Not by Might, Nor By Power

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 8 April 2010.

“Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, 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” (Zechariah 4:6).

The name Zechariah means ‘Yahweh Remembers.’ And this is the theme of his prophecy.

Zechariah began his ministry about 2 months after Haggai preached his first sermon. Haggai had preached to stir the people from their slumber so that they would begin again to rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem which had been lying in uncompleted ruin for 16 years.

Zechariah complemented Haggai’s ministry. He sought to provoke the people to continue in the work they had begun to do. He encouraged the people with the fact that God remembers His covenant. He will never leave nor forsake His people whom He has adopted as His children.

In this way, Zechariah worked hand in hand with Haggai. It is not surprising then, that Zechariah emphasises some of the same things as Haggai. In particular, in this study, we want to consider a promise of God conveyed through Zechariah that will remind us of what He said through Haggai, namely:

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zec 4:6).

Notice that this is both a promise and a reminder. But how ever you look at it, you must realise that it cannot be studied by itself. It is part of a night vision that the Lord gave to Zechariah in 519 BC. The Lord gave Zechariah eight visions in that night. Our text is part of the 5th vision recorded in chapter 4.

This is the vision of the golden candlestick and two olive trees. Let us, therefore, study this promise under three heads: (1) The Basis of the Promise; (2) The Thesis of the Promise; and (3) The Praxis of the Promise.

1. The Basis of the Promise

Our chapter begins with an angel waking Zechariah up and asking him: “What seest thou?” What does he see?

He sees a golden candlestick, or lampstand. This lampstand has a bowl right at the top where oil can be added, and it has seven branches with a lamp on each of the branches. The oil to keep the lamps burning is poured into the bowl at the top and piped to the seven lamps through the seven branches.

This unique candle lampstand is known as the menorah. It is one of the symbols of the modern state of Israel, the other being the Star of David. There were ten of these candlesticks in Solomon’s temple (2 Chr 4:7), but originally in the tabernacle, there was only one.

In Zechariah’s vision, the lampstand is flanked by two olive trees. These two olive trees produce golden olive oil (v. 12) and remarkably the golden olive oil are piped immediately to the golden candlestick.

This is a lampstand that does not need to be manned. The candlestick that was in the temple at Jerusalem had to be manned 24 hours a day. The priests had to be put on a rota to make sure that there was always enough oil for the seven lamps to burn continuously without ever going out (Lev 24:1-4). But not this lampstand.

Now, it is clear that this vision of the lampstand is central to the promise we are considering, for it is in response to Zechariah’s question on what the vision means that the angel says—

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” (v. 6).

This is the thesis statement of the vision. The vision is the basis and illustration of the thesis. But what does the vision mean?

Thankfully, we have the advantage of biblical hindsight to understand what it means. Need we have any doubt, for example, that the lampstand represents the church of Christ? In Revelation 1, we are told that the apostle John saw a vision of the ascended Lord Jesus standing in the midst of seven candlesticks. There John was told specifically: “the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Rev 1:20).

Each of the candlesticks or lampstand represents a congregation of the Lord so that, as a whole, the church universal is being pictured in the seven candlesticks. 

In the vision of Zechariah, it was a seven-branched lampstand, whereas in the vision of John, it was seven candlesticks. Why the difference? The difference, I believe, can be found in the fact that in the Old Testament, though there were many tribes, there was only one assembly, one temple and one worship.

In the New Testament, however, there would be numerous denominations and congregations. They would be governed separately and they would worship separately. So there are 7 separate candlesticks.

We have digressed, but the point is that the lampstand represents the church and her work. The Church, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament is to shine forth for Christ in a world of darkness and sin.

What about the olive oil that keeps the lamps going? What does that represent? It represents, no doubt, the Spirit of God.

“Oil,” according to Henstenberg, “is one of the most clearly defined symbols in the Bible” (Christology of the OT, 103). Everywhere in Scripture oil is seen as the type of the Holy Spirit. The prophets, priests, and kings in the Old Testament were anointed by with oil to symbolize the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Now, the lampstand in Zechariah’s vision is fed with a continual supply of golden olive oil in that the Church is continually sustained by the Spirit of God.

In Zechariah’s vision the two olive trees continually supply the lampstand with golden olive oil. Who do these two trees represent? Well, in answer to Zechariah’s question, the angel says, verse 14—

“These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

Who are these? Well, the words ‘anointed ones’ literally means ‘sons of oil.’ When that is clear, then it is not difficult for us to see that they probably refer to Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the prince in the kingly line of David.

But if it is them, why are they not named? Well, they are not named because God was teaching his people a principle. You see, the vision is not so much about Zerubbabel and Joshua, as it is about Christ whom they represent. The king and priest of the Old Testament were anointed because they were representatives of Christ, the Anointed One. Messiah, or Christ, means “Anointed One.”

God’s work would be sustained through His anointed servants, powerfully and constantly endowed with the Spirit of Christ! So ultimately, it is Christ by His Spirit who will ensure the success of His Work in the Church.

This same principle would have originally encouraged Zerubbabel the governor. Zerubbabel together with Joshua had led the people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. But they were not very successful. The project had hardly taken off when it stalled. Then for 16 years the temple laid in uncompleted ruin.

Well, under the ministry of Haggai the prophet, the work has begun again. But the progress has been slow; and there were many discouraging obstacles; and no doubt many discouraging remarks.

