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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This remarkable vision (Zechariah 3:1-10) was shown to the prophet by God Himself; and it is primarily concerned with the status of Israel after the captivity. God had rejected and destroyed, but not totally, the entire nation of the Jews, including both their wicked states: Ephraim and Judah. This near-total destruction of the once-chosen people followed the corruption and apostasy of the whole people from the loving God who had delivered them from Egyptian slavery, with the terminal result that the people had become debauched, merely a new generation of Canaanites, just as wicked and idolatrous as the old Canaanites whom God had driven out to make room for the posterity of Abraham. Their kings were the scandal of ancient history; their priesthood was polluted with sins, even stooping to murder. Anyone familiar with the 9th chapter of Hosea could only be surprised that God waited as long as he did to destroy the corrupt states of Israel (Ephraim) and Judah.

But at the time of Zechariah, a remnant of the people had returned to Judaea under the leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel; and the future of that remnant unfolds in the vision of this chapter. By God’s acceptance of a returning remnant, the Father indicated that the ancient promises to Abraham, Moses and David were still valid. A Saviour who would yet “bless all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) would in time be delivered to the world through that struggling little band that returned from captivity. Why would God do this? Simply because he had promised to do it. Did this rescue and return of the remnant signify that God was then satisfied with the righteousness of his people? No! Did this return mean that the secular Israel was again re-married to Almighty God as his wife and chosen people? No indeed! The new status of Israel would be that of God’s servant not his wife, as indicated by Hosea 3. (See extensive comment on this in my commentary on the minor prophets, vol. 2, pp. 57-65.)

The location of this vision should be accurately understood as situated on earth. Scholars have expressed radically different opinions about it, the most erroneous being that of placing it “in heaven.” Leupold designated such opinions as “not important”;(F1) but we view the misunderstanding of a heavenly placement of this vision as extremely important, due to the false deduction flowing out of it to the effect that this passage, along with Job 1:6-12, indicates that, “Satan is a regular attender in the divine presence,”(F2) or that Satan is actually still in “heaven!”

It should be understood as certain that the vision here took place, “on earth, and, indeed, in or near Jerusalem.”(F3) The fact of the participants in the vision “standing before” the angel of the Lord does not contradict this, because “The angel of the Lord is God’s earthly representative.”(F4)

The earth is the place of Satan’s activities, that evil being having been cast out of heaven before the Adamic creation appeared (See the notes in my commentary on Revelation, pp. 273-278). A proper understanding of this is absolutely necessary to the proper understanding of Revelation 12; John 12:31; and Luke 10:18.

Verse 1

“And he showed me Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary.”

“He showed me” This refers to God. The interpreting angel did not introduce visions, his function being that of explaining them.

“Joshua the High Priest” That this Joshua held the office of High Priest when Zechariah prophesied is apparent from Haggai 1:1; Ezra 5:2; and from Zechariah 6:11, in which passage he appears again.

“Before the angel of Jehovah” Keil’s analysis of the persons appearing here appears to be correct:

“He” in Zechariah 3:1 is Jehovah, and not the mediating angel, for his work was to explain the visions to the prophet, and not to introduce them; nor the angel of Jehovah, because he appears in the course of the vision, although in these visions he is sometimes identified with Jehovah, and sometimes distinguished from him.(F5)

This prophetic identification of the angel of the Lord with God Himself, yet distinguishing him from the Father, is part of the extensive Old Testament witness to the fact of God’s being a compound unity, not an absolute unity. God is one ([~’echad]); the people are one ([~’echad]). These are definite foreshadowings of the truth more explicitly stated in the New Testament. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!” (John 1:1).

“And Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary” Schools of criticism which have attempted to make the doctrine of Satan a very late development have moved to destroy the witness of this verse to the contrary. Mitchell, for example, while candidly admitting that the appearance of “Satan” in this passage as a proper name for the evil one, is actually “a literal transcript of the original,” nevertheless asserted that, “The Adversary of this vision is certainly not the malicious person just described (Satan).”(F6) Of course, such assertions are without authority and are totally unacceptable.

