Zechariah 3 – The Cleansing of Joshua the High Priest
A. The vision of the LORD, Satan, and Joshua the high priest.
1. (1-3) The Angel of the LORD stands against Satan on Joshua’s behalf.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.
a. Then he showed me Joshua the high priest: Joshua was the high priest at the time (Haggai 1:1). In his vision, Zechariah saw the high priest in the presence of the LORD (standing before the Angel of the LORD), and he was clothed with filthy garments.
b. Standing before the Angel of the LORD: The phrase standing before has the idea of priestly service. Joshua wasn’t in God’s presence just as a spectator but as a ministering priest.
c. Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him: Satan hated the whole scene. He hates it when God’s people come into the presence of the LORD. He hates it when they come into God’s presence to serve and honor the LORD.
i. “Satan must have been pointing to those [filthy clothes] and declaring forcefully that Joshua was unfit to stand before the Lord in this office.” (Boice)
ii. This is all according to character for Satan. The name Satan literally means adversary or opponent. He stands against us in every spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-18). The only thing worse than having Satan as an adversary is to have him as a friend.
d. The LORD rebuke you, Satan! We see the LORD standing before Satan and preventing his advance; either directly, if the Angel of the LORD is Jesus in this place, or indirectly exercising authority through the Angel of the LORD.
i. God does allow Satan to attack and harass His people, but He always strictly regulates what Satan is allowed to do. Satan wanted to destroy Simon Peter, sifting him like wheat (Luke 22:31-32) but Jesus prayed for Peter and stood beside him and did not allow Satan to carry out every evil intention of his heart.
ii. “Take note that this rebuke comes at the right season. When Satan accuses, Christ pleads. He does not wait till the case has gone against us and then express his regret, but he is always a very present help in time of trouble. He knows the heart of Satan, being omniscient God, and long before Satan can accuse he puts in the demurrer, the blessed plea on our behalf, and stays the action till he gives an answer which silences for ever every accusation.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The LORD rebuke you: Jude 1:9 tells us that Michael the archangel used this same phrase in battling against Satan. The example here of the Angel of the LORD and of Michael shows us a model for spiritual warfare – that we always should battle with the LORD’s authority. In His authority we fight from a place of victory, more than fighting for victory.
e. The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! With this phrase, God reinforced the important standing of Jerusalem in His eyes. As mentioned in Zechariah 2:12 it is His Holy Land.
f. Is this not a brand plucked from the fire? Joshua the high priest had a place of high standing – next to the Angel of the LORD and protected against satanic attack. Still, this place of high privilege was not based on Joshua’s own goodness or merit; he himself was rescued as a brand plucked from the fire. This is even more boldly stated in that Joshua stood clothed in filthy garments. Satan had a lot to accuse Joshua of, but Joshua had an even greater Advocate in the Angel of the LORD.
i. A brand is a burnt, burning, or smoldering piece of wood. Think of a campfire with a blackened, charred chunk of wood smoking in the ashes. It isn’t worth much at all and will be consumed completely if it isn’t plucked from the fire.
ii. “So it is with the child of God. What is he at the best? Till he is taken up to heaven, he is nothing but a brand plucked out of the fire. It is his daily moan that he is a sinner; but Christ accepts him as he is: and he shuts the devil’s mouth by telling him, ‘Thou sayest this man is black – of course he is: what did I think he was but that? He is a brand plucked out of the fire. I plucked him out of it. He was burning when he was in it: he is black now he is out of it. He was what I knew he would be; he is not what I mean to make him, but he is what I knew he would be. I have chosen him as a brand plucked out of the fire. What hast thou to say to that?’ Do observe that this plea did not require a single word to be added to it from Joshua.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Such is the divine economy, that God makes much of brands, fragments, castaways. What others regard as unworthy of their heed is dear and priceless to the great Lover of souls.” (Meyer)
iv. “This question, as it appears to me, will bear three renderings; first, it may be looked upon as an exclamation of wonder: ‘Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire!’ Secondly, as an enquiry or hope: ‘Is not this a brand’ – this one particularly, ’plucked out of the fire?’ And, in the third place, it is certainly a defiance for us, assured of our safety, to throw into the face of Satan, the accuser: ‘Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ ” (Spurgeon)
v. When John Wesley was only six years old, he was trapped in a burning house and was only rescued when one neighbor climbed on another’s shoulders and pulled him out of a window. A picture of the scene was drawn for Wesley and he kept the drawing until he died, and wrote under it Zechariah 3:2: Is this not a brand plucked from the burning?
2. (4-5) Joshua’s iniquity is removed and he is given clean garments.
Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the LORD stood by.
a. Take away the filthy garments from him: As Joshua, the high priest, stood in the presence of the LORD, Satan accused him on seemingly solid grounds – Joshua was guilty of standing before God in filthy garments. Nevertheless, the LORD addressed the problem by cleansing Joshua, taking away the filthy garments and the iniquity they represented.
i. The Hebrew word translated filthy is “the strongest expression in the Hebrew language for filth of the most vile and loathsome character.” (Feinberg, cited in Barker)
b. And I will clothe you with rich robes: Joshua not only enjoyed having his iniquity removed, but he also was given a positive righteousness – clothed with rich robes. The thought of being clothed by God in righteousness runs from Genesis (Genesis 3:7 and 3:21) to Revelation (Revelation 7:13-14).
c. Let them put a clean turban on his head: The turban was part of the high priest’s garments and on the front, it had a gold plate inscribed with the phrase Holiness to the LORD (Exodus 28:36-38).
B. God’s message to Joshua the high priest.
1. (6-7) A personal admonishment and promise to Joshua.
Then the Angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts:
‘If you will walk in My ways,
And if you will keep My command,
Then you shall also judge My house,
And likewise have charge of My courts;
I will give you places to walk
Among these who stand here.
a. If you will walk in My ways and if you will keep My command: Joshua, in Zechariah’s day, was encouraged much the same way that the first Joshua was admonished. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7)
b. Then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts: God promised Joshua that he would indeed continue to serve as high priest as he was diligent to stay obedient to God.
c. I will give you places to walk among these who stand here: God promised Joshua privileged access into the presence of God. This wasn’t a surprising promise for a high priest, but we have the same promise: Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
2. (8-10) A prophetic message of Messiah and His reign.
‘Hear, O Joshua, the high priest,
You and your companions who sit before you,
For they are a wondrous sign;
For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the Branch.
For behold, the stone
That I have laid before Joshua:
Upon the stone are seven eyes.
Behold, I will engrave its inscription,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.
In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts,
‘Everyone will invite his neighbor
Under his vine and under his fig tree.’”
a. I am bringing forth My Servant the Branch: The term Branch is used several times as a title for the Messiah (Isaiah 4:2 and 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:15). The Branch is associated with fruitfulness and life. Jesus used the same image when He said that He was the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5).
b. For behold, the stone I have laid before Joshua: If a branch seems weak, then God gives us another picture – a stone, having seven eyes. In the thinking of the ancient world, eyes represented knowledge because we learn more through our eyes than any other way. The seven eyes speak of the perfection and fullness of the knowledge and wisdom of the Messiah.
c. I will engrave its inscription: Early Christians saw the engraving on the stone to be a picture of Jesus’ wounds. The engraving could also be a mark of identification or beautification.
d. Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree: This is a proverbial expression that means prosperity and peace (1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31). Ultimately, this is the peace that the reign of the Messiah brings. This vision and word from Zechariah show how much God wanted to encourage and strengthen Joshua, and He does it in the best way: by setting his eyes on our Messiah, Jesus Christ. That is always our best encouragement.