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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 thereof?

11. Et respondi et dixi ad eum, Quid duae oleae istae ad dextram candelabri et ad sinstram ejus?

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?

12. Et respondi secundo et dixi ad eum, Quid duo alvei (vel, cursus, vertunt alii, spicas) olearum, quae sunt inter duas fistulas auri, fundentes a se aurum?

13. And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.

13. Et dixit mihi dicendo, Annon cognoscis quid haec sunt? Et dixi, Non, Domine mi.

14. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.

14. Et dixit, Hi sunt duo filii olei qui astant apud Dominatorem cunctae terrae.


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 שבלים, shebelim, 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. 5353     The second questions, which seems to be a modification of the first, has been variously explained. The word [שבלים], except in the feminine gender, has not the meaning attached to it by Calvin. It is rendered, “branches,” κλαδοι, by the Septuagint, Piscator, Newcome, Henderson, and by our own version; “berries,” by Jun. and Trem., Drusius and Pemble; and “tubes” by Grotius. As it is a repetition of the former question, it is probable that the branches in immediate connection with the candlestick are intended: the oil proceeded from them by means of tubes or pipes to the bowl or the reservoir at the top of the candlestick, and hence by means of seven tubes, or pourers to the seven lamps. The question now is respecting the olive-trees or the branches from which the oil proceeded; and the answer is, that they are “the sons of oil.”
   What is said of these “sons of oil,” that they “stand with (or before) the Lord,” can hardly comport with the explanation given by Calvin: but it is more suitable to regard them as persons annointed, as rendered in our version, and by Kimchi, Drusius, Dathius, Newcome, and Henderson. They are considered here to mean Zerubbabel and Joshua; but yet as types of Christ in his twofold character of a king and priest. Blayney takes another view; he renders [שבלים], “orderers,” deriving it from the Syriac, in which language the verb signifies to direct, to guide in the way. He conceives them to be two persons, guiding the oil to the channels or tubes which conveyed it to the lamps, and that they were types of Moses and of Christ, the authors of the two dispensations. The preceding view seems the most probable. — Ed.
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 labors 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 ardor; 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 judgment 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 ardor 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 diminished.

He therefore says, that they stand with the Lord of the whole earth: for על, ol, 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.

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