(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 9)
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-second. 
Zechariah 4:7 
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. 
    Here the angel pursues the same subject which we have been 
already explaining - that though the beginning was small and seemed 
hardly of any consequence and importance, yet God would act in a 
wonderful manner as to the building of the temple. But as this was 
not only arduous and difficult, but also in various ways impeded, 
the angel now says, that there would be no hindrance which God would 
not surmount or constrain to give way. He compares to a mountain 
either the Persian monarchy or all the hosts of enemies, which had 
then suddenly arisen in various parts, so that the Jews thought that 
their return was without advantage, and that they were deceived, as 
the event did not answer to their wishes and hopes. 
    We now then perceive the design of the Holy Spirit: as Satan 
attempted by various artifices to prevent the building of the 
temple, the angel declares here that no obstacle would be so great 
as to hinder the progress of the work, for God could suddenly reduce 
to a plain the highest mountains. What art thou, great mountain? The 
expression has more force than if the angel had simply said, that 
all the attempts of enemies would avail nothing; for he triumphs 
over the pride and presumption of those who then thought that they 
were superior to the Jews: "Ye are," he says, "like a great 
mountain; your bulk is indeed terrible, and sufficient at the first 
view not only to weaken, but also to break down the spirits; but ye 
are nothing in all your altitude." 
    But the text may be read in two ways, "What art thou, great 
mountain? A plain before Zerubbabel;" or, "What art thou, great 
mountain before Zerubbabel? A plain." The latter rendering is the 
best, and it is also what has been universally received. And he says 
that this mountain was before Zerubbabel, that is, in his presence, 
for it stood in opposition to him. 
    Now this doctrine may be fitly applied to our age: for we see 
how Satan raises up great forces, we see how the whole world 
conspires against the Church, to prevent the increase or the 
progress of the kingdom of Christ. When we consider how great are 
the difficulties which meet us, we are ready to faint and to become 
wholly dejected. Let us then remember that it is no new thing for 
enemies to surpass great mountains in elevation; but that the Lord 
can at length reduce them to a plain. This, then, our shield can 
cast down and lay prostrate whatever greatness the devil may set up 
to terrify us: for as the Lord then reduced a great mountains to a 
plain, when Zerubbabel was able to do nothing, so at this day, 
however boldly may multiplied adversaries resist Christ in the work 
of building a spiritual temple to God the Father, yet all their 
efforts will be in vain. 
    He afterwards adds, He will bring forth the stone of its top. 
The relative is of the feminine gender, and must therefore be 
understood of the building. Zerubbabel shall then bring forth the 
stone, which was to be on the top of the temple. By the stone of the 
top, I understand the highest, which was to be placed on the very 
summit. The foundations of the temple had been already laid; the 
building was mean and almost contemptible: it could not however be 
advanced, since many enemies united to disturb the work, or at least 
to delay it. Nevertheless the angel promises what he afterwards 
explains more fully - that the temple would come to its completion, 
for Zerubbabel was to bring forth and raise on high the stone of the 
top, which was to be on the very summit of the temple. And then he 
subjoins, shoutings, grace, grace, to it; that is, God will grant a 
happy success to this stone or to the temple. The relative here 
again is feminine; it cannot then be applied to Zerubbabel, but to 
the temple or to the stone: it is however more probable that the 
angel speaks of the temple. And he says that there would be 
shoutings; for it was necessary to encourage the confidence of the 
faithful and to excite them to prayer, that they might seek, by 
constant entreaties, a happy and prosperous issue to the building of 
the temple. The angel, then, bids all the godly with one voice to 
pray for the temple; but as all prosperous events depend on the good 
pleasure of God, he uses the word "chen", grace, which he repeats, 
that he might more fully encourage the faithful to perseverance, and 
also that he might kindle their desire and zeal. 
