Zechariah's Puzzle

Zechariah's Puzzle

The prophet Zechariah takes a dream-time tour. His angel guides him to a golden menorah with seven lamps and a bowl on top. Seven pipes connect the bowl with seven lamps. Two olive trees feed oil directly into the bowl.

“What are these?” Zechariah asks the angel.

What, indeed?

Are these straightforward political symbols? One united Israel under collaborative political leadership?

Are they elements of a futuristic vision? Will we worship outdoors, our ritual objects arrayed under trees? Use improved olive-processing technology, with oil-extracting machines built right into the menorah?

Are these glimpses of metaphysical insight? Has God built all future possibilities into the original creation? Can a qualified prophet discern them all?

Do they represent principles of psychology? Does creativity begin with careful observation of nature? Is humility essential, as originality belongs only to God?

Nope, says the angel. None of the above.

“This is God’s word to [prince] Zerubavel: ‘Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (4:6).

Thank you, angel. For explaining a symbol with a koan. For complicating, not solving, the puzzle.

That’s my reaction — but not Zechariah’s. Zechariah understands the angel. (As can we, if we study all of Zechariah’s written words.)

Look, Zechariah says, we’ve been through war. It’s devastating. Don’t imagine a military victory will set things straight. War’s only positive result is an intense yearning to heal.

We’ve experienced political betrayal. Shepherds who want only to profit from their flocks.

We have to take healing into our own hands. Practice social justice. Conduct business honestly. Care for the most vulnerable. Protect the public trust that makes leadership possible.

Our strategy is revealed in the vision: tiny grove of olive trees fuels a menorah. What are these? A guide to social action.

Keep the light of peace burning. Start quietly, with a small spiritual community of mutual support. Soon, its wind will waft across the world (6:5). Its healing power will flow (14:8). And its momentum will move mountains (14:4).

Intrigued? Did you think — based on the 23 verses our sages selected for semi-annual reading — that the vision was only a political allegory? Learn more about Zechariah’s vision of the menorahinterfaith hopes, and pacifismRead a scholarly analysis informing this interpretation on academia.edu.

  1. Thanks for this. It is most apt. I love your writing and your insight. It speaks of the person you are, educated, intelligent and warm. -LG

    1. Thank you, Lorraine, for this sweet message! All the best to you.

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