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And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing
Joshua the priest
We learn from the Book of Ezra (Ezra 2:36-39) that among the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon, were Joshua or Jeshua, and 4289 priests.
But they were in a sorry plight--their character is described by the prophet Malachi; and it was in sad contrast, as he suggests, to the original type of the priesthood represented in Phinehas. As a judgment on the priesthood, the whole body had fallen under great reproach (Malachi 2:9). The sense of shame becomes more acute when we stand before the Angel of the Lord. “He shewed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the Angel of the Lord.” In the world’s twilight much may pass muster which, in the light of that sweet, pure face, must be utterly condemned. Garments which served us well enough in the short, dark winter days are laid aside when spring arrives; they will not bear the searching scrutiny of the light. In the ordinary life of our homes, we are less particular of our attire than when, on some special occasion, we have to undergo the inspection of stranger eyes. Thus we are prone to compare ourselves with ourselves, or with others, and to argue that the habit of our soul is not specially defiled. Alas! we reason thus in the dark. But when the white light of the throne of God breaks on us, we cry with Job: “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean, yet wilt Thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” The more we know of God, the more we loathe ourselves and repent. What is to be done under such circumstances? Renounce our priesthood? Disclaim its God-given functions? No: remain standing before the Angel. He knows all--we need not shrink from His searching eyes--but He loves infinitely. He has power to make our iniquity pass from us, and clothe us with change of raiment--that white linen which is the righteousness of saints. It is at such moments, however, that our great adversary puts forth his worst insinuations.” Satan standing at his right and to be his adversary. Since he was cast out of his first estate, he has been the antagonist of God, the hater of good, and the accuser of the brethren. He discovers the weak spots in character, and thrusts at them; the secret defects of the saints, and proclaims them upon the house tops; the least symptom of disloyalty, inconstancy, and mixture of motive, and flaunts it before God’s angels. He is keen as steel, and cruel as hell. Ah, it is awful to think with what implacability he rages against us! When we pray, he is quick to detect the wandering thought, the mechanical repetition of well-worn phrases, the flagging fervour. When we work for God, he is keen to notice our desire to dazzle our fellows, to secure name and fame, to use the Cross as a ladder for our own exaltation instead of our Master’s. “Is this,” he hisses, “the kind of service which Thy chosen servants offer Thee?” And when, like Job, we do bear trial patiently and nobly, the great adversary suggests that we do it from a selfish motive--“Doth Job serve God for nought?” Satan cannot reach the Son of God now, save through the members of His body; but he misses no opportunity of thrusting at Him, as he accuses them. Let us notice the intervention and answer of the Angel of the Covenant.
1. It is spontaneous and unsought. Before Joshua had time to say, “Shelter me,” his faithful Friend and Advocate had cast around him the assurance of His protection, and had silenced the adversary. “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.” As the Aaronic Priest, He died; but as the Melchizedek Priest, He ever lives to make intercession on our behalf; and as the torpedoes of the enemy are launched against us, He catches them in the net of His intercession, and makes them powerless to hurt. Before we call, He answers.
2. It is founded on electing grace. For He says: “The Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee.” Before ever He chose her, He must have foreseen all that she would become, her backslidings and rebellious, her filthy garments, her wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; but, notwithstanding all, He set His heart upon her. Satan could allege nothing which the Advocate had not weighed in the balances of His Divine prescience. He had realised the very worst before making His final choice. Yes, thou great adversary, thou canst not tell our Lord worse things about us than He knows; and notwithstanding all, He loves, and will love.
3. Moreover, it has already done too much to go back. The point of the metaphor which follows is very reassuring. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” You have been writing all the morning at your desk, answering letters, assorting papers and manuscripts, destroying much that there was no need to keep. After two or three hours of work, there is a heap of papers which you wish to destroy, and you place them in your stove or fireplace, the fire kindles on them, and they begin to blaze. Suddenly, to your dismay, you remember that there was a cheque or note amongst them, or a letter with an address, or a paper which has cost you hours of work. As quick as thought you rush to the kindling flames, and snatch away the paper, and attempt to stay the gnawing edge of flame. But what an appearance the paper suggests! It is yellow with smoke, charred and brittle round the edges, scorched and hot, here and there are gaps--it is a brand plucked out of the fire. Would you have snatched it out if you had not valued it? And, after you have taken such pains to rescue it, is it likely that you will thrust it back to destruction? And would Jehovah have snatched Israel out of Babylon, and expended so much time and care over her, if at the end He meant to destroy her? The fact of His having done so much, not only proved His love, but implied its continuance. What depths of consolation are here! As we look back on our lives, we become aware of the narrowness of our escape from dangers which over whelmed others. We have been involved in companionships and practices which have ruined others irretrievably; but somehow, though we are charred and blackened, we have escaped the ultimate results. We have been plucked out of the burning. What can we infer from so gracious an interposition, except that we have been preserved for some high and useful purpose? (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Help and opposition
I. The position of the high priest.
1. He stands before the Angel of the Lord.
2. He stands before the Angel of the Lord as an accused person.
3. He stands before the Angel of the Lord as an accused person, to pray.
II. The opposition of Satan.
1. It was prompt.
2. It was directed against Joshua as the high priest.
3. It assumed the form of accusation against Joshua.
4. It was intended to interrupt or thwart Joshua in his prayer. (G. Brooks.)
Joshua and Satan
Israel was then what Christendom is now; and the prophet in this chapter must be considered as instructing not the house of Jacob alone, but the whole family of God in Christ. The vision of Zechariah is a solemn picture of what is now going on. Taking the vision to refer to the Christian Church, inquire into the truths which it involves, and how it tallies with external events. Trace its reality in the dispensation of the Gospel. Illustrate from the manifestation of Christ to the Gentile world. The Church ever comes before us as a community enlarging its borders, absorbing into itself human belief, supplanting other modes of worship. But there is another side of the picture. The Christian history is full of the opposition and violence with which the onward march of the Cross has been uniformly encountered. The lives of Christian missionaries are ever lives of risk and pain. Such is the external history of the propagation of the Gospel. Where lies the cause that after eighteen hundred years Christianity has not conquered a majority of the human race? The cause of Christianity is the cause of Christ. The resistance of the devil has been partly open, but his resistance has been secret and stealthy: it has mainly sought to undermine rather than cast down; to weaken from within rather than assail from without. A chief cause of the slow progress of the Gospel among men has been, the want of unity. This is seen in sectarian separation, and in diversity of doctrine. The history of the world, of the Church, yea, of every individual soul, is but the outward result of the mystic vision of Joshua the high priest, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. (J. R. Woodford, M. A.)
Joshua the high priest before the Angel of Jehovah
This vision is of less obvious interpretation than the preceding, perhaps for the reason that its truth lies nearer the deepest throbbings of the human heart. A sense of sin and a feeling of hopeless ill desert are among the deepest emotions of a heart that has been touched by the Holy Spirit. This is the ever-recurring state of the heart both individually and collectively, because it rests on the ever-during relations that connect man with God. A sense of sin fairly awakened produces despair if we are thrown back on the resources of reason. We cannot hope in God, for we tremble before His justice. Thus it was with the Jewish Church at this time. They felt that they had sinned, and hence had no ground in themselves to hope for God’s favour. They knew that their priests had also been unfaithful, and hence they had no hope in them. Why, then, go forward with the temple, when both priest and people must defile rather than hallow its courts? These were the suggestions of Satan, to deter them from their work. God will not accept so vile and faithless a heart, so lame and mutilated a service as you render Him, says the tempter, therefore you had better abandon it all, and enjoy sin at least, if you cannot enjoy holiness. This brings us to the heart of the vision. It is designed to show the people of God that their personal demerit is no ground for distrusting the mercy of God, for He receives them not because of their own righteousness, but that of Another; and that at this particular period the unworthiness of the priesthood was no reason for their destruction and the overthrow of the temple, as they were typical, and the end of their instruction was not yet served. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
Christ the advocate of His Church and people
This part of the vision has respect to Joshua and his accuser. It exhibits Joshua--
I. With respect to his condition. View him--
1. In his office. High priest. One part of his duty was to consult the Divine will in matters of difficulty. Another part was to intercede on behalf of the nation. Possibly he was now before God, confessing the sins of the people, and pleading for that pardon which a God of mercy is ever ready to bestow.
2. In what place was Joshua executing his office? The temple was not built, and the particular place is not named. He was “standing before the Angel of the Lord.” This was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Angel of the Covenant.
II. His enemy. Satan means adversary. Look at--
1. The actings of the adversary. Satan stood at Joshua’s right hand. But why? To resist him. But he might do this either by tempting Joshua or by accusing him. The right hand was the usual place for accusers in public.
2. What were his motives for accusing Joshua? His motives as a tempter we can well understand; but what were his motives for accusing Joshua of negligence in the work of God? Did Satan then wish that the work of God should go on vigorously?
III. His advocate, Jehovah Himself. The Lords defence of Joshua is grounded--
1. In His love toward the Church.
2. On His past mercy to Joshua. The defence which the Lord Jesus makes for His people now is substantially the same as it was then. Past mercies are grounds of Christian confidence, and should be viewed as pledges of future blessings.
IV. The apparel of Joshua. “Filthy garments.” Probably the garments worn in the time of captivity.
1. His dress was unsuitable.
2. Suitable apparel was provided for him. “I will clothe thee with change of raiment.” The righteousness of Christ is to all, and upon all, them that believe. Ask--
(1) Are we attending to our duties?
(2) Are we sensible of our defects?
(3) Are we confiding in an Almighty Advocate? (J. R. Woodford, M. A.)
The great contention
I. Joshua’s ministry and defence.
1. He stood to minister before the Lord. Whereby we learn--
(1) That as ministers of the Lord have their mission from Him, so they ought to receive instruction from Him.
(2) Having received instructions, they ought with all readiness to obey them.
(3) That they are always in the eye of God, to counsel them in their duties, to search them in their performances, to hear them in their petitions, to protect them in their dangers.
2. He stood as a defendant, as one accused, to answer for himself and others. The sins of the age were then general, such as, neglect of building the temple, marrying strange wives, etc.
II. Satan and his work against Joshua.
1. He withstands us as a tempter. If we do our duty, Satan is at our right hand to hinder us; if we do not our duty, he is there to accuse us. He stands at the working hand. Usually, the more work the more temptation, and the more public the work the more sharp and eager the temptation.
2. He opposes as an accuser. He resisted Joshua by stirring up the Samaritans to hinder the building of the temple. He resisted him in his ministry, by accusing him of his failings. What these were we may guess.
(1) He ministered not in the priest’s robes, but in filthy garments.
(2) He delayed the building of the temple.
(3) His sons were, some of them, defiled with strange wives.
III. The advocate--the Lord. Christ is the Church’s Advocate. Satan is at our right hand; Christ is at God’s right hand. Joshua does not plead his own cause; he answers by his Counsel, his Advocate pleads for him.
IV. The double foundation of this victory.
I. God’s gracious election. “The Lord which hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee.” The doctrine of adoption by free grace is the strongest weapon that we can wield against the malice of Satan.
