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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


D. The cleansing and restoration of Joshua ch. 3

The Lord explained that Joshua and his friends were men who had prophetic significance (Zechariah 3:8). As will become clear, Joshua, Israel’s high priest, represents Israel in this vision, specifically Israel in her divinely appointed role as a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). Similarly, Israel’s high priest represented the nation each year on the day of Atonement. In this vision and the next, Israel’s standing before God and her resources are in view. This vision presents Israel’s restoration as a high priestly nation.

"As the first three visions dealt principally with the material side of Israel’s tribulation and restoration, the remaining five dealt pre-eminently with her moral and spiritual influence." [Note: G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Whole Bible, p. 399.]

This vision has two parts: a symbolic act (Zechariah 3:1-5) and accompanying promises (Zechariah 3:6-10).

Verse 1

Zechariah’s guiding angel next showed the prophet, in his vision, Joshua (lit. Yahweh saves), Israel’s current high priest (Zechariah 6:11; Ezra 5:2; Nehemiah 7:7; Haggai 1:1), standing before the angel of the Lord (Zechariah 1:11-12). "The accuser" (lit. "the Satan," Heb. hasatan) was standing at Joshua’s right hand prepared to accuse him before the angel of the Lord (cf. Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-7; Revelation 12:10). The writer made a play on the Hebrew word in its noun and verb forms here translated "Satan" and "accuse." [Note: See Sydney H. T. Page, "Satan: God’s Servant," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:3 (September 2007):449-65.] Standing at the right hand was the traditional place were an accuser stood in Jewish life (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:1; Psalms 109:6).

"The term satan, when used without the definite article, usually refers to a human adversary. The one exception is in Numbers 22:22; Numbers 22:32, where the angel of the Lord assumes the role of Balaam’s adversary. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, the term probably refers to a nearby nation, though some prefer to take the word in this context as a proper name, ’Satan.’ When the term appears with the article, as it does here and in Job 1-2, it is a title for a being who seems to serve as a prosecuting attorney in the heavenly court." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 460.]

". . . sin exposes the sinner to satanic attack not only in the case of unbelievers (Matthew 12:43-45), but believers as well (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 John 5:16)." [Note: Unger, p. 57.]

Evidently the scene that Zechariah saw took place in the temple.

"The first three visions brought the prophet from a valley outside the city to a vantage-point from which the dimensions of the original Jerusalem could be seen. In the fourth and fifth visions he is in the Temple courts, where the high priest officiated and had access to God’s presence." [Note: Baldwin, pp. 112-13.]

"Joshua is standing in a tribunal, where he is being accused of unfitness for the priestly ministry." [Note: Merrill, p. 131.]

Another view is that he was not on trial but simply ministering to the Lord.

Verses 1-5

1. The symbolic Acts 3:1-5

Verse 2

The Lord then spoke to the accuser citing His own authority as Yahweh who had chosen Jerusalem. This is one indication that Joshua represented Israel since God linked Joshua with Jerusalem. Joshua was secure from Satan’s accusations because of the Lord’s sovereign choice of Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 12:2; Romans 8:33). The Lord may be distinct from the angel of the Lord, but they seem to be synonymous. Most conservative commentators equate them and believe the angel of the Lord is the second person of the Trinity. In other contexts, adversaries argue their cases before God, not before His representatives (e.g., Job 1-2). The Lord rebuked Satan twice, the repetition adding force to the initial rebuke (cf. Judges 1:9).

The Lord then referred to Joshua as a burning stick plucked from the fire, evidently for His future use (cf. Amos 4:11). If Joshua represents Israel, then the fire must refer to the Babylonian captivity from which Israel had come almost destroyed, and the stick refers to the surviving remnant. Israel had experienced another brush with extinction at the Exodus (Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Jeremiah 11:4), and she will do so again in the Tribulation (Zechariah 13:8-9; Jeremiah 30:7; Revelation 12:13-17).

Verse 3

Joshua stood before the angel of the Lord dressed in excrement bespattered garments (cf. Isaiah 4:4). He was ministering to the Lord in this extremely filthy and ceremonially unclean condition. This represented the unclean state in which Israel stood in Zechariah’s day as she ministered before Him as a kingdom of priests in the world.

