Robes for Worship and Light to Shine

Notes of two addresses on Zechariah 3 and 4.
W. J. Hocking.


Few words relating to the general scope of the prophecies of Zechariah may be of some value as a supplement to the notes that follow of two addresses originally delivered for the encouragement of those of the children of God who see the difficulties but not always the resources of the present day.

Zechariah the priest (Neh. 12:16) prophesied in Jerusalem to those Jews who had been permitted by Darius to return from their exile to the city of their God. The express object of their return was to rebuild the house of God destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Difficulties arose in the execution of this work, and the zeal of the people flagged, so that they abandoned the construction of the house of the Lord, and built houses for themselves (Haggai 1:2-11). But through the ministry of Zechariah, which was preceded and accompanied by that of Haggai, the enthusiasm of the repatriated remnant was reawakened, and some twenty years after their return from Babylon the house of God was completed (Ezra 6:15).

Zechariah prophesied during a period of two years or more. He prefixes dates to most of his separate communications, but it will be noted that he uses Gentile, not Jewish chronology (Zech. 1:1; Zech. 1:7, etc.).

The collection of his prophecies may be divided into two parts, and may be thus distinguished: —
(A) Prophetic visions (Zech. 1 – 6);
(B) Prophetic messages (Zech. 7 - 14).

While the prophecies had reference to the feeble and broken of the people who had indeed returned from Babylon to the land of Judah but were still under the Persian yoke, the word of the Lord looks onward to the coming of Christ, first to suffer and then to reign, first to be rejected and then to be welcomed. The eventual restoration of all Israel, as well as of Judah, is definitely foretold (Zech. 1:19; Zech. 8:13; Zech. 9:1; Zech. 11:14; Zech. 12:1).

In the first part of the book (A: 1 - 6), the Jews are warned to turn to God from their evil doings; and in support of this urgent call to repentance, the prophet records eight visions* which had all come to him in a single night. These visions, with a brief indication of what appears to be their significance respectively, are as follows: —
(1) The red horse and his rider, with three other horses (Zech. 1:7-17): signifying the empires of Persia, Greece and Rome, the empire of Babylon having been destroyed.
(2) The four horns and the four carpenters [smiths] (Zech. 1:18-21): the retributive judgments which would fall upon the adjacent powers that scattered Israel and Judah.
(3) The survey of Jerusalem (Zech. 2:1-13): the appropriation of Jerusalem for Jehovah for future blessing. Compare similar acts of measurement in Ezekiel 40 and in Revelation 11.
(4) The investiture of the high priest, who is first seen in foul robes (Zech. 3:1-10): the spiritual cleansing of the people in order that they might become Jehovah's priestly nation.
(5) The golden candlestick and the two olive trees (Zech. 4:1-14): the restoration of the nation to the place of witness for God in the earth under the Offspring of the house of David.
(6) The flying roll (Zech. 5:1-4): the decreed judgments of God which would break out upon the holy land because of their moral guilt.
(7) The woman, and the ephah carried to the land of Shinar (Zech. 5:5-11): the return of the people to Babylon (idolatry) in total abandonment of the worship of Jehovah.
(8) The four chariots and horses (Zech. 6:1-8): the great world powers whose actions are seen in the vision to be under the control of the Lord of all the earth.

{*Some expositors make seven visions, counting that of the flying roll and the woman and ephah as one, but though they both speak of judgment, the prophet “lifts up” his eyes successively to see the two sights (Zech. 5:1, 5).}

This section is concluded with a reference to Messiah as the King-Priest who will build the temple of Jehovah. As a Priest upon His throne He will exercise His Melchizedek priesthood and introduce millennial glory to the earth (Zech. 6:9-15).

The second part of the book (B: 7 - 14) commences with the word of the Lord which came to Zechariah two years later than the night-visions (cp. Zech. 1:1; Zech. 7:1). The later communications show that while Messiah will undoubtedly come to put an end to Gentile supremacy and to restore the kingdom to Israel, He at first will be rejected by the Jews with contumely and scorn.

In Zech. 7 and Zech. 8, the Jews are charged with hypocrisy in their fasts, but Jehovah nevertheless promises that there shall finally be fulness of blessing for both Israel and Judah, and that their fasts shall be turned into feasts.

A “burden” is begun in Zech. 9, wherein God promises to subdue the surrounding enemy peoples, and gives a direct prophecy of the anointed King coming to Zion, lowly and riding upon an ass (Zech. 9:9). Nevertheless, Messiah will be just and will bring salvation, and it is in this character that He will deliver His people from their oppressors, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. The subject of the general restoration of all Israel is continued to the end of Zech. 10.

In the following chapter there is distinct prediction of the Messiah, who would come to the poor of the flock as their Shepherd. He would be a marked contrast to the foolish shepherd or Antichrist whom the Jews would receive. The Good Shepherd would be so disdained of the nation that they would offer no more than thirty pieces of silver to secure His betrayal into their hands.

Antichrist having been introduced into the prophetic message (Zech. 11), the last three chapters (Zech. 12 - 14) are occupied with the events of the closing days which end with the establishment of the kingdom of Israel under the Great King.

The feeble and dispirited remnant were encouraged by these striking messages by the lips of Zechariah to look ahead to the consummation of the divine purpose, when Jerusalem, though then lying in ruins, will be the acknowledged metropolis of the world, and all nations will come up to Mount Zion to worship Jehovah of hosts, who will be King over all the earth.

Before this happy issue, however, Jerusalem will repent of her sins with great mourning, for the house of David will look on Him whom they pierced (Zech. 12:10), and a fountain will be opened for their sin and uncleanness (Zech. 13:1).