2. Joshua’s past deliverance. “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Past mercies are pledges of more. If God snatch out of the fire, He will bring unto His temple: if He lay a foundation, He will bring forth the headstone. (Bishop Reynolds.)
The vision of Joshua
1. The representative characters of the high priest and of Satan. Joshua represents the Jewish nation, especially the godly people in it. His filthy garments were emblematic of the moral defilement of the nation, and of their low and poor condition. Satan is the representative of all evil forces. He represents the majority of this world, but the minority of the universe.
2. The motives which at this time brought them into God’s presence. It is implied that the high priest was there to plead for his nation. Satan was there to oppose this restoration to God’s favour,--to bring forward reasons why it should not be granted.
3. The reason why the promise and the symbol should have their perfect fulfilment. One life, or one act in a life, is sometimes of such a nature or character as to send down a blessing to future ages; it seems to gather within itself all the wisdom or all the goodness of the past, and to bring them all into a centre of blessing for the present and the future. The life of God’s Son, and especially His death upon the Cross, gathered up all that had been shadowed forth in the prophets and priests of old. His perfect life and sinless death and intercession were sureties that the promise given to the Hebrew people, through Joshua, should certainly be fulfilled. The vision embodies the blessed results of Divine forgiveness through the life and death of Christ, which are so beautifully set forth by the greatest of Old Testament prophets, Isaiah (see chaps, 11 and 12).
1. Evil spirits may plead with God against men, as the good plead for them. Many human beings send up desires against the prosperity and happiness of their fellow men.
2. The man who would be a benefactor of his fellow creatures must be an intercessor for them.
3. The elect of God are those who fulfil the conditions of fellowship with God. Divine forgiveness springs from Divine grace, but the proof that it has reached us must be found in the fact that we fulfil the only conditions ripen which it is granted. (Outlines by a London Minister.)
God’s method of salvation
1. Joshua, before the Angel of the Lord, represents a sinful people.
(1) Sin is impurity. What dress is to the body, moral character is to the Soul. Impure garments are the symbol of sin. Iniquity is described by the most loathsome objects in nature--an infant uncared for; the vomit of the dog; the wallow of swine; the exhalations of the sepulchre. A Greek philosopher said, “Evil destroys us like a wild beast.”
2. God saves through instrumentality. There are two classes: the good, who stand by all beneficent influences; and Satan, all that hinders good, evil spirits, bad men, corrupt hearts. The day of Gospel grace is neither day nor night. It is a conflict of contending forces. We live between Ebal and Gerizim. Everyone who undertakes anything good will find agencies obeying the command, the Angel of the Lord assisting. And He will find Satan standing at his right hand,--the place of power--to resist him.
1. We observe the same method of work in the natural world, and in civil society, as in the Church. All are the work of one God.
2. Why does God permit sin? He works by the balance of contending elements everywhere.
3. The position of an unsaved sinner is as when a chief falls wounded between two contending armies: both fight for him. For which does he fight? (J. S. Fulton.)
The Church is a holy priesthood. Regard Joshua as representing the humble, penitent believer.
I. Joshua in his difficulties. Standing before the Angel of the Covenant. No careless person, but a poor sinner Seeking to stand before the Lord Christ. Satan is near him as his accuser. When the sinner awakened stands before the Angel Jehovah, how often does the devil, by doubts and insinations, seek to turn him aside. So the Angel Jehovah becomes his helper.
II. The Lord’s account of Joshua. Scorched, but delivered by power, the Sinner saved by grace. The powerful hand of the Lord, by His Word, in His providence, by the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, has arrested and plucked him from the burning.
III. The relief at hand. The Angel of the Covenant answers Satan’s accusations. Joshua had special holy garments pro vided for him. But even these were filthy and polluted. He must be stripped and reclothed.
IV. The happy results. The pure mitre conspicuously a part of the priest’s dress. The angel, etc., stood by to help and comfort, to put Satan to flight, to counsel and to direct, to be his guide as well as his deliverer. We now stand before the Angel Jehovah, the messenger of light and life and glory, when we come into His house of prayer; and we must stand before Him when He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him. (E. Auriol, M. A.)
Joshua the high priest
The visions of Zechariah were intended to encourage the rebuilding of the temple. The resumption and successful prosecution of the work upon the temple devolved not less upon the ecclesiastical than upon the civil power. Zerubbabel and Joshua must cooperate. The former was ready; the latter needed to be extricated from the Slough of Despond.
1. At the opening of the vision the prophet saw Joshua standing to be judged before the Angel of God.
(1) And he was clothed in filthy garments. The best of human kind is not perfect. The contrition of Joshua was, therefore, becoming in him, and all the more because of his official position. Before the all-searching eyes his garments were mere shreds and tatters. And therein he was indeed a just representative of the people.
(2) Satan stood at his right hand to resist (i.e., accuse)
him. There is no lack of accusers. God’s people are always at the bar of judgment, and alas, they have little enough to say for themselves. Guilty is the plea.
2. Next in the vision the Lord Himself appeared to vindicate Joshua. He stands as the champion of His people; His ear is ever open to their cry. He is the champion of all the weak and humble.
(1) In this instance He rebuked Satan; not because there was no truth in His charge that Joshua was unworthy to minister at God’s altar, or have part in the rebuilding of the temple, but because of other considerations, which made his accusations null and void.
(2) The Lord having rebuked Satan, said to His own attendant angels: “Take away from Joshua his filthy garments.” Thus does He unclothe His people of their filthy rags, and make them worthy to minister before Him. He is a great forgiver. Thus the Lord encouraged Joshua, and qualified him, despite his personal unworthiness, to offer sacrifices and join with Zerubbabel in the rebuilding of the temple. And thus does He stand at the heavenly tribunal as the vindicator of the least of His little ones.
3. Then, in the vision, the prophet saw Joshua arrayed in garments white and clean. “I will clothe thee with change of raiment.” Nor was this enough. “Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.” Thus was he encouraged to exercise anew and with increased diligence the functions of his priestly office.
4. The vision closes with the words of a solemn compact or covenant, for the sealing of Joshua’s restoration to service. The promise of perpetual blessing is conditioned on patient continuance in well-doing. To him that hath shall be given. A covenant would scarcely be a covenant were there no stone of remembrance. Here the stone had seven eyes in it. “Branch” interprets it. Under this title the Messiah was frequently mentioned. Thus the name of Christ Himself is set as the seal of His covenant with Joshua and his people. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Joshua the high priest
Joshua appears to Zechariah in his dream,--Israel’s representative, clothed not in the splendid priestly attire, with its immaculate purity and costly jewels, but in garments worn and soiled, symbolical of the nation’s sins. Before the humiliated priest is the Angel of the Lord, and at His right hand is Satan. The question is, which shall conquer, the Angel or the adversary? But not long is the question unanswered. Joshua is as a brand plucked from the burning. Israel, despite her sins and her familiarity with the tempter, shall be saved and forgiven. Then, when reclothed, the faithful monitor urges upon Joshua the necessity of obedient, whole-souled service. And then comes the promise of the greater High Priest, the Branch of David, the Messiah Himself, and the stone of the new theocracy, with its seven eyes running to and fro throughout the world, and finally the millennial peace, when Israel shall sit in peaceful forgetfulness of all her tribulations, under her own vine and fig tree. The dream yields important lessons.
1. The representative function of the priesthood. Joshua stood for Israel. The soiled clothes in which he appeared indicated that both the priesthood and the people were leading lives which were not altogether in accordance with the Divine will, and from other sources we know that the priests of that day were given over to worldliness and materialism. While the priest can hardly fail to take somewhat of the tone of his life and character from the people to whom he ministers, it is also true that, because of his high position as a moral teacher and guide, he is under peculiar obligations to give the tone to his people, and determine in a large measure by his own words and life the standard of their lives.
2. The truth of angelic influence and guardianship. Joshua between the Angel and the adversary. The human soul facing the right and the wrong. But the Angel prevails. The temptation may be a mighty one, the guilt may be great, but Satan is never allowed to go unchallenged. No child of humanity is ever left alone under the power of evil. He may sometimes feel alone. He may get so low in the pit, may become so hardened in sin, that he loses all sense of God’s presence, and feels that there is no help for him in this world or the next. But God cannot, even for an instant, leave one of His children wholly, alone with the powers of evil.
3. Another lesson is, that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. The occasion of this vision was doubtless the discouragement of some of the more thoughtful Israelites, on account of their national sins. The exciting experiences since the return had tended to hold their minds to material interests, and make them forget their spiritual obligations. Notwithstanding the tendency to formalism under an established order of things, it is probably true that religion reaches its highest spiritual ideals under conditions which are not liable to frequent changes. But God does not forsake His children. He is with them always in the form of a searching and rebuking conscience. When the nation or the individual begins to feel deep down in his heart that a great wrong has been done against God and conscience and truth, then, and not till then, is the way open for forgiveness and restoration. Note the last scene of the vision. Strange enough, we find coupled with this revelation of the Divine heart the prophecy of the Messiah, who Himself was that Divine heart made flesh, and clothed with the features of humanity. Under Him shall the iniquity of the land be removed and the millennium shall dawn. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Joshua the high priest
I. A great adversary of God’s people brought before us. It is strange how every good work meets with resistance in this world. He Who would effect reforms, especially in religion, has to stand alone, at least, at first, with none enlightened or brave enough to give their support. “I am sometimes,” wrote Robertson, “tempted to doubt whether any one who tries to open people’s eyes in religion is to be reckoned as a sublime martyr or an egregious fool. The cross, or the cap and bells? Certainly, had it not been for One, I should say the cap and bells.” Paul was accounted a fool for Christ.” Wickliffe, Luther, and all great, reformers have borne the same antagonism, and many prophets have cried out, Who hath believed our report?”
“Truths would you teach, or save a sinking land!
All fear, none aid you, and few understand.”
Even in such a work as the rebuilding of the temple it was so. And the Bible lifts the veil and lets us see that behind the human actors there are malignant forces at work,--a truth which, though mysterious, is sustained by history and experience.
II. Opposed to the adversary is the faithful and unchanging God. While there is such conflict before truth and godliness prevail, yet the victory is sure. God’s servants have to wrestle with principalities and powers, but greater is He who is for them than all who can rise up against them.
1. God’s interposition is a restraining of evil. “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.” He wounds the head of the dragon; puts checks upon the forces which threaten the Church and cause of Christ; turns the weapons forged against her into instruments of retribution to her enemies.
2. God encourages and aids His servants. Joshua is forgiven, clothed in festal garments, crowned with a clean mitre, assured of success, and promised future freedom of approach. There is enough of encouragement for those who take the Lord’s side, if only they will use it.
III. The promise of a Divine Saviour and King. Every book of the Old Testament, either by word or type, predicts a coming Christ who is now arrayed in the attributes of God, and now represented as a suffering but conquering Servant. It was a promise which had many partial fulfilments in God’s anointed servants before He was incarnated in Jesus. But Jesus was the Christ of whom others were only figures and signs. He was the Branch extolled by Isaiah, and predicted by Zechariah. The vision still points to a future in which all prophetic hopes will be fulfilled. (T. Vincent Tymms.)
