Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 30: Zechariah, Malachai, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep,
1. Et reversus et angelus, qui loquebatur mecum, et excitavit me, quasi virum qui excitatur (vel, evigilat) a somno suo.
2. And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:
2. Et dixit ad me, Quid tu vides? et dixit, Video, et ecce candelabrum ex auro totum (hoc est, ex solido auro,) et pelvis super caput ejus; et septem lucernae super ipsum; septem et septem infusoria lucernis, quae sunt super caput ejus;
3. And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
3. Et duae oleae super ipsum, una a dextera pelvis, et una ad sinistram ejus.
4. So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?
4. Et respondit et dixi angelo, qui loquebatur mecum, dicendo, Quid ista, Domine mi?
5. Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
5. Et respondit angelus, qui loquebatur mecum, et dixit mihi, Annon cognoscis quid sint haec? Et dixi, Non, Domine mi.
6. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.
6. Et respondit et dixit mihi dicendo, Hic sermo Iehovae ad Zerubbabel, dicendo, Non in exercitu, et non in fortitudine, sed in Spiritu meo, dicit Iehova exercituum.
Another vision is narrated here, — that a candlestick was shown to the Prophet, on which there were seven lights. He says that the candlestick was formed all of gold: and he says that to the seven lamps there were as many cruses, (infusoria — pourers,) or, as some think, there were seven cruses to each lamp: but the former view is what I mostly approve, that is, that every lamp had its own cruse. He further says, that there were two olive-trees, one on the right, the other on the left hand, so that there was no deficiency of oil, as the olive-trees were full of fruit. Since then there was a great abundance of berries, the oil would not fail; and the lamps were continually burning. This is the vision, and the explanation is immediately added, for God declares that his Spirit was sufficient to preserve the Church without any earthly helps, that is, that his grace would always shine bright, and could never be extinguished.
There is, moreover, no doubt but that God set forth to Zechariah a figure and an image suitable to the capacities of the people. The candlestick in the temple, we know, was made of gold; we know also, that seven lamps were placed in the candlestick, for it had six branches; and then there was the trunk of the candlestick. As then the seven lamps shone always in the temple on the golden candlestick, it was the Lord’s design here to show that this ceremonial symbol was not superfluous or insignificant; for his purpose was really to fulfill what he exhibited by the candlestick: and such analogy is to be seen in many other instances. For it was not the Lord’s purpose simply to promise what was necessary to be known; but he also designed to add at the same time a confirmation by ceremonial types, that the Jews might know that their labor was not in vain when they lighted the lamps in the temple; for it was not a vain or a deceptive spectacle, but a real symbol of his favor, which was at length to be exhibited towards them. But we may more fully learn the design of the whole, by considering the words, and each part in order.
He says that the Angel returned; by which we understand that God, without any request or entreaty on the part of the Prophet, confirmed by a new prophecy what we have already observed; for the Prophet confesses that he was as it were overcome with astonishment, so that it was necessary to awake him as it were from sleep. The Prophet was not therefore able to ask any thing of God when under the influence of amazement; but God of his own free will came to his aid, and anticipated his request. We hence see that the faithful were not in one way only taught to entertain confidence as to the restoration of the Church; but as there was need of no common confirmation, many visions were given; and it must at the same time be added, that though no one interposed, yet God was of his own self solicitous about his Church, and omitted nothing that was necessary or useful to support the faith of his people. And farther, as the Prophet says that he was awakened by the Angel, let us learn, that except God awakens us by his Spirit, torpor will so prevail over us, that we cannot raise our minds above. Since God then sees that we are so much tied down to the earth, he rouses us as it were from our lethargy. For if the Prophet had need of such help, how much more have we, who are far below him in faith? Nay, if he was earthly, are we not altogether earth and ashes? It must yet be observed, that the Prophet was not so overwhelmed with drowsiness as with astonishment; so that he was hardly himself, as it is the case with men in an ecstasy.
The Prophet was also reminded to be attentive to the vision — What seest thou? Then there was presented to him a sight which we have described; but the Prophet by seeing could have seen nothing, had he not been instructed by the Angel. We must also observe, that this tardiness of the Prophet is useful to us; for we hence more surely conclude, that nothing was represented without a design; but that the whole was introduced for his benefit, though he overlooked, as with closed eyes, what God showed to him by the Angel. We then conclude that there was nothing done by chance, but that the Prophet was really under a divine guidance, so that he might learn what he was afterwards faithfully to deliver to others.
The vision is then narrated — that a candlestick of God was shown to him. The substance of the candlestick was intended to set forth a mystery. It is indeed true that gold is corruptible; but as we cannot otherwise understand what exceeds the things of the world, the Lord, under the figure of gold, and silver, and precious stones, sets forth those things which are celestial, and which surpass in value the earth and the world. It was for this purpose that God commanded a candlestick to be made of gold for him, not that he needed earthly wealth or riches, or was pleased with them as men are, whose eyes are captivated by the sight of gold and silver. We indeed know that all these things are counted as nothing before God; but regard was had in these symbols to this — that they might know that something sublime and exalted was to be understood whenever they looked on the golden candlestick. Hence by the gold the Prophet must have learnt, that what was here set forth was not worthless or mean, but unusual and of great importance.