There will be a great league of nations in the last days, and Jerusalem will again be besieged. But in that day Jehovah will appear for the deliverance of His people and the utter discomfiture of their foes (Zech. 14:1-3).

From this rapid summary it will be gathered that the great object of the prophecies of Zechariah was the encouragement of the Jews of Ezra's day to proceed with the work of re-building immediately before them on the ground that Jehovah will assuredly redeem His promises to Abraham and David and others, and that eventually when Messiah comes, the day of weakness will be succeeded by the day of glory and by the new heavens and earth wherein righteousness dwells.

This feature is specially prominent in the two visions (Zech. 3:1 - 4:14) which form the subject of the two addresses.

First Address

Robes for Worship

Joshua's Filthy Garments Removed (Zech. 3)

This is one of the eight visions that came to Zechariah the prophet. They all had regard to the then condition of the small remnant of Jewish people recently returned to Jerusalem. But these visions, in addition to their local and immediate application, had also a forward look to the great tide of blessing that will come to the earthly people of Jehovah in a day yet future, for the word of the Lord in this, as in all respects, cannot return to Him void; it must be accomplished.

While however the direct application of the vision which I have now read is to God's earthly people, we may without spiritualising derive from it help and light in so far as it has by analogy a bearing upon the present condition of things in Christendom; and with this object in view it is proposed this evening to look at some of the points most prominent in this chapter.

The Shattered Nation

First of all, I may be allowed to recall to your memories the condition of the people to whom this prophecy was first spoken. The nation of Israel was broken up most sadly on account of their own evil and idolatrous departure from the Living God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They fell into the ways of the idolatrous peoples around them, and therefore God, in His governmental dealings, showed His displeasure with their conduct. As a nation the people of Israel were the custodians of His law. But they had broken faith with Him. They were no longer worthy of their place in the forefront of the nations of this world, and one of the two kingdoms into which the people were divided in the days of Rehoboam was overthrown. The Northern tribes were taken prisoners by Assyria and expatriated. The ten tribes in the time of Zechariah were lost to earthly ken, are lost today, and will be so until the Great Shepherd of Israel seeks them out upon the Gentile mountains on which they are scattered, and brings them back rejoicing to their own heritage.

Two tribes were left in the land. They, too, had failed and were also over-run by a Gentile power. Nebuchadnezzar took away the kingdom and people of Judah, destroyed the city of God, and broke down the temple of Jehovah upon Mount Moriah.

The land of Judah lay waste for long years, and the face of God was averted from His chosen people. They languished in Babylon for many years until God turned to them again and released them from their captivity. He gave them favour in the eyes of the Gentile power. But oh! see them coming back. What were they in point of numbers? Fifty thousand all told out of the mighty host of Israel; truly they were but a small company compared with the two millions or so who had marched through the Red Sea; just a poor, miserable crowd coming back from Babylon to their own land to find the city of God in desolation, and the holy house of Jehovah lying in shameful confusion upon Mount Moriah.

What were they to do who were but a handful of persons, in the face of the strong and active enemies about them? They came back in the manner recorded in the Book of Ezra. There were many valiant hearts; there were faithful men, and women too. And they realised that they were brought back for the purpose of establishing afresh a house for God in Jerusalem so that the worship of Jehovah might be reintroduced in the earth. During the interval of the Jewish captivity there was no place in the earth consecrated for the worship of God as ordered in Old Testament times. And these few men were called back from captivity to re-build what the Gentile power had destroyed.

With readiness of mind they set themselves to work, and the foundation of the temple was laid. Some rejoiced and some wept; the latter being cast down in despair when they compared the condition of things with the time of Solomon's reign, and thought of that magnificent house in all its beauty fresh from the hands of the builders. What was this little stone now laid on Mount Moriah, and the few people surrounding it, in comparison with the dedication of the former house? They were filled with dejection, as they remembered the past.

However, the foundation of the temple was laid, and then it was that a power arose in opposition to this work of God. Satan, the great enemy of God and man, was opposed to the restoration of the worship of God in Israel, and the Samaritans and others were stirred up by him to deter these feeble folk from carrying on their work.

But another very serious enemy interfered with the work of building, and that enemy, a more successful enemy than any, arose in their own breasts. They said: What about our own houses? What about some place for us to dwell in? What about our own position in Jerusalem? We must look after ourselves; we must secure our own little freehold in this land again. They therefore turned their backs upon the work of God, and set to work to erect their own houses. And for years the work of God's house was suspended, until God sent the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to stir up their hearts, to arouse them to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, to let their own houses alone, let God have His worship, let the priesthood have a place in which they could officiate according to the prescriptions of Moses. This testimony had its effect. We have made a selection from these prophecies of Zechariah for our consideration tonight.

The Building of the Church

But you say: What has this vision of Zechariah to do with us now? Surely we have no house to build; we have no cathedral to erect; surely there is no building of human architecture that has now to be reared. This is absolutely true. God is not now to be worshipped in this place or in that place, in this mountain or in that mountain. The worship of God is by the Spirit of God; it is in spirit and in truth that the Father seeks worshippers to worship Him. The essentials of worship are within the worshipper. Worship now springs from what was once the fountain of all evil. Evil thoughts and all evil action arise out of the heart of the natural man; and it is from that same heart begotten by the Spirit and indwelt by Him that worship and praise ascend to God like a fragrant incense.