    We now then see what this verse on the whole contains: first, 
the angel shows that however impetuously the ungodly might rage 
against the temple, yet their attempts would be frustrated, and that 
though they thought themselves to be like great mountains, it was 
yet in the power and will of God to reduce them to a plain, that is, 
suddenly to lay them prostrate. This is one thing. Then secondly, he 
adds, that a happy success would attend the building of the temple; 
for Zerubbabel would bring forth the top-stone, the highest. And 
lastly, he subjoins, that the faithful ought unanimously to pray, 
and so to persevere with the greatest ardour and zeal, that God 
might bless the temple, and cause the building of it to be 
completed. It now follows - 
Zechariah 4:8,9 
8 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 
9 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; 
his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of 
hosts hath sent me unto you. 
    He confirms in this passage what I lately stated - That there 
was no reason for the faithful to entertain doubts or to feel 
anxious, because they saw that the beginning of the building was 
mean and despised by the world; for the Lord would at length show 
that it was built by his sanction and command, and that it would 
succeed far better than all of them had thought. 
    But he says that the word of Jehovah came to him; and yet at 
the end of the next verse he shows that this address came from the 
mouth of the angel. But it is a well-known and a common mode of 
speaking, that God himself is said to speak, when he employs either 
angels or men as his agents; for the person of the messenger lessens 
in no degree the reverence due to the word: the majesty, then, of 
God ought to remain inviolable in his word, whether brought to us by 
men or by angels. Now the Prophet felt assured that nothing was 
adduced by the angel, but what he conveyed as the minister of God. 
    The sum of the whole is, that the temple, though some 
interruptions happened, was yet so begun that its completion was at 
length to be expected; as God had made use of the labours of 
Zerubbabel, so he would not forsake the work of his hands. Since, 
then, God was the chief founder of the building, it could not be but 
that the temple would at length be completed. 
    This is what the angel had in view in these words, The hands of 
Zerubbabel have founded this house. Of the foundation there was 
indeed no doubt; but many believed that the building would ever 
remain unfinished, for Satan had already by means of the most 
powerful enemies impeded its progress. As then despair had laid hold 
on the minds of almost all, the angel declares that Zerubbabel would 
gain his object in finishing the temple which he had begun. 
    He afterwards adds, Thou shalt know that God has sent me to 
you. Of this knowledge we have spoken elsewhere. The meaning is, 
that the event would be a sure and suitable proof, that nothing had 
been rashly undertaken by them, but that the temple was built by 
God's command, for his power would be evident in its completion. And 
he addresses the Prophet, who though he was fully persuaded of the 
event and of the fulfilment of this prophecy, yet learnt by what 
took place that the angel who gave the promise was sent from above. 
We have said elsewhere that there are two kinds of knowledge; one is 
of faith, which we derive from the word, though the thing itself 
does not appear; the other is of experience, when God adds 
accomplishment to the promise, and proves that he had not spoken in 
vain and this is the knowledge which the angel means when he says, 
Thou shalt know that I have been sent from above to you. 
    Now if this be applied to Christ, it may, as I have said, be 
justly done; for it is certain that angels were then sent in such a 
manner that Christ was the chief. Since, then, nothing was 
undertaken as to the building of the temple without Christ being the 
leader, he rightly says here that he was sent by the Father. It 
afterwards follows - 
Zechariah 4:10 
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. 
    Here the angel reproves the sloth and fear of the people, for 
the greater part were very faint-hearted; and he also blames the 
Jews, because they formed a judgement of God's work at the first 
view, Who is he, he says, that has despised the day of paucities? He 
does not ask who it was, as though he spoke only of one, or as 
though they were few in number or insignificant but he addresses the 
whole people, who were chargeable with entertaining this wrong 
feeling; for all were cast down in their minds, because they thought 
that the work begun would be a sport to the ungodly, and would come 
to nothing, according to what we read in Nehemiah, (3: 12,) that the 
old men wept, so that nearly all threw down their tools, and left 
off the building of the temple. We hence see that not a few despised 
the small beginnings, and that the minds of all the people were 
dejected, for they thought that they laboured in vain while building 
the temple, which made no approach to the glory and splendour of the 
former temple: "What are we doing here? we seek to build a temple 
for God; but what is it? does it correspond to the temple of 
Solomon? No, not in the tenth degree; yet God has promised that this 
temple would be most glorious." While then they were considering 
these things, they thought either that the time was not come, or 
that they toiled in vain, because God would not dwell in a tent so 
mean. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, Who is he that 
has despised the day of paucities? 
