Zechariah 4:6, “Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’”
It is the great love and mercy from the Lord that generates everything we read in this fourth chapter of Zechariah. The vision of the lampstand told the Israelites that the temple would be rebuilt, that God’s presence and power would dwell among them, and that their generation would know and have the light of God again. The motto of Zechariah 4:6 assured them that they would not have to rely on their own power or strength, but that God’s Spirit would propel and sustain them far beyond what their own power could do.
What Is the Context of Zechariah 4:6?
The passage that begins chapter 4 brings us past the halfway point in the night visions of Zechariah. In the first four visions which the prophet received one night in 520 BC, we detect a general pattern. In each case, the prophet is shown a vision that an angel interprets.
The first four visions have brought a message of God’s promise to protect, bless, forgive, and receive into his service. The visions were calculated to comfort the anxieties of Zechariah’s generation, people who must surely have wondered if God’s favor would be upon them as of old, and who would have been incredibly anxious over the record of sin that had brought God’s judgment in the past.
Now, at the halfway point of these eight visions, the text seems to mark a transition into a new set of visions: “The angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep” (Zech. 4:1). This seems to indicate some intermission between this and the prior visions. Either Zechariah was so entranced by the events of chapter 3 that he had to be distracted away from them, or, as most commentators see it, he had lapsed into a lowered state of consciousness from which he had to be roused for the visions yet to come. One thing is clear: he was not awakened from actual sleep because he is said to have been roused “like a man who is awakened out of his sleep.” What was true for Zechariah is true of us generally: unless God’s Spirit awakens us from spiritual lethargy, we cannot receive his Word.
When Zechariah was wakened to the necessary prophetic state, he was faced with an arresting but beautiful vision (Zech. 4:2–3). The first item Zechariah mentions is the lampstand. Most older commentators understand this as the golden lampstand described in Exodus 25:31–40, which goes by the Hebrew word used here, the menorah. This lampstand stood within the original temple and is famously depicted on Titus’s Arch in Rome. This beautiful object consisted of a golden base and shaft, from which protruded six stems—three on either side—so that the whole presented the appearance of a tree of light that held seven lamps.
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What Does the Lampstand Signify?
What is certain is that Zechariah, in his heightened state of spirituality, was confronted by a brilliant and stunning scene centered around a marvelous lampstand of gold. If we put ourselves in his place, we can imagine the impression it made, which is more important than an agreement on its details. Out of the darkness of the night, Zechariah beheld a blazing lampstand. Its image conveyed majesty, beauty, priceless value, all in the form of light shining into the darkness.
Those who understand the lampstand to represent the seven-stemmed menorah of the holy place naturally associate Zechariah’s vision with the temple. Zechariah was a priest, so he would have been quite familiar with the temple’s lampstand. Part of the temple service, morning and night, was to enter the holy place to trim its wicks and replenish its oil (Ex. 30:7–8). However, we visualize Zechariah’s visionary lampstand, the context of chapter 4 demands that we connect this vision to the temple, for Zechariah 4:7–9 tells us that its primary purpose is to encourage the efforts to rebuild the temple.
Another likely idea represented by this lampstand is God’s presence, bringing blessing and grace (2 Sam. 22:29). The book of Revelation shows that God's light will shine forever in the heavenly city to come (21:23). Isaiah associates the coming of light into the darkness with the Immanuel (“God with us”) who was to come (Isa. 9:2). This is associated with Zechariah’s lampstand by the previous vision that focused on the coming Messiah. Jesus, who is Immanuel, said of himself: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
What Does Zechariah 4:6 Mean?
Given the familiarity of the lampstand as a symbol, Zechariah’s puzzled response may seem odd. He gasped to the angel, “What are these, my lord?” (Zech. 4:4). Zechariah’s confusion strikes us, and the angel suggests that he ought to understand: “Do you not know what these are?” the angel answered. “No, my lord,” the prophet replied (v. 5).