Nevertheless there is a house in being, the house of God is still here below. There is a holy temple now growing to the Lord, unseen but nevertheless true. Surely I am speaking to those who are men of faith, who are confident that what is greatest and best and most permanent in this world consists of those things that are beyond our natural senses, that are the product of God's Holy Spirit working in men through His word. This fact is the characteristic feature, the essence of the New Testament teaching, and it illustrates the absolute contrast between the New Testament and the Old. The Old Testament was material and carnal, the New Testament brings out what is spiritual, is apprehended by faith, and is acceptable to God because men heed His word.

There is therefore a present work in this world in connection with the erection of God's house; for God's house consists, as we know, of those who are builded together for a habitation of God by His Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:22). The house is being constructed by the Spirit of God; but you and I have our responsibility with regard to it. We are helpers in this great work, and the voice of the Spirit will come to us, indeed, it does come to us, through the word, as to the part we are taking in this service.

When we look into the New Testament and see the foundation stone of the spiritual temple laid at Pentecost, we see a state of things which has no parallel at this present moment. We see a spirit of love, a spirit of power operating in the hearts of men which is not duplicated in modern days. The general features of the followers of Christ are quite changed from those seen in the earliest days. There is such a great difference as there was between the people of Israel as a whole nation, together as a community in this world for its own and the world's good, and its broken, scattered and helpless condition when the remnant returned from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Clean Garments for Holy Work

The Jews were deterred from building the temple because of the enemies that stood in the way and hindered their progress; but in this chapter, in this fourth vision of Zechariah, we find not what was outside the people, the power of the Samaritans, but we find what was inside them. We find the removal of an objection made to their labours which was founded upon the moral condition of the people themselves.

Let us consider what difficulty is meant. Clearly, to build a house for God is a holy work. To work directly for God demands that I must have a clean heart and clean hands. Any sort of person cannot come along and lend a hand in God's work. It is not everyone who is a fit partner in a great service for God. And this was just the difficulty in Jerusalem. The people had not been in Babylon without spiritual damage to themselves. They had there learned ways they had not learned in Zion. After all, what is idolatry? It is something that steals into the heart and displaces the throne of God there. We are all susceptible to this snare — to have a little altar in our heart to some thing or person other than God, and I think this was the case with these returned people. Even though they had outwardly abandoned the grosser forms of idolatry, they were, as God looked upon them, clothed in filthy garments.

I do not think I am stretching the meaning of the vision; let us read the scripture again. The prophet saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. In verse 3 we read, “Joshua was clothed in filthy garments, and stood before the angel.” Now you know that in the ritual of the nation of Israel the high priest had a double representative capacity. There were certain rites and ceremonies in which he stood before the people as representative of God. For example, when he came to them from God to declare the completion of atonement and to make known the law and the testimony to them as from God, he was as God to them. He was on such occasions the voice of God to the people, but he also executed another rite in which he acted as the representative of the people. Take the great day of atonement when the scapegoat was selected. The lot fell upon one of two goats to be slain as the Lord's offering, and the blood of that beast was taken into the most holy place. The other goat remained alive, and had its part to fulfil in the ceremony. That part was taken when the high priest clothed in his white garments laid his hands upon the head of the animal. In this attitude he confessed all the sins of the people. These iniquities and transgressions he uttered as spokesman for all the tribes of Israel, and they were transferred in figure to the head of this clean animal, which was then led away into an uninhabited place.

The high priest was on this occasion the representative of the people, and so he is in Zechariah's vision. As the representative of the people chosen for God's work he should be arrayed in spotless linen garments because he was in the holy place before the angel of the Lord. But Joshua is not seen in white robes; he is in filthy garments.

Cleansing Our Ways

How are we to apply this figure to ourselves? So far as the remnant of Israel were concerned, they were strictly, literally, unfit, as God looked upon them, to undertake the great work of the restoration of the temple. But let us put it to ourselves. What does it mean to be clad in filthy garments? Garments refer to what is external in our lives, to our words and conduct. We know that in God's sight the heart is unclean, and that when the word comes from the Lord Jesus Christ in living power to a man it cleanses his heart, so that the Lord can say of such a one, as He said of His disciples, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you.” Believers therefore have clean hearts.

But something else is necessary, and that is to have clean garments. The acts, the utterances, the habits, the associations, all these have to be pure, cleansed from all defilement, in order that a person may be such a representative in this world as God wishes. Clothed in heaven's livery as His servant, God says, “Now go, and do My work.” The world will then see one clothed in white garments, conduct spotless, words unblemished, the purpose without guile; the garments unspotted from the world. We sometimes forget, I think, that we have to co-operate with a God who is holy.

It is a great thing to believe and to know on the authority of God's word that as regards my former status as a sinner God cleanses me from every stain. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, does cleanse from every sin. But there are also the garments. When the leper was cleansed on the day of his purification the cleansing in a ceremonial sense was complete when the sacrifice was over. Two birds were taken alive and clean, and cedar wood and scarlet and hyssop. One bird was killed over the running water and the living bird was dipped in the water stained with the blood of the slain bird. Then it was freed, and the instructions were that the priest should at that juncture declare that the man was clean (Lev. 14:4-7).

No one could dispute the priest's word, but the instructions went on to specify the manner in which the man must cleanse himself. He must shave off all his hair, whitened by the ravages of leprosy, and he must wash his garments in water and remain away from the camp for seven days. This was his personal work. Turning to the antitype, it is equally true that in God's things He requires cleanly garbed servants. And the garment-cleansing is your work and mine. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

You will recollect that these two sides to the truth are also shown in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ at the grave of Lazarus. The Lord spoke at the tomb, saying, “Lazarus, come forth.” The dead man came forth, but he was seen still fettered in his funeral cerements. Then the Lord said, “Loose him, and let him go.” The loosing was the work of another. The word of the Lord to Lazarus did not remove the garments that fettered Lazarus, and prevented his mingling in his former pursuits. Until the risen man was unbound he was not free and active to serve God in this work-a-day world. And there are similar conditions in our spiritual relationships. God does His work; let us not fail to do our part in our cleansing, whether of ourselves or of one another.