He afterwards says that there was a vessel, or some render it a pot; but it was a round vessel, and it was on the top of the candlestick; for the lamps burned on the very summit of the candlestick. Now there was a pot or bowl; and here there was a little difference between the candlestick of the temple and that of which the Prophet speaks now; for in the candlestick of the temple there were many pots or bowls, but here the Prophet says that there was but one; and also that there were seven pourers or postings; for by this term we may understand the very act of pouring, as well as the instruments themselves. But it is better to refer this to the pourers, which distilled the oil continually, that the wick might not become dry, but gather always new strength. He says that there were seven pourers to the lamps on the top; 45 and also that there were two olive-trees, which supplied new abundance, so that the oil was always flowing.
We must now then enquire the meaning of the vision. Many understand by the candlestick the Church; and this may be allowed. At the same time I think that God here simply testified to the Jews, that in having commanded them to set up a candlestick, he did not appoint an empty, or a deceptive, but a real symbol. God no doubt represented by the lamps the graces, or the various gifts of his Spirit; yet the idea of a sevenfold grace is a mere fancy; for God did not intend to confine to that number the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the variety of which is manifold, even almost infinite. Hence the number seven designates perfection, according to the common usage of Scripture. God then intended by placing the candlestick in the midst of the temple, to show that the grace of his Spirit always shines in his Church, not of one kind only, but so that there was nothing wanting as to its perfection. Some think that teachers are represented by the lamps; but as I have already said, it is better to take a simple view of the meaning than refinedly to philosophise on the subject. There is indeed no doubt but that God pours forth his graces to illuminate his Church by his ministers; this we find by experience; but what I have stated is sufficient that God never forsakes his Church, but illuminates it with the gifts of his Spirit; while yet the variety of these gifts is set forth by the seven lamps. This is one thing.
It afterwards follows, that the Prophet inquired of the Angel, What does this mean? We hence learn again, that the Prophet was instructed by degrees, in order that the vision might be more regarded by us; for if the Prophet had immediately obtained the knowledge of what was meant, the narrative might be read by us with no attention; we might at least be less attentive, and some might probably think that it was an uncertain vision. But as the Prophet himself attentively considered what was divinely revealed to him, and yet failed to understand what God meant, we are hereby reminded that we ought not to be indifferent as to what is here related; for without a serious and diligent application of the mind, we shall not understand this prophecy, as we are not certainly more clear-sighted than the Prophet, who had need of a guide and teacher. There is also set before us an example to be imitated, so that we may not despair when the prophecies seem obscure to us; for when the Prophet asked, the Angel immediately helped his ignorance. There is therefore no doubt but that the Lord will supply us also with understanding, when we confess that his mysteries are hid from us, and when conscious of our want of knowledge, we flee to him, and implore him not to speak in vain to us, but to grant to us the knowledge of his truth. The angel’s question to the Prophet, whether he understood or not, is not to be taken as a reproof of his dullness, but as a warning, by which he meant to rouse the minds of all to consider the mystery. He then asked, Art thou ignorant of what this means, in order to elicit from the Prophet a confession of his ignorance. Now if the Prophet, when elevated by God’s Spirit above the world, could not immediately know the purpose of the vision, what can we do who creep on the earth, except the Lord supplies us with understanding? In short, Zechariah again recommends to us the excellency of this prophecy, that we may more attentively consider what God here declares.
He calls the angel his Lord, according to the custom of the Jews; for they were wont thus to address those who were eminent in power, or in anything superior. He did not call him Lord with the intention of transferring to him the glory of God; but he thus addressed him only for the sake of honor. And here again we are reminded, that if we desire to become proficient in the mysteries of God, we must not arrogate any thing to ourselves; for here the Prophet honestly confesses his own want of knowledge. And let us not at this day be ashamed to lie down at God’s feet, that he may teach us as little children; for whosoever desires to be God’s disciple must necessarily be conscious of his own folly, that is, he must come free from a conceit of his own acumen and wisdom, and be willing to be taught by God.