As for the malicious character of Satan revealed here, it was fully in keeping with every other reference to Satan in the whole Bible. In his appearance as an “adversary” of the people of God (represented by Joshua in the vision), the satanic purpose was to oppose the bringing of a Redeemer into the world, dooming the whole human race to ultimate eternal death in the lake of fire, along with the devil himself. Was this malicious?

Verse 2

“And Jehovah said unto Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan; yea, Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

This double rebuke of Satan by God Himself dramatically demonstrates the conception that Satan is indeed a powerful, superhuman enemy of mankind, full of the utmost and most malicious wickedness.

Details of Satan’s charges against Israel (as represented by Joshua) were not given in the vision; for there was no need to do so. God’s prophets themselves had spelled out in the most vehement language the gross sins and vile wickedness of God’s people which resulted at last in their near-total destruction. God did not need Satan to point out their sins, which were evident enough in the filthy garments in which Joshua appeared in the vision.

The occasion of Satan’s opposition was strategic, coming precisely at the point in history when it appeared that Israel would indeed not perish, but that God would go right on with his longstanding intention of bringing into the world the Holy Redeemer through his now-disciplined people. Satan’s opposition was squarely against that.

Satan’s arguments were not heard; they were not refuted; they were not allowed for a moment to interfere with the plans of the eternal God. God merely hurled against him the devastating double-rebuke of this verse; and, immediately, Satan was vanquished, and he appeared no more in the vision.

“Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem” It was not as if God were considering whether or not he would go on with thc plan of redeeming humanity; ah, no! In ages long previous to the times of the vision, it was an immutable fact that “God had chosen Jerusalem”; and the rebuke of Satan emphasized it, “Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee.”

“Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire…?” The impact of this was directed against Satan’s objections, as if God had said:

Look, Satan, I have already rescued Israel from what you along with the whole world thought was their final doom. They were in the process of being burned up forever, but I have pulled them out of the fire and have no intention of altering the plan of human salvation.

As Gill put it:

“The ten northern tribes were gone; the generation that went into Babylon was dead; and those who returned were but a handful compared to the ones who remained in Babylon. Unless God had plucked them as a brand from the fire, they would no longer have been a people.”(F7)

This whole vision should be understood exactly for what it is, a vision, an enacted metaphor of reality. The law-court scene in which Satan appears as prosecutor and the angel of God as defender of God’s people is an enacted figure of speech, one that is carried over into the New Testament, where Jesus Christ our Lord is represented as our “Advocate” (1 John 2:1).

Dean’s opinion of this vision does not agree that Satan was an “accuser” in this situation, but “an adversary,” one who opposed God Himself and any action of Joshua’s that might have conformed to God’s will.(F8) We actually find no fault with that view, for in Satan’s function as an “adversary” he naturally “accused” also; and there were plenty of things to accuse with reference to Israel.

Verses 3-4

“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take the filthy garments from off him. And unto him the said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with rich apparel.”

“Filthy garments” Some have advanced the notion that the filthy garments here indicate penitence and mourning on the part of Joshua; but the mention of “iniquity” in Zechariah 3:4 confirms the view that they stand for the scandalous sins of Israel, the whole nation, the sins of their kings, judges, priests and the people generally. They are represented, moreover, as being still filthy, even after their being plucked out of the fire, indicating that not even God’s punishments had made them righteous in God’s sight.

It is safe to conclude that the prophet in this vision intended to represent Judah as still, in spite of penalties endured, guilty before God, and so evidently guilty… that a successful defense is impossible.(F9)

“Take the filthy garments from off him” That not merely Joshua the individual is meant here becomes plain in the light of Zechariah 3:9, where taking off the filthy garments becomes, “Remove the iniquity of the land; therefore, Joshua represents the land.”(F10)

“I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee” This does not refer to something then and there accomplished. The prophetic tense in which the past perfect stands for the future is definitely used here, as definitely proved by Zechariah 3:9. God indeed would, in time, remove the guilt of all men “in Christ”; an event that would occur in “one day” (Zechariah 3:9), and would include the removal of the guilt of all who are to be saved eternally. The great error of the old Israel was in their false assumption that God would cleanse them, regardless of their deeds, solely upon the premise of their being literal descendants of Abraham. The strong Messianic impact of this vision will be made immediately apparent in the reference to the BRANCH and the STONE.

