Chapter 24 – The Olive Trees and the Golden Lamps

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Zech. 4: 6.

We have already looked at these words in connection with the history of the Restoration and the mighty movements of God’s providence in bringing about that glorious result. We also referred to the prophetic ministry of Haggai, the elder of the two prophets who were God’s messengers of counsel and encouragement to the leaders and people at this crisis.

Still more remarkable was the ministry of Zechariah, the younger prophet. His wondrous visions were all calculated to meet some special need and trial in their situation at this time.

The first vision was that of the man among the mulberry trees. The prophet saw in a vision a great plain of low, flat land covered with mulberry trees, and among them were horses moving to and fro. This represented the lowly condition of God’s people; and the horses, God’s ministers of power, who were moving in the midst of His people’s trials and working for their deliverance. This was followed by a message of special encouragement, announcing that these low and desolate regions should yet be filled with multitudes of people, that the cities, through prosperity, should yet be spread abroad; and that the Lord should comfort Zion, and would choose Jerusalem.

Next came the vision of the horns and the carpenters. Four horns appeared before the prophet’s view, representing the enemies that were scattering Judah and pushing to the wall God’s suffering people. But, coming up behind them, were four carpenters, sent to fray the piercing horns of the enemy, and blunt their points, so that they would not be able to touch or harm God’s suffering children. There were just as many carpenters as there were horns, and God’s people in every age may know that wherever there is a foe to strike there is a force to counteract for those who trust Him.

Next came the vision of the man with the measuring line, going forth to measure the walls of Jerusalem, its length and its breadth, and proclaiming: “Jerusalem shall yet be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitudes of men and cattle therein.” This was intended to encourage them amid the paucity of the population. A little handful of returned captives, they were trying to occupy the desolate land, and they seemed so few and contemptible that their enemies turned them to ridicule; but God declared that they would yet spread abroad and cover all the land. And as they looked at their unwalled city and the defenseless temple they were rearing in its midst, and thought of their exposure to all the surrounding enemies, God reassured them, through the prophet, with the precious promise, “I will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.”

Next there came a still more encouraging vision. All the power of their enemies outside could not hurt them half so much as their own weakness and unworthiness within. They were conscious of their sinfulness, and they knew that they had already suffered for their fathers’ unfaithfulness. They might fear that they, too, should forfeit the blessing of Jehovah. And so the prophet was sent with another vision. He beheld Joshua, the high priest, representing the people, standing before the Lord clothed with filthy garments, suggesting their guilt and sin, and Satan standing at his right hand, to resist him.

But as he gazed, lo! the command is given from the throne, “Take away the filthy garments from him, .. .and I will clothe him with a change of raiment, . . . and set a fair miter on his head,” and, turning to the accuser, Jehovah answered all his reproaches, and said: “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

Then the vision was followed by a gracious promise of cleansing and blessing summed up in the glorious promise, “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” God stood not only between them and their enemies, but also between them and themselves, and all their own unworthiness and sinfulness. He thus stands between us and our guilt, our shield from the accusing of our conscience and the charges of our cruel adversary, so that we can cry, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”

But now we come to the vision of our text, the most beautiful and significant of all, and unequaled by any other portion of the Holy Scriptures for delicacy and depth of sacred meaning.

It was intended to reveal to them the sources of their strength. They were weak, and their foes were strong. At this very time, through the intrigues of their enemies, a decree had come from the king of Persia, arresting for a time the progress of the work. We are told by Ezra that an army came and “with force and power” caused the work to cease. But, like the echo of man’s impotent rage answering back from the throne, God sends Zechariah to say in the very same phrase turned back again, “Not by force, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Man had sent his force and power, his army and his might; but he had left God out of his calculations, and this work and this conflict was “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shouting, crying, Grace, grace, unto it!”

The vision itself was a very beautiful one. As he awakened out of sleep with all his powers quickened to take in its meaning, he saw before him a golden candlestick like that which stood in the holy place, with its seven branches of polished gold, surmounted by a vessel of oil and a glowing flame. Then above this candlestick there was a large bowl or reservoir connected by pipes with all the lamps, and containing the supply of oil. But how was this reservoir filled?

Look again at the wondrous and exquisite mechanism. There were no oil cans, no ministering hands, no clumsy machinery of human attendants or conveying tubes, but two living olive trees ripening their fruit continually and pouring it in through two olive branches into the reservoir, from which it flowed down into each of the lamps. How simple, how beautiful, how perfect, and how full of holy meaning ! What is its profound spiritual meaning?

