Don’t Despise the Day of Diminutive Deeds

Zechariah 4

Then the angel who was speaking with me returned, and roused me as a man who is awakened from his sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” Then I answered and said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?” So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he answered and said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!” ’ ” Also the word of the LORD came to me saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. “For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.” Then I answered and said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” So he answered me saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones, who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.”

There is immense imagery in this particular passage of Zechariah, from bowls and lamps to pipes and olive trees. Nevertheless there is a simple explanation given within the context concerning this imagery. But before we examine it and other examples and the antithesis, let’s review the cultural context and the apocalyptic address thus far with a super-short summary.

Israel is gone as is much of Judah but a small remnant return to Jerusalem and begin to build the walls and the temple. They had all but abandoned the temple to build their own homes but God caused them distress so that they would focus on rebuilding the temple. Enter the prophet Zechariah who has seen Jesus send angels out to patrol the earth and they have found everything quiet. We have seen Joshua the high priest, in filthy clothes and accused by the devil but God gives him clean clothes and even a turban, by the suggestion of Zechariah. But in today’s text the focus switches from Joshua, the high priest, to Zerubbabel, the governor–there is no king in Judah.

“Then the angel who was speaking with me returned, and roused me as a man who is awakened from his sleep. And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.’ Then I answered and said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, ‘What are these, my lord?’ So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he answered and said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the LORD of hosts.'”

Zechariah was awakened to the apocalyptic vision, like a man awakened from his slumber and he saw, as asked by the angel, a “lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” It is important that we see the vision properly but not identically. If I asked 10 people to draw a picture of the vision the size and shapes of the items would vary but I would hope that the numbers and colors would be extremely similar. Seeing exactly what Zechariah saw isn’t the point but seeing the symbolism is the point.

We aren’t trying to figure out how big the lampstand was in relationship to the bowls. We don’t care about how many branches are on the trees. The author’s aspiration to his audience is to see the symbolism. We therefore focus on the description and don’t let our imaginations run wild trying to paint a picture in our head with items not mentioned. Some may see this inside the temple and others will see it outside with the sun in the background and with green grass growing all around. The intention is that we see the symbolism and the intention of the symbolism is explained by the angel to the ignorant Zechariah.

Yes, Zechariah participated in the apocalyptic address. We remember that he even had his suggestion of giving a turban to Joshua honered. But now we see that Zechariah doesn’t understand the vision he now sees and according to the angel, he should have. Notice; “‘What are these, my lord?’ So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, ‘No, my lord.'”

We don’t wonder why Zechariah didn’t understand the vision because we don’t understand the vision. We don’t see any special insights in Zechariah as a prophet other than he saw and recorded the vision. Yet we do remember that he suggested a turban for Joshua’s head and the Lord had the angels place a turban on Joshua’s head. Zechariah had to be somewhat in tune with these visions but ultimately we see he didn’t immediately understand and this is confirmed by not only his question, asking what the vision was, but also in the angel’s response, “Do you not know what these are?” Zechariah then admits that he doesn’t–“No, my lord.”

We see similarities in Daniel and Revelation where Daniel and John respectively admit that they don’t understand visions. It’s ironic that those who saw the visions didn’t understand them but our modern prophecy pundits do. But the prophecy pundits interpret the visions with preconceived notions and presuppositions based upon erroneous eisegesis and not exegesis of the context or examples. A careful consideration of the angel’s answer coupled with the description of the vision will allow the one considering the context in on the insight.

Speaking of context, here we consider the context, aspirations of the author to his audience, genre, examples and then we divide rightly the word of truth, letting the Bible interpret the Bible and question our presuppositions, preconceived notions and presumptions. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics.

Therefore we read it as it was written with the description of the vision first and then the explanation of the angel, understanding the exchange between Zechariah and the angel, which we have covered thoroughly. Since we understand the exchange–that Zechariah didn’t understand– we keep it in mind as we see the symbolism, imagery and the explanation, without getting bogged down by the exchange in the middle because of our Twitterverse and Instagram-angled attention spans.

