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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Zechariah 4:1-6

Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 4:1-6

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; 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, 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.

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