I. THE CANDLESTICK. The golden candlestick represents the Church of God and the people of God. “Ye are the light of the world.” “Let your light so shine before men that they shall see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Israel of old was to that generation what the Church is meant to be today, the depository of divine truth and life and light, the true light of the world. As the candlestick was all of gold, so the true Church of Christ consists only of those who are partakers of the divine nature. Gold is the type of the divine, and only as we are restored to the image of God and filled with His light and presence can we be light-bearers for the world.

The candlestick was the only light of the temple. It had no windows. All its light came from God. And the world has no light apart from the Church of God. This holy book, illuminated by the Spirit, contains all that we know of God, redemption, and the future life.

He is a foolish man who tries to deceive himself and his people by the torchlight of his own eloquence, philosophy, and sensationalism.

The candlestick was one, yet manifold; and so the Church of God has infinite variety, and yet but one light and one body. God does not level every soul down to the same pattern, but He lets Isaiah and James and John to be each himself; and yet He fills all with God, and makes their life divine, yet perfectly natural, simple, free, and human.

Every part of our nature has to pass through the new creation, but every part is preserved, sanctified, and filled with God. So the whole spirit and soul and body is preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The candlestick was not luminous. It was simply a light-bearer. It could make no light. It could reflect light from its polished and brilliant surface, but the light must come from another source. So we have no light in ourselves; we can simply receive the light and hold it. We are not ourselves the light of the world, but we are to so shine that men shall see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.

We are to reveal not our goodness and our grace, but Christ in us. Let all men see how helpless and insufficient we are in ourselves, but what an all-sufficient and mighty Savior we have, and One available for them as well as for us. This is the light that the world needs, that the Holy Ghost and the person and grace of Jesus be held forth for their darkness and misery and sin.

The business of the candlestick was not to hoard the oil, but to consume it, to use it up, and to keep it ever burning in those glowing tongues of flame. If the lamps and pipes had tried to absorb and retain the oil, they would have lost it. They gave it up, they used it up. They consumed it in ceaseless burning. Men sometimes say to us: “Don’t expend all your vitality; don’t use all your strength; save yourself.” Ah, that is the way to lose yourself. Only that which we give we have. That which we keep we lose.

Try to hold on to one of God’s gifts, and it will go. Try to economize and keep for yourself your blessing, and it will disappear. Pass it on and it will burn forever. As those lamps exhausted the oil in their little cups, the residue of the oil poured in from above; and they were always full, and always fresh, and always burning, and always shining.

So let us be “burning and shining lights,” and, as we give out what He has given, He will replenish the supply, and we shall have enough and to spare; and we, too, shall “shine in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”

II. THE OIL IS THE EMBLEM OF THE HOLY GHOST. It is He who gives us all our light and life. It is He who produces in us all our graces, and works through us all our service for God and men.

Beloved, this is the test, and this is the difference between man and God. Five of the virgins were wise and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their vessels, but they took no oil in their vessels with their lamps; but they that were wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps, and when the Bridegroom came this was the point of separation.

The foolish virgins were virgins, too. They were pure; they were waiting and longing for the coming of the Bridegroom; they had a little light, and they had oil enough to light the lamp and keep it burning for a time; but they had not the residue of the oil, they had not the fullness of the Spirit, they had not the indwelling of the personal Holy Ghost. And so their lamps went out in their hour of need. They were unable to go in with the marriage procession.

The one point which settled the happy fate of the others was simply this, that they had “oil in their vessels with their lamps.” They had the Holy Ghost personally indwelling. They had the source of grace within their hearts. They did not need to go and replenish. They were always ready.

Beloved, let a word be sufficient for the wise, and, oh! let us be filled with the Spirit, so that we shall be found of Him in peace.

III. THE SOURCES OF THE OIL. We come to the most beautiful and significant part of the picture, the sources of the oil. These were not the same human mechanism of ministering priests and great reservoirs from which the oil was carried and replenished day by day, but two living trees whose ripening fruit was continually pressed out by hands unseen, and flowed through two olive branches and two golden pipes, down into the reservoir and into the lamps. It was all perfectly spontaneous, simple, silent, and divine. The oil was always flowing; the reservoir was always full; the lamps were always burning.

This is the source of our divine supply. Who were these two olive trees? Certainly they can represent nothing human, but the divine source of our life in Christ. They represent the Lord Jesus Christ and the blessed Holy Ghost; the one on the divine side, the other on the earthly side of our spiritual life. Both are called by the same name. The apostle John speaks of Jesus as our Advocate or Paraclete with the Father, and he speaks of the Holy Ghost as our Paraclete from the Father. The one is the Advocate yonder, the other is the Advocate within.