    God then sets himself in opposition to an ungrateful and ill- 
disposed people, and shows that they all acted very foolishly, 
because they cast and fixed their eyes only on the beginning of 
things, as though God would not surpass by his power what human 
minds could conceive. As then God purposed in a wonderful manner to 
build the temple, the angel reproves here the clamours of the 
    He then adds, They shall rejoice when they shall see the 
workman's plummet in the hard of Zerubbabel. Though he had adopted a 
severe and sharp reproof, he yet mitigates here its severity, and 
promises to the Jews that however unworthy they were of such 
kindness from God, they would yet see what they had by no means 
expected, even Zerubbabel furnished with everything necessary for 
the completion of the temple. Hence they shall see Zerubbabel with 
his tin-stone; that is, with his plummet. As builders in our day use 
a plumb-line, so he calls that in the hand of Zerubbabel a 
tin-stone, which he had when prepared to complete the temple. 
    This doctrine may be also applied to us: for God, to exhibit 
the more his power, begins with small things in building his 
spiritual temple; nothing grand is seen, which attracts the eyes and 
thoughts of men, but everything is almost contemptible. God indeed 
could put forth immediately his power, and thus rouse the attention 
of all men and fill them with wonder; he could indeed do so; but as 
I have already said, his purpose is to increase, by doing wonders, 
the brightness of his power; which he does, when from a small 
beginning he brings forth what no one would have thought; and 
besides, his purpose is to prove the faith of his people; for it 
behaves us ever to hope beyond hope. Now when the beginning promises 
something great and sublime, there is no proof and no trial of 
faith: but when we hope for what does not appear, we give due honour 
to God, for we depend only on his power and not on the proximate 
means. Thus we see that Christ is compared to a shoot, which arises 
from the stem of Jesse. (Is. 11: 1.) God might have arranged that 
Christ should have been born when the house of David was in its 
splendour, and when the kingdom was in a flourishing state: yet his 
will was that he should come forth from the stem of Jesse, when the 
royal name was almost cut off. Again, he might have brought forth 
Christ as a full-grown tree; but he was born as an insignificant 
shoot. So also he is compared by Daniel to a rough and unpolished 
stone cut off from a mountain. (Dan. 2: 45.) The same thing has also 
been accomplished in our age, and continues still at this day to be 
accomplished. If we consider what is and has been the beginning of 
the growing gospel, we shall find nothing illustrious according to 
the perceptions of the flesh; and on this account the adversaries 
confidently despise us; they regard us as the off-scourings of men, 
and hope to be able to cast us down and scatter us by a single 
    There are many at this day who despise the day of paucity, who 
grow faint in their minds, or even deride our efforts, as though our 
labour were ridiculous, when they see us sedulously engaged in 
promoting the truth of the gospel; and we ourselves are also touched 
with this feeling: there is no one who becomes not sometimes frigid, 
when he sees the beginning of the Church so mean before the world, 
and so destitute of any dignity. We hence learn how useful it is for 
us at this day to be reminded, that we shall at length see what we 
can by no means conjecture or hope for according to present 
appearances; for though the Lord begins with little things, and as 
it were in weakness, yet the plummet will at length be seen in the 
hand of the Architect for the purpose of completing the work. There 
is at this day no Zerubbabel in the world, to whom the office of 
building the temple has been committed; but we know that Christ is 
the chief builder, and that ministers are workmen who labour under 
him. However then may Satan blind the unbelieving with pride and 
haughtiness, so that they disdain and ridicule the building in which 
we labour; yet the Lord himself will show that he is the chief 
builder, and will give to Christ the power to complete the work. 
    He afterwards adds, These seven are the eyes of Jehovah, going 
round through the whole earth. The angel calls the attention of 
Zechariah to what we have before observed; for the discourse was 
respecting the plummet, and Zechariah said, that there were shown to 
him seven eyes in that stone. The angel explains what those seven 
eyes meant, even that the Lord by his providence would conduct the 
work to its completion. But we have said that seven eyes are 
attributed to God, that we may be assured that nothing is hid from 
him; for no one among men or angels possesses so great a 
clear-sightedness but that he is ignorant of some things. Many of 
Gods mysteries, we allow, are hid from angels; but when they are 
sent forth, they receive as much revelation as their office 
requires. But the angel shows here, that we ought by no means to 
fear that anything will happen which God has not foreseen; for the 
seven eyes, he says, go around through the whole earth: not that God 
has need of seven eyes; but we know what the number seven means in 
Scripture; it signifies perfection. 