“A lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” And the explanation: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

I’m sorry if this doesn’t fit into our modern interpretation of which we’ve been fed by the prophecy pundits but this is the explanation given by the angel–“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” Therefore we must put aside our preconceived notions and presuppositions and let God interpret his vision. The vision is not equal to might or power but the vision is the Spirit of the Lord. The angel continues to dissect the vision more specifically as Zechariah tells us more of the vision.

“A lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” And, “‘What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?’ So he answered me saying, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, ‘No, my lord.” Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones, who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.'”

These are not two, future, super prophets as the prophecy pundits would have us believe because the context excludes that assertion. However I am getting way ahead of the context. We have to keep it all in the context. Notice what the Spirit says; “‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”‘ Also the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.'”

Like Joshua, the high priest, Zerubbabel, the governor, is a type of Jesus and yet he is also an anti-type. That is, Zerubbabel is the leader but he is a relatively weak leader, while Jesus is the King of kings. Much like Joshua was the high priest but a dirty and filthy high priest who needed to be cleansed by the Lord. We see a similarly in Zerubbabel of whom it is said, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”‘ Also the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.”

Zerubbabel began building the shabby, second temple and he will finish it. Yet there is much more than the temple in the imagery. The temple is merely a sign and shadow, a symbol of what was to come. Joshua, Zerubbabel and the temple all point to the coming Christ. But even more than these, Zechariah’s vision also points to the coming king. Nevertheless this is one of the most ripped-out-of-context passages in the Bible. From flattening our mountains to two mega, fire-breathing witnesses during the great tribulation, many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers carelessly concoct questionable commentary, contrived cleverly, contrary to the context.

The mega-church pastors will say, “what is your mountain?” They will go on to tell you how to conquer your mountain through the Spirit. And it sounds good but is this what the context claims–mountain moving? Was this the aspiration of the author to his audience? While an owner’s manual to life would be great, and the Bible does teach us how to live, it is not an owner’s manual but the book about God and his dealings with man–progressively. That is to say that the Bible is much less about us and much more about Jesus, even, and especially, in this passage.

Don’t get me wrong, God can move your metaphorical mountain but this is neither the point of the passage nor a promise. Let me put it this way, and I can’t believe that mega-church pastors continue to get away with this sort of sermon: Ravi Zacharias recently died. A few years ago R.C. Sproul died, as did Billy Graham and many other giants of the faith, who will be last, and other lesser known meeklings (I reserve the right to make up words), who will be first, have died. Cancer has claimed the lives of more than a couple christians. What bigger mountain is there than that? No, the mountain in Zechariah is not your debt, joblessness, medical report or the like. The mountain isn’t the devil, demons, or your opponents. But it is metaphorical, somewhat.

It’s utterly ironic to me that the prophecy pundits proclaim to take the Bible literally but then they make this mountain a metaphor. The question is, what does the context claim? What is the author’s aspiration to his audience? Are we jiving with the genre? Have we explored examples? Then, and only then are we able to divide rightly the word of truth. We know what the vision means but have we applied it appropriately? Have we kept the content in its context?

Besides the coming king, what is central in the book of Haggai, Ezra, Nehemiah and Zechariah? Rebuilding; and three out of four focus primarily on the temple. Where was the temple located? It was located on the mountain. A mountain of which Jesus pointed out to his disciples. “Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, ‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered. And seeing this, the disciples marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.'”

There’s more to this metaphorical mountain than meets the eye. We also notice the top stone or, the “capstone” of the temple and remember reading in Matthew, about which Jesus said of the temple; “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” The temple is in mind in Zechariah and Jesus came saying that “something greater than the temple is here.” We explore other examples and remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well. “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father…God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In our current culture in the west, we view the mountain as something that stands in the way. While this was true in Zechariah, the mountain is more specific than “something.” It is not our debt, our poor health, cancer, diabetes or that jerk next door who God has told you to love. We have to put all the pieces back in the continuing context and see the sublime string, the symbolism and certainly, the explanation.

We have seven lamps on a single lampstand with a bowl and pipes, two olive trees on either side with two branches that automatically empty their oil into the bowl, which supplies the lamps. The explanation is, this is the word of God to Zerubbabel which says, “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.”

