Thursday, December 8, 2005

Zechariah 4: Kingdom building through earthly losers

Sorry, folks; I know you've been eagerly waiting for my next post on the rarely-read and even more rarely-understood oracles by the prophet Zechariah, who served to encourage the post-exilic remnant in rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple as part of a new dawn for Yahweh Tsavaoth's kingdom on earth. Or maybe you haven't been as anxious for this as I am to open the birthday present my uncle mailed me (eight more days!). But here it comes nonetheless.

Zechariah chapters 3 and 4 represent the 4th and 5th night visions the prophet receives, and these form the center of the message(s) of what GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies gives to strengthen his people in the midst of external opposition, financial destitution, internal despair, nostalgia, and one huge ol' heap of rubble. And--might I add--I think it's of no minor importance that the core of God's kingdom-building work on Earth deals not with the nations or wrath, but his gracious work within his people's lives. This 5th vision essentially consists of a vision that is explained (vv. 1-5, 10b-14), with a prophetic oracle placed in the middle, like chapter 2, and similar to chapter 6.

Because of it's seeming back-and-forth jumbledness, normal flow of thought is pretty well done away with. This is no epistle to the Romans; it's a vivid, hope-giving illustration. So I'll just go ahead and define the main elements: the lampstand (likely the temple building project; vv. 9-10), seven lamp spouts ("the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth;" v. 10), fresh olive oil (the Holy Spirit; v. 6), and two clusters of olives ("sons of fresh oil;" v. 14).

Lamps were fueled by a refined oil made from olives, and God gives a vision of whole olive trees funneling oil directly into the bowl with seven lamps. You see, God's Spirit is being poured out right into the temple rebuilding in abudant supply that won't run out soon (cf. 1 Chr 28.20). This is no ordinary work. To the Jews, God's temple has long been not only the symbol of his promise to dwell among his people, but also the seat from which his reign and redemption flow over the earth. Hence we have here the wide-ranging "eyes of the LORD" coming from his temple, showing the seat of his judging and rewarding presence upon earth seated at the temple (see 2 Chr 16.9).

But before this temple gets rebuilt, some tremendous obstacles need to be cleared (see above). But over against all these God mocks, "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!'" Now, this whole mountains-becoming-level seems quite familiar to those of us acquainted with the gospels. Jesus spoke of the overcoming of the power of wordly enemies* by faith (Mt 21.18-22), and John the Baptist called people to repentance as to make level the paths for God's salvation in the Messiah (Lk 3.3-6). Well, this is all actually from Isaiah's foretelling of the coming of the kingdom of God (40.4; 41.15; 49.11). And it's no different today: our best efforts to the contrary aside, the Lord Almighty has acted and is now acting to bring his just rule into this world. And he calls us to embrace him and his work through repentance and faith.

But wait a second, it's through Zerubbabel that God will build his temple? Are you kidding? This guy was a powerless governor established by Cyrus and was ultimately rejected by his people. Besides, he was the governor who left the temple rebuilding lie fallow for sixteen years! But this works because it is "not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit," says God. (And boy, do I fail to believe this. But there's no room for me to go into that here.) What is more, Zerubbabel isn't the only participant in the temple building effort. We see two "anointed ones" (literally "sons of fresh oil", and this word for oil is not used in the OT for anointing) who stand by the Lord, through whom the oil of the Spirit flows into the lamp. Many people favor these as being Joshua and Zerubbabel, but I find that they are rather prophets, probably Zechariah and Haggai.* Now, the LORD of hosts, he who created ex nihilo, could use any means at all to accomplish his purposes on earth, but he chooses to use his people as his agents upon earth. Surely, as seen above, he desires repentant, faithful, people committed to him (see Zech 1.1-6 and above). And there's also a clear primacy upon prophecy, that is, speaking forth the mind and counsel of God through communicating his written Word (see also Acts 2.17-21; Rev 11. 3-6).

Lastly comes the enigmatic verse 10: "For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line [lit. 'stone of tin'] in the hand of Zerubbabel--these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth" (NASB; similar NKJV; but see ESV/NIV). God encourages his people in the temple work because his eyes, which test all men's hearts, rejoices in seeing even "small things" done in his name. As of this point, only the foundation had been laid on the newer, smaller and less glorious incarnation of the temple. But God isn't so small and helpless as to fret or crack the whip; no, his Spirit is at work with abundant provision! So he puts himself within people like Zerubbabel who, though weak, cling to God and are filled with his Spirit, to do his work on earth. Work done for God's honor and pleasure (Hag 1.8), done in his name and by faith, will never lack for promise and God's empowering.

So as we preach and teach the gospel of Christ incarnate, crucified, and risen, as we seek to see people come to faith in him and grow to maturity, as we strive to help the needy, as we labor to be stewards of this planet's resources and living things, we must not despair in the seeming triviality of what we're doing or the "great mountains" we face. God is using us and strengthening us to do his will and elicit his praise, with unlimited supply of his Spirit and his strong support.

*If you really want me to explain these, please e-mail me at

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