    The meaning then is - that God would sufficiently provide that 
nothing should happen that might disturb him, or turn him aside, or 
delay him in the execution of his work. How so? because there were 
seven eyes; that is, he by his providence would surmount all 
difficulties, and his eyes went round through the whole earth, so 
that the devil could devise nothing behind or before, on the right 
hand or on the left, above or below, which he could not easily 
frustrate. We now then perceive the object of the Prophet. 
    With regard to the words, some render "eleh" in the neuter 
gender, "These are seven, they are the eyes of God." But as to the 
sense, there is no ambiguity: for the angel would have the faithful 
to recumb on God's providence, in order that they might be secure 
and fear no danger; as the Lord would remove whatever was contrary 
to his purpose. It now follows - 
Zechariah 4:11-14 
11 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive 
trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side 
12 And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive 
branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out 
of themselves? 
13 And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And 
I said, No, my lord. 
14 Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the 
Lord of the whole earth. 
    The same vision is again related, at least one similar to that 
which we have just explained; only there is given a fuller 
explanation, for the Prophet says that he asked the angel what was 
meant by the two olive-trees which stood, one on the right, the 
other on the left side of the candlestick, and also by the two pipes 
of the olive-trees. Some render "shevilim" ears of corn, thinking 
that the branches of the olive-trees are compared to ears of corn, 
because they were full and loaded with berries; but the metaphor 
seems to me immaterial. The word in Hebrew is indeed ambiguous; but 
it often means a pipe, or a running or flowing; and this sense best 
suits this passage; and I wonder that this meaning has been 
overlooked by all interpreters; for no doubt necessity constrained 
them to retake themselves to this metaphor, however unnatural it 
was. But we know that this spectacle was presented to Zechariah in 
order to show that the olive-tree continually supplied abundance of 
oil, lest the wick should become dry, and lest the lamps should thus 
fail. Since then on every side there were pourers or pipes, and 
three tubes received the oil from one olive-tree, and four received 
it from the other, so that great abundance thus flowed from the two 
olive-trees, and since there were also seven pipes, we see how 
suitable it was that they should be between the olive-trees on the 
right and on the left, and also that their tubes for the oil should 
be between the pourers and the two pipes. As then the oil ran 
through the pourers and passed through the two pipes, he asks the 
angel what these flowing meant? The answer was, These are the two 
sons of oil, who stand before the Lord of all the earth; that is, 
they are the two fountains which supply oil from God himself, lest 
the lamps should fail through the want of it. This is the import of 
the whole. 
    I have said that there is some difference in the visions though 
the angel relates hardly anything new, except respecting the flowing 
and the tubes; but as a new explanation is given, Zechariah no doubt 
more fully considered what he had slightly looked on before. The 
more attentive then to the vision the Prophet became, the more 
confirmed he was; for God showed to him now what he had not 
sufficiently observed before, namely, that there were pipes or tubes 
through which the oil flowed into each of the pourers, and further, 
that these flowing or a continual running of the oil, was like that 
of a river, which runs through its own channel. But God intended to 
instruct his Prophet by degrees, that we may learn at this day to 
apply our thoughts to the understanding of his doctrine; for the 
instruction to be derived from it is not of an ordinary kind, as I 
have already reminded you. Indeed the state of things in our time is 
nearly the same with that of his time: for Christ now renews by the 
power of his Spirit that spiritual temple which had been pulled down 
and wholly demolished; for what has been the dignity of the Church 
for many ages? Doubtless, it has been for a long time in a 
dilapidated state; and now when God begins to give some hope of a 
new building, Satan collects together many forces from all parts to 
prevent the progress of the work. We are also tender and soft, and 
even faint-hearted, so that hardly one in a hundred labours so 
courageously as he ought. 
    We hence then learn how necessary for us is this doctrine: it 
was not, therefore, to no purpose that the Prophet did not apprehend 
at once and in an instant what was presented to him in the vision, 
but made progress by degrees. 
    We have also mentioned before, that the desire of improvement 
observed in Zechariah ought to be noticed. For though we attain not 
immediately what God teaches, yet the obscurity of a passage ought 
not to damp our ardour; but we ought rather to imitate the Prophet, 
who, in things difficult and unknown to him, asked explanations from 
the angel. Angels are not indeed sent now to us from heaven to 
answer our questions; but yet no one shall be without benefit who 
will humbly and with a sincere desire ask of God; for God will 
either by his ministers so elucidate what seems obscure to us and 
full of darkness, that we shall know that there is nothing but what 
is clear in his word; or he will by the Spirit of knowledge and 
judgement supply what is deficient in the ministrations of men. 
    And this is also the reason why the angel replies, Dost thou 
not know what these mean? For he does not upbraid Zechariah with 
ignorance, but rather reminds all the faithful, that they ought to 
quicken themselves, and to exert all their ardour to learn, lest 
sloth should close up the way against them. This reply, then, of the 
angel no doubt belongs to us all, "Dost thou not know what these 
mean?" We ought to remember that the things we esteem as common far 
exceed our thoughts. It indeed often happens that one runs over many 
parts of Scripture, and thinks that he reads nothing but what is 
clear and well known, while yet experience teaches us that we are 
inflated with too much self-confidence; for we look down, as it were 
from on high, on that doctrine which ought, on the contrary, to be 
reverently adored by us. Then let every one of us, being warned by 
this sentence of the angel, acknowledge that he as yet cleaves to 
first principles, or, at least, does not comprehend all those things 
which are necessary to be known; and that therefore progress is to 
be made to the very end of life: for this is our wisdom, to be 
learners to the end. 
    I come now to the answers of the angel, These are the two sons 
of oil. Some understand by the two sons of oil a king and a priest; 
but this is by no means suitable. There is no doubt but that he 
calls the perpetual flowing the two sons of oil; as though he had 
said, that it could not possibly be that the grace of God should 
ever fail to preserve the Church, as God possesses all abundance, 
and bids his grace so to flow, as that its abundance should never be 
    He therefore says, that they stand with the Lord of the whole 
earth: for "al" sometimes means with, and sometimes concerning; but 
I prefer taking its simple meaning; therefore, stand do the sons of 
oil with the Lord. Some render, "nigh the Lord," but improperly; for 
they pervert the Prophet's meaning, inasmuch as the angel means that 
these two sons of oil stood with God, as though he had said, that 
there is such fullness of grace in God, that it could never be 
exhausted. Though then the oil flowed, it would yet be sufficient to 
replenish the seven lamps, that is, fully; so that God would raise 
up his Church, preserve it safe, and lead it to the highest 
perfection. Hence God is not so poor but that he can continually 
supply as much grace as will be sufficient for the preservation of 
his Church. How so? because there are two sons of oil, that is, two 
continual flowing from him, so that the faithful shall really find, 
that when they are enriched by the gifts of God, they are in no 
danger of being in want. This is the meaning. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since Satan at this day sets against us 
many terrors to cast us down, and we are very weak, - O grant, that 
with our eyes lifted above we may meditate on that invincible power 
which thou possesses, and by which thou canst overcome all the 
hindrances of this world: and then, when nothing in this world but 
what is contemptible appears to us as capable to confirm and support 
our faith, may we, by the eye of faith, behold thine hidden power, 
and never doubt but that thou wilt at length perform what the world 
at this day thinks to be impossible and therefore ridicules; and may 
we so constantly persevere in this confidence, that every one of us 
may devote to thee his labour to the end, and never faint in the 
work of promoting the spiritual building, until at length we 
ourselves shall be gathered, and others shall be gathered through 
our labours, to offer to thee not only spiritual sacrifices, such as 
thou receives now from us, but also to offer to thee, together with 
the angels, eternal sacrifice of praise and triumphant thanksgiving, 
on seeing perfected what at this day is only weakly begun. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 10...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-09.txt