The hinderer rebuked
I. Satan the adversary of the awakened soul.
1. The person who is resisted. This is the exact picture of an awakened soul: he comes and stands before Christ, clothed with his filthy garments, conscious that in himself he is lost, but resting on the Saviour’s power and willingness to save. Wherever we see a soul living in sin and departure from God, there we may see the work of Satan. But wherever we behold a soul forsaking sin, and seeking to live a holy and consistent life, there we behold the work of the Holy Ghost. Consequently, when Satan rises up to resist the sinner he rises up to resist the Holy Ghost.
2. The manner of, Satan’s resistance. There is allusion to the customs of ancient courts of justice, in which the accuser always stood at the right hand of the accused. How does he resist him?--
(1) Before God, bringing forward his sins, and demanding the awful sentence of violated law.
(2) Before himself; troubling the sinner’s conscience, and striving, by every wile, to keep him from Christ, and by suggesting the greatness of our sins.
(3) Satan keeps the sinner from the Saviour, by suggesting to him his unworthiness, and the uselessness of expecting mercy.
4. Satan hinders by suggesting that Christ is unwilling to save, since you have so often spurned and rejected Him.
5. And by suggesting that repentance is too late.
II. The Lord Jesus Christ as the Rebuker of the adversary. He is the high priest within the veil, the sinner’s Advocate. Notice the manner in which Satan is silenced. Two ways--
1. God’s sovereignty. “The Lord hath chosen Jerusalem.” God’s choice is without repentance.
2. The soul Satan desired to have was already beyond his reach. “Plucked out of the fire.” (A. W. Snape, M. A.)
The good man an interceder
Regarding the vision as a symbolical revelation of Joshua, in his representative aspect as the high priest of the Jewish people then existing, we feel authorised to infer from it two or three ideas touching the intercessory functions of good men while on earth.
I. That the good man, in his intercessory functions on earth, has to bear before God the moral imperfections of his race. Joshua had on “filthy garments.” This was evidently intended to represent the corrupt state of the Jewish people. The seventy years’ captivity had not purified them; for now, instead of setting themselves to the work of rebuilding the house of the Lord, they were taken up with their own personal concerns, and excusing themselves by saying, “The time is not come.” Here, then, is a characteristic feature of a good man’s intercession while on earth. He has to bear the imperfections of his fellow creatures before God. And does not this benevolent feeling lie at the basis of all moral excellence? There is not a saint nor an angel in heaven, we suppose, who does not desire the progress of kindred spirits; and what is this but intercession? But that which distinguishes the intercession on earth is, that we have to remember the moral corruption of our race. In heaven there is no defilement. All there are either clad in the robes of pristine holiness, or in garments washed and made white by the cleansing influences of redemptive love. But here all are in “filthy garments,”--garments stained by sensuality, worldliness, idolatry, falsehood, and dishonesty. Here the pious parent has to appear before God for sinful children, the minister for sinful people, and the pious sovereign for a sinful nation.
II. That the good man in his intercessory function on earth has to contend with a mighty spiritual antagonist. The existence of some mighty spirit or spirits, who are determined foes of truth, virtue, and the happiness of man, is rendered more than probable by a number of considerations, independent of the testimony of the Bible. Such, for example, as the general belief of the race, the conflicting phenomena of the moral world, the unaccountable opposite impressions of which all are conscious. Now, this enemy stood up to resist Joshua in his intercessions. And who will say that he is not now specially active with the good man when he draws near to God? In how many ways may he hinder our prayers? Sometimes he may suggest to us, even in the very time of our prayers, doubts as to the existence of God; we may be tempted to ask, Are we sure that there is a God? May not the idea be a delusion, for who has ever seen or heard Him? Or, granting His existence, he may suggest whether He would condescend to attend to the affairs of an individual. Or granting that He does exist, and that He attends to the prayers of some, Satan may suggest that I am too worthless for His notice, that It is presumptuous for me to address His awful Majesty; I am too great a sinner ever to be attended to. This, again, is a peculiarity of our intercessory functions on earth. In heaven, we presume, no enemy will intrude on our devotions, no Satan will stand up to resist as we appear before God. No power there to darken our faith with cloudy doubts, nor to cool the ardour of our devotions!
III. That the good man, in his intercessory functions on earth, has the special assistance of a Divine helper. Whilst Satan stood up against Joshua there was One who stood up for him; the Lord--called also, “the Angel of the Lord.” The scene illustrates two thoughts concerning the help rendered.
1. It was rendered sympathetically. “Is not this a brand?” etc. Consider the suffering to which they have been subject. Christ is full of sympathy.
2. The help was rendered effectually. The old “filthy garments,” the emblem of impurity and guilt, were taken away, and he was clothed in other garments; that is, their guilt was removed, they were restored from their degradation. And the “mitre,” the emblem of dignity, was put on their head. They were raised once more to the glory of an independent nation. See
(1) That if you would effectually help your race you must appear before God as an intercessor. Other means are to be employed. Promote general knowledge, advance the arts, help on com merce, above all, diffuse the Gospel of Jesus; but, in connection with all, you must appear before God as Joshua did for Israel. It is in this way you will change the world’s “filthy garments,” and get for it the “raiment” of purity and the “mitre” of honour.
(2) That if you would effectually appear before God you must have the help of Jesus Christ. Ever as we attempt to approach the ever lasting Father in devout thought and worship, do we not find some opposing force like this Satan, or rather, this Satan himself, “standing” at our right hand to “resist” us? What is to be done? Are we to retire?--cease all endeavour to commune with the loving parent of our souls? God forbid! Our doom is sealed in midnight and anguish should this be so. There is no happiness for any finite spirit but that which flows from intercourse with the eternal Fountain of good. Our only hope is in getting Him--the great Mediator--with us, who shall repel our foe, drive him from our presence with the words, “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.” (Homilist.)
By nature and by grace
The Jewish Church is represented by its head, the high priest Joshua; various objections are brought against it, but the Lord overrules them all, declaring His will, that it shall be restored to His favour, notwithstanding its past guilt or present degradation. This transaction represents to us the way in which every true child of God becomes a partaker of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
I. The Christian’s woeful condition by nature.
1. He is exposed to condemnation. It is the condition of us all. Conscience acknowledges this. The Christian, in himself, has no reply to the accusations of Satan.
2. He is an object of God’s abhorrence. Indicated in Joshua’s filthy garments, offensive in the Lord’s sight.
3. He is on the very brink of destruction. A brand actually in the fire.
II. His happy estate by grace. In spite of every hindrance, Joshua is accepted--the Christian is saved.
1. His conviction is quashed. It is not urged that there are no grounds for condemning him. The charges are tacitly allowed to be true. But at the critical moment there is an arrest of judgment. The accuser is for bidden to proceed,--“the Lord rebuke thee.” There is no ground for this exemption, save the Lord’s free and unmerited choice.
2. He is clothed afresh, through the merits of the Saviour, and with the graces of the Spirit of God. The filthy raiment of guilt is what we cannot lay aside, but Christ took it away. And He brought in an everlasting righteousness.
3. He is effectually saved from ruin. Inquire whether this all-important change has taken place in you. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
The Lord, the Defender of His people
Here is represented unto the prophet Christ, who is the Lord, taking the defence of Joshua, and by His intercession (acting as the angel of the Lord) pleading that Satan may be rebuked, confounded, and restrained in his malicious and cruel design to destroy them whom God had chosen, and them who, having been almost consumed in trouble, were miraculously plucked out and preserved from total ruin. Doctrine
1. Christ, in His office of mediation and intercession, is the strong refuge of the Church against Satan, who is sufficient to oppose all his machinations, being Himself God equal with the Father, zealous for and affectionate to His people and their weal, and the Father being engaged to help Him and His by virtue of the covenant.
2. Albeit the ground of Satan’s accusation of the Lord’s people before God, and in their own consciences, may be true and just, yet his insatiable and cruel malice in prosecuting that controversy to their destruction, and casting out of God’s favour, is so far from being Christ’s allowance, that it is hateful unto Him, and will be effectually suppressed by Him. This is imported in His intercession--“The Lord rebuke thee,” or restrain thy malice, and make void thy intention.
3. The Lord’s election of and free love toward His people is that whereby they are allowed to answer Satan’s temptations, which otherwise might be heavy upon them. And where the Lord hath chosen and purposed to do good unto a people He will also have a care of their ministers for their sake. This we are taught from Christ’s first reason of intercession--“The Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee.” God having chosen them, Satan’s bill (how true soever) could not be heard to destroy them, or to reject Joshua their minister.
4. Though the people of God may be cast into painful and hard trouble, and may be kept in it till it come to some extremity that they may be purged, yet shall they certainly be rescued and brought out again; for so was it with Joshua, and this remnant, “a brand pluckt out of the fire,” a stick half burnt, and yet thought worth the pulling out.
5. As the former afflictions of the Lord’s people do so endear them to Christ’s heart that He will not hear Satan’s accusations, so His eminent appearing for them in trouble is a pledge that He will not destroy them, but perfect His work notwithstanding Satan’s machinations; or this is the force of the second reason of Christ’s intercession, “Is not this a brand pluckt out of the fire?” As if He had said,--Should My anger smoke yet against My people who are already almost consumed by it, and whereof they yet bear the marks? Should I not make an end of pleading with frail flesh and shall I prove so foolish a builder as when I have appeared, in bringing them out of consuming trouble, giving them a remnant to escape, I should again forsake them, and let all My pains be in vain? (George Hutcheson.)
Joshua the high priest
Sin in act or in heart takes all the meaning and joy out of God’s richest promises and gifts. So it prevented the Israelites from appropriating the former gracious words until its baleful influence was removed by the fourth vision of our lesson. It is a vision of free forgiveness for the nation. Joshua, the high priest, represents Jerusalem and the people. His filthy garments are symbols of their sins, and his clean raiment is a pledge of their pardon.
I. The adversary. Who was the great opponent of those afflicted Hebrews? Was it the nations around? Or was God Himself against them? The vision reveals their true enemy. It was neither of these, but the great adversary of souls; he who tempted Christ, the prince of darkness. The foe of man is Satan, not man; much less God, who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save it. The very names of this enemy betray his character. The Hebrew word Satan means “adversary.” And here, exemplifying his name, he is standing at Joshua’s right hand “to be his adversary.” When did he ever do a deed or suggest a thought really to help or bless a man! The assaults of Satan are well timed. It was when Joshua stood in foul raiment, symbol of the moral uncleanness of the people, and when the bright hopes of the returning exiles were fading away, that Satan seized the opportunity to accomplish their ruin. The days of sin, failure, despair find him at hand to do his fatal work. God’s past dealings with us are a pledge of the future, an assurance of final victory.
II. Pardon. How vivid and repugnant sin must have become under such a symbol. The garments were not coarse, or old, or worn and soiled with use, but filthy. By such striking symbolism God taught His chosen people to hate sin. This was no euphemistic language softening and covering the wrong-doing, but rather a proclamation of it. Sin masked under the forms of fashion or elegance is doubly dangerous. With garments so filthy, but one thing can be done. They cannot be covered up. The blackest spots cannot be sponged off--as men try to do with their guilt; for every thread of the clothing is defiled. Moreover, the wretched man seems powerless to remove the unclean garments. In fact, they are part of him, they are his life, his character, himself. God must work the deed which shall free him from the burden of his sins. “Take away the filthy garments and clothe him in fair raiment,” “I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee.”