One is on each side of us, and between two such Advocates how can a child of God be lost? From these two blessed Persons of the Godhead, distinct in their personality, yet one in their nature, we draw our spiritual life. We draw it as the olive trees gave forth their oil, spontaneously, silently, constantly, instinctively, just as we breathe the air in which we live, just as the blood circulates through our system, so quietly, so naturally, so simply, that we are unconscious of the process.

Thus we may abide in Him and live upon Him, and draw our strength from God alone. Beloved, have we learned the secret of the olive trees, the secret of abiding in Him?

But, what are these two olive branches that connect the olive trees with the reservoir and run into two golden pipes?

These are “the two anointed ones, or, the two sons of oil, that stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” Ah! this is the ministry of believing and united prayer. This is the highest service given to saints on earth, a counterpart of the priestly service of Jesus Himself upon the throne.

Beloved, if we will let Him, God will teach us this high and holy service. First, these branches must come out of the trees and be so closely in touch with them that they can communicate directly and draw their very life; and so he that ministers at the altar of prayer must be in perfect touch with God on the heaven-side. But on the other side, he must be in perfect touch with man. The branches must run into the reservoir and connect with the lamps.

So if we would know this ministry of prayer, we must be sensitive to the needs of others. We must be lost to our selfishness. We must be in touch with our fellow-men. We must have a heart full of sympathy and love, and readiness to suffer for others and for God.

God give us this glorious ministry and teach us to know the meaning of that mighty promise, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”

VI. 1. The effects of the Holy Spirit’s working will appear first in the overturning of obstacles. “Who art thou, O great mountain?” There is always a mountain of difficulty in the way of faith. The best evidence of God’s presence and power is the activity of the adversary. Faith does not fear the highest mountain when the Holy Ghost is in charge, but trustingly and quietly stands, and says, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Be a plain.” The Holy Ghost will give the faith as well as remove the mountains. One cannot but be struck with the similarity of this passage to our Savior’s wonderful teaching regarding faith, where He says, that if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, we shall say to the mountain, “Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea”; it shall be done.

Faith does not ask the mountain to be removed. Faith does not even climb the mountain; but it simply commands it to disappear, and uses the authority and power of God. This is the way the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who trust and obey Him and are led by the Spirit of God.

2. The work of the Holy Ghost gives all the glory to God. “He shall bring forth the headstone with shouting, crying, ‘Grace, grace unto it!” Man’s work reflects its honor upon man; but when we become possessed of God, and recognize His all-sufficiency, we can speak of His work without consciousness of ourselves, and say with the apostle, “Not I, but the grace of Christ in me.”

3. The work of the Holy Ghost is a finished work. He does not leave the broken column and the unroofed walls; but He accomplishes His purpose, and He leads us to see our expectation and finish our work. The hands of Zerubabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands also shall finish it, and “Thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you.” The work of human ambition and impulse is weak, unstable, and spasmodic; but the work that God inspires is carried through.

4. The work of the Holy Ghost is straight work, and perfectly plumb. “They shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.” The plummet is the symbol of righteousness. A plumb wall is a straight wall, a perpendicular wall; and so the work that God has is a straight work, pure work, and right work. The work that He inspires and carries forward has no compromises about it, and does not need to try to please men; but it rises on Scriptural foundations, and its walls are righteousness, and its gates, praise.

5. Finally, the work of the Holy Ghost is accomplished through feeble instrumentalities. “Who hath despised the day of small things?” This is the way it begins. “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

I never read this text without remembering a cold November afternoon, in the year 1881, when a little company of seven persons met in an upper room in this city to confer and pray about giving the Gospel in its fullness to the neglected and churchless people of this great city. We were all poor, and there were but a few of us at that. We had come together in answer to a public call for a meeting of all who were interested in this subject.

As we sat down in the cheerless hall and gathered round the fire to keep ourselves from freezing, we looked at each other; and, certainly, it was the day of small things. Then we asked God to speak to us. As we opened our Bible that afternoon, the leaves parted at the fourth chapter of Zechariah, and, without thinking, our eye feel on this very verse, “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 . . . . For who hath despised the day of small things?”

Never, perhaps, did a message come to human hearts with more strange and thrilling power than that message that afternoon. Kneeling down together, we let God pray His own prayer in our hearts; and the years that have followed have brought the blessed answer.

Do not be afraid of small beginnings. We may well fear large and pretentious resources, but God added to seven ciphers will amount to millions every time.