In the Old Testament God gave His people the task of rebuilding the ruined temple. Zerubbabel was in charge, but he was not sure he was up to the task. Manpower was low as were supplies and morale. The Lord showed him a lampstand. Much like my heater, the oil went up into the stand without effort to produce a flame. Then God spoke.
So he answered and said to me: “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).“Might” is a general word for human resources such as physical strength, ability, wealth, military power and force. Zerubbabel already knew that no armies of workers or the tons of wealth which Solomon employed in the first building of the temple would be at his disposal.
“Power” is a word used for the strength of human beings in all its forms — physical, mental, and material. The sentence structure repeats the negative to emphasize a total insufficiency of human strength and resources to accomplish the work of God.
If human resources could do God’s work, the Holy Spirit would be unnecessary. This verse makes the point that just as a lampstand was fed with oil without human effort, the temple would be restored not by the strength of Zerubbabel’s hands, but by the Spirit of God.
I looked up several other verses that talk about the power of God. Each one of them points to some aspect of Holy Spirit power that is unlike human ability.
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)
And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power . . . (1 Corinthians 2:4)I can talk until I am blue in the face. I can debate with a strong, persuasive argument. Yet nothing I can say will convince the heart of a sinner that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Like my heater, I cannot see Him at work in someone’s heart. If He allows me, I might see the results.
The work of the Spirit within a speaker or teacher or someone sharing the gospel is not at all like human effort. It happens because God has granted his people, “according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16) and in that power, lives are changed.
Paul acknowledges this over and over. He wrote, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). He knew that words alone were not enough, but if the Holy Spirit was in their efforts, amazing things happened.
There is a difference between the power that makes oil go up a wick or the electricity that produces heat and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a mere power. He points men and women to Jesus Christ. He convicts of sin, renews the heart, imparts comfort, teaches truth to God’s people, and so much more. I’ve learned, as have most Christians, that apart from the Holy Spirit we are dead in the water. He is God’s gift to us and our greatest resource in living the Christian life.