that happen…” And for the most part, there is nothing wrong with that – it is part of how God made us to function in this world He created for us.
But my desire to “get things done” gets complicated when it comes to things of the spirit. When it comes to faith. When my desire to accomplish something tangible butts against the world of the intangible, it gets a little complicated… So then what do we do?? Our passage from Zechariah this morning offers some help…
This summer we have been studying this short book at the end of the Old Testament. Zechariah the prophet spoke during the 5th century BC, at a time when the people of God had returned from slavery in Babylon and were rebuilding, the focus during this period of time being the rebuilding of the temple. Something nice and concrete, tangible, the kind of project I would greatly enjoy with my desire to get things done and accomplish stuff.
As we’ve studied the book for the past month, we’ve read of a number of visions Zechariah had, and seen what they meant then and what they mean for us. They have been great visions of hope, of the promise of the presence of God, and of the promise of forgiveness and restoration. Last Sunday Gail Smith walked us through chapter 3 – I wasn’t here but I read her message and loved how she brought the passage to life, I felt like I was there and could see (and smell!) how filthy the sins of the people were and then how beautiful and refreshing and incredible the forgiveness of God which cleansed them. An amazing vision, pointing ahead to Jesus and the complete forgiveness which we celebrate and remember again this morning through communion.
Zechariah 4 (NIV)
So this morning we come to chapter 4. This is the NIV translation:
1 Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. 2 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. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." 4 I asked the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" 5 He answered, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I replied.
6 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. 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!’ " 8 Then 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.)"
11 Then I asked the angel, "What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?" 12 Again I asked him, "What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?" 13 He replied, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I said. 14 So he said, "These are the two who bring oil* and serve the Lord of all the earth."
* takes translation from NIV footnote (changed from “these are the two who are anointed to serve…”)
Struggling with the text:
The chapter begins with Zechariah’s fifth vision, which he describes for us in vs. 1-5, and then is partly explained in vs. 11-14. The vision is interrupted by vs. 6-10, which are a prophetic utterance (you can tell by the phrase “This is the word of the LORD”).
This is a really difficult chapter to figure out. I read my commentaries, dug through my tools, and spent several hours wrestling with the image and the translations and the wide number of different ideas about what all these things symbolize, and I confess: I couldn’t figure it all out. What does the lampstand symbolize – the presence of God among His people or the people of God shining like a bright light? Does it refer back to the Tabernacle and the lampstand there, or to Solomon’s temple with its numerous lampstands, or does it look ahead to the lampstands we see at the end of time in Revelation 11? What are these two olive trees – do they represent people (maybe Zerubbabel and Joshua, or maybe Zechariah and Haggai), or are they “heavenly beings” (so NLT)? What are these “seven eyes” plopped in to the end of vs 10 – are they referring to the lampstand or does it refer back to the jewel with seven eyes in chapter 3? There are a number of uncommon words in the original languages which makes translation difficult, and influences how we interpret what is going on – you can see an example of that in verse 14 where I elected to read the text with the translation provided in the NIV footnote.