Now follows the explanation the angel gives this answer — This is the word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel, saying, etc. Here the angel bears witness to what I have shortly referred to that the power of God alone is sufficient to preserve the Church, and there is no need of other helps. For he sets the Spirit of God in opposition to all earthly aids; and thus he proves that God borrows no help for the preservation of his Church, because he abounds in all blessings to enrich it. Farther, by the word spirit we know is meant his power, as though he had said, “God designs to ascribe to himself alone the safety of his Church; and though the Church may need many things, there is no reason why it should turn its eyes here and there, or seek this or that help from men; for all abundance of blessings may be supplied by God alone.” And host and might, 46 being a part for the whole, are to be taken for all helps which are exclusive of God’s grace. It is indeed certain that God acts not always immediately or by himself, for he employs various means, and makes use in his service of the ministrations of men; but his design is only to teach us that we are very foolish, when we look around us here and there, or vacillate, or when, in a word, various hopes, and various fears, and various anxieties affect us; for we ought to be so dependent on God alone, as to be fully persuaded that his grace is sufficient for us, though it may not appear; nay, we ought fully to confide in God alone, though poverty and want may surround us on every side. This is the purport of the whole.
But God intended also to show that his Church is built up and preserved, not by human and common means, but by means extraordinary and beyond all our hopes and all our thoughts. It is indeed true, as I have just said, that God does not reject the labors of men in building up and in defending his Church; but yet he seems as though he were not in earnest when he acts by men; for by his own wonderful power he surpasses what can be conceived by human thought. To be reminded of this was then exceedingly necessary, when the Church of God was despised, and when the unbelieving haughtily ridiculed the miserable Jews, whom they saw to be few in number and destitute of all earthly aids. As then there was nothing splendid or worthy of admiration among the Jews, it was needful that what we find here should have been declared to them — even that his own power was enough for God, when no aid came from any other quarter. The same also was the design of what we have noticed respecting the seven pourers and the olive-trees; for if God had need of earthly helps, servants must have been at hand to pour forth the oil; but there were seven pourers to supply the oil continually. Wherefrom? even from the olive-trees. As then the trees were fruitful, and God drew from them the oil by his hidden power, that the lamps might never be dry, we hence clearly learn, that what was exhibited is that which the angel now declares, namely, that the Church was, without a host and without might, furnished with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that in these there was a sufficient defense for its preservation, in order that it might retain its perfect state and continue in vigor and safety.
When therefore we now see things in a despairing condition, let this vision come to our minds — that God is sufficiently able by his own power to help us, when there is no aid from any other; for his Spirit will be to us for lamps, for pourers, and for olive-trees, so that experience will at length show that we have been preserved in a wonderful manner by his hand alone.
We now then understand the design of the Prophet, and the reason why this vision was shown to him — that the faithful might be fully induced to entertain a firm hope as to that perfect condition of the Church which had been promised; for no judgment was to be formed of it according to earthly means or helps, inasmuch as God had his own power and had no need of deriving any assistance from others. And Zechariah says also, that this word was to Zerubbabel, even that he might take courage and proceed with more alacrity in the work of building the temple and the city. For Zerubbabel, we know, was the leader of the people, and the Jews returned to their country under his guidance; and in the work of building the city his opinion was regarded by all, as peculiar honor belonged to him on account of his royal descent. At the same time God addressed in his person the whole people: it was the same as though the angel had said, “This word is to the Church.” The head is here mentioned for the whole body, a part being specified for the whole.
Now as Zerubbabel was only a type of Christ, we must understand that this word is addressed to Christ and to all his members.
Thus we must remember that all our confidence ought to be placed on the favor of God alone; for were it to depend on human aids, there would be nothing certain or sure. For God, as I have said, withdraws from us whatever may add courage according to the judgment of the flesh, in order that he may invite or rather draw us to himself. Whenever, then, earthly aids fail us, let us learn to recumb on God alone, for it is not by a host or by might that God raises up his Church, and preserves it in its proper state; but this he does by his Spirit, that is, by his own intrinsic and wonderful power, which he does not blend with human aids; and his object is to draw us away from the world, and to hold us wholly dependent on himself. This is the reason why he says that the word was addressed to Zerubbabel. The rest I shall consider tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou shinest on us by thy word, and showest to us the way of salvation, we may with open eyes look on that light; and as we are blind also at mid-day, open thou our eyes, and may the inward light of thy Spirit lead us to the light of thy word, that we may not doubt but that thou alone art sufficient to supply us with all those things which are necessary for the enjoyment of celestial life, that by thus distilling on us frequently and continually thou mayest refresh us, so that the light of faith, which has been once kindled in our hearts by thy grace, may never be extinguished, until at length we shall attain to that fullness which has been laid up for us in heaven: and may we thus now in part be satisfied with the measure of knowledge which thou hast given us, until we shall at length see thee face to face, that being thus transformed to thine image, we may enjoy the fullness of that glory into which Christ our Lord has been received. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-second
7. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
7. Quis tu mons magne coram Zerubbabel? in planitiem; et educat lapidem capitis ejus, clamores, gratia, gratia ei.
Here the angel pursues the same subject which we have been already explaining — that though the beginning was small and seemed hardly of any consequence and importance, yet God would act in a wonderful manner as to the building of the temple. But as this was not only arduous and difficult, but also in various ways impeded, the angel now says, that there would be no hindrance which God would not surmount or constrain to give way. He compares to a mountain either the Persian monarchy or all the hosts of enemies, which had then suddenly arisen in various parts, so that the Jews thought that their return was without advantage, and that they were deceived, as the event did not answer to their wishes and hopes.
