Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Part 2)

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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 symbolism4, 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 Zerubbabel7 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.

Notes

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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There are 16 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

I believe that certain passages in Zechariah form the basis for Midrash in the New Testament.  Chapter 3 is especially crucial in understanding Paul's doctrine of justification.  Chapter 4 is also crucial, and, as you pointed out, is the assumed background of the two witnesses passage in Revelation.

To my way of thinking, books like Zechariah are so much more animated and relevant when understood against the backdrop of a dispensational paradigm.  The are "our" books!

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

I agree with Ed, that this is indeed an amazing passage.  I thank Paul for his insightful comments.  What I fail to see is that it requires a dispensational paradigm.  I see nothing in the passage, nor in Paul's comments that contradicts a non-dispensational understanding as well.  Ah, for the Day when all will be made plain!

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

G.N. Barkman -- I think the Book of Zechariah is a boon for dispensationalists (I am of the progressive variety).  A literal city of Jerusalem elevated, Israel repenting in a day, the feast of Tabernacles, or Zech. 8:23, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”

IMO, it is a feast for those of us who believe the Jewish peopel will be exalted in the Millennium.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

I've often wondered how DTs can be so certain of what is literal as opposed to what is symbolic.  In the above article, we have the lampstands fed by the olive trees.  Clearly symbolic.  We have Joshua the High Priest with his garments, crown, etc.  Also clearly symbolic.  So in a book filled with symbolism, how do you know, for example, that the city of Jerusalem should be taken literally?

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

If the plain sense makes sense, look for no other sense.  A good principle.

A lot ot this can be solved by a basic question:  "How would the original audience have understood it?"  Certainly the Jewish rabbis did understand it as a literal Jerusalem, but the visions as figurative. 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

This is pretty subjective.  We frankly do not know exactly how the original audience would have understood it.  We can only assume that they would have understood it the same way we do.  But, with different students understanding the same passage in different ways, where does that take us?  Which of these possibilities would the original audience have chosen?  In truth, we don't even know if all the members of the original audience would have understood it the same way.  That principle, which seems logical on the surface, is more problematic than it seems.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

Visions are one thing.  Didactic prophecy is another.  If you don't understand Zech. 8:23 normally, then how can you understand Isaiah 7:14 normally?

 

Putting Zechaiah's visions in the same category as his prophetic statement suggests that there is not one hermeneutic for visions and another for statements.  Visions are, by nature, given to ambiguity in meaning.  Prophetic statements, on the other hand, are not.   They are to be interpreted differently.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Good example.  As you know, in it's original context, Isaiah 7:14 is far from crystal clear.  Who is this child that eats honey, etc?  It is really only upon NT fullfillment and explanation that we know how to understand the text in Isaiah, and even so, it is still challenging to pick through the passage and decide what parts apply to Isaiah's day, and what parts apply to Christ's day.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Ideally, what we have, regarding "how did the ancients read or hear this?", is not strictly speaking subjective (a matter of opinion), but is rather....difficult.  What makes it appear similar to "subjective" is that there is an element of probability in there.  But that's not subjectivity; it's simply weighted probability.  

In the case here, you start simply by applying what the participants ought to have known from the Torah, add to it a bit of what we would infer from Midrash, Mishnah, and the like, and then mix it up with a bit of what we know about culture at that time--secular sources and all--and then make your best guess.

Are you bound to that?  Of course not.  You might even find from the cultural context that it's likely that God was indeed hiding what He wanted to do from those participants at that time.  But it is a valuable, non-subjective way of going about things.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

So in the final analysis, it's subjective.  Informed and thoughtful perhaps, but never-the-less, subjective.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

So in the final analysis, it's subjective.  Informed and thoughtful perhaps, but never-the-less, subjective.

In a sense, this could be argued when interpreting any Scripture.  However, we would add things like openness to the natural meaning, assessment of how certain and obvious it is, etc., which is, by nature, subjective. The fact is that everything we believe (deity of Christ, the atonement, etc.)  we could be wrong about.  We choose to camp out on certain interpretations when, in our subjective minds, we conclude the evidence is strong.

But we have to make a judgment call on every single interpretation of every single text.   And there is always someone (no matter what the text, like John 3:16) who is ready to pounce with "that is your interpretation."  

We have to therefore make a call as to when it is reasonable to come to a conclusion and when not.  I wish all verses were as easy as Zechariah 8:23, IMO.  I don't see where this verse is any more difficult or subjective than most other verses in the Bible.

Interpreting anything is ALWAYS a judgment call and thus subjective.   We have to calculate the reasonability of our interpretation in our minds, taking into account opposing arguments and all the clues we can find.