Verse 4

The Lord then instructed others who were standing before Him, probably angelic servants, to remove Joshua’s filthy garments (cf. Exodus 28:8-9; Exodus 28:41; Leviticus 8:7-9; Numbers 20:28). The Lord explained that these garments symbolized the high priest’s (Israel’s) iniquities, which He had forgiven. He promised to remove his representative’s filthy robes and replace them with festal, stately robes, the apparel of royalty and wealth, symbolic of God’s righteousness (cf. Isaiah 3:22). Thus God would restore Israel to her original calling as a priestly nation (cf. Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6).

"Theologically, however, there also seems to be a picture here of the negative aspect of what God does when he saves a person. Negatively, he takes away sin. Positively, he adds or imputes to the sinner saved by grace his own divine righteousness (cf. Zechariah 3:5)." [Note: Barker, p. 624.]

Amillennialists contend that this is all that the vision means; it contains no special promises for Israel. [Note: See Leupold, pp. 74, 77.]

Verse 5

Zechariah chimed in suggesting that the angelic dressers also put a clean turban on Joshua’s head, which they did along with his other garments. A plaque on the front of the high priest’s turban read "Holy to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36; Exodus 39:30). This is what Israel will be in the future, a holy nation of holy priests. The Lord observed all that was happening, sovereignly approving and directing all the changes in Joshua’s condition.

"What is unique here is the command of a mere man to bring about a purpose of God." [Note: Merrill, p. 136.]

Similarly prayer plays a part in the execution of God’s will.

Verses 6-7

Then the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua. He promised, in the name of sovereign Yahweh, that if Joshua obeyed the Lord and served Him, Joshua would govern the temple, have charge of the temple courts, and enjoy free access into the Lord’s presence. He could come into the Lord’s presence like the angels who stood before Him. Joshua’s commission pertained to a priestly function within the framework of a covenant relationship. [Note: Ibid., p. 138.] As always, faithful, obedient service leads to further opportunities for service.

The Lord specified two conditions and promised three results. The first condition was Israel’s practical righteousness; she had to walk in His ways faithfully with heart and hand (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Deuteronomy 28:9). Second, she had to carry out her priestly duties faithfully. If Israel did these things, she would govern God’s house (people and temple; cf. Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Jeremiah 31:7), have charge of His courts keeping them pure (cf. Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 31:23), and enjoy free access to God (cf. Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6; Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19-22).

"In all this the person and work of Joshua’s greater namesake, Jesus, was being anticipated. The faithful high priest of the pre-Christian era entered into God’s presence as the Christian [believer priest] does ’by grace through faith’." [Note: Baldwin, p. 115. Cf. Hebrews 4:14-16.]

Verses 6-10

2. The accompanying promises 3:6-10

Verse 8

Evidently Zechariah also saw in his vision other priests, Joshua’s friends, sitting in front of him. The Lord continued to address Joshua, identifying him as the high priest. He called the friends sitting in front of Joshua men who were symbols (Heb. mopheth, tokens of future events, prophetic signs; cf. Isaiah 8:18). It was not just Joshua individually who represented Israel, but the other priests also represented the priesthood within Israel.

"The miracle, which is to be seen in Joshua and his priests, consists . . . in the fact that the priesthood of Israel is laden with guilt, but by the grace of God it has been absolved, and accepted by God again, as the deliverance from exile shows, and Joshua and his priests are therefore brands plucked by the omnipotence of grace from the fire of merited judgment. This miracle of grace which has been wrought for them, points beyond itself to an incomparably greater and better act of the sin-absolving grace of God, which is still in the future." [Note: C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 2:259.]

The Lord also said that He planned to bring into the picture His Servant, the Branch. This is a double title of Messiah (cf. Zechariah 6:12; Psalms 132:17; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15). As Yahweh’s servant (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11; Ezekiel 34:23-24), Messiah would come into the world to do His Father’s will, including redeeming, cleansing, and restoring Israel to God’s intended place for her.