The Heavenly Advocate

But you will say, Surely you are not considering your text; you are going beyond the scripture you have read. Zechariah's vision tells us explicitly that the removal of these garments from Joshua was the work of another. “He answered and spake to those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And to him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment (Zech. 3:4).

It is perfectly true that in the vision the external purification is performed by another. And you surely, as a person of experience, have proved how utterly impotent you yourself are to rid yourself of the evil habits and ways of your unregenerate state. They cling to you, though you struggle to free yourself. You would do good, but evil is present and prevalent with you. You have the best of desires, but the poorest of performances. You try and try and fail and fail; you find you cannot help yourself. You may say (and there is many a Christian who has just settled down to evil ways because he has tried so often and failed), “I shall get to heaven all the same; I have tried but I cannot do it”; and you just accept the condition of fettered hands and feet as inevitable, and leave it at that.

But, beloved friends, we find in the 7th chapter of Romans a vivid picture of a strenuous struggle with the inward propensities to evil. And it appears as though defeat were inevitable, but at the end of the chapter there is a shout of glorious victory. The apostle says, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here we learn that it is the Lord who gives the power of conquest.

The prophet Zechariah was looking into heaven in his vision. There the angel of the Lord was, and there also Satan was, pointing in scorn to the little people that God had brought back from Babylon defiled by Gentile manners. And, beloved friends, there is in heaven an accuser of us also, who says things about us that are true. He knows our lives, and he recounts on high our imperfections and failures. Another is there too, One not seen in this vision. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). It is the One who came, the blessed Son of God, to destroy the works of the devil, to oppose and nullify his activities. Hence we need not fear what the accuser may say, true though the charges may be, because there is One there to plead His death and by His gracious power also to cleanse us from that defilement, and so overcome the great accuser.

You may say, But how is the cleansing performed? The Lord Jesus Christ in heaven considers the details of our lives and ways, and, by the power of His gracious Spirit, brings home to us His cleansing words so that we become ashamed of our evil conduct, and in our secret closet we confess to Him our sins. And He is faithful and just to take away our filthy garments and to give us a sense of our real and unchangeable standing before Him.

We see therefore that even in that practical cleansing which is our responsibility, it is the Lord Jesus who really makes it effective.

Satan might accuse Joshua, but God said, “Have not I chosen Jerusalem?” “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee” (Zech. 3:2). We are what we are because God has chosen us. There are persons who are afraid to speak of God's electing power, afraid to take to themselves the glorious utterances in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Why is the fact of election recorded at all if it is not something for humble-minded believers to be proud of and to thank God for? It is written for you and for me, if we will only believe it.

Why did Jehovah bring the remnant back from Babylon? Because He promised Abraham that the world's blessing should be through his seed, and that word must stand. And what had Satan to say? Satan never kept his word from the beginning; he is a liar, as well as a murderer, from the beginning (John 8:44), and his purpose is to deceive and destroy the sons of men, but God's word abides for ever. Blessed are those whose hearts and feet rest upon the unchanging foundation of the holy word of the living and true God.

Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zech. 3:2), the Lord said of the returned remnant in Jerusalem. We too have been in the fire; we have been in the furnace of defiling sin, and its marks were left upon us. Sin wrote its name, as it were, upon us, and it was only the power and the grace of God that could remove its scars.

Here in the vision we see the work of reformation done. On this occasion the filthy garments were taken away, and Jehovah said, “Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments” (Zech. 3:5). The garments given were suited for the work that had now to be done. The Revised Version in Zech. 3:4 gives “rich apparel” for “change of raiment.”

In the second half of this chapter we have something communicated which is additional to the vision. There we have what was said by the angel of the Lord to Joshua as the representative of the people. This word laid upon him a great responsibility. “If thou wilt walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge, then thou shalt also judge My house, and shalt also keep My courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by” (Zech. 3:7), meaning in the latter sentence no doubt that he would be given special access into the presence of God. This privilege would be the result of obedience to God's word, and I think the principle has its application to us.

It was asked here last evening why it is that there is not a greater answer given by God to our prayers. This is a very practical question, because every believer in Christ has undoubted right of access to the presence of God in prayer, and what cannot prayer do?

Why then is it there are not greater answers to prayer? It is the prayer of a righteous man that avails much. The persons who are obedient to God's word are those who can go into His presence and have the right of access there. I am not limiting the fact that every believer in Christ can make his prayer to God and know that it shall be heard, but there are some who have power in prayer. There are those who prevail in prayer. And do you not think that God takes notice of my conduct, of my care for His word, of my zeal in His service? How can I, if I disregard what He has said, how can I come to Him with confidence and ask this, that or the other for other persons or for myself? No, I think there is a responsibility for practical holiness in connection with the undoubted privilege of every believer to pray to God. Let us see that we do not fail to receive answers to prayer because of personal unfaithfulness and unrighteousness in our ways.

The Temple Erected for Messiah.

But we must not overlook what follows, because in Zechariah 3:8 we get the key to the restoration of the people of Israel. With all respect to the people of the Jews as a nation, and they are certainly a remarkable nation in many ways, one really cannot see anything in them as a nation which explains why God should have selected them.

What were they more than the Persians or any other people? The reason for their restoration from Babylon was one absolutely different from anything derived from qualities of character. There was no merit whatsoever in them; but the remnant was delivered from captivity because God's word must be fulfilled, particularly His promise about the Lord Jesus Christ. That the promised Branch might shoot forth, the house of David must be restored.