Sadly, if we have an agenda to make a clear verse unclear, it doesn't take much. That is why an attempt at fairness is a key ingredient in interpretation.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

So in the final analysis, it's subjective.  Informed and thoughtful perhaps, but never-the-less, subjective.

Nonsense.  In the final analysis, it's based on objective data, and is therefore not subjective.  What you're doing is confusing the reality of uncertainty with the allegation of bias.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

"Determined by the ideas, thoughts, feelings of the writer."

Ed's right.  Every interpretation of Scripture is subjective.  We do our best to gather evidence, and then make the best decision we can.  Our tendency is to believe that our conclusions are correct, and others are wrong.  A bit of caution is in order, especially in areas where godly believers who are attempting to reverently handle and properly understand scripture disagree.  Many doctrines have been thoroughly hammered out over the centuries to the extent that we can declare deviations from historical interpretation to be un-orthodox.  These are the fundamentals of Christianity.  Other doctrines require that we posit our interpretations cautiously, recognizing that other equally orthodox believers who are serious students of the Bible have drawn conclusions vastly different from our own.  These are not fundamentals of the faith, and we should extend much charity in such areas.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

If I may say something here:

There is always a level of subjectivity in our interpretation of most everything, although this does not necessarily have to obviate the objective truth.  This is because there is often a relationship between the inductive and the deductive, and how much we permit to each.  The to and fro between the two is called abduction.  

For example, what I wrote above supports the view that Zechariah foresaw the building of an actual temple, built by Yahweh and presided over by Him.  This agrees with aspects of the Davidic and Priestly covenants from the OT perspective.  Greg Barkman stated that "I see nothing in the passage, nor in Paul's comments that contradicts a non-dispensational understanding as well."

Fair enough, but this is true only for men like Walter Kaiser or J. C. Ryle.  It does not hold for someone with Greg's views, as he believes (if I understand him aright) that Jesus is the Davidic King now and that he combines the two offices in the passages now - probably in the Church.  Clearly this is not what I said in my piece.  

Objectively I stated things from what I see Zechariah saying in his historical and biblical context.  In some matters I introduced some subjectivity (what I thought might be the correct view).  Greg does not interpret from that standpoint, but from his understanding of the NT, which transcends Zechariah.  Naturally, this gives him a different "objectivity." 

However, this different objectivity does not arise out of Zechariah's OT context.  Therefore, it is not as inductive as mine or Ed's.     

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

dgszweda's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I've often wondered how DTs can be so certain of what is literal as opposed to what is symbolic.  In the above article, we have the lampstands fed by the olive trees.  Clearly symbolic.  We have Joshua the High Priest with his garments, crown, etc.  Also clearly symbolic.  So in a book filled with symbolism, how do you know, for example, that the city of Jerusalem should be taken literally?

I struggle with a bit of this.  The NT clearly outlines that Christ has fulfilled much if not most of this, Christ was clear that His kingdom was a spiritual one and not an earthly one, He sits on a throne that is superior to anything on earth, and someday this world will be destroyed, but somehow the pinnacle is to restore a far inferior picture of what he has already created to celebrate feasts and sacrifices that have been replaced, all to eventually destroy it anyway?

Ed Vasicek's picture

 

I struggle with a bit of this.  The NT clearly outlines that Christ has fulfilled much if not most of this, Christ was clear that His kingdom was a spiritual one and not an earthly one, He sits on a throne that is superior to anything on earth, and someday this world will be destroyed, but somehow the pinnacle is to restore a far inferior picture of what he has already created to celebrate feasts and sacrifices that have been replaced, all to eventually destroy it anyway?

Some good questions.

1. If God ordained the feasts, sacrifices, etc., they cannot be bad.  At worst, they can be misused.  Another thing they could be is unnecessary, but unnecessary is not the same as worthless.  Most of my day is spent doing unnecessary but meaningful things.

2. The Old Testament predictive nature of the many aspects of the Law was later correlated to a spiritual reality.  All that is happening with a literal millennial temple, etc., is the reverse.  This in no way deminishes the spiritual.

3. The Apostles had no trouble with this concept (see Acts 1:6, Acts 3:19-22, and especially Acts 21:20-25). They saw no conflict between Temple worship and the New Covenant.  The Millennial Temple or sacrifices (whatever their nature) are not NECESSARY in the Millennium, but simply revealed by God to be the case. 

4. Truth is not the same as whole truth.  Becasue Christ's Kingdom IS a spiritual one does not mean it cannot be an earthly one AS WELL. at the right time.  Certainly everyone agrees that He will reign over the new earth at bare minimum.  Technically, that would be an "earthly" kingdom.

"The Midrash Detective"

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