Zechariah 4

 

Some of the Hebrew in this chapter is very strange.  The vision of the previous chapter seems to continue here, though with a change of focus and with more vivid details.  But the details, and sometimes their symbolism, are confusing.  Besides this, Zechariah seems to have expanded this chapter by adding two seemingly redundant and unnecessary statements in v. 4:5 and v. 4:13.  The questions asked by the angel in these verses  do not get responded to by Zechariah with a description as all the others do; the angel answers them himself.  Zechariah’s reason for including these two verses is difficult to ascertain.  I see no obvious significance to their inclusion.  However, I can imagine one possible reason, though subtle, and it relates to the apparent error in v.4:2, so I’ll postpone my discussion of it to that verse.

וַיָּשָׁב הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי וַיְעִירֵנִי כְּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יֵעֹור מִשְּׁנָתֹו׃   4:1

Zech. 4:1   And the angel who was speaking with me returned and woke me, like one who would be roused from his sleep,

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה (וַיֹאמֶר) [וָאֹמַר] רָאִיתִי וְהִנֵּה מְנֹורַת זָהָב כֻּלָּהּ וְגֻלָּה עַל־רֹאשָׁהּ   4:2         וְשִׁבְעָה נֵרֹתֶיהָ עָלֶיהָ שִׁבְעָה וְשִׁבְעָה מוּצָקֹות לַנֵּרֹות אֲשֶׁר עַל־רֹאשָׁהּ׃

Zech. 4:2   and said to me, “What are you seeing?”  Then he said, “I look and behold, a lamp stand of gold, all of it, and a bowl on top of it, and its seven lamps on it, seven, and seven pipes for the lamps that are on top of it,

First, the word in the parentheses is thought to be in error.  As written, it is translated as “Then he said, ....”  The correction in the brackets, omitting the yad, would make the translation read “And [or Then] I would say, ....”  The question is, who is saying these words and those in the next verse?  I suspect it may be the angel, not Zechariah.  The reason for my suspicion is that typically, when Zechariah responds to the angel’s questions, he usually says “I could answer” as in vss. 4:4, 11, and 12, not “I would say,” except when he responds to the angel’s questions with a simple no (as in vss. 4:5 and 13).  Now (relating back to v. 4:1) is it possible that Zechariah added the two superfluous verses, 4:5 and 4:13, to signify that such a verse was missing here?  A possibility, no?

On a separate note, the wording in the verse makes it difficult to picture what was being described.  The seven lamps were certainly on the lamp stand, but were the seven (or fourteen, or forty-nine) pipes on top of the lamp stand or the bowl?  My guess, for what it’s worth, is that the pipes, whatever their number, were below the bowl but above the lamp stand (so they could feed the oil from the bowl to the lamps).  The two olive trees in the next verse may be imagined to provide oil (or olives) directly to the bowl without human intervention.  See more of my remarks about this after v. 4:12.

וּשְׁנַיִם זֵיתִים עָלֶיהָ אֶחָד מִימִין הַגֻּלָּה וְאֶחָד עַל־שְׂמֹאלָהּ׃   4:3

Zech. 4:3   and two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and one on its left.”

וָאַעַן וָאֹמַר אֶל־הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי לֵאמֹר מָה־אֵלֶּה אֲדֹנִי׃   4:4

Zech. 4:4   Then I could answer and say to the angel speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?”

Zechariah seems to be asking what are the olive trees.  And the angel seemingly answers, but he seems to be answering a different question in v. 4:6, the question possibly being “What is al this,” rather than “What are these?”

וַיַּעַן הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתָּ מָה־הֵמָּה אֵלֶּה וָאֹמַר לֹא אֲדֹנִי׃   4:5

Zech. 4:5   And the angel speaking with me answered and said to me, “You do not know what they are, these?” And I would say, “No, my lord.”

As I explained above, this verse adds nothing to the discourse.  It could have been omitted without altering the symbolism being described here.

וַיַּעַן וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי לֵאמֹר זֶה דְּבַר־יְהוָה אֶל־זְרֻבָּבֶל לֵאמֹר לֹא בְחַיִל וְלֹא בְכֹחַ כִּי אִם־בְּרוּחִי אָמַר   4:6        יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת׃

Zech. 4:6   And he answered and spoke to me saying, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, “Not by might and not by power, but only by My spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.

The oft-repeated statement found in this verse may relate to the two olive trees feeding oil (or olives) to the lamps.  And what do the olive trees themselves represent?  See a possible (but questionable) explanation in v. 4:14 below.  On the other hand, the expression could be addressing the whole vision.