We now then perceive the design of the Holy Spirit: as Satan attempted by various artifices to prevent the building of the temple, the angel declares here that no obstacle would be so great as to hinder the progress of the work, for God could suddenly reduce to a plain the highest mountains. What art thou, great mountain? The expression has more force than if the angel had simply said, that all the attempts of enemies would avail nothing; for he triumphs over the pride and presumption of those who then thought that they were superior to the Jews: “Ye are,” he says, “like a great mountain; your bulk is indeed terrible, and sufficient at the first view not only to weaken, but also to break down the spirits; but ye are nothing in all your altitude.”
But the text may be read in two ways, “What art thou, great mountain? A plain before Zerubbabel;” or, “What art thou, great mountain before Zerubbabel? A plain.” The latter rendering is the best, and it is also what has been universally received. And he says that this mountain was before Zerubbabel, that is, in his presence, for it stood in opposition to him.
Now this doctrine may be fitly applied to our age: for we see how Satan raises up great forces, we see how the whole world conspires against the Church, to prevent the increase or the progress of the kingdom of Christ. When we consider how great are the difficulties which meet us, we are ready to faint and to become wholly dejected. Let us then remember that it is no new thing for enemies to surpass great mountains in elevation; but that the Lord can at length reduce them to a plain. This, then, our shield can cast down and lay prostrate whatever greatness the devil may set up to terrify us: for as the Lord then reduced a great mountains to a plain, when Zerubbabel was able to do nothing, so at this day, however boldly may multiplied adversaries resist Christ in the work of building a spiritual temple to God the Father, yet all their efforts will be in vain.
He afterwards adds, He will bring forth the stone of its top. The relative is of the feminine gender, and must therefore be understood of the building. Zerubbabel shall then bring forth the stone, which was to be on the top of the temple. By the stone of the top, I understand the highest, which was to be placed on the very summit. The foundations of the temple had been already laid; the building was mean and almost contemptible: it could not however be advanced, since many enemies united to disturb the work, or at least to delay it. Nevertheless the angel promises what he afterwards explains more fully — that the temple would come to its completion, for Zerubbabel was to bring forth and raise on high the stone of the top, which was to be on the very summit of the temple. 47 And then he subjoins, shoutings, Grace, grace, to it; that is, God will grant a happy success to this stone or to the temple. The relative here again is feminine; it cannot then be applied to Zerubbabel, but to the temple or to the stone: it is however more probable that the angel speaks of the temple. And he says that there would be shoutings; for it was necessary to encourage the confidence of the faithful and to excite them to prayer, that they might seek, by constant entreaties, a happy and prosperous issue to the building of the temple. The angel, then, bids all the godly with one voice to pray for the temple; but as all prosperous events depend on the good pleasure of God, he uses the word חן, chen, grace, which he repeats, that he might more fully encourage the faithful to perseverance, and also that he might kindle their desire and zeal.
We now then see what this verse on the whole contains: first, the angel shows that however impetuously the ungodly might rage against the temple, yet their attempts would be frustrated, and that though they thought themselves to be like great mountains, it was yet in the power and will of God to reduce them to a plain, that is, suddenly to lay them prostrate. This is one thing. Then secondly, he adds, that a happy success would attend the building of the temple; for Zerubbabel would bring forth the top-stone, the highest. And lastly, he subjoins, that the faithful ought unanimously to pray, and so to persevere with the greatest ardor and zeal, that God might bless the temple, and cause the building of it to be completed. It now follows —
Zech. 4:8, 9
8. Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
8. Et factus est sermo Iehovae ad me dicendo,
9. The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you.
9. Manus Zerubbabel fundarunt domum hanc, et manus ejus perficient eam; et congnosces quia Iehova exercituum miserit me ad vos.
He confirms in this passage what I lately stated — That there was no reason for the faithful to entertain doubts or to feel anxious, because they saw that the beginning of the building was mean and despised by the world; for the Lord would at length show that it was built by his sanction and command, and that it would succeed far better than all of them had thought.
But he says that the word of Jehovah came to him; 48 and yet at the end of the next verse he shows that this address came from the mouth of the angel. But it is a well-known and a common mode of speaking, that God himself is said to speak, when he employs either angels or men as his agents; for the person of the messenger lessens in no degree the reverence due to the word: the majesty, then, of God ought to remain inviolable in his word, whether brought to us by men or by angels. Now the Prophet felt assured that nothing was adduced by the angel, but what he conveyed as the minister of God.
The sum of the whole is, that the temple, though some interruptions happened, was yet so begun that its completion was at length to be expected; as God had made use of the labors of Zerubbabel, so he would not forsake the work of his hands. Since, then, God was the chief founder of the building, it could not be but that the temple would at length be completed.