III. Subsequent life. Pardon was never intended to be the end of effort or of progress. Accordingly, the Angel of Jehovah does not pardon Joshua and dismiss him; but rather pardons and then hastens to declare solemnly: “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: If thou writ walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge,” then thou shalt have the honour of priesthood, with its authority and its free access into God’s presence. After pardon comes obedience. The order cannot be reversed. Joshua’s previous efforts to obey were vain. Only with the consciousness of forgiveness can there be full and unconstrained obedience. But after one is pardoned, walking in God’s ways is the condition of further blessing. Not that God who has forgiven once is unwilling to forgive again. He is love, and His mercies are everlasting. But a man cannot wilfully and constantly transgress God’s law, and continually and lightly seek forgiveness. Upon the high priest there was an especial obligation to careful obedience. He was in a sense God’s representative. His office carried with it wide influence for good or evil. Before God, indeed, all are under the same supreme law of right. But towards, their fellow men, some are under heavier obligations than others. The obligation rests most heavily on the representative of God, the teacher or preacher whose influence is wider than that of one in a humbler sphere, and whose opportunity to help and guide is greater. Our opportunity to serve man is the measure of our responsibility to man. A larger promise limited to no man or family is now introduced by the emphatic words, “Hear now . . . for behold.” It is an old promise renewed. From earliest ages the hopes of all godly Jews had centred about one dim future figure, ever expected, ever receding. Moses spoke of Him as a prophet, the highest ideal in his mind. David sang of Him as a righteous king, the loftiest conception of man in that age. The coming One was pictured as the servant of Jehovah, and as a sprout growing up out of dry ground from the stump of the fallen house of David. But still He was the hope of Israel. The lowly names by which He was known became transformed into titles of honour and glory. “Behold I will bring forth My servant, the Branch.” That promise has been fulfilled to us. And when we, like Zechariah, would urge as a motive for action God’s greatest gift, we must speak of that same Servant, of His life and death and resurrection. Wonderful power in human life. His name brought fresh zeal and courage into the feeble remnant under Joshua and Zerubbabel twenty-five hundred years ago. It has never lost its power. This great promise of the Branch, pledge of the continued care and favour of Jehovah, is naturally accompanied by more definite promises of immediate help. The seven eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth and are the symbol of perfect watchfulness, shall be directed to each stone, of the temple now building under great difficulties. More than that, He will “engrave the graving thereof,” He will give the stone its beauty. He will both watch and work with His people. Man’s work is ever incomplete. In spiritual matters, no less than in temporal, our work needs and certainly receives its vitalising and beautifying power from Him who transforms the elements into flower and fruit. Peace and prosperity complete the picture of the future of the forgiven people. Everyone shall call his neighbour to come and sit under his fig tree. Righteousness and peace with God were doubtless included in this favourite Hebrew thought, but temporal peace, with all its glorious blessings, was the chief element in the anticipated reign of the Messiah. Some of the loftiest conceptions of the Jewish religion are found in these verses. Each is a shadow of a vastly greater and more inspiring truth which is familiar to the Christian. (G. R. Hovey, D. D.)
Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
The fire meant here is the fire of sin. Sin is a fire which destroys the comfort of mankind here, and all the joy of mankind hereafter. Nothing can be more suitable to burn in a fire than a “brand.” It is not a branch just taken from the tree, fresh and full of sap; it is a brand--dry, sere timber, fit for the burning. And what does this indicate but man’s natural heart, which is so congenial to the fire of sin? As the firebrand fits with fire, so does the sinner fit in with sin. We read of a brand “in the fire.” Not lying on a heap, but burning and blazing in the fire. Does not this portray our condition? We began very early. Disobedience to parents, angry tempers, petty falsehoods,--these were the first catchings on fire of the brand. We have blazed away merrily since then. What with the lusts of the flesh, or pride, or unbelief, or some other form of departing from the living God, how many are like the firebrand, blazing and flashing in the flame! There is, however, a fair side to the picture. We have here a “brand plucked out of the fire.” Sinners these, who though they have still within them the propensity to sin, are no longer in the fire of sin. They have been taken away from it. They sin through infirmity, but wilful sin they do not commit. The fire that once burned within them has been quenched. They are rescued from that fire which once threatened their everlasting destruction. They are brands still; but brands no longer in the fire. The force of the passage seems to lie in the words, “plucked out of.” The Christian does not escape by his own free will. He is plucked out of his peril. To be plucked out there needs a hand quick to rescue. Every believer in the Lord Jesus is a trophy of the strength as well as of the mercy of God. The question of the text will bear three renderings.
I. The sense of wonderment. “Is not this,” etc. The words are spoken of Joshua, the high priest. There was such astonishment at his preservation that, with hands uplifted, the question was asked, “Is not this man just like a firebrand snatched from among the glowing coals?” This marvel is not confined to Joshua. Was there ever a man saved by grace who was not a wonder? Out of the state of our natural depravity we have been plucked, so that every man who is delivered from its sway may well say,--“Am not I a brand plucked out of the fire?” Each Christian knowing his own heart, and having a special acquaintance with his own peculiar setting sin, feels as if the conquest of his own sin by the grace of God were a more illustrious trophy of that grace than the conquest of a thousand others. There are instances so uncommon that they excite surprise in the minds of all who hear. In the cases of extraordinary conversion, one of the first is the salvation of the extremely aged. Exceptional, too, is the conversion of people who have been accustomed to hear the Gospel from their youth up, who, though not perhaps absolutely aged, have nevertheless been receiving Gospel privileges without any result. Over in the Bankside, I am told, when a man is first put inside a boiler, while the rivets are being fastened, he cannot stop long, the noise is so dreadful, but after a time the boiler maker gets so used to the horrible din that he can almost go to sleep inside. And so it really is under any ministry where the people get Gospel hardened. There have been cases of gross sinners in which this marvel has been still more exciting. Can we pass over the case of some who have given themselves up to sin, to work it with greediness? There is a wonder which I do see, but not often. It is when a self-righteous religious man gets saved.
II. Take the text by way of inquiry or hope. When a sinner’s eye is suffused with tears, and a sigh breaks forth, “Alas! woe is me!” you may say, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” for the tear of morrow for sin is a blessed omen of mercy’s dawning. The sigh of penitence and the prayer of the seeking are evidences of grace. When the poor soul at last, driven by necessity, throws itself flat at the foot of the Cross, and rests its hope wholly and alone on Jesus, then we may say of it, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” And when, in the midst of many a conflict and soul struggle, the heart still flings away its idols, and hopes to love Christ, and vows, in His strength to be devoted to His service, we may say again with pleasure, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” I would invite you to think over the signs of grace, and if you see them in yourselves you may be able to answer this question with joy.
III. And what a question of defiance this is. Do you not catch the idea of the text? There stood Joshua, there stood the angel of the Lord and here stood the adversary: “If God has plucked him out of the fire, you can never put him in again.” It is a defiance full of majesty and grandeur. It reflects a gorgeous lustre on the past. If God has chosen him, dost thou think to undo the Divine decree? God hath snatched him from the fire, determined to save him. God has done that which is the earnest and the token of his perfect safety. Then, beloved in Christ, dread not all the temptations that may attack you. God will not leave His purpose half accomplished. He will not be disappointed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The rescued brand
This is the Divine description of a justified and converted man. The words present at once to our view the sinner’s worthless character by nature, his dangerous and dreadful condition while in this natural state, and the fulness of unmerited grace and love of which he has been made the subject. Joshua was here the representative of all the true people of God. Like him, they are all “brands plucked out of the fire.” Against them all the same power of Satan is employed to resist them. In behalf of them all the same boundless grace is exercised on the part of the Lord God. The rescued brand forms the subject of our discourse.
1. How unprofitable and worthless in himself. A brand! Useless for any purposes of man; having no value annexed to it in his estimation. Is not every unrenewed sinner precisely this in the sight of God? As a fallen creature man cannot be profitable in the eye of God. No creature can ever render anything to the Creator which shall merit a continuance of blessings bestowed by Him.
2. How dangerous the condition in which this brand was found. The fire from which he was plucked refers to those everlasting burnings which are his heritage in a world of recompense. All earthly woes are temporary. These sorrows are unchangeable and eternal. Under this tremendous load the unconverted sinner now lies, condemned and perishing, as a brand burning in the fire. The wrath of God abideth on him. None can appreciate the dangers of an unconverted soul, but they who have been plucked from the fires in which it is still consuming.
3. How glorious and worthy of praise is that Divine power which can pluck this brand from the fire, and transform it into an eternal monument of love, and a vessel of everlasting holiness! In the midst of the ruin of the world, and the guilt of man, God proposes to the ungodly a reconciliation to Himself.
4. How infinite is the extent of that love, of which this brand is the object. The foundation of all our hope is, that God’s love is infinite and free. His love can pardon the greatest and most multiplied transgressions.
5. How precious is the Christian’s ground of hope, the glorious union of Divine power and Divine love, in the work of his salvation! The same hand which plucked us from the fire will carry us to the temple. The man who has found peace with God has no enemy in the universe to fear.
6. How inestimable is this privilege of being the objects of God’s unchangeable love! (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Danger and deliverance
I. The danger. The brand is--
1. Fit for the fire.
2. Scorched by the fire.
3. Destined to the fire.
4. Unable to deliver itself from the fire.
II. The deliverance.
1. Its author.
2. Its completeness.
3. Its permanence.
4. Its benefits.
III. The exclamation.
1. With regard to the speaker, it expresses triumph.
2. With regard to the enemy of souls, it hurls defiance.
3. With regard to the spectators, it challenges admiration.
4. With regard to the person delivered from the danger, it demands gratitude. (G. Brooks.)
A suggestive question
Under the form of an interrogation, the language of the text is capable of being differently understood.
1. It may be considered as conveying a seasonable reproof to an insulting enemy. It is as if God said, Amidst all his imperfections and failings, thou hast nothing to do with him. I claim a property in him, and will assert it.
2. As expressive of exultation and triumph. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” I rejoice in him as such. He is a pattern of My long suffering, a monument of My grace.
3. The expression carries with it the force of an affirmation. It is a brand plucked out of the fire.
I. To whom may this language be applied? To all Who are finally saved. There are some to whom it is more immediately applicable.
1. Such as great and heinous transgressions, when converted from the error of their way and turned effectually to God.
2. Old and accustomed sinners may be viewed in the same light, when they are brought to repentance and to believe in Jesus.
3. There are some whose cases were despaired of by their friends.
4. Pardoning mercy has in some instances followed upon an overwhelming sense of guilt and distressing apprehensions of Divine wrath.
