Joshua the High Priest and the Coming Branch (Zechariah 3) July 18-19
Zechariah's fourth vision of the night concerns the high priest of his day, Joshua or Jeshua, yet as a type of the entire nation, as we will see. Recall that the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel had led the initial effort in resuming worship in Jerusalem and commencing construction on the temple—and later, after allowing the construction to lapse, responded in repentance to the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, leading the nation then in renewed effort.
In verse 1, the "he" showing the prophet the current scene is either the interpreting angel who has spoken to him in the previous visions or God Himself, who was referred to in the preceding verse (2:13) and who was earlier mentioned as showing images to him (see 1:20).
The high priest Joshua stands before the Angel of the Lord (3:1). As this particular figure is able to remove iniquity (see verses 3-4), the reference is apparently to the preincarnate Christ. Indeed, in verse 2 we see the "Lord" calling a rebuke down from the "Lord"—evidently Christ calling a rebuke down from God the Father.
The rebuke is called down on Satan. "The Hebrew is literally 'the Satan,' meaning 'the Accuser'" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 1)—or, similarly, "the Adversary" or "the Opponent." The word "oppose" in verse 1 could also, in a legal setting, be rendered "accuse." "Satan's accusation invests [the scene] with a judicial character. The position of standing at the right side was the place of accusation under the law (Ps 109:6). Satan knows the purposes of God concerning Israel and therefore has always accused the Jews and accuses them still.... Satan is the accuser, not only of Joshua (i.e., Israel), but also of all believers (Job 1-2; Rev 12:10)" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Zechariah 3:1). It is interesting to recall that the Samaritans, as agents of Satan to thwart the restoration of Judah and its worship, had constantly brought the Jews before the Persian imperial court (Ezra 4:4-5).
The reason for Satan's accusation in Zechariah 3 is evidently Joshua's impurity, as symbolized by his defiled garments. Expositor's states in its note on verse 3: "The Hebrew word soim ('filthy') is 'the strongest expression in the Hebrew language for filth of the most vile and loathsome character' (Feinberg...). Some interpreters maintain that Joshua was covered with excrement—only in the vision, of course! Such clothes represent the pollution of sin (cf. Isa 64:6). To compound the problem, Joshua (i.e., Israel), contaminated by sin, was ministering in this filthy condition before the Angel of the Lord."
Joshua had been guilty of sin, having previously abandoned the reconstruction of the temple while continuing in priestly service. "The high priest represented the people before God (see Ex. 28:29) and under no circumstances was to become defiled or unclean (Ex. 28:2; Lev. 21:10-15)" (Nelson, note on Zechariah 3:3). It is interesting to consider the high priest as representative of the nation, for the figure of Joshua is clearly being used that way in this passage. The whole nation, this priestly nation (see Exodus 19:6), stood guilty before God.
The national identification is clear from verse 2. Responding to Satan's accusation against Joshua, the One who would later become Jesus Christ responds, "The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!" He follows with "Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" God had earlier told the people of Israel in Amos 4:11, "I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning." That prophecy was dual, referring to both ancient and end-time Israel. The current vision is the same in this regard. Expositor's notes: "The reference to the burning stick snatched from the fire is an additional indication that Israel, not Joshua, is ultimately in view. Israel was retrieved to carry out God's future purpose for her (cf. Amos 4:11). The 'fire' refers to the Babylonian captivity. Metaphorically, Israel was snatched as a burning stick from that fire. However, this event may also look back to the deliverance from Egypt (cf. Deut 4:20; 7:7-8; Jer 11:4) and forward to the rescue from the coming tribulation period (cf. Jer 30:7; Zech 13:8-9; Rev 12:13-17)" (note on Zechariah 3:2).
Satan is justly rebuked by God because his accusations are, as is always the case, the pinnacle of blasphemy, hypocrisy and twisting of fact. For one, Satan's accusations actually impugned God, calling into question how a perfect and just God could accept a defiled person or nation in His service—and perhaps implying that God's whole plan was a failure. Furthermore, Satan himself was the principal reason for the defilement! While the high priest and nation did in fact stand guilty—as do the people of all Israelite nations today and in fact all of mankind (Romans 3:9-19)—Satan, as the "tempter" (see Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5), is the main instigator of all the sin in the world, in fact the very father of sin (John 8:44). Ultimately, God intends to reconcile humanity to Himself and lay on Satan the guilt and condemnation for his leading role in mankind's sins (see "The Day of Atonement: Removal of Sin's Cause and Reconciliation to God" in our free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind, pp. 38-43).