It is our conviction that they are in error who affirm from the past tense in this verse (which is actually the prophetic tense) that God decided to cleanse Israel then and there “independently of any sacrifice or offering whatever.”(F11) Such a view is contrary to all that the Bible teaches. Before any sins of any man could really be blotted out, the blood of Christ would need to be poured out in Calvary’s great atonement. Men who would like nothing more than to remove the very principle of sacrifice from holy religion are quick to seize any opportunity to attempt it. Zechariah 3:9 shows conclusively that the actual forgiveness of Israel was an event to take place after the appearance of the BRANCH and the LIVING STONE.

Verse 5

“And I said, let them set a clean mitre upon his head. So they set a clean mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments; and the angel of Jehovah was standing by.”

“And I said” Our version (ASV) indicates that Zechariah himself at this point interjected himself into the proceedings of the vision with a prayer “Let them,” a prayer immediately answered through full compliance with his request.

“And I said” Upon the basis of these brief words being omitted from the LXX, Thomas declared that, “They should be deleted.”(F12) But there is no evidence whatever that the Septuagint (LXX) is superior to the the Hebrew text of the O.T. either in this passage, or any other.

This re-investiture of Joshua as the representative of the people of God signified the ultimate, not the immediate, true cleansing of the Israel of God (both old and new); but not only that, it would also appear in the very next verse that even the ultimate forgiveness of human transgressions was invariably and always contingent upon human fulfillment of certain conditions.

Verses 6-7

“And the angel of Jehovah protested unto Joshua, saying, thus saith Jehovah of hosts: If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou also shalt judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee a place of access among these that stand by.”

The use of the word “access” here is most significant. The only access to God on the part of mankind that was ever opened up was through the blood of Jesus Christ. Concerning both the ancient Israel and the new Israel, Paul declared that, “Through Christ we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Furthermore, this was not any kind of temporary or emergency arrangement. The apostle stated plainly that such access through Christ was “according to the eternal purpose” of God (Ephesians 3:11-12). Thus, this whole passage has in view the ultimate access that would be available to the old Israel and to all the Gentiles as well, “In Christ Jesus our Lord.” This word, like everything else in the chapter points squarely to the New Covenant and the kingdom of God in Christ. Moreover, this is not to deny that there were tangential implications of the vision that pertained particularly to the secular Israel just returned from Babylon. As God knew they would do, the Israelites fully understood those implications.

It meant that the priesthood was cleansed and made acceptable for service? It meant that judicial authority in all matters concerned with the Temple, which in former days had been executed by the monarch, is now transferred to Joshua and those who succeeded him.(F13)

It also meant that God would bless the restored people sufficiently to the achivement of his holy purpose of bringing in the Messiah through them. This promise was treasured by the Jews; and, in all of the disasters that threatened, it was customary for the High Priest to comfort the people by saying, “The Messiah has not yet come, so we are safe.” They even made such appeals to the people prior to the final destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D., having overlooked the truth that indeed, their Messiah had already come, and they recognized him not.

“If thou wilt walk in my ways” Not only was the promised forgiveness as indicated by the clean garments dependent upon the ultimate appearance of the Christ to “give his life a ransom for all”; but it was also contingent upon Israel’s walking in the ways of the Lord, one of the invariable, universal, and perpetual preconditions of redemption for all men.

Verse 8

“Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou and thy fellows that sit before thee; for they are men that are a sign: for, Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.”

“Men that are a sign” Joshua himself was evidently included as being in the company of men that “were for a sign,” indicating the typical nature of the Old Testament high priesthood as it pointed toward the Messiah. “The words for they should be omitted. Joshua and his fellow priests are the men” that are a sign.(F14)

“O Joshua” This name is actually the equivalent of “Jesus”; and, in fact, it appears in the Apocrypha a number of times simply as “Jesus.”(F15) Therefore we must add to the extensive witness, present throughout the vision, of the coming Christ the significant fact that the principal figure in it actually bore the name of the blessed Messiah. The entry into Canaan also came under another Joshua. “Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch” The prophets of God identify this character as the Messiah:

“In that day shall the Branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious for the escaped of Israel (Isaiah 4:2). There shall come forth a rod out of the stump of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots (Isaiah 11:1). Behold 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, and this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6). 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 (Jeremiah 23:15).”