The Lord must appear, and where must He appear? In the temple (Mal. 3:1). How could He appear in the temple if there was no temple in Mount Zion? The temple must therefore be built, because Messiah when He comes was to appear in the temple. Accordingly, when we open the Gospels we find there the record of the Holy Babe in the temple, brought into the temple at a given time, and Simeon is led there at the same time by the Holy Spirit, as Luke tells us (Luke 2:27). What for? To meet the Branch, the Day-spring from on high, the long-promised One. And when the aged saint sees the Babe he takes Him in his arms, and blesses God, saying, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”

The Lord in His life among men was notably associated with the temple. At twelve years of age He was found in the temple speaking to the doctors of the law, asking them and answering their questions. He was there, as He said, about His Father's business. He more than once went into the temple, and cast out of its courts those who sold animals for sacrifice and who exchanged money. He went there as the Anointed Servant to witness that His Father's house was being made a house of merchandise.

The Lord Jesus was to come to the temple, and therefore the chosen people must be restored to the holy land, and the temple rebuilt. When the fulness of time came, the lowly maiden of royal pedigree was found (not indeed in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth, though she was truly descended from the house and lineage of David) to bring forth that holy Babe who would be for the salvation of men. God's purposes in this respect must stand fast, and for this reason the Jews of Zechariah's day need not entertain any fear of their enemies.

As to our own times, we know that in that unseen temple which is being erected in this world the living stones are daily coming to that One who is truly the Living Stone, and they are being built up a holy temple to the Lord. Presently the headstone of the edifice will be added, and the whole thing will be complete, and the Lord Himself will come to receive to Himself His body and His bride. The work is going on, and the explanation of all successful gospel service is to be found, only as we regard it in the light of the glory of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is it that the word of God is so operative at the present day? Because the temple of God is being framed, and fashioned for the Lord Jesus Christ. When it is complete and manifested in glory, the heavenly city and the temple will be one (Rev. 21:10-22).

The Seven-eyed Stone

“Behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes” (Zech. 3:9). The foundation-stone of the temple was laid in Jerusalem. It was the witness that the work was begun. It was begun in the name of Jehovah, and what is begun in His name will surely be completed in His name. God never yet left a work unfinished. Man has many and many a time left his work, as he did the tower of Babel, because he was unable to complete it. No human work is really completed. The great engineering feats of the world are often said to be complete, but immediately the completion is announced an army of workers is provided to keep them in order and to prevent decay. But the work of God stands unaffected for evermore, and what He begins He will finish, and when finished it needs no amendment.

But another thing: “upon one stone shall be seven eyes,” He says. This is a figurative reference, of course, and this figure is more fully developed in the next chapter. But when the “eyes of the Lord” occur in prophetic language the general reference is to the great fact that God sits upon the throne of the universe and that His eyes run to and fro through the whole earth, beholding the evil and the good. And though men do not credit the active omniscience of God, still it is true. Here was the fact that in connection with this foundation stone were seven eyes, that is, the perfect government of God in this world as displayed in the coming kingdom will be associated with the Stone of Israel.

The reminder of God's perfect government was given to hearten up these people. The prophet said, as it were, Go ahead, and do your work; get on with the building of the temple; the Messiah the Prince is at hand. And they did get on, as we know. God is speaking in the same way now. We need a stirring up to greater zeal, and in connection with the work of the Lord particularly. The great truth to stir us up to courageous and self-denying effort is this: that God has put the reins of government in the hands of Him who was crucified, but now glorified.

When I open the last Book of the Bible I see seven eyes associated with the Lamb that was slain (Rev. 5:6). All powers of government are found in Him. The power to discern, to control, and to govern, to arrange things for peace and holiness, all are perfected in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The seven eyes in heaven are in exercise for us now. We are so often discouraged and perplexed with the events of daily life; this world seems to us to be in such a muddle. But whatever seems to be inexplicable, particularly as it concerns believers collectively, there is One who has complete control, and He sees and knows it all.

His seal, the mark of God, was engraved upon the foundation stone that they had despised and neglected (3:9). God had put His mark upon it, and it was to be a memorial in this world of the coming Messiah. It was on that account that they had to be up and doing. Compare the seal in 2 Tim. 2:19, and the consequent responsibility indicated in the verses that follow.

There are great lessons for us here in Christian life and relationship, and particularly in connection with the things of God as they concern believers collectively, because we have been speaking, not of the building of a single person's life and character, but of the great company of those that are Christ's taken together. Believers are linked with the Lord Jesus Christ, and they have a responsibility to one another in consequence.

Are we putting our own affairs first, or are we putting the affairs of Christ first? Are we in our prayers to Him saying, “Lord, show me what Thou wouldst have me to do to help and comfort my brethren, those who like myself have been saved by grace and are waiting for Thee to come from heaven”?

We have our own individual line, and we want help in this. But we must not forget those who are linked with us, because we are all linked with Christ. There are grave assembly difficulties, but there is no need to despair, the power of God is on our side. Let us labour therefore with zeal and diligence, counting nothing too great to give up in service, self-denying service, for Him who loved the church and gave Himself for it.

Second Address

The Candlestick, the Olive Trees, and the Oil (Zech. 4; 1 Peter 2:4-9).

I spoke last evening on the third chapter of the prophecies of Zechariah, but I then had no expectation of speaking this evening, and of following the subject further.