In Zechariah 3:4, the Angel of the Lord (see verse 3)—again evidently the One who would become Jesus Christ—removes Joshua's iniquity. At the beginning of this verse, He tells "those who stood before Him" to take away Joshua's filthy garments. Many interpret the others standing here to be angels, tying back to the previous visions. Yet in what way they were the instruments of removing Joshua's defiled garments is unclear. It could be that God's other human servants are in mind here. It was through the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah that the high priest Joshua repented. In fact, it was through their preaching that the whole nation repented. God has always worked through such representatives. And yet, as the end of verse 4 states, it is Christ Himself who actually removes Joshua's iniquity and clothes him with new garments—through His sacrifice (whereby He would actually bear the defilement of all of humanity's sins as the sin-bearer and take them with Him to the grave) and then living His resurrected life within those who will receive Him.
"Joshua was to be clothed with rich garments—God's representative clothed in God's righteousness. God's servant went from filthy garments to festive garments. The festive garments (the Hebrew word is used only here and in Isa 3:22) speak of purity, joy, and glory; but their chief significance is that they symbolize the restoration of Israel to her original calling (Exod 19:16; Isa 61:6). There is a contrast here: Joshua in filthy garments—Israel as a priest but defiled and unclean; Joshua in festive garments—Israel's future glory in reconsecration to the priestly office" (note on verse 4).
The beginning of verse 5 is often seen as Zechariah's enthusiastic expression of wish that the priestly restoration be completed. Yet this could be part of the quotation of God from the previous verse.
In verses 6-7, God promises Joshua (both the actual high priest and, in type, the nation of Israel) that faithfulness to His ways will result in authority and responsibility within God's house and courts—in Zechariah's day meaning the rebuilt temple but in an overall sense a reference to the Kingdom of God. Those standing with God are, again, either the angels or His human servants, the saints (such as Haggai and Zechariah), who will receive the Kingdom.
In verse 8, "Joshua and his companions were a sign because the reinstitution of the priesthood made public God's continuing intention to fulfill his promises to His people" (Nelson, note on verse 8). Indeed, God's restoration of Joshua and the priesthood was to serve as a powerful example of how God would restore the entire nation. The removal of Joshua's iniquity in verse 4 was meant to directly symbolize the future removal of Israel's iniquity (verse 9)—at the commencement of the millennial Kingdom (compare verse 10).
And there is another aspect to this sign. God says Joshua and his fellow priests were "a wondrous sign, for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH" (verse 8). The Branch is the Messiah, Jesus Christ (see also 6:12; Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; 53:2; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15). "Now it is clear why Joshua and his fellow priests are typical [i.e., representational] persons: the act of forgiving grace and cleansing look on to that of the Messiah whereby the nation will be not only potentially but actually redeemed, and their iniquity forever removed" (Feinberg, pp. 287-288). Even the name Joshua (or Jeshua, as Ezra renders it) meant "The Eternal Is Salvation." It is from the later Greek form of this name that we derive the name Jesus—the very One through whom redemption and salvation would come, the ultimate High Priest of whom Israel's human high priest was only a type.
As we will later see, Zechariah 6:9-13 makes it clear that Joshua was, on one level, a type of the Messiah. Indeed, there are striking parallels in chapter 3. As Joshua was defiled by sin (that of the nation and himself), so also would Christ (though perfect Himself) bear the defilement of sin as the sinbearer of the people. As Joshua was opposed by Satan, so also would Jesus be. And as Joshua was, in vision, reclothed in rich garments to serve as a fitting high priest for the nation, so would Jesus bear sin no longer and instead be clothed in glory as the perfect and ultimate High Priest. Joshua standing before the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) in the figure would represent Jesus Himself standing before God the Father. So we see in this amazing vision the redemptive work of Christ in both His first and second comings—similar to a later prophecy in the book of Zechariah (see 9:9-17).