מִי־אַתָּה הַר־הַגָּדוֹל לִפְנֵי זְרֻבָּבֶל לְמִישֹׁר וְהוֹצִיא אֶת־הָאֶבֶן הָרֹאשָׁה תְּשֻׁאוֹת חֵן חֵן לָהּ׃   4:7

Zech. 4:7   Who are you, great mountain, before Zerubbabel?  For a level place!  And he shall bring forth the top stone; shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”

The first question in this verse is answered by the exclamation following it.  The great mountain (or mount) is most likely the Temple mount.  Then this verse includes a strange Hebrew phrase in which the word I translate as shouts is found.  Most other translations insert the conjunction with before shouts, changing the phrase to read ”And he shall bring forth the top stone with shouts of ....”  Without that insertion the phrase is rather awkward.

וַיְהִי דְבַר־יְהוָה אֵלַי לֵאמֹר׃   4:8

Zech. 4:8   And the word of the Lord occurred saying,

יְדֵי זְרֻבָּבֶל יִסְּדוּ הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה וְיָדָיו תְּבַצַּעְנָה וְיָדַעְתָּ כִּי־יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם׃   4:9

Zech. 4:9   “The hands of Zerubbabel have set the foundation of this house, and his hands shall finish.”  “Then you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.”

In the second statement the first pronoun you is singular, but the second you is plural.  I imagine the angel is addressing Zechariah at first, then switching to the remnant of Israel.

כִּי מִי בַז לְיוֹם קְטַנּוֹת וְשָׂמְחוּ וְרָאוּ אֶת־הָאֶבֶן הַבְּדִיל בְּיַד זְרֻבָּבֶל שִׁבְעָה־אֵלֶּה עֵינֵי יְהוָה הֵמָּה   4:10 מְשׁוֹטְטִים בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ׃

Zech. 4:10   “For who has had contempt for a day of insignificance?”  “Then they shall rejoice when they see the stone of Israel in the hand of Zerubbabel; these seven eyes are of the Lord, they will be roving about throughout the entire earth.”

In this verse, we find the explanation of the seven eyes in the stone mentioned in Zech. 3:9.  The number seven is occasionally used in the bible to mean many.  God’s “eyes” rove throughout the world.  The “stone of Israel” is probably the capstone of the Temple, signifying its completion.  The reference to those having contempt for a day of insignificance may be reflective of those who believed the Temple would never be completed.

וָאַעַן וָאֹמַר אֵלָיו מַה־שְּׁנֵי הַזֵּיתִים הָאֵלֶה עַל־יְמִין הַמְּנוֹרָה וְעַל־שְׂמֹאולָהּ׃   4:11

Zech. 4:11   Then I could answer and say to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the candlestick and on its left?”

וָאַעַן שֵׁנִית וָאֹמַר אֵלָיו מַה־שְׁתֵּי שִׁבֲּלֵי הַזֵּיתִים אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד שְׁנֵי צַנְתְּרוֹת הַזָּהָב הַמְרִיקִים מֵעֲלֵיהֶם   4:12    הַזָּהָב׃

Zech. 4:12   And I could answer again and say to him, “What are two of the streams of olives that are in two of the pipes of gold, the gold emptying out of them?”

Two problems with this verse:  First the word I have liberally translated as streams actually means trails or wakes.  But neither of these meanings fits well here.  Others have translated the word as branches, far too loose a translation for me.  As I read the Hebrew here, I imagine that the two olive trees on either side of the bowl are feeding olives through the two pipes (the pipes feeding the bowl?), but I’m not at all certain about this. 

The second problem I have relates to the final word for gold (the last Hebrew word in the verse).  It shouldn’t be gold emptying out of the pipes, it should be oil or olives.  Other translations have sidestepped this problem, using the words golden oil, which is a stretch if I ever saw one.  I don’t know what to make of this.  Is it an unconscious error by Zechariah?  Maybe.  That’s as far as I care to conjecture.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי לֵאמֹר הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתָּ מָה־אֵלֶּה וָאֹמַר לֹא אֲדֹנִי׃   4:13

Zech. 4:13   And he spoke to me saying, “You do not know what these are?” And I would say, “No, my lord.”

What I said about v. 4:5 also applies to this verse.  It is superfluous.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶּה שְׁנֵי בְנֵי־הַיִּצְהָר הָעֹמְדִים עַל־אֲדוֹן כָּל־הָאָרֶץ׃   4:14

Zech. 4:14   And he said, “These are two of the anointed ones standing near the Master of all the earth.”

Bible commentators seem certain of the meaning of this verse and the chapter.  The two anointed ones are Zerubbabel and Joshua.  The lamp stand represents Israel, and the oil symbolizes the divine spirit.  I wish I could be accepting of that entire explanation.  I agree with the first and last symbols, but I believe the middle one doesn’t represent Israel, but the temple.

 

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