The fourth chapter contains another out of the series of eight visions which Zechariah the prophet had, and this is a complement of the one in the third chapter. The fourth and fifth visions form a pair, and they correspond by analogy with two correlated truths we have in the New Testament. In the third chapter the theme was that God was able to make the defiled people of the Jews who had been restored to their own land fit and competent to carry on His work in the restoration of the temple worship at Jerusalem. The high priest we saw at first clad in filthy garments, and then clad in robes befitting his holy task.

In the fourth chapter the question answered in the vision is not so much building God's house to restore His worship as a competency to testify in the earth to the name of Jehovah of hosts. The candlestick seen in vision is plainly a figure of the spread of light. It signifies therefore a means of witness or testimony. You must recollect that in Old Testament times there was but one nation that held the knowledge of the true God. Scatter that people among the nations, and where is the testimony of God? It is gone. God says in effect in this vision, I will bring back My people from their captivity and put them in the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and they shall again be custodians of My law. Such was the meaning, the strict spiritual meaning, of the candlestick that Zechariah saw.

The Living Stone

Now in the scripture that we read from the 1st Epistle of Peter you see that the two services indicated in Zechariah 3 and 4 respectively, worship and testimony, attributed to believers of the present day. Peter speaks of those who had come to the Living Stone. You recollect that in the third chapter of our prophet there was a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ under the Old Testament figure of the Stone. But in the New Testament there is a new feature revealed in connection with this figure of the Lord Jesus. He is there shown not only as a Stone, but as a living Stone, which, as a term, is a contradiction in nature.

But we ought always to remember when considering the figures used in God's word that they relate to spiritual things that cannot be adequately depicted by physical phenomena: they have no exact counterpart in nature. A stone speaks of what is dead, inanimate. It is normally without motion or power; but when it is called a “living” stone, something that is supernatural is denoted. It becomes, as we cannot fail to see, an appropriate figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has no peer among the sons of men, nor in the universe. He was the Life: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” All life in its origin and maintenance was vested in Him, and so He was the Living Stone.

There were those in Peter's day, and those, thank God, in this day, who have come to Christ as the Living Stone, disallowed indeed by men, of no account in the councils of men, but chosen of God. As we believe from our very souls, He was the sent One of God. We confess that He is the Son of the Living God, and own this truth in the face of all men. He is the chosen One of God, and precious to us because He meets our deepest need. When we were faced with the guilt of our sins there was no hope upon earth for us, and what could we expect from the heaven against which we had sinned? Then the light of the gospel shone upon us, and we came to Jesus to find our every need met in Him. He is precious to us because of this.

The Holy Priesthood for Worship

In connection with our coming to that Living Stone we find two facts referred to by Peter. There are indeed many important facts in these verses, but I only wish to refer to two of them this evening — worship and testimony.

Those who come as living stones are called in the 5th verse “a holy priesthood” amongst other things, whilst in the 9th verse they are called “a royal priesthood.” The particular function of the holy priesthood as declared in the 5th verse is to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; and herein you see a correspondence with the truth embodied in the vision of Zechariah 3, that God has in the world those whom He has cleansed for a specific purpose, viz. , to sing the praises of His new creation. The birds of the old creation sing upon the tree tops in their natural way to the God of nature, to the glory of Him who created them; but there is also a new creation. Some men are born again. They stand before the Living God brought to Him out of the paths of sin, and created anew in Christ Jesus. They are fitted and qualified to raise hymns of praise. They sing to God, and they sing to Him out of new hearts. They sing a new song which begins below, but will resound throughout the long ages of eternity.

The Royal Priesthood for Testimony

This then is the first qualification, that these living stones should come to the Lord Jesus Christ to worship God in the beauty of holiness. But in the 9th verse it speaks, not of a holy priesthood, but of a royal priesthood. There is a kingly side to this priesthood. This is the representative side of God's government, and this phase we find portrayed, as we shall see, more fully in the vision found in the fourth chapter of Zechariah.

Now the duty and responsibility of the royal priesthood was to show forth the praises, or virtues, as may be seen in the margin of your Bibles, “of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This is not necessarily singing the praises of God, but the testimony that they render in the world as evidence of God's spiritual work in their life history. A man who is a drunkard believes the gospel; he emerges from that squalid condition in which he was. He is a new man. He lives in the world to the glory of God, and men look at him, and ask, What has brought it about? They say he has turned pious, but the great underlying fact of his altered life is this: he has been made anew, and wherever he goes he is a living witness to what the power of God has done. He is in fact a part of the golden candlestick of which we read in Zechariah 4.

The Candlestick

I need not tonight repeat what was pointed out last evening. It is not at all assumed in these addresses that the visions have a direct application to the church. Their direct reference is to what God has done, and will do, with His ancient people, the Jews, when He brings them back to their own land; but we are entitled to take hold of certain facts which, while they are true of the people in Zechariah's day and of the Jewish people yet to come, they are also true of us now. There is the great fact of the confessors of Christ being lights in this world to shine for Him, which was true then and is true now.

The candlestick that the prophet saw was plainly connected with that candlestick which was made by Divine direction and set up by Moses and Aaron in the tabernacle, and repeated in the temple of Solomon. But when the king of Babylon destroyed the temple, the candlestick with other things was taken away captive. Now it was brought back to Jerusalem; but you cannot put a candlestick upon a foundation stone. You must have a house for it; the temple must be got ready for it; and the prophet says, Go on with your work, and the day will come when the candlestick will shine in its place, and the light of testimony before the Lord will be revived.

Not Might, not Power, but God's Spirit

But I wish to draw your attention to the answer of the angel to the prophet concerning the meaning of the candlestick and the olive trees. “The angel that talked with me answered and said to me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake to me, saying, This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:5-6). Surely the angel in these words is not answering the prophet's question directly. The point of his query was what is the meaning of this candlestick with its seven branches, and the bowl of oil above it, and the pipes carrying the oil into the branches of it; and then the two olive trees, one on the right hand and one on the left hand? The prophet wanted to know exactly what it all meant; and the answer of the angel was, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.”