II. Notice the propriety of the description.
1. A brand plucked out of the fire was once a brand fit for the fire.
2. A brand plucked out of the fire was very near being consumed.
3. A brand plucked out of the fire retains some evidence of the dangerous situation.
4. The brand plucked out of the fire is no way instrumental to its own deliverance. There it must lie and burn if some kind hand do not snatch it thence. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The sinner rescued from perdition
Reverse this question, and ask, Is this a brand plucked out of the fire? The text was a sort of challenge to Satan to deny the riches of Divine grace in the salvation of the Israelitish Church, now rescued from the furnace of Babylon. It was a question put concerning them figuratively, for the whole Church of Jesus Christ, and for every individual member of it. Bring the question home, “Am I a brand plucked out of the burning?” Consider the importance of being able to come to a clear decision upon this point.
I. Your danger as sinners. A state of sin is a state of imminent danger.
1. Sin is destroying your bodies, and will at last destroy your souls.
2. Every sinner is in danger of the law of God.
3. The terrors of a guilty conscience are a fire.
II. The wondrous deliverance effected.
1. The sinner is delivered by Divine grace from that dreadful sentence, which is literally destruction begun in the heart.
2. The deliverance signifies to be rescued from the raging violence, the destructive power of sin in our heart.
3. This deliverance signifies to be rescued from the burning stings of inward guilt.
III. The act of deliverance. “Plucked out.”
1. Here is exhibited God’s own sovereign will and purpose.
2. The act of rescue points to the direct personal interposition of the Saviour.
3. The deliverance is to be viewed in its individual application by the Holy Spirit.
IV. The different emotions this divine and miraculous deliverance should excite.
1. Exultation. Admire the grace of God in your salvation.
2. Confidence. Learn to trust both for yourselves and for others. What cannot Divine grace do! (The Evanglist.)
The brand plucked out of the fire
It is a “brand,”--nothing better; dry, sapless, lifeless, profitless; and such is man. If a brand and lifeless, then powerless. Can a brand quicken itself to life? How can it live? It has lost the principle of life. All our efforts to restore ourselves to the dignity we have lost, and to the state from which we are fallen, are utterly abortive. How little men know their spiritual powerlessness, because they will not make trial of it. But the brand is also worthless; it is only fit to be cast into the fire; it has no utility. And such is man. It may seem a hard thing, but God says it, that the natural man is at best enmity against God. And if enmity against God, is not his moral nature loathsome? It is a brand “out of the fire”; it is black and scorched. So is every sinful son of man. The soul that sinneth, it shall die, A “brand” is fitted for the flames. It is combustible it is dried up, so as to be ready to ignite into flame. And so sin assimilates man to hell, makes him more susceptible of “the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.” The “brand” is already scorched in the fire. It has been in the fire; it has been “plucked out of the fire.” What is hell? Sin unmitigated, unabated by the fear of God, and unassuaged by any kindlier feeling or appliance, sin consummated, sin left to itself. Leave a man to himself, and he needs no other hell. But there is hope for this brand. It is “plucked out of the fire.” Was it not grace, sovereign grace that rescued it? What is there in a brand that God should expect anything from it in return? Yet it is taken out of the fire that it might be transformed into a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. What a blessed change passes on the sinner whom God delivers! (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
A rescued brand
Here Satan is presented to our view as the accuser of the brethren. He does his work in the court of conscience; at the bar of public opinion; and before the Divine Judge. Here Satan accused Joshua to one who was his Advocate as well as his Judge. Christ rebukes Satan; alleges God’s election; and points to Joshua as a trophy of power, guided by sovereign mercy.
I. A vivid and impressive description of Joshua’s original character as a sinner. “A brand.” A piece of wood which has been purposely prepared for burning. A sinner, as a brand, is one in every way fitted for destruction. The wicked have a suitableness to the place and the experience assigned to them by God. There is an adaptation of desert, and of character. Their experience results from their character. They have in themselves the causes of misery--a deranged system. They war with everything, and therefore are warred against by everything.
II. An account of the situation, under law, and in actual experience, in which Joshua had been. “In the fire.”
1. The brand is one plucked out of the fire, then it must have been in it.
2. By fire, understand the destruction and misery which are the fruit of sin.
3. The sinner is already under condemnation; spiritually dead; he feels the elements of misery in his breast. He feels the oppressiveness of the thought of God. He draws pain from without. He already suffers as a sinner.
III. A description of the character which Joshua now sustained. “A brand plucked out of the fire.” Such a brand has on it the marks of burning. The believer retains marks of his once lost condition. In his conscience, which still accuses. In his heart, where are the remains of spiritual derangement and death. In his body, which is mortally affected. In his moral character, which is disfigured. In his very righteousness, which is imputed. In his life, which is derived. Brands plucked from the burning shall be the eternal character of believers.
IV. The agency through which Joshua was delivered. It was not by himself. The brand retains the burning flame. Salvation is wholly of God--of grace: in its origin; its purchaser; its application. Man takes offence at this, being self-righteous. The believer rejoices in this. God has thus the glory of salvation.
V. The manner in which God rescued Joshua. He plucked him out of the fire. Indicative of haste--we thus rescue a precious manuscript, accidentally thrown into the fire. God is in haste, for man’s guilt is increasing; his depravity is deepening; he is descending with time’s flight; his fate is awful! (James Stewart.)
A brand plucked out of the fire
Satan is represented in the context as an accuser of his brethren. He brings serious charges against Joshua, the high priest. He never committed a greater folly. The Lord never fails to come to the defence of the redeemed. The Lord represents Joshua as a trophy of sovereign grace. “Is not this a brand pluckt out of the fire?”
I. If this figure means anything, it means that unsaved sinners are in the fire. “Is not this a brand pluckt out of the fire?” We are accustomed to think of hell as something in the future. There is a sense in which this is true, but it is not all the truth. It is not at death that bad men enter into hell; they are there already.
II. If this imagery means anything, it means that unsaved sinners have a natural affinity for the flame that consumes them. A brand is a piece of wood that readily catches fire. The sinner is meet for destruction. See how eagerly men yield themselves to the sins which consume them.
III. If this imagery means anything, it means that rescue from the devouring element is only possible by Divine interposition--“Is not this a brand pluckt out of the fire?” A brand in the fire will remain there until it is utterly consumed unless it is taken out. Salvation is a Divine act. “By grace are ye saved.”
IV. If this imagery means anything, it means that saved sinners retain the marks of the burning. Forgiven, saved, but scarred. Even in heaven there will be evidences of the flame.
V. If this imagery means anything, it means that delay in the matter of rescue is infinitely perilous. Plucked out of the fire. There is no estimating the possibility of sin. There is enough latent fire in any unregenerate heart to effect its ruin. The flame which is smouldering in the concealed places of human life may be even more ominous than that which blazes forth under the open heavens. These facts should have a twofold influence.
1. They should serve to awaken alarm in the unsaved, and arouse the saved to the intensest solicitude and zeal for their rescue. The human brand is not a dead piece of wood. He has reason, judgment, sensibility, will. He needs to be made to realise his peril.
2. There is no time for dallying. The service is urgent. (B. D. Thomas.)
Take away the filthy garments from him
Removal of guilt
Zechariah was shown the state and condition of God’s Church in his day, and the change wrought upon that Church; a change that must be wrought on all that belong to the Lord God Almighty, and which is wrought by Divine power and grace alone.
Here is a scenic representation of Gospel truth. “Joshua was clothed in filthy garments.” Why did he so appear, and in such a presence? That his condition, and yours, and mine, in the presence of a Holy God, may be likened to filthy, polluted, unclean, defiled garments. “Satan stood at his right hand to resist him.” This alludes to the prevailing custom of placing an accused person before a bar of justice, and bringing his accuser upon his right hand to prefer the charge against him. Satan is the “accuser of the brethren.” Having rebuked Satan, our Advocate addresses Himself to them that stood by. “Take away the filthy garments from him.” This is the Old Testament description of the removal of guilt, the manifestation of salvation by grace. We must in this manner go to God in our filthy garments. Wait not to try to change your heart, as you would your raiment. Prayer is necessary, but prayer is no qualification; repentence is necessary, but repentance does not qualify for God’s mercy. Come, poor self-condemned sinner, just as you are. The filthy garment is removed from everyone whose heart is moved by God’s grace, though he know it not. What is represented by the change of raiment? The clothing with righteousness of our blessed Redeemer. The righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is a robe long enough to cover the sinner completely, it is as broad as the law of God; those that are enrobed in it need fear no stormy blast, either through their journey, or at their journey’s end There is nothing to be compared in importance, to us all, with the knowledge of Jesus Christ as the full, perfect, and complete Saviour of our souls. (A. Hewlett, M. A.)
So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments--
The mitre of priesthood
This book was written in the midst of a process of reconstruction. The people, or at least a handful of the people of Israel, had come back from Babylon to a ruined city, but by the guidance and leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, and those prophets of God, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the little handful or remnant of the people commenced to reconstruct their state, their city, and temple. It was of little use to build the temple while the priesthood was so degraded as Malachi tells us it was. The priests offered upon the altar of God contemptible sacrifices--they were content to bring to it the halt, the lame, the blind, such as they would not bring to their governor. They looked upon the whole service they rendered as hardly worth their care and energy, so ill were they repaid. You will notice at the end of the chapter we read that Joshua and his fellows were men for a sign, that is, they were types of the spiritual priesthood of the present time. We may not exercise our priestly office any more than we exercise our royal prerogative; yet in God’s sight we have a spiritual faculty of standing between God and man, speaking to God for man and to man for God. Is it not a fact that there are men and women here who are priests, but they need to be reconstructed, who are called to exercise this spiritual prerogative, but they have not a fair mitre upon their head? “Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.”
I. We consider the persons thus adorned, lest any here might suppose that they could not claim the fair mitre. You will see it is Joshua who receives the fair mitre, the person who at first stands before us clothed with filthy garments. Filthy garments always indicate some slur upon the character, some stain on the white robe of the dress of the soul. It may be that you are sensible that your robe is soiled, and as you come to the searching light of God’s angel--the angel of God’s presence--you are more than ever conscious of the wrinkles in your white robe. When you first came to the Cross of Christ you washed your robes and made them white in His blood, but you have failed to keep them so. The father sits down at the family altar, takes the old Bible and turns over its leaves, but all the time that he essays to act as priest of the family he is conscious that during the past twenty-four hours he has soiled his garments by impure thoughts or wrong imaginations. It may be that some young man here, who, indeed, is a true child of God, has allowed the sin of foul impurity, of unclean desire, to stain his robes; some housewife here has yielded to that today which soils her garments. But even you, in your filthy garment, may yet by the grace of God receive the fillet, the mitre. You will notice not only was Joshua clothed with these filthy garments, but he was the object of Satan’s accusation; Satan stood beside and indicated his disgrace. Do you not suppose the great accuser still does this? When just now you bowed in prayer, and your thoughts, were wandering to your pleasure or business, Satan saw it and said, “Christ, do You notice there is not one in all those people truly in prayer?” And when your minister speaks and his motives are vanity or pride, again the evil spirit stands to accuse us; he says to Christ, “Here is Thy chosen servant, but it would be better for me to cast him out of Thy hand and find another to do Thy work better.” And so there is never a negligence, a sin, or a fault but what Satan catches it and casts it upon Christ, because he can wound Christ best by showing up our filth and sin. You will notice also that Joshua was like a charred brand: you know how a piece of wood put in the fire will soon blacken and be consumed; a precious letter, a banknote, or cheque, by mistake has been taken by your servant to your wastepaper basket and put into the furnace, and when taken out it is so blackened, yellow, or charred, as to be almost undecipherable; and I suppose I am speaking to plenty of men here who have the marks of fire upon them. But though charred as you are, He will pluck you from the burning, and is prepared this very night to adorn your brow with this fillet, this mitre of His Holy Spirit which will equip you to exercise your power as a priest of God.