Zerubbabel’s hand must have been weakened by lack of enthusiastic support and perhaps even by many criticisms. He must have been wondering how they are ever going to be able to complete the work.

Where am I going to find the manpower and expertise to finish this work? How am I going to find the strength to press on in the midst of all the difficulties? Oh how can I cross this great mountain in front of me?

What is the Lord’s answer to Zerubbabel? The Lord’s answer is essentially the vision of the Lampstand and Olive Trees, which is really the basis and illustration of the point that the Lord is seeking to bring across. What is the point? The point is the promise, which is our text.

Consider, therefore, ...

2. The Thesis of the Promise

6b Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”

What was the Lord saying to Zerubabbel? He was saying to him: The work that they were engaged to do—even the rebuilding of the Temple and of Jerusalem was a work of Christ. It was a work that must be done spiritually. It would not be accomplished by the strength and power of man. It would, rather, be done by the power of the Spirit of Christ. It would be completed because God’s Spirit would energise the work.

What is the Lord saying to us as His people? He is saying to us: This work that we are doing together as a church of Christ cannot and will not be accomplished by the power or ability of man, nor by our combined might. It is a work that must be done spiritually. It will have to be done by the power and help of the Holy Spirit. It will be successful because the Spirit of Christ will energise the work.

What is impossible with man is not just possible, but easy with God. Where man fails, God never fails. The mountains of man are less than molehills to God. Indeed, where the Spirit of God is at work, mountains will become plains. Look at verse 7—

7 Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.

In other words, no mountain will be too great for Zerubbabel. If Zerubbabel relied on the Lord, he would overcome all difficulties.

And at the end of it, his heart would be so full of gratitude to the Lord, that when the temple was completed and he was given the privilege of laying the memorial headstone, he could only cry ‘Grace, grace!’ It was by God’s grace we begun! It was by God’s

grace we continued! It was by God’s grace we finished the work! His grace was sufficient for us! Though we were weak we were strong by His grace! Grace, grace, great grace, amazing grace, that none can comprehend!

This is the message that God was seeking to bring across to Zerubbabel through the vision of the lampstand and olive trees and the promise that is implied. Zerubbabel must be reminded not to take the task appointed to him merely as an ordinary piece of work. He must understand that the temple he was re-building was no ordinary edifice. It is the temple of God. It would stand as a witness of God’s grace towards its people. It would serve as a light of the world until Christ, the Light of the World, comes.

God was seeking to encourage Zerubbabel with these truths. He is reminding us of the same things. We must not have the illusion that success of the church is dependant on the strength and ability of the minister and elders and deacons. It does not depend on how hard and well we work together. And neither should we become overtly discouraged even when things appear depressing at the moment.

Things were very discouraging for Zerubbabel and his builders at that time. When they looked at the ruins of the temple and the amount of things that needed to be done, and the slow pace of the work, how their hearts must have sunken!

But God would not allow them to become discouraged. He reminded them to look at things through spiritual eyes.

Through the eyes of flesh, they would see only the rubble, the difficulties and the slow progress. But through the eyes of faith, they would see rather the temple completed and beyond.

10 For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.  

The people of old must believe God’s promise that He is supplying the Spirit to ensure success. They must walk by faith and not by sight and so be tempted to despise the day of small things.

What is true for them is also true for us. For consider thirdly, …

3. The Praxis of the Promise

Clearly, the Lord is reminding us that if we will go about to do the work of the Lord by our own strength, we will fail; and we have reasons to be discouraged.

But if we go about it in the strength of the Lord, we must have faith to believe that God will see to it that the work will bear fruit for His glory.

The seven eyes of the LORD in verse 10 are essentially symbolic of that. God will perfectly see to it that all work carried out by His spirit will come to a glorious conclusion. And He is daily and constantly supplying what we need spiritually for success in His work. This is God’s promise.

The vision of the lampstand reminds us of the goal that God has for us individually and corporately, namely to glorify God. “Ye are the light of the world” says our Lord (Mt 5:14)

… A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.… 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Mt 5:14-16)

Likewise, the apostle Paul reminds us that we must hold forth the word of life that we may shine as lights in this crooked and perverse world (Phil 2:15-16).

The responsibility on our shoulder is very great. When we think about it we can get very discouraged, for we find ourselves having little strength and resources to bear forth a stronger and clearer witness.

But we must remember the counsel of the Lord:

6 … Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. 

10 For who hath despised the day of small things?

Let us remember that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

When Zechariah preached to the people, Christ had not yet gone to the Cross and ascended to heaven, and yet He could assure the people of a constant supply of His Spirit. Today Christ has completed the work He came to do. He has risen from the dead and He has ascended up to the right hand of God, and He has poured down the Spirit to strengthen His church with His might.

If Zerubbabel must believe the word of Zechariah, how much more must we? We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. How does Christ strengthen us? He strengthens us by His Spirit and by His Word on the basis of His atonement. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14). How does the Spirit lead? By the Word on the basis of Christ’s atonement.

Dearly beloved brethren and children, let us not be discouraged by the day of small things. Let us not be discouraged by the troubles which confront us day by day. Let us not be discouraged by our own inability and weaknesses—for when we are weak, then we are strong.

Let us, rather, be much in prayer waiting upon the Lord. Let us be dependent upon Him. Let us seek by His grace to be obedient to His Word and calling.

In Him and through Him we shall attempt great things for God.


6 … Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

Amen. Ω