This is what the angel had in view in these words, The hands of Zerubbabel have founded this house. Of the foundation there was indeed no doubt; but many believed that the building would ever remain unfinished, for Satan had already by means of the most powerful enemies impeded its progress. As then despair had laid hold on the minds of almost all, the angel declares that Zerubbabel would gain his object in finishing the temple which he had begun.
He afterwards adds, Thou shalt know that God has sent me to you. Of this knowledge we have spoken elsewhere. The meaning is, that the event would be a sure and suitable proof, that nothing had been rashly undertaken by them, but that the temple was built by God’s command, for his power would be evident in its completion. And he addresses the Prophet, who though he was fully persuaded of the event and of the fulfillment of this prophecy, yet learnt by what took place that the angel who gave the promise was sent from above. We have said elsewhere that there are two kinds of knowledge; one is of faith, which we derive from the word, though the thing itself does not appear; the other is of experience, when God adds accomplishment to the promise, and proves that he had not spoken in vain and this is the knowledge which the angel means when he says, Thou shalt know that I have been sent from above to you.
Now if this be applied to Christ, it may, as I have said, be justly done; for it is certain that angels were then sent in such a manner that Christ was the chief. Since, then, nothing was undertaken as to the building of the temple without Christ being the leader, he rightly says here that he was sent by the Father. It afterwards follows —
10. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
10. Quia quis contempsit diem parvitatum (parvorum; sed hic acciptitur pro parvitate?) gaudabunt et videbunt (ad verbum) lapidem stanneum in manu Zerubbabel (sed ita resolvi debet oratio, certe gaudabunt ubi viderint lapidem in manu Zerubbabel:) septem hi, oculi Iehovae sunt, circumeuntes (vel, qui discurrunt) per totam terram.
Here the angel reproves the sloth and fear of the people, for the greater part were very faint-hearted; and he also blames the Jews, because they formed a judgment of God’s work at the first view, Who is he, he says, that has despised the day of paucities? He does not ask who it was, as though he spoke only of one, or as though they were few in number or insignificant but he addresses the whole people, who were chargeable with entertaining this wrong feeling; for all were cast down in their minds, because they thought that the work begun would be a sport to the ungodly, and would come to nothing, according to what we read in Ne 3:12, that the old men wept, so that nearly all threw down their tools, and left off the building of the temple. We hence see that not a few despised the small beginnings, and that the minds of all the people were dejected, for they thought that they labored in vain while building the temple, which made no approach to the glory and splendor of the former temple: “What are we doing here? we seek to build a temple for God; but what is it? does it correspond to the temple of Solomon? No, not in the tenth degree; yet God has promised that this temple would be most glorious.” While then they were considering these things, they thought either that the time was not come, or that they toiled in vain, because God would not dwell in a tent so mean. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, Who is he that has despised the day of paucities? 49
God then sets himself in opposition to an ungrateful and ill- disposed people, and shows that they all acted very foolishly, because they cast and fixed their eyes only on the beginning of things, as though God would not surpass by his power what human minds could conceive. As then God purposed in a wonderful manner to build the temple, the angel reproves here the clamors of the people.
He then adds, They shall rejoice when they shall see the workman’s plummet in the hard of Zerubbabel 50 Though he had adopted a severe and sharp reproof, he yet mitigates here its severity, and promises to the Jews that however unworthy they were of such kindness from God, they would yet see what they had by no means expected, even Zerubbabel furnished with everything necessary for the completion of the temple. Hence they shall see Zerubbabel with his tin-stone; 51 that is, with his plummet. As builders in our day use a plumb-line, so he calls that in the hand of Zerubbabel a tin-stone, which he had when prepared to complete the temple.
This doctrine may be also applied to us: for God, to exhibit the more his power, begins with small things in building his spiritual temple; nothing grand is seen, which attracts the eyes and thoughts of men, but everything is almost contemptible. God indeed could put forth immediately his power, and thus rouse the attention of all men and fill them with wonder; he could indeed do so; but as I have already said, his purpose is to increase, by doing wonders, the brightness of his power; which he does, when from a small beginning he brings forth what no one would have thought; and besides, his purpose is to prove the faith of his people; for it behaves us ever to hope beyond hope. Now when the beginning promises something great and sublime, there is no proof and no trial of faith: but when we hope for what does not appear, we give due honor to God, for we depend only on his power and not on the proximate means. Thus we see that Christ is compared to a shoot, which arises from the stem of Jesse. (Isa 11:1.) God might have arranged that Christ should have been born when the house of David was in its splendor, and when the kingdom was in a flourishing state: yet his will was that he should come forth from the stem of Jesse, when the royal name was almost cut off. Again, he might have brought forth Christ as a full-grown tree; but he was born as an insignificant shoot. So also he is compared by Daniel to a rough and unpolished stone cut off from a mountain. (Da 2:45.) The same thing has also been accomplished in our age, and continues still at this day to be accomplished. If we consider what is and has been the beginning of the growing gospel, we shall find nothing illustrious according to the perceptions of the flesh; and on this account the adversaries confidently despise us; they regard us as the off-scourings of men, and hope to be able to cast us down and scatter us by a single breath.