While cloudy the explanation may be. It is the explanation given. We don’t get to change the explanation or add to it, based upon our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We are expected to expound through exegesis, “unpacking” (I dislike this phrase–personal preference) the context but not add to it. I recently listened to a prophecy pundit, who said that Revelation tells us that the entire world will take the Mark of the Beast, which is a microchip. Problem; Revelation doesn’t foretell this but it does contain the following warning: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book.” Of course, I have ripped this out of context but still, think about it and think about the explanation given to Zechariah by the angel.

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.”

One of my favorite verses to slightly rip out of context is, “Who has despised the day of small things?” I find it applicable every morning. Nevertheless, it belongs in this context and yet it doesn’t seem to fit in this context. The Lord God, YHWH, Jesus, has come down, with angelic beings, promised his Spirit to Zerubbabel with imagery of gold, and eyes watching, that he will finish rebuilding the temple with the Spirit and it is said, “Who has despised the day of small things?” This is the word of God, literally. The coming capstone of the temple, the commentary on the completion, the knowledge that the “Lord has sent me,” the imagery, the task, the promise is deemed merely as a day of small stuff.

However it is said, by the Lord, that one shouldn’t despise the day of small stuff. That is, the shabby temple is important in the scope of the Lord’s progressive revelation. While not a overwhelmingly big deal, it was an overwhelmingly big deal. But God has a much more overwhelmingly big deal to come in a New Covenant–that is the greater context. Lord willing, we will see this unfold as we continue to unpack the content of Zechariah. The un-dirty high priest is coming. The King of kings and not a weak governor is coming and not to rapture his church but to build his kingdom on the rich root of the olive tree.

This brings us to a great controversy because we think we’re right and won’t admit that we may have been wrongly taught. Suspend your disbelief for a moment and accept that it is possible that we use the wrong word by calling our assemblies of worship, “churches.” I won’t delve deeply into etymology but “church” means “Lord’s” and has the inference of the “Lord’s house,” but the Greek word used by Jesus means “called out assembly.” We actually saw in Acts that other assemblies, other than the assembly of God, used the same word. The point is that there are many kingdoms, but one kingdom of God. There are many kings, but one King of kings. There are many people groups but one people of God, made up from all people groups. There are many priests but only one high priest. Here comes some more controversy, but it is confirmed by the context. Zechariah is speaking with the angel.

“‘What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?’ And I answered the second time and said to him, ‘What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?’ So he answered me saying, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, “No, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones, who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.'”

Once again, Zechariah didn’t know what the symbolism of the two olive trees was, therefore he asked the angel, twice, about the two olive trees or branches. Perhaps it’s the number two that confused Zechariah. We need to look at two too. It’s not the church and Israel, it’s not two, anointed, future, fire-breathing witnesses because we don’t see any of this in the context. Controversy alert! We are told that we need to make Jesus are Lord and Savior but the Bible says that he is our king and high priest. We don’t go worship the Lord in his house, we are called to be citizens of the Most High. Before you think I am calling for a boycott of churches and that Jesus is not our Lord and Savior, I’m not. I am calling for a careful consideration of the context.  Churches are called churches and we probably can’t change that but we can change our minds considering the connotations contained in the word “church.” It is not God’s house but the local assembly buildings and the people of God at large. Jesus is our Lord  and Savior but also our king and high priest who governs us and intercedes for us. Jesus has many roles but here, in Zechariah, the context is clear, he is the king and high priest. And not a dirty high priest or a weak governor.

We have seen The High Priest make intercession for the high priest and The King of kings govern the weak governor. Also notice the imagery of the anointed one juxtaposed to the lampstand. The two anointed ones pour oil into the lampstand, not the other way around–remember that it is not by might but by the Spirit. The two anointed ones, the olive trees, the branches all clearly point to Jesus and his pouring out of the Spirit, based on the context, examples and the explanation of the imagery.

If one wishes to find a pretribulational rapture in the Bible, one will find it but not by considering the context. Why then am I overly concerned about one’s position on the end times or eschatology? One reason is because one usually hits that at which they aim. Many will therefore sit out of the current cultural conflict and climate. They see our “unprecedented times” which ironically are with precedents, and assume that Jesus is right at the door. Jesus is not at the door he is the door, and the king, and the high priest, and the lion and the lamb. His Spirit is here and despite what you may think by reading the headlines, he’s in complete control.