How are we to understand this strange reply? The prophet must have known that there was some reference in it to the restoration of the testimony of God through Israel to all the world. But what else was in the mind of Zechariah? The difficulty in his mind was how this great work was going to be accomplished. How was the temple to be built? How was the scene of desolation at Jerusalem to be restored, the site cleared for the re-erection of the temple? How could the feeble little company of Jews accomplish this? The divine assurance against this doubt was this, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.”

We find this text quoted so many times nowadays that it is well to observe carefully the connection in which it was originally used. You cannot cut up a scripture in snippets, and expect to understand each snippet individually. Scripture is put together in a Divine order and for a Divine reason by its Divine Author.

The point of the Lord's reply was this, that God would work effectively for the accomplishment of His own purpose. The people of Israel had a distinguished history as a nation. Jehovah had brought them out of Egypt with a high hand. When He commenced to work for them He displayed His power in a marvellous way. The plagues that came successively upon Egypt showed His power in a way that the king on the throne and the beggar on the dunghill would be bound to own that God was working. Everything was effected by the manifest power of God, but when it came to the slaying of the firstborn there was no question about denying His power any longer, and every father and mother who had lost a son rose up in hot haste to drive out the people of Israel.

These open visitations spoke with a loud voice to all men. God made bare His arm so that they might know. When He came down on Mount Sinai, the voice heard was so terrible that the people quaked. All through the marvellous passage of the Israelites through the wilderness God wrought manifestly; and again when they entered the land, as the Jordan and the walls of Jericho could tell. Their whole history is full of deeds of might and power, so that everyone amongst the Gentiles might see that God was working in a miraculous way for His people Israel.

The point now was, would God do it again? Was He prepared to work miracles for these fifty thousand exiles that had come back to their own land? Were these great and marvellous things to be repeated? Was the candlestick to be set up again by miraculous power? The answer was given clearly and plainly: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.”

If God had wrought miracles for the two tribes, what about the ten? God had other ways of working than by might and by power. He could shake the earth and the heavens; He could make men mark His mighty power; but in that day of brokenness for the nation when ruin had come upon the twelve tribes scattered over the face of the whole earth, would God put honour upon one little fragment of Israel, and work miracles in the midst of it?

If so, He would be putting His seal of approval upon a very small part only of the nation. And it was not God's way of working then, nor is it now.

No Pentecostal Miracles now

God is now working in the church by His Spirit, and the Spirit of God works in a way that men cannot understand, that is to say, the Spirit of God works secretly, quietly, without noise. But you say, Surely when the Spirit of God came down at Pentecost there was outward evidence of His presence; surely people were then given to feel that a great phenomenon was before them. Fishermen stood up and preached with irresistible power. Men spake with tongues and prophesied, and wonderful things were done, so that the fear of God came upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

There was power undoubtedly in the church then, but the church was then in its pristine glory, and God manifested His presence there in a way that all the world might observe. God gave the power of tongues so that His servants might go into the ends of all the earth with the gospel without delay. A great change of dispensation took place at Pentecost, and God showed He was not confining His attention to one small people upon the earth.

Today, in the day of weakness, we are not entitled to look for might or power, but we must look for the unimpaired agency of God's Spirit. “The wind blows where it lists, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it comes, and whither it goes; so is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

People sometimes set themselves to seek with earnestness some outward evidence of the action of the Spirit of God, but we ought always to remember that it is quite possible to have exhibitions of power that are superhuman. They may be above the power of man, and yet not be the power of God. There is a spiritual world, spiritual agencies, evil powers; and men who clamour and cry in anxiety of heart for outward evidence, for miracles, for something that will arrest people's attention, may get what they seek no doubt, only not from the Holy Spirit of God, but from evil spirits who will simulate what is of Him.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” This declaration is the more emphatic when we remember that in the Old Testament God's Spirit was not working in the way that He did in the New, not working in the same way, I mean. I refer of course to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said that when He went away He would send another Comforter. He Himself had been One, but His own stay upon earth was limited. A few short years and His service was done, but He promised that when He took His seat at the right hand of God He would send the Holy Spirit, and that He should abide for ever. He would come to be here permanently, that is, so long as the people of God were passing through the wilderness on to the Father's house above.

Now the Holy Spirit had been working in the Old Testament, only not in the same manner as at Pentecost and after. God manifests Himself as He pleases, but we must heed the way in which He manifests Himself. According to Zechariah, the Spirit would put such energy into the Jews, such courage, such wisdom, such confidence, such power of resistance to their enemies, that the work of building the temple should be accomplished, that if they would only get on with their building and not neglect it as they had been doing for the past fourteen years the temple should be completed, the headstone laid and the whole work finished.

So that the great truth of this verse is this, that God works, and will continue to work, in the days of weakness in His own manner, but that manner will not be in outward show to the aggrandisement of those through whom He works.

When a man can speak with tongues he will use them all for the glorification of himself. I have been striving for this, he thinks; and he does not forget to let people know that he has them.

There is one infallible proof of the action of the Spirit of God. The Spirit always works for the glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ. “He shall glorify Me,” the Lord said; and when a man speaks by the Spirit he speaks to the exaltation of Christ. He says, Don't look at me, but look at the One who saved me. You may be sure that man is speaking by the Spirit of God. Man exalts himself, but the Spirit of God exalts the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Great Mountain

The prophet says, “Who art thou, O great mountain?” (Zech. 4:7). I suppose the special reference was to the great mountain of desolation and rubbish on Mount Zion, where the temple had been broken down. There was this great mountain as a hindrance, but what was that to the power of God? “Who art thou?”