It should be stated that all this still fits with the aforementioned picture of Joshua as also representative of Israel—both physical and spiritual—since the "Servant" motif of 3:8 is used of both the priestly nation and its Messiah (see the Bible Reading Program comments on Isaiah 42).
The stone of Zechariah 3:9 could be another reference to the Messiah. Feinberg remarks: "Many are the interpretations given to the stone mentioned here; it is said to be the foundation stone of the Temple, the capstone of the Temple, the jewel in Messiah's crown, all the stones of the Temple in building at the time, Zerubbabel, an altar, a jewel on the breastplate of the high priest or upon a royal crown, and the finished temple itself. The manner in which it is introduced, and because of what is stated concerning it, the reference can scarcely be to an ordinary material stone. We have already declared our position that this is the Messiah. Scripture proof will be found in Genesis 49:24; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; and 1 Peter 2:6" (p. 287).
The stone's "seven eyes" are thought by some to represent full or complete vision—omniscience—since the number seven often signifies completeness in Scripture. However, the seven eyes could be those referred to in the next chapter, the "seven...eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth" (Zechariah 4:10), possibly synonymous with or related to the angels who walk "to and fro throughout the earth" and report back to God (1:11). The phrase "these seven...eyes" in 4:10 could also refer to the "seven lamps" of 4:2, as Jesus later explained that "the lamp of the body is the eye" (Matthew 6:22; Luke 11:34).
We will see more of this in our next reading, but consider for now that in the book of Revelation, the apostle John receives a vision of Jesus Christ amid seven golden lampstands with seven stars in His right hand (1:12-16). He is told, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands...are the seven churches" (verse 20). So perhaps the image in Zechariah 3:9 is of the spiritual temple, the Church of God. It is built upon the foundational Rock, Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 2:19-22). As the Church is the Body of Christ, the "lamps" of His Body would be "eyes." And these seven lampstands, these seven churches (constituting the whole), are each committed to the responsibility of one of seven representative angels—also referred to as "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God" (Revelation 4:5; 3:1)—who in this sense also serve as God's watchful "eyes."
We should also consider that while seven eyes "upon" the stone can mean that the stone has seven eyes, it could also mean that seven eyes are looking upon the stone—making it the focus of attention or the one looked to for direction and help (compare Psalm 141:8).
Many who identify the stone with the Messiah see the engraving on it as referring—especially given the mention that immediately follows of the removal of iniquity—to the cutting up of Jesus' flesh in His sacrificial offering to provide atonement. Alternatively, the engraving could perhaps relate to Hebrews 1:2, where Jesus is said to be the "exact image" or "imprint" of the Father's person—the Greek here being the word charakter, meaning "engraving," from which we derive our English word "character" (Strong's No. 5481). God's character is also to be engraved into the hearts of all believers.
A further possibility regarding the engraved stone laid before Joshua is that it could parallel the reference in Revelation 2:17 to the "white stone...[with] a new name written" given to believers who overcome. Such a stone could signify acquittal from legal charges or a reward for victory (see The Nelson Study Bible's note on this verse). We will examine this verse more when we come to the book of Revelation in the Bible Reading Program. Suffice it to say for now that such a meaning would not preclude the concept of the stone also being the Messiah Himself, as He is the source of forgiveness, new life, victory and reward for all of God's people.
As already explained, the removal of Joshua's iniquity in verse 4 was meant to typify the conclusion of verse 9, where God says, "I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day." What Judah experienced in Zechariah's own day was only a small forerunner of this prophesied event. What God is here referring to is the repentance of the whole nation at the return of Christ (see Zechariah 12:10-14)—as well as the purging away of those who refuse to repent. The rebuke against Satan (3:2) will be fulfilled when He is banished at that time of national atonement and his accusations cease (see Revelation 20:1-2). "And so," Paul writes, "all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins'" (Romans 11:26-27).
The time frame is made clear in Zechariah 3:10, which repeats the millennial prophecy of Micah 4:4 (see verses 1-5). Yet now added is the element that not only will everyone sit under his own vine and fig tree, signifying personal prosperity, but all will invite neighbors to join them—signifying not just individuals reaching out to each other, but all nations of the world being invited to share in Israel's blessings. Israel will at long last be the righteous priestly nation God intended it to be.