"As Branch, the Messiah is represented in the OT in four different aspects of his character (King, Servant, Man, and God). These aspects are developed in the NT in the four Gospels: (1) in Matthew as the Branch of David, i.e., as the Davidic messianic King (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15); (2) in Mark as the Lord’s Servant, the Branch (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 50:10; Isaiah 52:13; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Zechariah 3:8); (3) in Luke as the Man whose name is the Branch (Zechariah 6:12); and (4) in John as the Branch of the Lord (Isaiah 4:2)." [Note: Barker, p. 626. See also Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 64.]

Verse 9

Zechariah also saw in the vision a stone in front of Joshua. The stone, too, is a common figure of God and Messiah in the Bible (Zechariah 10:4; Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:7-11; Psalms 118:22; et al.). In the past God promised that the Stone would be a secure, never-failing refuge for His people (Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:6). When Messiah appeared, however, He proved to be a stone over which the Jews stumbled and an offensive rock to them (Psalms 118:22-23; Isaiah 8:13-15; Matthew 21:42; 1 Peter 2:7-8). Presently He is the foundation stone, the chief cornerstone of the church (Ephesians 2:19-22). And in the future He will be the great stone that smites the nations (Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:45). [Note: See ibid., p. 65.]

"The reason two figures are used, one the Servant-Branch, the other the single Stone, is because one applies specifically to the first advent and the other centers in the second advent." [Note: Unger, p. 66.]

Another view is that they represent Messiah as king and priest. [Note: Smith, p. 201.] But this seems unlikely because of a lack of connection between the branch and the stone and the king and the priest.

The stone that Zechariah saw had seven eyes (Heb. ’ayin), probably symbolizing its complete, divine intelligence (omniscience; cf. Zechariah 1:10; Zechariah 4:10; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Isaiah 11:2; Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12; Colossians 2:3; Colossians 2:9; Revelation 5:6). The inscription engraved on the stone remains unexplained, but many of the early church fathers and interpreters ever since have taken the engraving as a preview of Messiah’s wounds. [Note: See E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 2:359.] The engraving may indicate that the stone is a commemorative one since the Assyrian and Babylonian kings set such stones in the foundations of buildings to perpetuate their memories. [Note: Baldwin, p. 116.]

"The eyes on the stone would be the divine signature identifying YHWH as the real architect and builder of the structure." [Note: Merrill, p. 143.]

The Lord continued that He would also remove the iniquity of "that land," the holy land (Zechariah 2:12), in one day. He did that when Messiah died on the cross, but Israel will realize this benefit of His death when He returns to earth at His second advent and cleanses and forgives Israel as a whole (Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1; Romans 11:26-27). The Day of the Lord is doubtless in view.

"As the Servant of the Lord, Christ is the One who comes to do the will of the Father (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:3-4; Isaiah 50:10; Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11). As the Branch of David, Christ is the Davidic Descendant who will rise to power and glory out of the humiliation into which the line of David had fallen (Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 6:12-13). As the Stone (cf. Psalms 118:22; Matthew 21:42; 1 Peter 2:6) He will bring judgment on the Gentiles (Daniel 2:44-45) and be a stone of stumbling for unbelieving Israel (Romans 9:31-33)." [Note: Lindsey, pp. 1554-55.]

Verse 10

In that day, the Lord promised, the Israelites would all invite their (Gentile) neighbors to join them in enjoying their peace and prosperity. Israel would enjoy peace and security as never before, even under the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25; cf. 2 Kings 18:31; Micah 4:4). Then God will lift the curse that He imposed on the creation at the Fall, and there will be agricultural prosperity as well as spiritual prosperity (Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 35; Isaiah 65:17; Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 7:27; Micah 4:1-4). Paradise lost will become paradise regained.

"In summary, vision four describes a day of redemption in which Joshua the high priest, typical or representative of Israel as a priestly people, will be cleansed of his impurities and reinstalled in his capacity as high priest. This presupposes a Temple in which this can take place, so Joshua will build such a structure. Again, this Temple is only the model of one to come, one whose cornerstone is YHWH Himself. That cornerstone contains the glorious promise of the regeneration of the nation, a mighty salvific event that will be consummated in one day (Isaiah 66:7-9)." [Note: Merrill, pp. 143-44.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Zechariah 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/zechariah-3.html. 2012.
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