Iâ€™m going to be honest about my struggles this week to study for Zechariah books 4-6. Zechariah is full of symbolism and things difficult to explain and interpret. When I started studying it, I was lost. It was like trying to understand the book of Revelation using only a Julia Childs cookbook for interpretation. Things just didnâ€™t make sense.
But Iâ€™m starting learn how God teaches me; the lesson I study is the same lesson God is teaching me. I pray and hope that His Word today finds you receptive to the message He would have us learn.
Fortunately an angel of interpretation visited Zechariah to help us understand what was going on. Iâ€™m glad the angel was there, otherwise the symbology of colored horses and baskets of women and flying scrolls would be completely lost on me.
In Zechariah 1-3 last week, Zechariah began seeing a series of eight night visions. These visions of prophecy revealed Godâ€™s plans and purposes to His people.
The first vision, Zechariah saw horsemen patrolling the earth. The earth was at peace, which sounds like good news, but itâ€™s not. It meant Persiaâ€™s rule of Judah, over Godâ€™s people, was strong and secure. The second vision of four horns represented the heathen powers who had scattered Godâ€™s people, and then four craftsmen of God that defeated the heathen powers.
The third vision was a surveyor who drew new boundary lines around Jerusalem, with God Himself becoming a wall of fire of protection around it. Then a fourth vision that Joshua would take off unclean clothes and dress is splendid robes so that Joshua would be usable and acceptable in Godâ€™s sight. A messianic prophecy that God would send His son as the Branch who would take away the sins of the world so that we may all live in peace under the authority of Jesus Christ.
So far, so good. Four visions have so far come to Zechariah in chapter 1-3, and now Zechariah is plum tuckered out. Weâ€™re going to study the next 4 visions, starting with vision number 5, visions that include lampstands, olive trees, a flying scroll, a basket with a woman in it, and chariots pulled by colored horses between bronze mountains, and then weâ€™re going to figure out how to apply these colored horses and flying scrolls to our own lives. Turn to Zechariah 4.
Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. 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.”
I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
You would think that after 4 visions from God and being offered interpretations by angels, Zechariah would be fully awake, paying attention, and writing things down, but heâ€™s not. It says in Zechariah 4:1 that “the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep.” Zechariahâ€™s mind was wandering, not paying attention, possible taking a little nap. How could Zechariah possibly be sleeping at a time like this?
Let me rephrase in New Testament terms â€“ Jesus Christ died for our sins and the Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to do what is right and what is good, for the day of the Lord is approaching. How could we possibly be satisfying our own selfish desires when Jesus calls us to do so much more?
There, got your attention.
The angel of interpretation wakens Zechariah and says, “What do you see?” And Zechariah answers (Zechariah 4:2-3), “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” If we jump down to the second half of verse 10, the angel explains that the seven lights on top are the eyes of the Lord which range throughout the earth. Scholars have interpreted in several ways; one scholar compared it to the lampstands in Revelation 1 where the lampstand represents a church. That would imply that the lampstand here represents Jerusalem or the rebuilding of the temple. The vision goes on to explain in verse 11 and 12 that the two olive branches on each side of the lampstand continually pour out golden oil that keeps the light burning.
Thereâ€™s a lot of symbolism here, but with the angel of interpretation here, weâ€™re able to understand the meaning. The olive tree branches symbolize Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua was the high priest of Israel, Zerubbabel was the governor. Together, they are the priest and king of Israel. In verse 14, they are described as the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” The golden oil represents the Holy Spirit being poured out to light the lampstand. So letâ€™s put this altogether to see what the vision means.
Joshua and Zerubbabel are to rebuild the temple. Itâ€™s a daunting task, itâ€™s huge, itâ€™s far to much to expect two men to do it. But through the Holy Spirit working in them, the temple, the lampstand, will be rebuilt. The temple will be visible to all the earth; through the rebuilt temple, God will shed his light on Israel and bring them out of their darkness, and Godâ€™s plans will be fulfilled.
Is everybody with me so far? The priest and king, through the Holy Spirit, rebuild the temple to shed light on Godâ€™s people. Good. Now, as we have been studying, Godâ€™s relationship with Israel is instructive to us; God is unchanging. How do we apply this to Christians today? Well, letâ€™s see. There are 4 parts to this vision:
- The olive branches. In Zechariahâ€™s vision, the angel explains that these are Joshua and Zerubbabel, the priest and king of Israel, anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. Who would that be today? Thatâ€™s right, the priest and king is the Messiah, Jesus, anointed to serve the Lord. But while we wait for the return of the Lord, who is the body of Jesus? Who are His hands and feet? Thatâ€™s right, we are.
- The lampstand. In Zechariahâ€™s vision, the lampstand represented the temple. Who is the temple of the Lord today? The church.
- The lights, the eyes of the Lord that bring light. As a church, we are the lampstand that shows the love of Christ to the world. Godâ€™s light is visible to the world when the world looks at us, His temple.
