Thursday, November 06, 2008

Zechariah 4

Many commentators point out that 6b-10c feel like an editorial insertion. The whole thing would read smoother without them. And I think they're right. But what I disagree with is what they then do—remove it. There is a basic skepticism toward the editor in Biblical studies. But why? How can people get away with such wholesale editing—especially such blatantly obvious editing—unless everyone considered it complemented, and perhaps expanded, what was already said by the text.

So, how do I understand this chapter? Let's start without our contentious insertion. The picture is of a lampstand that is fed by two trees. We are explicitly told that the two trees are the anointed ones standing before the Lord of the earth. In the Jewish thought world of the time, the two anointed ones can only be the king and the priest. And they have been present ever since Haggai. Of the options for the meaning of the lamp, the most natural would be to see it as representing the temple. It's almost a conglomeration of temple implements stacked one on another. Thus Zerubbabel and Joshua will enable the temple because they stand before God himself. In a very subtle way this passage insists that they will build the temple.

Insert 6b-10c and this only becomes more explicit. The message is directed to Zerubbabel. Why? Because he's notably absent up until this point. But perhaps at a later time Zerubbabel returned from a temporary exile (as part of Darius' clean up of the area) and this prophecy insisted he would rebuild the temple. But it says more. It says this is possible only because he is God's agent. Not by political strength except as the agent of God's Spirit. Within this series of visions, this is a natural fit. God superintended all that happened to Israel at the hand of the Persians in order that his temple be built. And God has done it by the hands of Joshua and Zerubbabel. But no one dare mention Zerubbabel while he's in the lockup in case they also are accused of insurrection.

The original passage emphasises God's intention to build his temple, and to do it by the hand of his servants Zerubbabel and Joshua. If the people want God's presence, it is realised through these two roles. This is a development compared to 2 Samuel 7 where the emphasis is clearly on the King. But in Zechariah's day, the priest is brought into greater prominence as an entirely appropriate person to direct the building of God's temple. This doesn't conflict with Israel's past for it was Moses, the prophet, who was God's agent for constructing the tabernacle. And the priests are prominent in Josiah's day in enabling the rebuilding, though Josiah is primary. But in Zechariah's circumstances, the priest must step forward without reducing the emphasis on the king's importance. And so the insertion reinforces that it will be the king, but by God's Spirit. This is why the king is so important to rebuilding.

And so in the New Testament, we find the priest-king who possesses God's Spirit in accordance with Isaiah (cf Matt 12). He is the agent of God's presence in a way unimaginable in the days of Zechariah.

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