Question: "What does God mean when He says, "Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit" (Zechariah 4:6)?"
Answer: After the Jewish people experienced exile in Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia allowed 50,000 of them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple under Zerubbabel, governor of Jerusalem. At the time, Zechariah, a prophet and priest of Israel, received several visions from the Lord. In one of those visions, God delivered this key message: “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, ESV).
In this period of Israel’s history, the prophets Zechariah and Haggai were both ministering. While Haggai encouraged the returned Jewish exiles in their work of rebuilding the temple, Zechariah urged them to repent of sin and renew their covenant with God. Spiritual renewal would be essential to their survival and worship of God once the temple was rebuilt.
Construction on the temple, which had been stopped by opposition from neighbors, resumed under the exhortation of Zechariah and Haggai. Zechariah experienced a series of night visions; in the fifth one, he saw a solid gold lampstand. Two olive trees provided the lampstand with its oil supply, which flowed through two golden pipes (Zechariah 4:1–3). The key message of the vision is contained in the words of verse 6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.” The work of rebuilding the temple would only be accomplished by God’s Spirit and not by human might nor power.
In many places in the Old Testament, the Lord’s Spirit is represented by oil (Isaiah 61:1–3; 1 Samuel 16:13). The abundant supply of oil in Zechariah’s vision is the Holy Spirit’s power, which would help Zerubbabel finish rebuilding the temple (symbolized by the large lampstand). The lampstand’s light signified that Israel, God’s covenant people, were to shine forth light and glorify God in the earth.
Both in the Old and New Testament, God’s people are called to shine the light of God’s glory into all the world (Isaiah 60:1–3; Matthew 5:14–16). It is the great commission of every believer (Matthew 28:19–20). Just as Zerubbabel would need to depend on the Spirit of the Lord to accomplish the work, so do Christians today. God’s people have no ability in themselves to shine the light of God’s truth to those walking in darkness.
The word for might in Zechariah 4:6 is often translated as “army,” “force,” “ability,” or “efficiency” and is associated with human resources. It also relates to financial means and can be connected with wealth. The term power implies purposeful force, firm resolve, dynamic strength, and resoluteness. Not by might nor by power—not by their own abilities, plentiful resources, or fierce determination—would God’s people build the temple and send God’s light into the world. Only by the Spirit of the Lord would their work and worship become a light broadcasting into all the earth (Acts 1:8; John 16:7–15).
As the physical labor of rebuilding the temple was being done, a spiritual renewal was also taking place. Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel were not to trust in financial resources or military prowess, but in the mighty power of God’s Spirit working through them: “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’” (Zechariah 4:4–7, NLT).
God had made a similar promise to those who remained faithful to Him in Hosea’s day: “But I will show love to the people of Judah. I will free them from their enemies—not with weapons and armies or horses and charioteers, but by my power as the LORD their God” (Hosea 1:7, NLT).
Zerubbabel need not be discouraged by human limitations or afraid of earthly obstacles, and neither should present-day Christians (Romans 8:31; cf. Haggai 2:5; Isaiah 41:10). When God calls us to a purpose, His Spirit fills and equips us to complete it (Acts 2:17–18; John 3:34; Ephesians 1:18–20). As the apostle Paul learned, human weakness is no obstacle because God’s power is perfected in it: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10; see also Hebrews 11:34).
Our God-given work is guaranteed to be successful, not by human might or power, but by the guidance and empowering of God’s Holy Spirit poured into our lives like the oil that fueled Zechariah’s lampstand.