Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.
“Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”
Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”
He replied, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I said.
So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”
Reflection This passage almost mirrors yesterday’s, beginning with an oracle followed by discussion between Zechariah and his divine intermediary about the vision of the lamp and the olive trees. It is more explicit about what it all means; and it is probable that the duplication of ideas indicates that this chapter has been subject to a process of editing – perhaps connected with the fate of Zerubbabel. The oracle describes him as overseer of the temple rebuilding; but it isn’t addressed to him. It makes clear that the completion of the work will be evidence that Zechariah is a true prophet of God. Perhaps some in the community were questioning whether he was offering false hopes based on human aspirations about the future role of Zerubbabel, which had been thwarted.
The answer given to Zechariah in v.10b relates to the question he asked in v.4 about the 7 bowls; God will be present in the temple but is also able to see what is happening everywhere at the same time. The focus then moves onto the identity of the trees, expressed as a second question (v.12) about branches, rather than the trees themselves. Again the text suggests that Zechariah should be able to interpret the vision without help; but as he can’t, he is given an answer. They’re identified as two ‘anointed ones’ – literally ‘sons of newly-pressed oil’ – which is not the same vocabulary used when kings were anointed, ‘messiah’. Likewise we should note that ‘the Lord of the whole earth’ (v.14) uses the word for a human master and not the divine name.
Some scholars believe this is still a reference to God’s universal rule; but it may be an addition by a later scribe implying that the second generation religious and civic leaders (branches) were serving their Persian overlord, rather than God.
Living God, sometimes your word is easy to understand and we rejoice when this is so. On other occasions we don’t know how to read it, whether it’s an encouraging word about your sovereignty, or a word of warning against giving our allegiance to earthly powers. Help us to grapple with both possibilities; and guide us by your Spirit to keep our focus on you and your universal purposes of love. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.