We can make a spiritual application of the figure. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove” (Matt 17:20). The lady who prayed that the hill which obstructed her view might be removed found, of course, that it was not removed. She looked at the Lord's words in a literal way, and her petition was a selfish one.

But we have our mountains. In our spiritual life we frequently come to a great mountain which seems more than we can surmount. What are we in the habit of doing? Do we, as the disciples should have done in that particular instance, do we betake ourselves to prayer and fasting? Do we believe that the mountain, however great, will be removed? Sometimes in our little histories very small things may be very great mountains to us. They seem more than we can manage, more than we can scale. It may be bereavement, it may be domestic anxiety, it may be business matters; whatever the mountain may be, its formidableness disappears in answer to prayer.

But the reference in the text is to the building of the temple. “Before Zerubbabel [the representative in Jerusalem of the house of David] thou shalt become a plain, and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace to it” (ver. 7), that is to say, the foundation had previously been laid, and if they only trusted God and went on with the work the headstone should be laid, and everyone would cry, Grace, grace to it; that is, exclaim what a fair and beautiful edifice it had become.

The work of God is bound to prosper. It does not, as a matter of fact, prosper in some cases because we do not believe it is the work of God. God never fails. He may be a long time doing His work, but it is always accomplished. Summer is coming; it is very slow this year in coming, but it is bound to come because God has ordered it; it is part of His great plan; and we can take the same attitude in spiritual matters also. Something has to be done, and if God sent me to do it that work will succeed; there will be accomplished what is in the mind of God to be done, and no power can defeat it. If we believe and wait, we shall see the headstone put on, and wonder as we see the fair and beautiful result.

The Day of Small Things

Then God asks, “Who shall despise the day of small things?” It was a day of small things after all. The Persians probably when they allowed the Jews to go on building thought so, despising what the Jews were doing. They were building to an unseen God; there was to be no idol in that building; there would be no visible token of God in that temple. How absurd it all seemed to Persian eyes, and if the Jews listened to the philosophy of the Gentiles, or to the unbelief of their own elders, they would despise the day when everything seemed so small and unpromising.

The work of faith is always foolish in the eyes of men, and because it seems small and foolish there are many who despise it. You preach the gospel, and nothing seems to happen; the word of God is declared, and what has come of it so far as the eye can see or the ear hear? There appears to he no result, but we need to believe that the word of God is living, that it is the seed of life, and that it effects some result, unseen now to us perhaps, but the day will come when the fruit will be manifest.

Do not let us despise the day of small things, small audiences perhaps, small results to long days of toil. There were those who despised the work for God in the days of Zechariah, but the temple was nevertheless completed; for the angel says, “They shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet” [that is, the tool used when the building was completed] “in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven.” The number “seven” refers back to the previous vision (Zech. 3:9), the reference being to the seven eyes in the foundation stone laid before Joshua, and these seven eyes will be seen again in the headstone by Zerubbabel, that is to say, the government of God executed in secret now will be manifest in glory when the Lord has completed His church.

Eyes that Run

“They are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” This is true still. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth not solely, however, in the observance of all things, which must be constantly true of Omniscience. Scripture teaches more than this. The Eyes not merely scrutinize in general, but take particular concern of what happens, not only to those who are His, but to men throughout the whole earth.

We know that just now those who observe closely national affairs in the world are in great anxiety as to what may happen, dreading a repetition of that great conflagration which is within nearly everyone's recollection.

But the believer knows that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth. In the secret counsels of the empires of the world and wherever men are, their secrets are all known to Him. What they purpose is before the eyes of the Lord, and He is on our side, and if God be for us, who can be against us? The nations may assail one another, but the life of each believer is in the hands of the Good Shepherd, and not one of His flock can perish, nor can a single harm befall those who are His. He knows what is coming upon us just as He knows what concerns us now.

It is a great comfort to know this and to know that there is a restraining power in this world which protects and preserves those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The activities of God are secret, but they are none the less real, and are engaged in securing the well-being of those who are His. This is a matter of faith in what God has spoken. We do not know how the matters of today are being moulded for our well-being. While the process is in operation we are not able to discern the final result; only we are told definitely in scripture that these great world movements, these mighty forces that influence your life and mine, are all working out our eventual good.

His eyes are upon us, and upon us for good. The Spirit of God is at work in the world for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and for the blessing of those who believe in Him.

We are His witnesses. The Spirit of God is pleased to work through believers, and there is one thing which makes me a competent medium through whom the Spirit of God may and will work. I reminded you just now that the great office of the Spirit of God is to glorify Christ. Now if I have in my heart a real desire to glorify God in my body, in my spirit, in my life, in all that concerns me, if this is a consuming passion with me, to glorify God in whatever I do, then the Spirit of God finds in me a fit instrument through whom He can work. I am as it were a golden pipe through which the oil can flow, and as it runs it becomes a light in the candlestick, shining here to the glory of God. We are lights in the world, set to shine in the darkness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Stephen testified to his absent Master, and looking up he saw heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and his face shone with love for Christ. Those who were about him saw the fulness of his heart reflected in his countenance. It was too much for them; this testimony for Christ was too vivid. He was too much like his Master, and so they took up stones and beat out his life.

The light was shining in Stephen, and it will shine in us. The Spirit of God is here to do it. He can take up weak and failing persons and fill them with His power, and use them, not for their own glory, but for the honour and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. May this be true of each and all of us.