- The golden oil. In Zechariahâ€™s vision, the Holy Spirit enabled Joshua and Zerubbabel to accomplish the Lordâ€™s will. The Holy Spirit now works within all Christians to accomplish the Lordâ€™s will.
What the vision is trying to tell Zechariah is instructions on how to do the Lordâ€™s will. The exiles in Zechariahâ€™s day had started to rebuild the temple, but then they gave up. It was too hard. For 15 years they had done no work on the temple. The people put their personal concerns first and allowed discouragement to take over. Itâ€™s too hard, itâ€™s not important, and we have other things to do.
Today, we do the same thing. God speaks to us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. But we donâ€™t always want to obey. We donâ€™t always want to listen. When we open our bibles and read, “Ye shall do this to glorify me,” and then we find excuses not to. Remember the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Jesus tells us that all of Godâ€™s commands can be summarized by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And 1 Corinthians 13 are instructions to us, to tell us what love is and what love is not. But yet, we are easily angered, we are rude, we do seek our own pleasure at the expense of others. Why do we do this? Itâ€™s because we allow discouragement to take over and we place ourselves first, exactly like the exiles that had given up on rebuilding the temple.
How else are we disobedient to the Lord? Is He the Lord of your life? Is He the Lord of my life? If He is the Lord, we give our lives to Him and obey His commands. Or is He only Lord of part of our lives, and we offer excuses not to obey? The instructions on loving one another are clear, yet we donâ€™t always do it. The instructions on how to love those who hurt us are clear, yet we donâ€™t always do it. The instructions on how we treat our spouses are clear, yet we donâ€™t always do it. The instructions on how to honor our parents are clear, yet we donâ€™t always do it. Why donâ€™t we do it? Itâ€™s because itâ€™s too hard for us.
Letâ€™s admit it. Itâ€™s too hard for us. And thatâ€™s precisely the point, it is too hard for us. But itâ€™s not too hard for God. In Zechariah 4:6-7, it says,
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.
“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!'”
The vision given to Zechariah doesnâ€™t show that Joshua and Zerubbabel should rebuild the temple by relying on their own strength. The lights of the lampstand are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we find something too difficult for us, the instructions are clear. We rely on the Holy Spirit and do what the Lord tells us to do. No excuses, no discouragement, no personal reasons why these instructions shouldnâ€™t apply to us. We pray, we rely on the Spirit, we obey. Through our obedience and the Lordâ€™s strength, His purposes will be accomplished. The Lord put the mountain in front of us, and He can make the ground level again. Not us.
When I was studying for this lesson, this is about the time that I realized what God was teaching me this week. All the symbolism in the book of Zechariah was too hard for me. Iâ€™m a black and white sort of guy. Iâ€™m a spreadsheet guy. Iâ€™m an engineer. I donâ€™t understand it, and therefore I canâ€™t teach it.
Which is precisely the point. Itâ€™s too hard for me and I was relying on my own knowledge and strength to understand it. Iâ€™m like Zechariah here. The angel asks, “What do you see, and what does it mean?” Zechariahâ€™s answer is the same each time, “Uhâ€¦ I dunno.” And the angel interprets the vision for him. If Zechariah leaned on his own understanding, heâ€™d have no idea what the Lord was saying. And isnâ€™t that what the Lord wants us to do, to lean on Him? Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” The Lord wills us to obey and to trust in Him, even when we donâ€™t want to, even when we donâ€™t understand why. If we just lean on Him and do what He asks of us, He will lead us.
We are fortunate the Lord is so patient. While weâ€™re quick to point out the faults in others and say the Lordâ€™s judgment will come upon them, weâ€™re not so quick to point out our own sins and ask for the Lordâ€™s judgment. “Lord God, Iâ€™m a sinner, please punish me. And hurry!” No, the Lord’s judgment is delayed because of His mercy. We have 3 more visions to go that illustrate Godâ€™s judgment on those who do not obey.
In Zechariah 5, Zechariah sees a flying scroll.
“This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.'”
The flying scroll is thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, which, interestingly, are the same dimensions as the holy place in the tabernacle, perhaps indicating Godâ€™s presence. The angel explains that this is a call by the Lord to righteousness. Every thief will be banished â€“ those who take from others instead of giving of themselves. And everyone who swears falsely will be banished â€“ those that claim to follow the Lord but are disobedient and rebellious, tarnishing the name of God. Possibly the text on the flying scroll contained the Ten Commandments, the law by which the Lord will judge His people. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that it is through the law that we become aware of our own sin. While the law is perfect, it is a curse to man for it shows us that we can never be righteous on our own.
The next vision is a woman in a basket. Iâ€™m so glad this angel of interpretation explains all these things so I donâ€™t have to guess. Zecharaiah 5:5-11 â€“
Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.”
I asked, “What is it?”
He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”
Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth.
Then I looked upâ€”and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.
“Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.
