Thursday, October 15, 2009

P) Prophet Zechariah's vision of the Menorah

How influential the Achaemenians' stance of justice and righteousness towards all their different subjects and their favorable attitude towards the Jews has been on the Tanakh itself, we may gather especially from Prophet Zechariah who lived in the Persian period. No other prophet concerned himself so much with Gentiles and their relations to the people of Israel in general, and to the Temple in Jerusalem as their focus in particular.

A striking feature in this regard is his vision of the Menorah flanked by two olive branches. Let’s focus now on his whole vision of the Menorah and its meaning. As it is of crucial importance, its text shall be given here in fullness:

And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick [Menorah] of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other on the left side thereof.

So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?

Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these are? And I said, No, my lord.

Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word unto Zerubabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.

Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubabel, a plain; and he shall bring forth the headstone [thereof] with shoutings, Grace, grace, unto it.

Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

The hands of Zerubabel have laid the foundation of this house; and his hands shall put it [liter. her] into effect; and thou shalt know that the Lord of Hosts has sent me unto you [אליכם; you plural].

For who has despised the day of the little things? They shall rejoice and see the plummet in the hand of Zerubabel. Those seven are the eyes of the Lord: they run to and fro through the whole earth.

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? And I answered again and said unto him, What are these two olive branches which are in the hands of the two pipes of gold that empty from them the gold [golden oil]? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he said, These are the two anointed [ ,בני-יצהרliter. sons of fresh olive oil] that stand by the Lord of the whole earth".1

On the Prophet's astonished and repeated questions about the meaning of these two olive branches, the angel explained them as the ,בני-יצהר the two "sons of fresh olive oil" that stand by the Lord of the whole earth2

The term ,בני-יצהר often translated as the two anointed, is quite peculiar. The usual interpretation sees these two "sons of fresh olive oil" as referring to the High Priest Yehoshua (Joshua) and to Zerubabel the political leader of the returnees from Babylonia This, however, would not explain the bewilderment of the Prophet and his repeated questions about the meaning thereof, nor would it explain why the answering angel invented the term בני-יצהר instead of simply describing them as משיחים , meshihim, anointed; or as , בני-משיחים bnei meshihim, liter. “sons anointed”; or: sons of olive oil.

The common term “olive oil” stands for oil pressed one or even several years ago, while the term יצהר describes always the oil which comes freshly out of the olive press. In this respect, it contrasts old, perhaps even rancid oil. Although coming from the same olive tree(s), in its allegoric meaning it stands for the renewed perkiness and vividness of the Divine spirit and light. We may understand it as a parallel term for Jeremiah's "New Covenant"3 which does not speak of a new law but of renewed hearts enlivened by the Spirit of the eternal Law. Likewise here, in Zechariah's vision, the term , יצהרizhar, indicates the perkiness and vividness gained from a new harvest so-to-speak of the eternal Divine wisdom symbolized by the olives.

While Jeremiah speaks in the above vision of the House of Judah and the House of Israel only, Zechariah's vision includes obviously also those of the nations who would join them, and stand side by side with them4. If so, the two olive branches flanking the Menorah could stand for the healed and renewed spirits both of Israel and of the nations enlightened by, and focused on, the spirit of the Lord symbolized by the Menorah. Zechariah's vision links up to Zephaniah's word: "...then I will turn to the peoples a pure [liter. purified] language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent"5.

This clarifies also why the Prophet speaks of ,בני-יצהר sons of fresh olive oil, and not of משיחים , Messiahs: These "sons of fresh olive oil" may well be enlivened by the Divine wisdom which the olive oil symbolizes; but they are not Messiahs. In a previous chapter we saw that anyway two Messiahs cannot function side by side at the same time. It should also be mentioned that these two sons of fresh olive oil do not replace or substitute THE MESSIAH whose coming we are expecting towards the end of days. They rather will be preparing for it and will, in a Cyrus-like manner, show sympathy and support for the Jewish people and its call as symbolized by the Menorah.

The nations would have to be prepared for this end by means of explaining the Lord's way with his people, Israel; and by instructing the nations5a for their way. This age-old concept of the Prophets is summarized by the words in Zechariah's vision:

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit,

says the Lord of Hosts".

If so, this would explain also the meaning of the two בני יצהר symbolized by the two olives. It seems of significance that the Prophet conceived them first as two olive trees, but when he asked for the third time about their meaning, he realized that they were not olive trees but merely olive branches. Only after he specified his question about their meaning accordingly, he received the answer that "these are the two בני יצהר (liter. sons of fresh olive oil) that stand by the Lord of the whole earth". Speaking here of the Lord God of Israel, symbolized by the Seven-Branched Candlestick, as "the Lord ((אדון) of the whole earth", tells us that we ought to see these two בני יצהר not as an internal affair of Israel but as concerning the whole earth, i.e. all the nations.

