What does God mean when He says, 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit' (Zechariah 4:6)?
When the Israelites were in exile in Persia, King Cyrus gave 50,000 of them permission to go back to Jerusalem and start rebuilding the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel, governor of Jerusalem. During this time of rebuilding, Zechariah, who was a prophet and priest of Israel, had multiple visions which were given to him by God. In one of them, God said: "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).
This message came from a larger vision, the fifth of the visions Zechariah had, in which he sees a gold lampstand with a bowl and seven lamps on top of it and two olive trees by it, which provided the lampstand with the oil needed to light the lamps (Zechariah 4:1–3). The main message that the vision contains is in verse 6, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit" (see also Zechariah 4:7).
During the time of rebuilding the temple, Zechariah and Haggai were ministers to the Israelites. Haggai spurred them on to continue rebuilding the temple and Zechariah spurred them on to repent of their sins and renew their covenant with God, for once the temple was rebuilt it would be necessary for them to have the spiritual stability to persist in life with God.
Throughout the time of rebuilding, the Israelites had been met with opposition and had even stopped construction. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit" was an encouragement for the Israelites that it wasn't by their own might or power, meaning things like money or military strength, that the temple would be rebuilt, but by the power of the Spirit of God.
The power of the Holy Spirit is symbolized in the vision as oil. The Holy Spirit is described as oil in other Old Testament references, as well (Isaiah 61:1–3; 1 Samuel 16:13). The steady oil supply in Zechariah's vision was symbolic of the Holy Spirit's steady supply of power that would help Zerubbabel and the Israelites to complete the rebuilding of the temple, which was represented in the vision as the large lampstand. The lamps on the lampstand, were a representation of how God's people were supposed to shine as a light in the world to bring God glory (Matthew 5:14).
This vision was an encouragement to Zerubbabel to continue on in spite of the obstacles he was facing, and the same encouragement remains true for us as Christians today (Romans 8:31; Hebrews 13:5; cf. Haggai 2:5; Isaiah 41:10). It is the power of the Holy Spirit that clears the way for us to obey God and fulfill all that He commands us to do. Whatever the task at hand may be, we cannot do it in our own might, but we can through the equipping of the Spirit (John 3:34; 14:16–17; Ephesians 1:13–20; Philippians 2:12–13; 1 Corinthians 12:4–7). Our own human weakness gives God an opportunity to perfect His power at work within us, which is why the apostle Paul said, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10; see also Hebrews 11:34). Because the Holy Spirit is at work within us as believers, we can accomplish the God-given tasks set before us and be a light and witness for Him in the world.
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