Zechariah 4

Chapter four holds Zechariah’s fifth vision, the menorah and olive trees. The last four visions mirror the first four, working backward. In other words, this fifth vision reflects the fourth; the sixth will mirror the third, etc.

The fourth vision dealt with the high priest as a person, Joshua. In the fifth vision, Zechariah saw a golden menorah, a fixture of the Temple and integral in the priests’ ministry. The description of the menorah is read differently by various translations. Literally, the Hebrew text says that to the seven lamps were connected “seven and seven pipes” (Zechariah 4:2). The NET Bible takes this as addition, translating “fourteen pipes.” Other translations take this to mean multiplication, having seven for each of the seven lamps, for a total of forty-nine pipes (NASB, ESV, NLT). The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) mentions only seven pipes for the seven lamps, leaving it ambiguous as to whether there are seven or forty-nine total. This ambiguity is reflected in the KJV and NIV (1984 and 2011). In any case, it seems that having pipes directly connecting the bowl to the lamps may signify an abundance of oil to keep the lamps always lit.

The menorah illustrated God’s message to Zerubbabel, the governor. God promised that the work of rebuilding the Temple that Zerubbabel was leading would happen successfully but “not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). This would have been comforting to Zerubbabel who probably looked at this undertaking as a “great mountain” (Zechariah 4:7-8). However, God promised that Zerubbabel would himself place “the temple capstone.” In a second message, God had Zechariah announce that the Temple project would be completed during Zerubbabel’s tenure (Zechariah 4:9-10). This would be the proof that the Israelites needed that God was certainly with them again. The seven eyes from the fourth vision are repeated here and explained to be “the eyes of the LORD, which constantly range across the whole earth.” The “tin tablet” is traditionally translated “plumb line,” but could refer to the capstone itself or the small plaque affixed to it when Zerubbabel placed it. God himself would rejoice when the Temple project was complete.

Zechariah then asked what the olive trees represented (Zechariah 4:11-14). The messenger told him that they were “the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” This is not the normal Hebrew word for “anointed one” (mashiach) but literally “sons of oil” (bene hayyitsehar). Given the context, this must refer to Joshua and Zerubbabel, who would supply the work and effort in leading the people politically and spiritually. “Only the high priest and king were anointed for office in the OT and these two were respectively the descendants of Aaron and David” (NET Bible study note).