II. I ought to mark the prepratory process, because one has often found, in talking to people about the blessed Holy Spirit, that there has not been any deep preparatory previous work, and it is quite impossible for you to receive the appointing of the Holy Ghost unless you have submitted yourself to the previous work of that same Spirit. Whilst the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is more especially the Spirit of power, He is also the Spirit of cleansing, purification, and sanctification. There is a previous process, but with God that process need not take long. This process is indicated in the vision thus: “He said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.” And we are told at the close of the chapter that God can put away the iniquity of man in a single day. Imagine all the sin rising over England, Scotland, and Wales today; this little island surrounded by our four seas; imagine and remember God says He can put away the sin of a land in one day, and that day was when Jesus died. If the Lord during His three hours’ crucifixion was able to expiate and put away the sin of the world, how long will it take for Him to expiate the sin which is already expiated? Will you allow Him now, the great High Priest, to put away your filthy garments, to cause your guilt to leave you, and to give you instead the sense of God’s forgiveness? That is not all. The there must come a moment in a man’s life when he stands before the angel of God, when certain habits which he once permitted are shown to be altogether unworthy of his Christian character, and he puts off the works of the flesh. You see things in a different light. I feel that the man who does not drop habit after habit, indulgence after indulgence, is not growing; just as a tree may tell us its age by the rings of wood, so we can mark the growth of a man by what he has dropped. I am not here to tell you what to give up, it is not my purpose to add commandments to the decalogue, but to say that a man’s growth is determined by what he is prepared to renounce. He does not think it hard to renounce them, because he is receiving so much more; he drops the less to take the better. Just as when we come to the moment of death I do not suppose we shall think about dying, because the radiant light of that world beyond will attract us, and reaching out our two hands towards it, before we know we have died, we shall have passed into heaven. So now we are attracted always by the heavenly vision. O Christ, cause these habits, associations, indulgences, which have been rotting our heart and holding us back, cause these things to pass. Then there is a change of raiment: you must put on the Lord Jesus; make no provision for the flesh, but put on the perfect character of Jesus Christ. This is the deep truth that we do not all remember, I think; we are more anxious for the negative than the positive; more taken up with what we give up than with what we take on. You see here is Joshua: when I began to speak, he stood there clothed with soiled garments, and Satan stands beside him; but the scene is altered now, the filthy garments have been dropped. He has been bathed in water, and he is clothed with fair and beautiful robes, the emblem of some soul here. Satan has vanished, there is no further record of his accusing Joshua, because Christ had rebuked him; and when Christ throws the aegis of His protection round a soul, then Satan sneaks away. Christ has said, “I have chosen this man, plucked him as a brand from the fire, and am not likely to cast him back. Avaunt.” And ashamed and disappointed he sneaks away. And so the soul that stood ashamed and downcast, knowing every sneer of the devil was true, now looks into the face of the blessed Angel--Christ--and says, “O Advocate, Priest of God, O most blessed lover of my soul, what can I render to Thee for Thine advocacy and intercession, by virtue of which the very tempter is vanquished?”
III. Still, though Satan is gone, Joshua wants the crown of the priesthood, the insignia, the mitre of the priesthood. The mitre, you know, as worn by the bishop, is golden. It is an emblem of the ancient idea of the cloven tongues of fire, but is a faint rendering of the Greek, for on the day of Pentecost the fire came as a glow of light or fire into the room, and then there was distributed a flame upon each meekly bowed head. But still the mitre is the emblem of the ancient thought. The mitre, fillet, or turban, if you compare this with Leviticus and Numbers, and these again with the epistles, stands without doubt for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, not for the bishop alone, but for every one of us. You cannot do priestly work until you have got it; you cannot plead with God as intercessor, and cannot speak to men with power until you have got your fair mitre. You may have your clean robe, but if you have no mitre, you are unable to act as priest. The Lord Jesus for thirty years had a stainless robe of purity and beauty, and as He walked on the hills round Nazareth in intercourse with His Father, there was in Him neither spot nor blemish; yet I think I shall be within the confines of preaching the Word of God when I say that in a sense our Lord had not the fair mitre upon His head until He went down into the Jordan and was baptized, thus identifying Himself with man; then having fulfilled all righteousness, as He came up out of the water, beneath that blue sky, the Spirit of God, in the fitting emblem of a dove’s wing, came upon Him, and the fair mitre abode upon His head. He went forth into Galilee and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me.” So when He left the Church of God He blessed them and said in effect, Peter, John, and the rest of you, tarry in Jerusalem until you get your fair mitre; and though they have been cleansed with fellowship with Him, and by His most precious blood, they waited together in the upper room, until that mystic sign to which I have alluded--the fair mitre--was put upon the head of one hundred and twenty, and upon many since then. Many a soul I have had to do with has spent long years with white robes, but without the fair mitre. You must have the anointing power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost if you are to do the Church’s work in the world. It is noticeable that Zechariah said, “Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.” Zechariah, you have no right to say that--an angel should do it; you are a prophet, and Joshua is a priest, and there used to be antagonism between the prophets and the priesthood; but Zechariah said, “Let them put a fair mitre upon his head,” and they did. The prophet and priest are united by the Holy Ghost. How can you have it? Not by agonising, not by wrestling and struggling, but by first receiving, because Jesus Christ, the angel of Jehovah, waits to give it. There is nothing He wants more to give you than this. You ask me how you know when you have got it? I will tell you. You receive it by faith; you received forgiveness without emotion; you must not gauge your reception by emotion, or you will be disappointed: emotion must not be trusted. You receive it by faith; you may receive it now, at any moment. The indication you have got it is not emotion: it is two things. First, a new sense of the sweetness of the presence of Jesus; for the Holy Spirit never reveals Himself, but always reveals Christ. Secondly, a quiet power over other men. These are “men for a sign.” and I close with one most precious promise: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, if thou wilt walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge--I give this as a parting message,--“then thou shalt also judge My house, and shalt also keep My courts, and I wall give thee places of access among these that stand by.” This is not got by wrestling, but by trusting; so will you be brought within the tuner circle of Christ’s presence. Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The Angel of the Lord protested unto Joshua
A charge to young ministers
What the great Head of the Church requires of you.
1. Personal piety. “Walk in My ways.” This phrase denotes the whole of practical and experimental godliness. There can be no true piety without a previous scriptural conversion, a moral, universal, spiritual change; a change of the principles, of the mind, of the affections, of the heart, of the conduct, and of the life, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and obtained by faith in Christ Jesus. Every unconverted minister is an intruder into the sacred office. The dignity of your office does not discharge you from all the obligations to personal holiness; but it binds those obligations upon you with superadded weight and force. Then he men of integrity. Cultivate a devotional spirit. Be clothed with humility. Be grave and serious. Be cheerful, but take care that cheerfulness noes not degenerate into levity. The piety of some ministers has serious blemishes, against which you will do well to guard yourselves. Such as envy, which is the vice of little minds. Or a disposition to retail slanders. In order to maintain your personal piety it will be necessary for you every day to renew your acts of dedication to God.
2. A faithful discharge of your ministerial and pastoral functions. Your office may be called the “charge of the Lord,” because you received it from Him, and are accountable to Him for the discharge of its functions. In order to keep this charge, you should well understand its nature. It is Christian theology, which you have to teach to mankind; and you cannot teach it to others unless you well understand it yourselves. It is the well-informed, well-instructed divine who alone can adorn the sacred profession and edify the Church of Jesus Christ. Avoid a controversial style of preaching, for that is generally unprofitable, and unpopular too. You should be faithful, zealous, and laborious preachers, ever randy to declare “the whole counsel of God.”
3. In this charge is implied the faithful performance of pastoral duties. The exercise of a pure discipline over the societies (Churches) entrusted to your care A Church without discipline is like a garden without a fence. The clue administration of pastoral advice and counsel is another of our duties.
II. The import of those promises made to you. Dignity and authority in the Church of God is here promised to faithful ministers. Continuance in office is another promise. And it is further promised that they shall at length be translated to nobler stations in the heavenly world, where they shall become companions of angels. Allow me to charge you then to give attention to all these things. I have not exhorted you to pursue unattainable objects; they are all well within your reach. Redeem the time. And “be thou faithful unto death.” (Edward Grindrod.)
God’s promise to Joshua
The design of God’s promises is to quicken us to diligence in the work which He hath given us to do.
I. What is required of Joshua; or how he was to behave. He was to “walk in God’s ways, and keep His charge”; which signifies a general care to be religious himself, and a faithful performance of the duties of his particular station.
II. What is promised to Joshua in consequence of so doing.
1. That he should be continued in his office.
2. At length he should be preferred to a nobler station, in which he should be the companion of angels.
It does not mean that angels should guard and preserve him in all his goings and undertakings. The most natural and easy sense of the words is, that they refer to a future state, and mean that Joshua should at length be joined to the angels in heaven. Most of the Jewish writers paraphrase thus, “I will raise thee from the dead, and place thee among the seraphims.” This is a most delightful and instructive idea of the heavenly world--walking among the angels. Heaven is the stated abode of these glorious, wise, and happy spirits, who are superior to men; therefore they are called the angels of God in heaven. God intends that all His faithful servants on earth should at length dwell and walk with them. Reflect what an honour and happiness this will be. Consider what excellent beings they are in themselves. And consider them as those who have been ministers of God to the world, the Church, and ourselves. Application--
(1) Reflect, for our caution, on the counterpart of this, or the future state of those who forsake the ways of God.
(2) Let us be excited to the duties required in the text, by the gracious promise contained in it. (Job Often.)
Cleansing, obedience, service
Let the Christian notice well God’s order in these verses. It is cleansing first, then obedience, next service. All through the Bible the cleansing is with a view to the other two; and if these two fail to be seen in the Christian’s character he will lose the first, for all practical purposes. A cleansed soul will be a holy soul. A cleansed soul will be an obedient one, and will love to serve. Then, Christian, “work out your own salvation” by putting no hindrance in the way of “God working within you both to will and do.” Live upon Christ, and let nothing come between your continued eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man. This is living upon Christ; and if your soul lacks it your obedience and your service will cease. The measure of blessing to another’s soul will be the measure of Christ living in your own; and the measure of Christ living in you will be the measure of your love to Him, and your own personal assurance of His love to you. You must translate the generally acknowledged fact of His love into a living fact in your own experience. And remember that the measure in which you think about Christ, and in which your thoughts about Him have power over your personal character and your daily life, is the measure of your religion. This, and no more than this, is the extent to which you are a Christian. This, and no more than this, is the extent to which there will be any reality, any power, any real blessing in your service to others, or anything pleasing to God in your obedience. May God make you real--stamp Divine reality on everything within you, and in all your outward life! (F. Whirfield, M. A.)
