Zechariah Chapter 4

In this chapter, Zechariah is shown a peculiar vision of a solid gold lampstand experiencing an abundant and constant supply of oil. The lampstand has a bowl on top with pipes leading to its seven lamps. Two olive trees, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left, fill the bowl with oil via their branches.

This is a remarkable vision and requires some background reading on our part.

Let us go first to Exodus 25:31-40:

'Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'

This is clearly the lampstand that Zechariah is seeing in the vision (except for the bowl and the trees and the golden pipes of course). This lampstand was placed in the Holy Place in the Tabernacle together with the show bread and the altar of incense. But there is one relatively unknown detail about this lampstand that is extremely significant for us as we study this passage. That is that God commanded that the priests keep the lamps on the lampstand burning throughout the night, working in shifts.

We read about this in Leviticus 24:2-4:

'The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning continually. Outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, Aaron is to tend the lamps before the Lord from evening till morning, continually. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. The lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the Lord must be tended continually.'

This command also appears in Exodus 27:20-21:

'Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.'

One can only imagine what effort and organisation was required to carry out this command. We can picture the priests getting up at all hours of the night to tend the lamps so that they did not go out, likely working in shifts. We can also assume that some or all of the lamps did go out at times and then the priest on duty had to scurry around in a frenzy to get them all lit again. Imagine what amount of oil this undertaking required -- oil that had to be brought in by the Israelites according to God's instruction. It all sounds like a heap of toilsome labour.

Let us now return to Zechariah's vision. Here, we have the same lampstand but instead of a long procession of Israelites bringing oil to the Tabernacle, we have two olive trees with branches pouring out oil into a golden bowl. Instead of several priests running to and fro, we have seven golden pipes feeding oil to the lamps to keep them burning continuously.

Next, we read Revelation 1:19-20:

'Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.'

So, there is a clear connection between the ceremonial lampstand and the churches in Revelation: each one is meant to shine its light in the world. The question facing us as we consider all of the above is this: Being instructed by Christ in Matthew 5:14 to be the “light of the world”, are we burning with a light of our own making, expending loads of energy with the burden of trying to keep our lamps burning ourselves, or are our lights burning with a supernatural oil provided by God Himself - His Spirit within us? The same goes for our churches - is it all just doing and doing and busyness as if we live by the slogan 'Jesus is coming, look busy’? Let’s go to verse 6 in our Zechariah chapter. Zechariah did not understand the vision of the gold lampstand with the two olive trees by it, so the angel who talked with him explained: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.’

Dear friends, you alone will know whether your Christianity is just religious busyness and human effort or whether you are actually burning with the oil of the living God inside you. Remember Moses and the burning bush -- the reason Moses was attracted to that phenomenon was because the bush was not burning up. If your Christianity is mere religious effort, you will burn up sooner or later – guaranteed -- and you will bring only dishonour to God....

Lastly, we looked at verse 14 which speaks of two individuals who had been anointed by God to serve Him (in this case, Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the Jewish leader). I have met and continue to meet many ministers who see their work as a career and a 'job' like any other. But Christian leadership is not democratically chosen. This verse in Zechariah gives us a clear warning that God has to anoint those who serve Him (again the imagery of the oil). To bear lasting fruit and bring people to Him, all workers must be anointed by the living God Himself. Recall the serious warning to the church in Ephesus, Revelation 2:1-5:

‘These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: ... Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.’

What a terrible thing that despite a church’s unwearied good deeds, hard work and perseverance, and even its rejection of wickedness and ability to discern error (vv 2,3), its labours in His name could be so unpleasing to the Lord that He would entirely take it out of His plans. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen.