God’s Word for You
Zechariah 4:1-3 The vision of the candlestick
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 6, 2022
The Fifth Vision
4 And the angel who talked with me roused me again, like a man who is roused from his sleep. 2 He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see… I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps which are on the top of it. 3 And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
Once again, in the same evening, Zechariah is given another vision. The angel hasn’t left his side, but has been there with him the whole while. This is not a proof text for the angels watching over our sleep, but it supports the idea. The Proverb: “When you sleep they will watch over you” is not about angels but about the words of the Scriptures (Proverbs 6:22). The real basis for understanding that the angels watch over us is the statement of David: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). This is not the place for a complete discussion of the angels, but it will come soon, in chapter 5, where we will meet the only angels in the Bible who have women’s faces (Zechariah 5:9).
Returning to the prophet, he was not awakened from sleep, but he was roused, probably from his contemplation of the previous vision. But now it was time for another vision, and the angel asks him what he sees. The prophet responds literally, “I see, behold!” which I have translated, “I see… I see.” It was the golden lampstand, the menorah that provided light inside the holy place in the temple. There had been one of these in the tabernacle, but Solomon provided ten for his larger temple (1 Kings 7:49). These were destroyed or carried away, either in the exile or when the temple was plundered at other times, by Pharaohs such as Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-26) or Neco (2 Kings 23:34-35) or others. When the temple was rebuilt, only one candlestick is mentioned, either in Scripture or in the apocrypha.
The mechanics of the lampstand are not clear, and we can’t infer anything firm from a vision. One commentator (C.H.H. Wright, who drew the picture above) attempted to construct a lampstand according to this design in the 1870s, and admits in the footnotes of his book (p. 84-85) that he had difficulties and had to make assumptions and adjustments to get it to work.
The lampstand, according to the design the Lord gave to Moses, was to have seven branches (symbolizing holiness) and seven small cups or very small bowls to form each lamp, which was a pool of oil with a wick that would burn in much the same way as our simultaneously modern yet antique hurricane lamp. In the vision, another bowl catches oil from a pair of olive trees which drip, drip, drip their oil into the reservoir bowl which in turn feeds the seven lamps by means of channels or, more literally, “pipes.”
This description would have been a very familiar one for the people of Judah. Apart from the trees that made oil without needing to press the olives, it was just exactly what they knew about what was inside, or would soon be inside, the holy place in the temple. The Lord told Moses it was to be made with flowerlike cups, and with three branches on one side and three on the other (Exodus 25:31-33), so that with the bowl on top there were seven lights on the lamp, once again signifying holiness.
There will be questions about this little scene and about the two trees, and God will show with the questions and answers that he reveals his will and his intention in ordinary things. These visions were for the people of Judah and of Jerusalem. They were for the benefit of the high priest and the governor. God knows that his people often benefit from a symbol as well as a plain word. And so he gives us pictures, visions, and symbols in his word.
There are three types or classes of visions and/or dreams in the Bible. In Numbers 12:6-8, the Lord mentions them: “If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, will make myself known to him in a vision. In a dream I will speak with him. Not so, however, with my servant Moses. He is faithful in my whole household. With him I speak face-to-face, clearly, and not in riddles. He sees the form of the LORD.”
1, Visions. Visions are not seen while dreaming. They are things seen by a prophet that require an explanation, such as here with the vision of the lampstand and the two trees. They are often accompanied by questions and explanations. Visions may be rare today, for the same reason that dreams from God are rare as we will see below, but they can’t be said to be finished forever, since Joel talks about them (Joel 2:28). But today they are personal and not for the church unless God himself shows us differently. So if a man I know had a vision of his wife entering heaven and experiencing certain joyful reunions there on the very night that she died, this was for his comfort, and their children, but it does not belong in the pulpit as a message for the church, since it could possibly offend someone who might think: “Why did that man receive such a comforting vision, but I did not?” And again, such a vision does not teach us anything new that is not already revealed in God’s Word.
2, Dreams. “Dreams,” Luther says, “are on a level below this.” Dreams, which occur naturally, are sometimes used by the Lord to convey a message while the body is sleeping and the eyes and ears are resting. But while the Lord may use dreams, they also occur naturally from the human mind as it sifts through the troubles and stray thoughts of the day and files them away while we sleep. And again, the devil can torment us through our dreams, with temptations or troubling images that lead to despair. When these come, Sirach shares wisdom in his little book: “Do not give your mind to them. For dreams have deceived many, and those who put their hope in them have failed” (Sirach 34:6-7). The Lord gave dreams in ancient times, but he seems to give fewer dreams to us today, perhaps because we have the whole Bible complete, with the New Testament to comfort us and to give us a clear picture of our salvation through Christ. Job’s younger friend says: “God may speak in dreams at night… as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn a man from wrongdoing, to keep him from pride, and to preserve his soul from the pit” (Job 33:15-18). One thing we must remember is that if a Christian is given a dream or a vision today, it is not to be regarded as a new source of doctrine, as if that man has his own private 67th book of the Bible. As the saying goes, “Dreams are private.” Therefore when God gives a dream, “The historical accounts of Holy Scripture point out this principle: through the dreams from God an impression of such a nature is made on the heart that not only the intellect but also the will is troubled beyond normal. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream [Daniel 2:5] had so disturbed his mind that he threatened the sorcerers with death if they did not tell the meaning of the dream he had seen, for his mind could not rest unless the dream and its interpretation were revealed” (LW 3:11).
3, A vision in which God speaks face-to-face with his servant. This is far more reliable than the other dreams or visions. Here we have the things seen, for example, by Abraham when God spoke with him, promising him a son (Genesis 15:1) and a descendant who would be the Savior (Genesis 26:4). When God speaks in this manner, it is not always helpful for us to try to infer from the text whether this was the Father speaking (as is sometimes assumed, especially in the Old Testament), the pre-incarnate Son (which we often do, based on John 1:1, etc.), or even the Holy Spirit (based on Ezekiel 2:2 and Matthew 22:43). What is important to remember is that the Persons of the Holy Trinity are never at odds with one another, but are always in perfect harmony with one another in thought and will.
We have the comfort and the certainty of God’s holy word. God’s word is truth (John 17:17; Colossians 1:5). As we ponder Zechariah’s vision, let’s keep that certainty before us, to learn through this chapter what God wants us to learn and take to heart. He comforted these men with these words, and so he also comforts us with every word from his mouth. “Even when you sleep, they will watch over you.”
Pastor Timothy Smith