A place of access
“I will give thee a place of access.” We owe this beautiful promise to the Revised Version (Zechariah 3:7), for in the Authorised Version the text has quite a meaningless rendering. “I will give thee place to walk among these that stand by.” The immediate reference of the promise is, of course, to Joshua, the high priest. It was his privilege and his duty, clothed in white linen, to enter the most holy place once a year, there to make atonement for the sins of the people. Instead, however, of this great office being fulfilled, the prophet sees Joshua clothed in filthy garments--the type of his own sins and of those people of his “standing,”--with Satan at his right hand to be his “adversary.” it appeared impossible that such a high priest, or such a nation, should ever be permitted to draw near the living God. Then comes the symbolic action of the prophetic vision. The filthy garments are taken away by command of God, from Joshua, and are replaced by “rich apparel,” the mitre of high priestly office is set on his head, and the promise is made--made both to him and to his people--“I will give thee a place of access.” In spite of Israel’s unworthiness and sin, God Himself would permit His people to draw near to Him. Such were the original scope and meaning of these words. “I will give thee a place of access.” How little we realise the great privilege of this great promise! To say that we can draw near to God is only to utter one of the commonest of all truisms; but familiar as the truth may be to us, let us never forget that there was a time when it would have been regarded as the strangest and most incredible of all truths. A Jew was never permitted in his own person to come near to God; he had to approach the Most High from a distance, and even the high priest himself was only allowed the privilege of a place of access “once in” each year. Such were the awful holiness and the ineffable majesty of the Most High, and such the terrible sin and guilt of man, that no human soul dared to draw near the consuming fire. God was a God “far off” and not “nigh” to a Jew. There was no “place of access” opened for all the world. We do not wonder, therefore, at the exaltation and rapture with which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews dwells on what Christ had done, in opening a “new and living way” to God, even into the holy place, by His blood, and on the fact that His sacrifice for sin makes it now possible for the sinful and guilty with “boldness to enter into the Holiest.” It was the fulfilment of the promise of the text, “I will give thee a place of access.” And this is the astonishing privilege of every child of man today. Howsoever unworthy and sinful he may be, still through the blood of Jesus, he may freely draw near to God. He may stand in the presence of the Eternal. He may speak face to face with God, and hear God speak to him. “In Christ Jesus,” to use St. Paul’s words, “we that once were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (G. W. Barrett.)
I will give thee places to walk among those that stand by.
The right of entry
The prophet has just been describing a vision of judgment in which the high priest, as representative of the nation, stood before the angel of the Lord as an unclean person. He is cleansed, and clothed, and a fair priestly garment, with “Holiness to the Lord” written on the front of it, put upon him. And then follow a series of promises, of which the climax is the one that I have read. “I will give thee a place of access,” says the Revised Version, instead of “places to walk”; “I will give thee a place of access among those that stand by”; the attendant angels are dimly seen surrounding their Lord. And so the promise of my text is that of free approach to God, of a life that is like that of the angels that stand before His face. So, then, the words suggest to us--
I. What a Christian life may be. There are two images blended together in the great words of my text: the one is that of a king’s court, the other is that of a temple. With regard to the former, it is a privilege given to the highest nobles of a kingdom--or it was in old days--to have the right of entree, at all moments and in all circumstances, to the monarch. With regard to the latter the prerogative of the high priest, who is the recipient of this promise as to access to the Temple, was a very restricted one. Once a year, with the blood that prevented his annihilation by the brightness of the Presence into which he ventured, he passed within the veil, and stood before that mysterious Light that coruscated in the darkness of the Holy of Holies. But this High Priest is promised an access on all days and at all times; and that He may stand there, beside and like the seraphim. This Priest passes within the veil when He will. Or, to put away the two metaphors, and to come to the reality far greater than either of them, we can, whensoever we please, pass into the Presence before which the splendours of an earthly monarch’s court shrink into vulgarity, and attain to a real reception of the light that irradiates the true Holy Place, before which that which shone in the earthly shrine dwindles and darkens into a shadow. Our lives may on the outside thus be largely amongst the things seen and temporal, and yet all the while penetrating through these, and laying hold with their true roots on the Eternal. Our Master is the great Example of this, of whom it is said, not only in reference to His mysterious and unique union of nature with the Father in His Divinity, but in reference to the humanity which He had in common with us all, yet without sin, that the Son of Man came down from heaven, and even in the act of coming, and when He had come was yet the Son of Man which is in heaven. Such a conversation in heaven, and such association with the bands of the blessed, is possible even for a life upon earth.
II. Let us consider this promise as a pattern for us of what Christian life should be, and, alas! so seldom is. There is no greater sin than living beneath the possibilities of our lives, in any region, whether religious or other it matters not. Sin is not only going contrary to the known law of God, but also a falling beneath a Divine ideal which is capable of realisation. And in regard to our Christian life, if God has flung open His temple gates and said to us, “Come in, My child, and dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and abide there under the shadow of the Almighty, finding protection and communion and companionship in My worship,” there can be nothing more insulting to Him, and nothing more fatally indicative of the alienation of our hearts from Him, than that we should refuse to obey the merciful invitation. What should we say of a son or a daughter, living in the same city with their parents, who never crossed the threshold of the father’s house, but that they had lost the spirit of the child, and that if there was no desire to be near there could be no love! So, if we will ask ourselves: “How often do I use this possibility of communion with God, which might irradiate all my daily life?”
III. Again, my text suggests to us what every Christian life will hereafter perfectly be. Some commentators take the words of my text to refer only to the communion of saints from the earth, with the glorified angels, in and after the resurrection. That is a poor interpretation, for heaven is here today. All that here has been imperfect, fragmentary, occasional, interrupted, and marred in our communion with God, shall one day be complete. And then, oh! then, who can tell what undreamed of depths and sweetnesses of renewed communion and of intercourses begun, for the first time then, between “those that stand by,” and have stood there for ages, will then be realised?
IV. Lastly, notice, not from my text, but from its context, how any life may become thus privileged. The promise is preceded by a condition: “If thou wilt walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge, then . . . I will give thee access among those that stand by.” If we are keeping His commandments, then, and only then, shall we have access with free hearts into His presence. But to lay down that condition seems the same thing as slamming the door in every man’s face. But let us remember what went before my text, the experience of the Priest to whom it was spoken in the vision. His filthy garments were stripped off him, and the pure white robes worn on the great Day of Atonement, the sacerdotal dress, was put upon him. It is the cleansed man that has access among “those that stand by,” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
They are men wondered at
Christians a wonder
Joshua and his fellow worshippers were wondered at, both by the idolatrous Chaldeans and the unbelieving Jews, for their faith in the Divine predictions during the period of their captivity; that Jerusalem should be rebuilt, the temple worship restored, and that they should return again to their own land.
Good men are not less an object of wonder now than they were then. There is something in their principles and pursuits which men in general cannot easily understand, and they know not to what cause it should be ascribed.
1. Ministers of the Gospel are often a wonder both to themselves and others. It is wonderful that God should condescend to employ weak and sinful creatures in so sacred a work as publishing articles of peace between heaven and earth. Infinite wisdom saw fit to lodge this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of us. Considering likewise the mean opinion which good men entertain of themselves, the treatment they are likely to meet with, the difficulties and trials to which they will necessarily be exposed, it is not a little remarkable that they should be induced to engage in the work of the ministry. Yet it is wonderful how such are carried through their work, and enabled to persevere, notwithstanding all the discouragements they meet with, from within and from without. The success that at any time attends the ministry may very properly be regarded as matter of astonishment.
2. The same sort of singularity attaches to all real Christians who walk in newness of life, and exemplify the genuine spirit of the Gospel.
(1) They are a wonder unto angels. They are struck with amazement at the love of God, manifested to such sinful and unworthy creatures.
(2) They are a wonder unto devils, who cannot but be surprised to see the spiritual temple, which is to endure throughout eternal ages, rising out of the ruins of the Fall. The fallen spirits wonder to see all their plots frustrated and their evil designs overruled for the Divine glory.
(3) Real Christians are a wonder to themselves. What reason can be rendered for such distinguishing grace and love? The conversion and salvation of a sinner is a more surprising work than the creation of a World.
(4) They are a wonder to one another.
(5) They are a wonder to the world. Nor is it strange that it should be so, since they are followers of Him whose kingdom is not of this world.
3. There is something in the very nature of religion that is mysterious and strange.
(1) The manner in which grace is implanted in the soul is so. The work of the Spirit upon the heart is one of the deep things of God.
(2) The way in which grace operates is equally wonderful. The Christian’s life is a hidden one.
(3) The fruits which grace produces in the life of a true believer are not less remarkable. Those who walk by sight cannot understand how others walk by faith. How then can the Christian be ashamed of his high calling, even though it should make him a gazing stock to angels and to men? Thou art now a wonder to the world, believer, but what a wonder wilt thou be in that solemn and decisive day, when Christ will come “to be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe.” (B. Beddome, M. A.)
My servant the Branch--
The world’s wants and God’s provisions
I. The world wants a moral helper, and in the Gospel one is provided. Morally, man is enslaved, diseased, exiled, lost to the great uses and purposes of his being. God has provided a great Helper, here called His “servant the Branch.” In Isaiah we have these words, “Behold My servant whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” He is the “Branch,” God is the Root, and all holy souls are branches, deriving their life, beauty, and fruitfulness from Him; but Christ is the “Branch,” the oldest Branch, the largest Branch, the strongest Branch, the most fruitful Branch, etc. He is the Branch on which there hang clusters of perennial fruits for the “healing of the nations.”
II. The world wants Divine guardianship, and in the Gospel it is provided. “Behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes.” What is here meant by the “stone”? Not the foundation stone of the temple, which was now being rebuilt, for that had been laid long before. “The stone,” says Keil, “is the symbol of the kingdom of God, and is laid by Jehovah before Joshua, by God’s transferring to him the regeneration of His house and the keeping of His courts (before lip-hire in a spiritual sense, as in 1 Kings 9:6, for example). The seven eyes which watch with protecting care over this stone are not a figurative representation of the all-embracing providence of God; but, in harmony with the seven eyes of the Lamb which are the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 5:6), and with the seven eyes of Jehovah (Zechariah 4:10), they are the sevenfold radiation of the Spirit of Jehovah (after Isaiah 11:2), which show themselves in vigorous action upon this stone, to prepare it for its destination.” Perhaps the meaning is, that upon the kingdom of Christ, here symbolised by the stone, God’s eyes are fixed (engraven) with deep, and settled interest. “The eye is the natural hieroglyphic for knowledge; and ‘seven’ as every reader of the Bible is aware, is the number used to denote completeness, perfection. Seven eyes denote the perfection of observant knowledge; and as the ‘eyes of Jehovah’ mean Jehovah’s observation and knowledge, His ‘seven eyes’ express the perfection of both--omniscient observation.” Two thoughts are suggested--
1. God has a special interest in Christ and His followers. His eyes are on the “stone,” there in all their completeness, seven. He has a general interest in the universe, but a special interest here.
