Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt.2)

Part One

The Branch Builds Yahweh’s Temple

But the scene changes when three visitors from Babylon leave a gift of silver and gold (Zech. 6:9-10).[1]  From these precious materials he is told to make a crown, and then do an odd thing with it; place it on the head of Joshua the high priest (Zech. 6:11).[2]  Then he is to utter certain words, words which cannot pertain to Joshua himself, but of which he plays a symbolic part in illustrating.

Then speak to him, saying, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD;

Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.’ – Zechariah 6:12-13

    In this enactment we come across a fascinating prefigurement of the role of the Branch upon His arrival.  The meaning of the crowning act is again connected with the man called “the Branch” (Zech. 6:12).  He it is who will unite the high priestly and kingly offices, even building a future temple (Zech. 6:12-13).  So the imagery reaches beyond Joshua, who is an actor in a role, and grabs hold of covenant promises in the Davidic and Priestly covenants.  In this way it certainly alludes to Psalm 110:1-4.[3]

The Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees   

In Zechariah 4 the prophet is woken from sleep and sees a golden lampstand (Zech. 4:2).  Opinions vary as to what this would have looked like.  We cannot be sure that it resembled the familiar menorah we are accustomed to seeing in Jewish symbolism[4], but as no stress is placed upon it, it is safe at least to assume its purpose as a light-giver from God.[5]  Next to the lampstand he saw two olive trees standing either side of it (Zech. 4:3).  They seem to feed it (Zech. 4:12).  Zechariah asks what it all means (Zech. 4:4), but is not directly answered until verse 14, where the answer is, “These are the two anointed ones,[6] who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.”  That is not much of an explanation, but it will show up again in the last book of the Bible (Rev. 11:4).  Are the two olive trees Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel[7] the vassal ruler?  Many believe so, but it may not be the case.  The angel’s question, “Do you not know what these are?” (Zech. 4:5, 13), which makes the anticipation grow, and the interposing of an oracle concerning Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6-10), together with the indistinctness of the eventual answer, seem to keep the prophet at arm’s length.[8]

If indeed we are meant to understand the two olive trees as representing Joshua and Zerubbabel, then the priestly and the leadership roles are given prominence, just as they are in Zechariah 3:6-7 and 6:12-13, but with the difference that here there appears to be a dyadic or two-head leadership in view, the vassal and the high priest.  Whether a dyadic arrangement is meant or not,[9] it has not escaped the notice of commentators that Joshua is pictured “standing before the Angel of the Lord” in Zechariah 3:1, while Zerubbabel is at least directly addressed by God in Zechariah 4:6-10.  Too, the fact that it is God’s grace which upholds both men in these visions (e.g. Zech. 3:4-5; 4:6) leads naturally to the conclusion that they are part of the divinely fed system seen in the lampstand and olive tree vision.  In the context then, it is most likely that these men are the two olive trees, although it is easy to see the utility in this set up (though in an altered form) for use in the vision of the two witnesses in Revelation 11.[10]

What the fourth and fifth visions of Zechariah 3 and 4 demonstrate is that it is God who will restore the kingly and priestly lines in His loyalty to the Davidic and Priestly covenants.  And this was already predicted in the most plain and clear language by Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 33:14ff).  It is by His Spirit (Zech. 4:6) and grace (Zech. 4:7) that Israel still has hope.  The “day of small things” (Zech. 4:10; cf. Hag. 2:3-4) was not to be despised, even though greater expectations had been aroused by men like Ezekiel (Ezek. 36-48).  As we shall see, Zechariah himself will raise far greater expectations in the second half of his book.


[1] I assume that the gift in verse 10 is the silver and gold of verse 11.

[2] Of course, Joshua the High Priest also took part in another symbolic enactment in chapter 3; although that one was visionary not actual.  It also involved the Lord’s Servant, “the Branch” (Zech. 3:8).  The symbolic significance of Joshua’s cleansing and the Divine pronouncement of his iniquities being forgiven (Zech. 3:4), appears to go beyond a mere reestablishment of the priesthood through its head steward, reaching also into the age of Messiah. – See, e.g., Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah”, EBC, 625.  I may push farther to find a link between this episode and the consummation of the Priestly covenant in the kingdom (cf. Zech. 3:8-10; cf..Num. 25:11-13; Jer. 33:16-21; Ezek. 44:19-16).

[3] As Klein notes, “The various passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah merge both royal and priestly offices into the messianism of the Branch.” – George L. Klein, Zechariah, 202.  Mention ought also to be made of God’s throne in the Temple in Ezekiel 43:7.

[4] Klein calls it “highly unusual, unlike any other lampstand portrayed in the Old Testament”. – Ibid, 156.

[5] I say “from God” because the lamps are not fed by human hands.  – Ibid.

[6] Literally, “the two sons of oil,” the word for anointed is not present.

[7] Although he was of David’s line, Zerubbabel did not function as a king.

[8] Of course, it is also possible that angel’s question was designed to provoke the prophet to think a little more as the answer was obvious. – See e.g., David Baron, The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah (London: Morgan and Scott, 1919), 131.

[9] Nearly all critical scholars interpret it this way.  Klein argues against it.  Ibid, 165-166.

[10] See Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 157.

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