The second reason why I take to task the prophecy pundits is because we have royally screwed the next generation. No, we’re not seeing what Paul promised to Timothy because Paul promised it to Timothy, not us–context is king. Think about that for a moment, hypothetically and with a little literary license. “Dear Timothy, know this, in the last days difficult times will come but pay no mind to this because it is 2000 years from now.” The prophecy pundits promised and promise a rapture rescue that hasn’t and isn’t going to happen. What then? How disillusioned should we be at this point–fast forward 20 years, what about then? If we want to know why churches (assemblies) are empty, other than the Coronavirus, maybe it is time to examine our dubious dogma and promises.

We don’t engage the culture but rather circle the wagons, creating gospel ghettos, waiting to be rescued, or even worse, we take to Twitter and pick fights with those who are itching to fight. But it is difficult to fight a lie with dubious dogma, yet it is done daily. We look at the overly hyped Coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd and the result of the rage from being couped up under lockdown. We see that horrible image of a white police officer kneeling on an unarmed black man and think that the Lord must be coming to rescue us soon. What we forget is the middle passage, Nazi Germany and ironically enough, the civil war, even as its icons are being torn down. Don’t despise the day of small stuff.

George Floyd’s murderer has been arrested. The middle passage came to a close. Hitler took the cowardly way out and killed himself. Those slave-holding icons are only images of long-dead men. Nevertheless we have to keep engaging the culture rather than retreat into our gospel ghettos. And speaking of engaging the culture and the ghettos, who created the ghettos? If you live in the United States and are not a convicted felon and are a citizen over 18, you have the right to vote. Black, white, brown and everything in between, has the right to vote. But before you cast your ballot this year, look at what voters have reaped from their vote. In Minneapolis they voted for a democratic mayor for over forty years. Surely this was enough time to make its police force color blind. Let’s zoom in on the democratic party and it’s race relations.

Woodrow Wilson watched “The Birth of a Nation” in the White House. Franklin Roosevelt intered Americans with Japanese descent in camps. The founder of the KKK was a Democrat. Abraham Lincoln was killed by a Democrat. The Republican party was formed to stop slavery–it is why it is called the GOP, Or, the grand old party. Most inner cities to this day are governed by Democrats. Robert Byrd and his democratic allies filibustered the civil rights act. Hillary Clinton praised Margaret Sanger, Just like Hitler did. The list continues but for time’s sake, let’s look at an obscure reference. Jesse James: a bank robber of Republican owned banks and absolute racist, ravaged Republicans with violence and theft. He was more than a a Confederate sympathizer, he was the epitome of a Confederate. Yet I have not read about his statue being torn down by protesters. Everything has its context. That, and we don’t know our history, Biblically or otherwise.

Yes, without a doubt we have huge problems to deal with, but that’s the point, we have to deal with them rather than run and hide, waiting for a rapture rescue. While horrifying, George Floyd is not the norm but the slaughter of unborn black babies is. It’s difficult to sweep things under the rug nowadays but it is also difficult to engage with people who have their minds made up. For example; the dogmatic dispensationalists argue that Matthew 24 refers to our generation even though the audience was the generation of Jesus and he used the demonstrative pronoun “this” referring to the generation close at hand. We have to clean up our preconceived notions and admit that we are wrong and remove the proverbial log from our eyes before we remove the speck from the blind. We have to see the sublime string in the Bible and let the Bible interpret itself rather than let the prophecy pundits who are out to make a buck interpret it for us. The most difficult thing for a person to do is to admit when they are wrong. Therefore it has to begin with us.

We can’t despise the day of small things. We can’t look at the progress of the gospel and think that things are getting worse. It’s only worse because we gave up. Zerubbabel and Joshua built a shabby-looking temple but it fulfilled its purpose. We have a long way to go but we have made great gains. But now we tend to cower in a corner, awaiting a rapture rescue that is not going to happen. We also, at the same time, ironically, want a revival. Not only a revival but a revival of which we can see, taste, touch and grasp onto. Are we despising the day of small things? With every protest of a thousand, one is in the middle of it, preaching the peace of the gospel–I should be with them. What if besides one, there was two? And what if besides two, there was three?

Things may look bad, like the shabby temple in Zechariah but we shouldn’t despise the day of small stuff.

 

 

 

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