There are many at this day who despise the day of paucity, who grow faint in their minds, or even deride our efforts, as though our labor were ridiculous, when they see us sedulously engaged in promoting the truth of the gospel; and we ourselves are also touched with this feeling: there is no one who becomes not sometimes frigid, when he sees the beginning of the Church so mean before the world, and so destitute of any dignity. We hence learn how useful it is for us at this day to be reminded, that we shall at length see what we can by no means conjecture or hope for according to present appearances; for though the Lord begins with little things, and as it were in weakness, yet the plummet will at length be seen in the hand of the Architect for the purpose of completing the work. There is at this day no Zerubbabel in the world, to whom the office of building the temple has been committed; but we know that Christ is the chief builder, and that ministers are workmen who labor under him. However then may Satan blind the unbelieving with pride and haughtiness, so that they disdain and ridicule the building in which we labor; yet the Lord himself will show that he is the chief builder, and will give to Christ the power to complete the work.
He afterwards adds, These seven are the eyes of Jehovah, going round through the whole earth. The angel calls the attention of Zechariah to what we have before observed; for the discourse was respecting the plummet, and Zechariah said, that there were shown to him seven eyes in that stone. The angel explains what those seven eyes meant, even that the Lord by his providence would conduct the work to its completion. But we have said that seven eyes are attributed to God, that we may be assured that nothing is hid from him; for no one among men or angels possesses so great a clear-sightedness but that he is ignorant of some things. Many of Gods mysteries, we allow, are hid from angels; but when they are sent forth, they receive as much revelation as their office requires. But the angel shows here, that we ought by no means to fear that anything will happen which God has not foreseen; for the seven eyes, he says, go around through the whole earth: not that God has need of seven eyes; but we know what the number seven means in Scripture; it signifies perfection. 52
The meaning then is — that God would sufficiently provide that nothing should happen that might disturb him, or turn him aside, or delay him in the execution of his work. How so? because there were seven eyes; that is, he by his providence would surmount all difficulties, and his eyes went round through the whole earth, so that the devil could devise nothing behind or before, on the right hand or on the left, above or below, which he could not easily frustrate. We now then perceive the object of the Prophet.
With regard to the words, some render אלה, ale, in the neuter gender, “These are seven, they are the eyes of God.” But as to the sense, there is no ambiguity: for the angel would have the faithful to recumb on God’s providence, in order that they might be secure and fear no danger; as the Lord would remove whatever was contrary to his purpose. It now follows —
11. Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?
11. Et respondi et dixi ad eum, Quid duae oleae istae ad dextram candelabri et ad sinstram ejus?
12. And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?
12. Et respondi secundo et dixi ad eum, Quid duo alvei (vel, cursus, vertunt alii, spicas) olearum, quae sunt inter duas fistulas auri, fundentes a se aurum?
13. And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
13. Et dixit mihi dicendo, Annon cognoscis quid haec sunt? Et dixi, Non, Domine mi.
14. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
14. Et dixit, Hi sunt duo filii olei qui astant apud Dominatorem cunctae terrae.
The same vision is again related, at least one similar to that which we have just explained; only there is given a fuller explanation, for the Prophet says that he asked the angel what was meant by the two olive-trees which stood, one on the right, the other on the left side of the candlestick, and also by the two pipes of the olive-trees. Some render שבלים, shebelim,ears of corn, thinking that the branches of the olive-trees are compared to ears of corn, because they were full and loaded with berries; but the metaphor seems to me immaterial. The word in Hebrew is indeed ambiguous; but it often means a pipe, or a running or flowing; and this sense best suits this passage; and I wonder that this meaning has been overlooked by all interpreters; for no doubt necessity constrained them to retake themselves to this metaphor, however unnatural it was. But we know that this spectacle was presented to Zechariah in order to show that the olive-tree continually supplied abundance of oil, lest the wick should become dry, and lest the lamps should thus fail. Since then on every side there were pourers or pipes, and three tubes received the oil from one olive-tree, and four received it from the other, so that great abundance thus flowed from the two olive-trees, and since there were also seven pipes, we see how suitable it was that they should be between the olive-trees on the right and on the left, and also that their tubes for the oil should be between the pourers and the two pipes. As then the oil ran through the pourers and passed through the two pipes, he asks the angel what these flowing meant? The answer was, These are the two sons of oil, who stand before the Lord of all the earth; that is, they are the two fountains which supply oil from God himself, lest the lamps should fail through the want of it. 53 This is the import of the whole.