He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”
One interpretation could be that women are evil and should be shipped off in a basket, but that’s precisely why we are not to lean on our own understanding. A woman is used in this imagery because the Hebrew word for evil is a feminine noun and the woman is used to show evil personified. It does not mean women are evil. For some reason, every biblical commentary I read on this passage wanted t make that point clear.
God is all powerful. God is demonstrating that He has power over evil. He measures the sins of the Israel, and takes the evils of materialism, greed, and dishonesty back to their starting place in Babylon. When God is ready, He will set the basket on its base and destroy it in the final judgment prophesied in Revelation 17-18.
Notice that itâ€™s a measuring basket. The King James version says itâ€™s an ephah with a talent of lead to cover it. This may indicate that the evil has its root in money and currency. Thatâ€™s not too far of a stretch, the love of money being the root of all evil. As a prosperous society, we tend to trust in the dollar more than we trust in God. We trust in our 401k, our health insurance, our education, our job. If we have Social Security, do we need God? Prosperity can blind us to our need for God. We trust in our own labor and our own savings plan. When we trust in our prosperity, prosperity becomes our God because thatâ€™s where our heart is. When we trust in our own prosperity, we stop working on the temple like the people of Jerusalem did, and Godâ€™s work is delayed because weâ€™re working on our stuff instead of His. No wonder God wants to put it all in a basket and ship it to Babylon.
Letâ€™s look at the last vision weâ€™re going to study today, the vision of the four chariots. Zechariah 6:1-8 â€“
I looked up againâ€”and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountainsâ€”mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappledâ€”all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”
When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.
Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”
This a prophetic judgment on the rest of the world. The Lord God of Israel is also the Lord God of gentiles like us. The colors of these chariots match the colors of the four horsemen in Revelation 6, suggesting a similar purpose. The two mountains of bronze are often interpreted as Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives and symbolize God’s strength. The red horse is war, the black horse is death. The white horse is victory, and the dappled horse is disease and famine. Godâ€™s judgment in the last days rides swiftly and powerfully across the earth, and Godâ€™s Holy Spirit is only at rest when His perfect judgment is complete. Thatâ€™s not good news for those of us in rebellion to His word; between the flying scroll, the basket of evil, and the four chariots of judgment, Godâ€™s perfect justice will eliminate evil. Including the evil that is in each one of us.
Our Good News â€“ literally â€“ is that God sent a perfect sacrifice for us. In Exodus 12 during the first Passover, Godâ€™s judgment came to Egypt, but if any household would place the blood of a perfect lamb over the door, the Lord God would pass over that household. Jesus came to be our perfect lamb and shed His blood for us. It doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re perfect; it means that when God looks at us and we are clothed in the sacrifice of Jesus, God sees the blood and passes over us, too.
Zechariah 6 concludes with this Messianic prophecy, a foretelling of the coming of Jesus. Zechariah 6:9-13,
The word of the LORD came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’
To the people of Jerusalem, this imagery was profound. Joshua was the high priest, and the high priest didnâ€™t wear crowns. The crown belonged to the king, and so Zerubbabel should get the crown. Levitical priests were never crowned as kings, and kings were never priests. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah tried to function as a priest and was stricken with leprosy. Godâ€™s law called for the priesthood to be separate from the government.
The vision of Joshua being crowned king foretells the coming of Jesus, whose name is the branch. Jesus would become both our high priest in the order of Melchizadek, as well as king of the Jews. Jesus will build our temple of the Lord, Jesus will bear the glory, and Jesus shall sit and rule on His throne, a priest on His throne, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then and only then will there be true peace and harmony.
So letâ€™s recap what weâ€™ve learned today â€“
- We are to obey the Word of Our Lord, to do what He tells us to do. The rebuilding of the temple was delayed because the people found excuses and personal reasons and discouragement. When the people didnâ€™t obey, the temple of the Lord wasnâ€™t built. We, too, find excuses not to obey. The Lord uses us to accomplish His will, so it is important for us to obey, even when we donâ€™t want to or when we donâ€™t understand.
- Itâ€™s too hard for us to obey. We are weak individuals. But relying on our own strength misses the point of what God expects from us. We are to rely on Him who gives us strength. God can move mountains, and with the Holy Spirit pouring through us like a golden oil, we can do His work to glorify Him and light up the world.
- The flying scroll symbolizes Godâ€™s law that shows us our sins, and the sinful will be banished from Godâ€™s temple.
- God is in control and more powerful than evil, able to contain it in a basket and put a lid on it. Eventually, God will destroy evil.
- This applies to the entire world, and Godâ€™s judgment will ride out like chariots over the world. Through war, famine, death, and victory, all will bow their knee to Him.
- God knows this is too hard for us, but he expects us to try. He has provided a sacrifice on our behalf, and crowned a Messiah, a priest to intercede for us and rule over men. If we accept the sacrifice, God will see that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and His perfect judgment will pass over us.
May the good Lord use us for His purposes this week. God bless each one of us.