From the point of grammar, these two בני יצהר =bnei izhar, could symbolically stand for Israel and the nations called upon and awakened directly by the Lord’s spirit, and –consequently- grouped around the Menorah as their common center.

While such a direct call is conceivable theoretically (perhaps pre-figured by the call of Cyrus), it is much more likely that the peoples will have to be prepared by messengers. Thus, these two בני יצהר could well stand for two messengers who would prepare the nations for receiving the spirit symbolized by the Menorah, the eternal Divine Light.

From Abraham, the father of monotheistic faith, came forth three main descendants: Jacob/Israel, and Esau, from Isaac the son of promise he had from Sarah; and Ishmael he had from Hagar. Each of these three descendants has his own task and respective blessing5a). Taking the Menorah in Zechariah’s vision as symbolizing Israel and its Temple, the two בני יצהר flanking it could well stand for two messengers to be sent to the descendants of Esau and Ishmael respectively; and through them eventually also to those nations which otherwise came from Noah’s sons Japhet and Ham.

So far, only two historic personalities match that picture: Apostle Paul who worked in Greece and Rome; and Rassul Mohammed, a descendant from Ishmael, who worked foremost among the tribes who derived from the latter, and who then in turn appealed mainly to the Hamite peoples. (India, China, and Japan, which are neither Christian nor Muslim, are apparently influenced by those sons of Abraham he had from Kethura – a subject which cannot be dealt with here).

Objections that Christianity and Islam turned hostile against Israel (and now also one against the other), do not hold as these hostilities are due to misunderstandings and even willful interpretations of the respective messages (that is, they are not genuine neither to the “NT” nor to the Koran).

With the return of the people of Israel to the country of its origin and of its destiny, the dispute flared up to an open confrontation over the question “Whose Land”, with Jerusalem as a “burdensome stone”; a “cup of trembling”; a “test stone” – terms incidentally coined by the very Prophets :Isaiah and Zechariah – from whom we learned about

Cyrus as the “shepherd of the Lord”;

and about the two בני יצהר bnei izhar flanking the


The nations, after realizing that all their other efforts and crafts are in vain, and that they have followed false gods6, would eventually come to understand that "there -in Zion/Jerusalem- the Lord has commanded the blessing, even life for evermore"7, and would "come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem"8. Like Cyrus, they would, guided by the Lord’s spirit - depicted by the Menorah - once stand side by side with Israel: "And many nations, גויים) goyim) shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall become unto me a people , עם)"aam)9. The nations would then neither try to do away with the throne of David and its manifestation in Zion, nor would they try to usurp it. They would rather realize that they will bless themselves by blessing Abraham's seed, as foretold:

"...and all the nations on earth shall bless themselves

in thy seed”והתברכו בזרעך).)10

In Cyrus, history proved that the Lord God of Israel, the Creator and Lord of All, is, unlike other local deities, not confined to the borders of the respective worshippers. Rather, He can, and does, work in human history. Thus, the ancient hopes for peace on earth under the kingship of the Lord God confessed by Israel, need not remain utopian, notwithstanding the fact that of the four world empires11, so far only the Persian Empire was friendly with the Jewish people and what it represents.

Might and power may change the course of history, but if it is not to remain an endless zig-zag course of the "revolt of the oppressed against the oppressors"12, it will see its decisive improvement as that result of change of mind and of understanding which the Prophets foretold.

Prophet Zechariah, probably with that change of mind in view, describes the future KING MESSIAH as צדיק ונושע = righteous and redeemed”13, and not as a miraculous wonder worker. He may have to fight wars, perhaps similar to the wars of Joshua, of King David, and of King Cyrus, but more decisive than such wars will be the turn of hearts by which the peoples will acknowledge him as the King of Righteousness. Laws of nature need not to be bent for bringing about that turn of hearts. Rather it is the natural and true sense for the Good innate in all peoples created in God's image which will eventually lead them to emancipate from false ideals ("false gods"), and mature; and, recognizing the righteous one, will come to his help ("redeem" him). In fact, this is not a novel idea. It rather has its models in King David and King Cyrus: The peoples recognized their righteousness and helped them.

While Zechariah's vision roots certainly in sayings like "the Lord saveth his anointed"14, the Prophet was apparently also influenced, at least to some degree, by the advent of Cyrus "whose right I have holden" (says the Lord), i.e. whose heart he has directed and who, consequently, was welcomed (that is: helped, redeemed) by the peoples who opened their gates to him in appreciation of his righteousness and compassion.

We may see these historic events as a token for that future turn-about which the Prophets describe as:

"For then will I turn to the peoples a pure [liter.

purified] language, that they may all call upon the name

of the Lord, to serve him with one consent"15

"And it shall come to pass, that everyone that is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem, shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles"16

"Even them [=the strangers] will I bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations"17

"Pray for the glory of the Lord that it will be redeemed", is an appropriate saying of the sages to the point18. And the Psalm urges each and all: "Ask for Jerusalem-Peace"19

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