This exchange reminds us that visions often present unusual and even confusing sights. Visions are picture-books, not puzzle books; the angel leaves the picture unsolved instead of pressing forth the spiritual application. In other words, its message lay not in the physical realm but the spiritual realm. He explained: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
The words “might” and “power” (Hebrew, hayil, and koah) are practically the same. The first is often associated with the might of numbers, as in a war host or great workforce, while the second speaks more directly of physical strength. However, the point is in contrast: it is not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit. Zechariah 4:6 is a motto given to Zerubbabel and thereby the whole community to guide all their labors and spiritual lives.
What Will Be Done by the Spirit of the Lord?
The vision of the golden lampstand also represents God's people, which in the Old Testament was Israel and in the New Testament is the Church. In this case, the vision promises the spiritual empowering of God’s people for their work of shining forth God’s light. Both for Zerubbabel and the Israelites and us today, this is to be the motto for service to God: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
Jesus concluded the ministry of his first coming not with the cross, or even with his resurrection or ascension into heaven, but with his outpouring of the Spirit on the church at Pentecost. It was by sending the Spirit to God’s people on earth that Jesus empowered his disciples to carry on with his own work.
If we rely on God’s Spirit, this will be seen in our bold proclamation of the gospel, which Paul describes as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Paul asserted this principle to the Corinthians, writing of his own unwillingness to employ the day's faddish methods (1 Cor. 2:2–5). Paul was talking about a plain and straightforward witness, unadorned by the eloquence of Greek rhetoric or formal debate so that it would be by God’s Spirit through God’s Word that hearts were touched, minds were persuaded, and converts were won. Later, he said the same thing in different words (2 Cor. 4:2). So, should it be for us in the Church.
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What Does This Verse Mean for Us?
The principle mentioned in the preceding paragraph also applies to our lives as individual Christians. Without the Spirit’s work, we cannot even come to faith.
What about Christian growth and sanctification? What is the power that enables us to turn from sin and live holy lives? Paul answers: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).
Sanctification is not achieved by our own might or power, but by God’s Spirit through our believing use of the ordinary means of grace: God’s Word, the sacraments, and prayer. The Spirit is Christ’s gift, not a power we can “plug into” at our will or whip up by the right spiritual technology. Instead, it is where there is faith in Christ and humble reliance on God’s power, where God is glorified instead of man, where God’s Word is faithfully taught, and where believers join in fervent prayer, there Jesus sends the Spirit as God’s loving provision.
What about our effectiveness in Christian service and witness? Is it by might? Is it by power? Should Christians aim to achieve positions of power or wealth or prestige to make an impression on Jesus? This is the way many of us are tempted to think. But it is not by might, nor by power or riches or glamour or popularity, that we really serve Christ well. It is by the Spirit of God working in and through us as we trust and obey God’s Word.
We Are the Lamp to the World
All this leads us back to the vision of the lampstand, blazing as it was before the wondering eyes of the prophet. We have seen that this vision points to the temple building—the symbol of God’s presence on earth—to the Messiah Jesus Christ, and the church. That means that each and every believer is included in this vision, being joined to Christ through faith and having entered into the spiritual body of his church. Every Christian is a lamp on a stand, precious to God, called as a humble light-bearer before the darkness of the world (Matt. 5:14, 16).
These words express the central purpose of our lives that God would be glorified through us. The vision tells us how this will happen. The power for the lamps comes from the oil God provides, his own Holy Spirit. The flame is our testimony before the world, in words and deeds. We are the lamps that shine in his power: we fulfill our function not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit God will surely give us as we believe, obey, and pray.
The question, then, is this: whose light do we want to shine? Whose glory do we wish to extol? If it is our own, then it will have to be by might and by power—by wealth, by worldly influence, fame, and popularity. These can seem very impressive to our eyes, but they are lights that burn dimly at best and briefly.
But if we will offer up ourselves, our lives, as wicks for that eternal flame—not by might but by God’s own Spirit—then ours will be a light that blazes beautifully now and brilliantly forever. As the angel said to the prophet Daniel in another vision, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).
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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.
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