Zechariah, Prophet Of The Restoration

The Cleansing of the Priest

"Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him" (ch.3:1 R.S.V.).

A new vision appears. The wide view of Jerusalem is gone; the prophet stands in spirit, probably in the Court of the Temple, witnessing a ceremony which seems to have much in common with the Levitical consecration of the High Priest. Joshua was High Priest in the days of Zechariah, the spiritual head of the nation just as Zerubbabel was its secular head. Now Zechariah sees this man standing before the Lord, arrayed in unclean garments, and Satan present to accuse him before God. The accusation is rejected; the Lord commands that Joshua be clothed in new and clean garments and a diadem placed upon his head. Then comes a solemn charge. If Joshua will faithfully discharge the duties of his priestly commission he will inherit an enduring place in the company of God's ministers. And he is to prefigure the Messiah who will come in the fullness of time to lead the nation into the promised era of righteousness and peace when every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree with none to make them afraid. (Micah 4:4).

It is logical to think that the vision was intended to have an immediate although limited application to Israel in Zechariah's day, even although its major significance has to do with the wider aspects of the Divine Plan. Thus Joshua in his "filthy garments" fitly pictured the defiled priesthood and Temple worship, consequent upon Israel's captivity in Babylon and the desecrated Temple. Satan, standing to accuse him, symbolised the hostility of the surrounding nations anxious to induce the Persian power to withdraw its support of the newly established Jewish State. But here God steps in. "The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan" he says "is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" (ch.3:2). Israel at this time, so recently delivered from Babylon, was in very truth a brand plucked out of the fire. So Joshua is clothed with new garments and crowned with a diadem as a symbol of the restored State and new glory of the returned exiles. This indeed was a fresh start for Israel; now, at last, the failures and apostasies of those five centuries when the kings reigned could be forgotten and the nation go forward to its destiny. So the charge to Joshua (ch.3:7); if he should walk in God's ways and keep God's charge, then his rulership should be confirmed forever. He would see the fulfilment of the old‑time prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning the emergence of a "branch" of David, a descendant of David's line, who should rule as both King and Priest. The outcome was to be the removal of the iniquity of the land and the eternal peace and prosperity of its inhabitants.

The golden vision was never realised. True, the Temple was built and for a while the zeal of the people for their God was great; probably the lifetime of Joshua was marked by a continuing national allegiance to the covenant. But old sins of cupidity, lawlessness and irreverence were still under the surface; by the time of Ezra fifty years later the nation had relapsed into its old ways, and corruption had penetrated into the priesthood. Ezra's notable prayer on the occasion of his coming to Jerusalem (Ezra 9&10) highlights the situation. "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens" (Ezra 9:6). It is true that Ezra brought about a national revival and reform, but that was short‑lived. Thirteen years later Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judah and found that all Ezra's work had been undone and Jerusalem was again a desolation. For twelve years he ruled and laboured among a fickle and at heart unbelieving people; but at the end of the twelve years he was recalled to Persia and immediately the nation relapsed again. He returned to Jerusalem subsequently and instituted further reforms, but as with Joshua, so with Nehemiah, after his death the light went out, priests and people alike abandoning all pretence of serving God and belief in the high destiny of their nation. So the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy in the person and work of Joshua and the generation he served as High Priest was not realised because of unfaithfulness and unfitness; the only possible fulfilment is that which runs its course through the Christian Dispensation and the one that follows, the Millennial Era in which the climax of Zech.3 finds its reality.

It would seem, then, that this chapter takes us away from the background and the events of the prophet's own day and leads irresistibly into the future. The climax of the vision, the emergence of the "Branch"—a title the Scriptures confine to the Lord Christ in his Messianic glory—the removal of iniquity, and the Millennial setting of verse 10, all point to this. Hence Joshua the High Priest, clothed in unclean garments which are taken away and replaced by clean ones, is clearly a figure of the Christian Church of this Age in process of cleansing and fitting for her future work in the next Age.

