This is a chapter about the work of God in the world – and about how God works through people and how God seems to enjoy “small” beginnings.
Zechariah was awakened by an angel for his fifth vision. He was shown a lamp stand with a bowl on top of it that would have held oil and seven lamps that would have been fed from that bowl. There also were two olive trees on either side of the bowl.
Zechariah asked what these things were – that is, what they represented. As readers of books of the Bible that contain visions like these, we need to dig below the symbolism to see what God is intending to show us. Fortunately, the angel is there to help!
Of course, the angel seemed surprised by Zechariah’s question. “Do you not know what these are?”
The angel jumped in with an explanation. But before he did, he offered a prophecy about Zerubbabel, who was the local governor of Judea and (remember) a descendent from the line of King David, which made him a bearer of Israel’s expectation for the messiah.
Zerubbabel had been around since the exiles returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:2). Zerubbabel apparently had helped lay the foundation of the temple – a project that was abandoned for about 20 years before Haggai and Zechariah got the people moving again on the construction.
The angel said Zerubbabel would help finish the work, putting the “top stone” in place.
It is important to note how this would be accomplished. The angel was unambiguous. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” It wasn’t the power of humanity that was going to bring the new temple into place. It was the power of God – the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then the angel resumed talking about the lamp stand. The seven lamps were the seven “eyes” of God, looking about the whole earth. Seven is the number of perfection and the concept of seven lamps and eyes appears elsewhere in Scripture (Zechariah 3:9; Revelation 1:12).
Those lamps are fed oil from the bowl and apparently also by the olive trees to its right and left. Olive trees have special meaning in Scripture. They represent a position of blessedness. “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8). “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within in your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table” (Psalm 128:3).
Could these olive trees represent something special – a supply of oil that never will end?
Zechariah wanted to know what the olive trees represented. He asked the angel twice. The angel again acted a little surprised by the question, “Do you not know what these are?” Then the angel explained. “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
In that immediate context, this must have been the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel. God had put them in place to lead the people of Israel as the nation was being built back up after the exile. A priest was necessary to represent the people before God, and Joshua took up that role. (See chapter 3.) A king, then, would be needed to lead the people. Zerubbabel represented the Davidic monarchy that had been blessed by God to lead Israel into eternity.
OK. Now we look for Jesus. He is our priest, and he is our king. He is both olive trees.
The writer of the book of Hebrews described Jesus as our high priest: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25).
And the apostle Paul described Jesus as king: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
In Christ, the priest and the king of Israel are joined. He fulfills all the roles. He meets every need. Zechariah, again, points us to Jesus.
When I was reading this chapter, I was captured by the prophecy about Zerubbabel and his laying of the top stone of the temple. And the angel said, “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”
There must have been scoffers, or doubters, or “realists” in the crowd. There must have been people among the returned exiles who didn’t think it could be done, who didn’t think the temple could be rebuilt. And the angel said those people would see Zerubbabel at the end, finishing the job.
This is the story of salvation. This is how God chose to write it. Jesus Christ was born to a couple of poor young folks in a stable in Bethlehem and was raised as a carpenter’s son in a throwaway town called Nazareth. Nathanael couldn’t help himself, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
And after they all learned, and more and more people came, it became clear. Yes. Nothing is impossible with God. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
This is the story of salvation. A man on a cross, despised and rejected by humanity. And then, resurrection.
“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice …”
I want to encourage you today. Our walk of faith can have small beginnings. And it can have small new beginnings. There are moments when we look out at our lives, and we see wreckage, or we see backsliding, or we see sins we just can’t conquer, or we see the work of Satan in the lives of our loved ones, or we simply see things that are frustrating and discouraging.
I’m not naturally prone to optimism. I tend to be pretty cynical. But the angel told Zechariah that people like me, who might want to despise “the day of small things” – we will rejoice in the end. We will rejoice because the power of God is at work, and God loves to turn things upside down and to surprise us and to raise dead things to life.
So be encouraged. Take that wreckage to the Lord in prayer. Trust in the God of small beginnings.