“My servant the Branch” The dramatic announcement of the bringing in of the Messiah was the signal that all of the actual cleansing, forgiveness, and righteousness indicated as accruing to Israel (as portrayed by the rich, dean garments for Joshua) actually depended upon the emergence upon the stage of history, of the Branch, God’s true servant, who would indeed accomplish the removal of iniquity “in one day” (Zechariah 3:9).

“Branch is a technical term in the prophets to portray the coming Davidic Prince… who would rise to become the builder of the Temple, and combine in himself the offices of priest and king. Joshua knew that he could not be the Branch because he was not of the Davidic line; and Zerubbabel, the civic head, was not present, neither was he a priest, so he did not qualify for the office.”(F16)

In the light of this, how inexplicable is a comment by Mitchell to the effect that, “For Zechariah, the Shoot (Branch) is Zerubbabel.”(F17) Such a view is impossible to support; because both Zechariah and Joshua understood perfectly the qualifications of the Branch that made it absolutely impossible for Zerubbabel to be eligible as a candidate to fulfill the prophecy.

“My servant” The use of this title as descriptive of the Branch identifies him with “The Suffering Servant” of Isaiah’s prophecy.(F18) “Both Servant and Branch are designations in the Old Testament for the Messiah.”(F19)

Verse 9

“For, behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; upon one stone are seven eyes: Behold, I will engrave the graying thereof, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”

Joshua (Jesus), the Branch, and My Servant, all in the previous verse, point squarely to the approaching Messiah; and there is no need to suppose that the stone which appears here is anything except another metaphor of the Son of God. The fact of the stone’s having “seven eyes” seals the matter; for anything with eyes is alive; and that identifies this stone as “the living Stone,” hailed by the apostles as Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:6-9; Romans 9:32-33). (For extensive discussion of Christ as the Living Stone, see my commentary on Romans, pp. 352-357.)

Some have read the word “eyes” as “facets,” alleging that the verse should read, “a single stone with seven facets.”(F20) From this, some would identify the stone as, “The stone prepared to be the headstone of the Temple.”(F21) This, however, would still make it mean Jesus Christ; because, our Lord himself said to the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner” (Matthew 21:42), a manifest reference to himself. Still another deduction would make it a precious gem stone for an ornament of the dress of the High Priest; but even an unlikely “guess” of that kind cannot take away its identity with Christ for he is indeed the “precious stone” (1 Peter 2:6)! These and a great many other considerations bring us to full agreement with Clarke who wrote, “This (stone) means Christ and none other.”(F22) Feinberg also agreed that this is a third name for Messiah in this passage: “The allusion is to all the graces, beauties, and gifts of the Messiah.”(F23)

Failing to understand the quite Obvious metaphor of Christ the Living Stone in this passage, the critical scholars have emended, changed, rearranged, and perverted the text here in many ways in vain attempts to find a meaning they can comprehend; but as Baldwin said:

“In the absence of textual evidence for such changes, and therefore of objective criteria to act as a control, these changes reflect only the personal judgment of one or more scholars.”(F24)

We might add that none of the rearrangements, changes, and “improvements” that we have seen affords any clearer meaning or is any more easily understood than the text as it has come down to us.

“I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” Hailey, following C. F. Keil, understood the “stone” of this passage to mean the kingdom of God, or the Church; but those interpretations also leave the identity squarely resting upon our Lord, for the Church, or kingdom, is his spiritual body. Keil has this great word regarding the “one day”:

This one day is the day of Golgotha.”(F25) Amen! It was the day of the great Atonement when Jesus died for the sins of the whole world.

Verse 10

“In that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, shall ye invite every man his neighbor under the vine and under the fig tree.”

“In that day” positively identifies this whole passage as Messianic. The thing prophesied here is the peace, tranquility, and happiness of the children of God in the kingdom of Christ. We have already seen this agricultural prosperity used repeatedly in the minor prophets as a metaphor for the blessings of God’s children in the Messianic age.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Zechariah 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/zechariah-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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