On this basis the elements of the vision fall into place. The central figure is the Royal Priesthood of the Millennial Age. A great deal of Old Testament imagery pictures our Lord uniting within himself the combined offices of King and Priest. The Psalmist lays down the principle that when that Age dawns Christ is to be a "priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psa.110:4). That is a reference back to the Genesis story of the Priest‑King of Salem (Jerusalem) in Abraham's day, the story which the seventh chapter of the book of Hebrews uses so effectively to picture the work of Christ at his Second Advent. Whereas at his First Advent and in his sacrificial role, He was prefigured by the order of Aaron, a sacrificing and a dying priesthood, at his Second Advent and in the power of his glory he appears as a royal priest, a Priest‑King, after the order of Melchizedek. But the New Testament shows that He is not alone in this; there is to be associated with him in that restorative work among mankind of the future Age the company of his faithful disciples of this Age, the Christian Church, those who in Rev.17:14 are said to be "called, and chosen, and faithful". And it is the Book of Revelation, which indicates that this same Christian Church is to be considered as sharing with her Lord the honoured title of the Royal Priest‑King. He "hath made us kings and priests unto God". "They (that have part in the first resurrection) shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev.1:6; 20:6). Joshua, standing in an unclean condition, can fitly picture the company of his disciples who, after cleansing, ultimately become part of the "Royal Priest". Hence verses 1‑3 of Zech.3 can logically represent the Church of this Age standing, by virtue of the consecration of its members to God, in the presence of the Lord, the "angel of the LORD (Jehovah)" of verse 1, clothed with unclean garments, the defiling influence of sin, which is now to be taken away. The clothing with "change of raiment" (verse 4) is easily seen to represent the being "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Rev.19:8). Justification, reconciliation with God, the life of sanctification and dedication to the High Calling, all this is what is involved in this being arrayed in a change of raiment. How apt in this context are the words of verse 4 "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment".

Satan, the enemy of Joshua, is equally the enemy of all who would enter into a covenant of service with the Lord. It is noteworthy that he disappears from the vision so soon as the Lord's reproof is uttered. So in the reality, the Prince of Evil has great power and influence in the world of men but the power of the Lord is greater and every "brand snatched from the burning" and brought to Christ is immune from the Adversary's devices.

Who are "those that stood before him" (i.e. before the angel of Jehovah, the Lord) in verse 4? These are the ones who actually strip the unclean garments from Joshua and array him in the new ones. Probably, just as Satan represents the powers of evil that would endeavour to keep Christian disciples in the way of sin, so "those that stood before" the Lord represent his ministers, whoever they are and from whencesoever they come, who are the instruments employed by the Lord in his work of transforming the hearts and lives of the believers, which is the real fulfilment of the change of garments. What has often been called "the ministry of angels" might well have its place here.

Now comes the indication of royalty, of a "fair mitre"—more accurately, a brilliant diadem—being placed on the head of Joshua. It is sometimes thought that this is the "mitre" which formed part of the Levitical priests' —Aaron's—regalia, but the word used makes it more likely that a royal crown or diadem is intended, as in Isa.62:3 "Thou shalt…be...a royal diadem in the hand of thy God". The symbol could well speak of the insignia of royalty which the prospective "Royal Priesthood" even now possesses, whilst still in this life. "Ye are...a royal priesthood" (1 Pet.2:9). So the Christian Church, as yet but a prospective heir to the glory that shall be revealed, stands in clean garments and with a royal diadem, acceptable in God's sight.

That commission is stated in verses 6‑7. "The angel of the LORD enjoined Joshua, Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here" (R.S.V.). Now this appears to envisage the discharge of a present duty as the essential preliminary to receiving certain administrative authority, and entering into a place or joining a company which stands in close relation to God. It ought not to be difficult to discern the application. The injunction laid upon all who come to the Lord as members of his Church is both to walk in his ways and keep his charge, Consecrated Christians of this Age, having been faithful to their calling and having learned well all that the Divine Providence in the circumstances of life has taught them, will be privileged in the next Age with duties of oversight and instruction of the whole race of mankind then to be called to repentance and reconciliation. The final phrase is then the obvious comment. These who are thus found fitted and qualified for eternal association with the Lord in his future works are destined to be with him, translated from this terrestrial world to that which is outside the range of human sense, but which is nevertheless the home of radiant beings always and altogether devoted and active in the service of God. Dr.Moffatt may have had more than a flash of insight when he rendered this particular sentence "I will give you right of access to this company of mine". Whatever the precise meaning of the original, it is a definite assurance that the faithful are eventually to be admitted to a condition of being, of life, an eternal home, which is in the presence of God and of those who, metaphorically perhaps, stand before his Throne.

Now comes the inspiring sequel to the vision, one that reveals in a few simple phrases the inflexible purpose of God to remove evil from the world and lead mankind into a condition of everlasting contentment. "Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at…" (ch.3:8). This is the prelude to a most important announcement; but first of all the characters thus addressed have to be identified. If Joshua the high priest is a picture of the Church in the flesh, who then are "thy fellows that sit before thee", "men wondered at"? It is not easy to find a class of men in this present order of things who can fitly be described as "fellows" to the disciples of Christ. The qualifying expression "men wondered at" is difficult to apply; the Hebrew word means a miracle or a sign but the context would certainly not be satisfied by describing them as "miracle men". Every translator has his own slant on this phrase; thus the R.S.V. renders "your friends… men of good omen", Dr. Young "Men of type are they" , Leeser "distinguished men are they", Rotherham "men to serve as signs", and Ferrar Fenton "they are witnessing men". Now most of these expressions have been from time to time applied to Israel, the nation that was God's witness in the world and became not only a sign to all men of Divine power but a type of the later arrangement in Christ which was to come after his First Advent. Even the expression "miracle men" would not be out of place; the survival of that nation throughout history despite all that has endeavoured to destroy it, and its territorial resurgence in this our own day, has frequently been described as a miracle. And the fact that both Joshua and the "men wondered at" are bidden to heed the Lord's declaration that He will bring forth his servant the "Branch", and none among men save the Christian Church and believing Israel could have the faintest idea of the meaning of that expression, goes far to encourage the conclusion that this is the understanding intended.