I have said that there is some difference in the visions though the angel relates hardly anything new, except respecting the flowing and the tubes; but as a new explanation is given, Zechariah no doubt more fully considered what he had slightly looked on before. The more attentive then to the vision the Prophet became, the more confirmed he was; for God showed to him now what he had not sufficiently observed before, namely, that there were pipes or tubes through which the oil flowed into each of the pourers, and further, that these flowing or a continual running of the oil, was like that of a river, which runs through its own channel. But God intended to instruct his Prophet by degrees, that we may learn at this day to apply our thoughts to the understanding of his doctrine; for the instruction to be derived from it is not of an ordinary kind, as I have already reminded you. Indeed the state of things in our time is nearly the same with that of his time: for Christ now renews by the power of his Spirit that spiritual temple which had been pulled down and wholly demolished; for what has been the dignity of the Church for many ages? Doubtless, it has been for a long time in a dilapidated state; and now when God begins to give some hope of a new building, Satan collects together many forces from all parts to prevent the progress of the work. We are also tender and soft, and even faint-hearted, so that hardly one in a hundred labors so courageously as he ought.
We hence then learn how necessary for us is this doctrine: it was not, therefore, to no purpose that the Prophet did not apprehend at once and in an instant what was presented to him in the vision, but made progress by degrees.
We have also mentioned before, that the desire of improvement observed in Zechariah ought to be noticed. For though we attain not immediately what God teaches, yet the obscurity of a passage ought not to damp our ardor; but we ought rather to imitate the Prophet, who, in things difficult and unknown to him, asked explanations from the angel. Angels are not indeed sent now to us from heaven to answer our questions; but yet no one shall be without benefit who will humbly and with a sincere desire ask of God; for God will either by his ministers so elucidate what seems obscure to us and full of darkness, that we shall know that there is nothing but what is clear in his word; or he will by the Spirit of knowledge and judgment supply what is deficient in the ministrations of men.
And this is also the reason why the angel replies, Dost thou not know what these mean? For he does not upbraid Zechariah with ignorance, but rather reminds all the faithful, that they ought to quicken themselves, and to exert all their ardor to learn, lest sloth should close up the way against them. This reply, then, of the angel no doubt belongs to us all, “Dost thou not know what these mean?” We ought to remember that the things we esteem as common far exceed our thoughts. It indeed often happens that one runs over many parts of Scripture, and thinks that he reads nothing but what is clear and well known, while yet experience teaches us that we are inflated with too much self-confidence; for we look down, as it were from on high, on that doctrine which ought, on the contrary, to be reverently adored by us. Then let every one of us, being warned by this sentence of the angel, acknowledge that he as yet cleaves to first principles, or, at least, does not comprehend all those things which are necessary to be known; and that therefore progress is to be made to the very end of life: for this is our wisdom, to be learners to the end.
I come now to the answers of the angel, These are the two sons of oil. Some understand by the two sons of oil a king and a priest; but this is by no means suitable. There is no doubt but that he calls the perpetual flowing the two sons of oil; as though he had said, that it could not possibly be that the grace of God should ever fail to preserve the Church, as God possesses all abundance, and bids his grace so to flow, as that its abundance should never be diminished.
He therefore says, that they stand with the Lord of the whole earth: for על, ol, sometimes means with, and sometimes concerning; but I prefer taking its simple meaning; therefore, stand do the sons of oil with the Lord. Some render, “nigh the Lord,” but improperly; for they pervert the Prophet’s meaning, inasmuch as the angel means that these two sons of oil stood with God, as though he had said, that there is such fullness of grace in God, that it could never be exhausted. Though then the oil flowed, it would yet be sufficient to replenish the seven lamps, that is, fully; so that God would raise up his Church, preserve it safe, and lead it to the highest perfection. Hence God is not so poor but that he can continually supply as much grace as will be sufficient for the preservation of his Church. How so? because there are two sons of oil, that is, two continual flowing from him, so that the faithful shall really find, that when they are enriched by the gifts of God, they are in no danger of being in want. This is the meaning.
Grant, Almighty God, that since Satan at this day sets against us many terrors to cast us down, and we are very weak, — O grant, that with our eyes lifted above we may meditate on that invincible power which thou possesses, and by which thou canst overcome all the hindrances of this world: and then, when nothing in this world but what is contemptible appears to us as capable to confirm and support our faith, may we, by the eye of faith, behold thine hidden power, and never doubt but that thou wilt at length perform what the world at this day thinks to be impossible and therefore ridicules; and may we so constantly persevere in this confidence, that every one of us may devote to thee his labor to the end, and never faint in the work of promoting the spiritual building, until at length we ourselves shall be gathered, and others shall be gathered through our labors, to offer to thee not only spiritual sacrifices, such as thou receives now from us, but also to offer to thee, together with the angels, eternal sacrifice of praise and triumphant thanksgiving, on seeing perfected what at this day is only weakly begun. — Amen.