"For, behold" says the Lord "I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH" (ch.3:8). The "Branch" in Scripture metaphor is Christ—at his Second Advent and during his Millennial reign. It has its origin in the fact that Jesus, as a man, came in descent of the line of David and so fulfilled in his own person the prediction that Messiah would come of David's seed. Thus we have Isa.11:1. "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, (David's father) and a Branch shall grow out of his roots". The rest of this chapter describes the Millennial rule of Christ and its beneficent consequences for men. Says Jeremiah 23:5 "The days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth". Again the same prophet declares (ch.33:15) "In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land". From these allusions it is obvious that Zech.3:8 relates to the establishment of the Millennial administration upon earth, in which both the Church and regathered Israel, the heavenly and earthly instruments of world conversion in God's hand, will occupy significant positions.

"For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree" (ch.3:9‑10).

A stone, having seven "eyes", engraved by the hand of God, becoming the means of removal of evil, resulting in men calling or inviting their fellows to the shelter of the vine and fig tree. The Hebrew word here rendered "stone" (eben) may equally refer to a precious stone, a pebble or a boulder of granite. The context has to decide. In this case the background is that of the coming Millennial Kingdom and immediately the "stone…cut out of the mountain without hands" of Daniel 2:34 &45, this same Millennial Kingdom, comes to mind. The "stone set before Joshua" could well symbolise this same Kingdom. The usage of the term "engraving" is perhaps not too happy a one; "Pathach", means primarily to open a thing, as a door, a book, the gate of a city, or to loose a thing, as bonds or girdles, and only secondarily to engrave. In fact it is rendered "Open" some 80 times and "engrave" only twice. It may be therefore that having "set", or established, the stone which symbolises the Kingdom, the Lord throws it open for all who will to enter, much as the gates of the holy city of Rev.21:25, are thrown open to redeemed humanity. This would make sense of the succeeding phrase "I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day", for the entrance to the "stone" kingdom being thus thrown open the logical consequence is the conversion and reconciliation of mankind in the Millennial Day.

The seven eyes are significant. In chapter 4:10 they are referred to as the "eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth". This idea of the all‑seeing supervision of his creation by the Most High is very prominent in Scripture. "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" says the writer of Proverbs (15:3). Elihu, that far‑sighted young man in the days of Job, said "his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings" (Job 34:21). A little known seer, Hanani of Judah, warned King Asa "the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth", (2 Chron.16:9). And in more poetic frame the Revelator sees the "seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth" (Rev.5:6; Rev.1:4). These expressions indicate God's awareness of all that goes on in his creation; as the writer to the Hebrews says, "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb.4:13). This does not imply that there are seven literal dissociated eyes travelling over the earth's surface to behold what is going on. The seven is the symbol of completeness, and the seven eyes picture the many‑sided and universal Divine perception from which nothing is hid. In point of fact "ayin" can equally well mean "aspect" or "face of" and is used in these senses frequently in the Old Testament. It is probably more logical to think that what Zechariah saw in the vision was not a boulder of rock adorned with representations of seven human optic organs, but rather a seven sided stone block, a stone having "seven facets" as some translators put it, so that one‑seventh of the stone faced in each of seven directions. Thus would be well symbolised the Divine supervision of the Kingdom, seeing and ruling in every direction.

So the stone comes to rest on the ground before Joshua; the Kingdom is established on earth, Joshua and his fellows are ready, and the Millennial work commences. "In that day" as Rotherham "Ye shall invite one another, to come under the vine and under the fig‑tree" or the LXX "ye shall call together every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig‑tree" or, again, the R.S.V. "In that day, says the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbour under his vine and under his fig tree". The essence of this final scene in the vision is the fact of invitation. Vine and fig tree are symbols of the Millennial Age; in that day men will invite their fellows to share in the blessings of that Age. The basic principle is laid down in Rev.22:17 "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely". This is the time when all men everywhere will have the opportunity to hear and accept the grace of God in Christ and progress, if they will, to a condition of full reconciliation with God and entry into the eternal state of the blessed. It will be by invitation and not of constraint; by persuasion and not of command. But the prospect is that of a world in which sin and evil are done away; the progress and development of the sons of men unhindered and untrammelled by violence, fear, selfishness, disease or death. Man will, at last, have attained his place in creation.

To be continued