Literally it is, “seven and seven pourers,” or pipes, or tubes “to the lamps” or lights. Some, as Henderson, regard the first “seven” as an interpolation, and it is not in the Septuagint nor Vulgate. Others, as Newcome, receive it, and place it before lamps — “to the seven lamps.” If “seven and seven” be taken as a form to express fourteen, then there were two pipes to convey the oil from the bowl to each lamp, answerable to the two olive-trees which supplied the oil; and it may be that this was expressed in order to intimate with more distinctness that the oil proceeded equally to each lamp from the two olive-trees. — Ed.
᾿Ουκ ἐν δυνάμει μεγάλη ὀυδὲ ἐν ἰσχυι, Septuagint.; “non in exercitu nec in robore,” Jerome; “non virtute neque vi,” Jun. et Trem Newcome and Henderson adopt our version, “not by might nor by power.” The first word, [חיל] seems to mean combined force, either of wealth or of armies; and the second, [כח], is the strength or vigor of men — courage or valor. It was not by the united power of the world, nor by individual strength or courage, that the work was to be effected — “not by power nor by strength.” — Ed.
The Targum seems here to have given a false view of this stone, regarding it as the chief corner-stone of the foundation; and this view has been adopted by Jerome, Cyril, Drusius, Grotius, and Henderson. But the context is wholly opposed to it. The ninth verse is decisive on the subject, as noticed by Marckius. This stone Zerubbabel was to bring forth; he had already laid the foundation-stone. It is considered as “the topmost stone” by Theodoret, Cocceius, Pemble, and Newcome. See Ps 118:22. The last renders the distich thus,
And he shall bring forth the head-stone,
With shoutings, cryings, Favor, favor, unto it.
The last line is rendered by Marckius —
Acclamations of favor, — of favor (shall be) to it.
“Favor,” or grace, here seems to be a metonymy, prosperity or success being the effect of God’s favor: and this is the view given by Calvin. — Ed.
That is, what follows was especially addressed to the Prophet. The former part, beginning at the sixth verse, was a communication to Zerubbabel, and may be considered as parenthetic; the angel now proceeds to give an answer to the Prophet. — Ed.
“The day of small beginnings,” says Drusius. It is explained by Blayney with reference to the time when the resources of the nation appeared in the eyes of many inadequated to the building of the temple. — Ed.
Literally it is, “But they shall rejoice and see the tin-ore (or plummet) in the land of Zerubbabel.” The regular order would have been “see” and “rejoice;” but it is according to the manner of statement often observed in the Prophets: they frequently mention first the effect, and then the cause. — Ed.
“It seems strictly to mean a piece of tin-ore, (compare De 8:9,) which is heavier than that of any other metal, and so more proper for a plummet. — Parkhurst.
This verse has been variously rendered. Marckius and Henderson consider the nominative case to “rejoice” to be the “seven eyes,” according to the marginal reading of our version; but Dathius and Newcome agree with Calvin, and regard the people who despised the day of small thing to be intended. The latter’s version is the following, —
10. For who hath despised the day of small things?
They shall rejoice and shall see
The plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.
These seven are the eyes of Jehovah:
They run to and fro through the whole earth.
There is so much inversion in our marginal reading that is wholly inconsistent with the general character of the Hebrew language. “These seven,” according to Dathius, were “the lamps,” and not the “eyes” on the stone mentioned in chapter 3:9, as some think; for the explanation belongs to the present vision, and not the former. Here is the direct answer to the question asked in verse 4. The two last lines are literally as follows, —
These seven, they eyes of Jehovah are they,
Which run to and fro through the whole earth. — Ed.
The second questions, which seems to be a modification of the first, has been variously explained. The word [שבלים], except in the feminine gender, has not the meaning attached to it by Calvin. It is rendered, “branches,” κλαδοι, by the Septuagint, Piscator, Newcome, Henderson, and by our own version; “berries,” by Jun. and Trem., Drusius and Pemble; and “tubes” by Grotius. As it is a repetition of the former question, it is probable that the branches in immediate connection with the candlestick are intended: the oil proceeded from them by means of tubes or pipes to the bowl or the reservoir at the top of the candlestick, and hence by means of seven tubes, or pourers to the seven lamps. The question now is respecting the olive-trees or the branches from which the oil proceeded; and the answer is, that they are “the sons of oil.”
What is said of these “sons of oil,” that they “stand with (or before) the Lord,” can hardly comport with the explanation given by Calvin: but it is more suitable to regard them as persons annointed, as rendered in our version, and by Kimchi, Drusius, Dathius, Newcome, and Henderson. They are considered here to mean Zerubbabel and Joshua; but yet as types of Christ in his twofold character of a king and priest. Blayney takes another view; he renders [שבלים], “orderers,” deriving it from the Syriac, in which language the verb signifies to direct, to guide in the way. He conceives them to be two persons, guiding the oil to the channels or tubes which conveyed it to the lamps, and that they were types of Moses and of Christ, the authors of the two dispensations. The preceding view seems the most probable. — Ed.