2. God has a settled interest in Christ and His followers. The eyes are said to be engraven on the stone, not written in mere ink.
III. The world wants moral purification. In the Gospel it is provided. The iniquity of the land of the Jews was multiform, aggravated, immeasurable; but in one day provision should be made for its removal; the day on which Christ died upon the Cross. “Christ came to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
IV. The world wants spiritual repose. In the Gospel that is provided. Mr. Henry says, “When iniquity is taken away--
1. We reap precious benefits and privileges from our justification; and
2. We repose in a sweet tranquillity, and are quiet from the fear of evil.” (Homilist.)
For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua--
The stone before Joshua
That stone was Christ. Take the clauses of the verse in succession.
1. Behold the stone which I have laid before Joshua, “He that built all things is God.” He built the temple of nature. More august and glorious far is the temple spoken of here. Its foundation stone was laid by God Himself in Zion. He laid it when the great Antitype Himself came, and gave His life a ransom for many. He laid it anew, in the Zion above, when Christ was exalted on His mediatorial and priestly throne, a name given Him that is above every name. He shall finally consecrate and glorify it as the “headstone of the corner,” on the great day, in presence of the Church triumphant.
2. “Upon one stone shall be seven eyes.” Observe, it is “one stone.” One Mediator. “‘ By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” See that one stone laid by the Divine Builder! The sun needs no glittering taper to add to its light; the ocean needs no tiny drop to add to its volume. Let the giant deed of Christ’s doing and dying stand forth in all its peerless, solitary grandeur. What mean the seven eyes? Seven was a sacred number with the Jews, probably from being first associated with the seven days of Creation. It would seem to denote--
(1) Christ’s fulness or perfection. How applicable to Him “in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “Out of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”
(2) The “seven eyes” point to Christ’s providential government of the Church and the world. What a blessed truth is this universal, constant sovereignty of Jesus! The roll in which art inscribed the world’s destinies is in His hands. More comforting still is it to think of Christ’s individual providence, the care He takes of each separate member of His Church. This stone, with its seven eyes, has an eye for each. But the words “seven eyes” may admit of the rendering “seven fountains.” The “eye,” among Orientals, is often the metaphor for the wellspring. The Arabs call the fountain to this day, the “eye of the desert.” Render then, “Upon one stone shall be seven fountains.” This one stone, the Rock of Ages, was smitten by the rod of justice, and lo! seven fountain-streams flow from its cleft side. Fountains of pardon, righteousness, peace, sanctification, comfort, grace here, life and glory hereafter. All the fountains from one source.
3. “I will engrave the engraving thereof.” Carvings on stone were frequent in ancient times. In Nineveh, Babylon, Egypt, it was the old method of inscribing a nation’s annals. These “stone libraries” are dug up fresh as they were chiselled and entombed many thousand years ago. Once engraven on the heart of love, you are on His heart forever. An alternative rendering of this metaphor is, “I will open the openings thereof.” “I,” says God, “will unlock the fountains in that sealed stone, that the waters of salvation may gush forth.” He opens the fountains every time His glorious Gospel is proclaimed.
4. “And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” This doubtless points onwards to the day of days. In the Mosaic and ceremonial dispensation of the Jews, iniquity was typically removed. But all was a shadow, till the true Anti typical Surety and Scapegoat Himself came to remove iniquity “in one day,” by having the sins of His people laid on His guiltless head. It was a momentous “one day,” the day waited for by all time. The stone was smitten, the fountain was unsealed. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Jesus Christ, the stone whereon are seven eyes
The text is highly figurative language.
I. The description of this ‘‘stone.” Joshua may be the representative of the whole priesthood, or of the Church at large. We take the latter idea. Therefore the stone is laid before Joshua,--or the Church of God.
1. The stone. By which I understand Christ. A precious stone. Precious to the Father, to angels, to the fully redeemed, and to us. A precious stone, because God has chosen it as the foundation of His Church. It is a cornerstone. He is a foundation stone. He is a tried stone.
2. The situation of the stone. It is not a stone of human production. It was laid in God’s everlasting love. In the Old Testament rites and types and shadows. In prophecy. It is to be laid before the Church even now.
3. The Builder. It is the “stone that I have laid.” God in Trinity is the builder. The Father is the builder of the Church designedly. The Son is the builder of the Church really. The Spirit is the builder of the Church efficiently.
II. The eyes fixed upon this “store.” “Seven eyes.” Some refer this to the operations of the Spirit of God. Prefer to take it as the eyes of all, friend and foe, that are placed upon our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The eye of the Father is upon this stone: in eternal council, when the everlasting stipulations for the salvation of the Church were entered into.
2. The eye of the Spirit was upon Him. The Spirit of God taketh the things of Christ and revealeth them unto the soul.
3. The eyes of angels are fixed on Christ.
4. The eyes of all the saints in heaven are fixed on Christ.
5. So are the eyes of the Church on earth.
6. And the eyes of the wicked, on earth and in hell.
III. The engraving of this stone. The names of the Lord’s people are said to be written on stones, or in books. Our names are written on the palms of Christ’s hands, denoting our security. Upon His shoulders, to denote the support that we receive from Him. On His heart, explanatory of His love.
IV. The removal of the Church’s sin. By God the Father, through the Mediator. God has imputed all our sins to Jesus Christ, and removed them in one day. (T. Bagnall-Baker, M. A.)
The cornerstone of the Church
Christ is promised as He who is represented by the temple, and who is the ground and cornerstone of His own Church, and the rock on which she is built, bearing all the burden of the fabric, concerning whom is promised that God’s infinite providence shall be about Him and His Church, Himself endued with perfect wisdom to see to and care for all His members, and that by the effects and rays of the glory of God shining in Him, He shall draw all eyes to Him, and keep them on Him; as also that He shall be so polished and adorned by God, as shall be marvellous to the world. Doctrine--
1. Christ the Mediator is not only a part of the spiritual building, making up one Christ mystical with all His members, and the eminent and most excellent part of it, but the very foundation of His Church’s being, upon whom all the Church and every particular member thereof is and must be built, and without whom they cannot subsist; for, He is “the stone laid before Joshua.”
2. As Christ in His office of mediation is a means of the Father’s appointment, by Him to derive happiness to the Church, and establish her in it; so whoever despise and reject Him, yet the Father will have Him high and eminent in that building.
3. As Christ hath all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge employed for seeing to the condition, and finding out the way of happiness for His people, in every case and exigency, signified by seven eyes (which is a number of perfection) engraven on that one stone: and as the vigilant providence of God is always intent upon Christ as Mediator, and for His sake upon the welfare of His Church and kingdom as being His chief delight, signified also by seven (or many) eyes fixed over that one stone, so also is Christ, as Mediator, God-man, revealing the Father in Himself, and as the support and upholder of His Church, so glorious and excellent as may draw all to admire Him, and to fix their expectation on Him, as the only choice and refuge of lost sinners, and will do so to all the elect, which is also signified by seven eyes fixed on that one stone, admiring Him, and having all their expectation from Him.
4. The beauty, excellency, and furniture of Christ the Mediator, is Divine and rare, and He is the ornament, glory and storehouse of all the spiritual building, being, as God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). His humanity also being adorned with the gifts of the Spirit without measure, and with all Divine perfections in so far as the human nature is capable; withal His sufferings for His people (as so many curious engravings) speak not a little His beauty to those who have interest therein. This is signified by our Lord’s engraving the graving of this stone, polishing it as a precious jewel, and adorning it by His art. Two benefits are promised to flow from Christ the Priest to His people; the first whereof is, remission and purging away of sins by the sacrifice upon the Cross, once for all, which needs not to be repeated as the Jewish sacrifices were. This is promised to the whole elect and mystical body of Christ, figured by the Jews and their promised land, beside what peculiar relation it may have to them and their land, that their sins, being taken away by Christ, should not hinder Him to favour them, nor the land for their sake; but should be looked on in due time, not as polluted, nor possessed and overrun by enemies.
(1) Remission and removal of sins is the choice mercy of Christ’s people, and the rise of other mercies. “I will remove iniquity,” is the fruit of Christ’s coming to the world, and of His glory as Mediator.
(2) Sin is pardoned and removed only by the virtue and merit of Christ’s one sacrifice, only once offered, and not to be repeated on any pretext whatever; for, iniquity is removed “in one day.”
(3) Christ’s own peculiar and fiven people of the Father, are they upon whom the privilege of pardon and sanctification is conferred, and on whose behalf Christ offered up Himself to procure these procure these benefits, for it is the iniquity of that land (a type of the elect Church) that is removed. (George Hutcheson.)
Behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts--
No engraving without wound
That is, of the stone, upon which were to be seven eyes, and which intends the Messiah, the foundation laid in Zion. To engrave is to pierce and cut. When He became a Man of Sorrows, when He said, “Reproach hath broken My heart,” then was this Scripture fulfilled. As there is no engraving without wounding, so to engrave is to embellish and beautify. And He was made perfect through suffering. The richest display of His graces; the acquirement of the dispensation of the Spirit; the dominion He exercises in our nature; the prerogative of judging the world in righteousness; and the praises He will inhabit through eternal ages--all these resulted from His sufferings. “Because He was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, therefore God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name.” To a person unacquainted with the process, the pruning of the tree; the cleaving of the ground with the ploughshare; the operation of the chisel on the stone would look like an effort to injure or destroy. But look at the thing afterwards. Behold the vine adorned with purple clusters. Survey the field, yielding the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear. Examine the carved work, when the sculptor has achieved his design, and fixed it in its proper place! Christians are sometimes perplexed and discouraged because of their trials: They know not what God is doing with them. They fear He is angry, and going to crush and destroy. But they are His workmanship. He is preparing them for their destination in the temple of His grace. These trials are applied to qualify and advance them. They will all perfect that which concerneth them. Howard was taken by the enemy and confined in prison. There he learned the heart of a captive. “It is good for me,” says David, “that I have been afflicted.” (William Jay.)
Under the vine and under the fig tree
Thus inspiration characterises the reign of the Messiah.
It was to be distinguished by three things.
1. Enjoyment. The very image is delightful. Vines and fig trees were much prized in the East. They afforded at once delightful fruit for the taste, and refreshing shade from the heat. Persons therefore regaled themselves under their branches and leaves,--and thus the expression in time came to signify happiness. And blessed are the people that know the joyful sound. Wherever the Gospel came it was received as good news, glad tidings, and it was said of the receivers, that they walked not only in the fear of the Lord, but in the comforts of the Holy Ghost.
2. Liberty. Slaves and captives did not sit under their vines and fig trees. Nor did proprietors in time of war. They were liable to the surprises of the enemy. Then they disappeared from these loved, but no longer safe, retreats. In Messiah’s days “Israel shall be saved, and Judah shall dwell securely.” What have His subjects to fear? Their souls shall dwell at ease. They are free indeed. They are kept by the power of God.
3. Benevolence. “Ye shall call every man his neighbour under the vine, and under the fig tree.” There is nothing like selfishness here. They are anxious that others should partake of their privileges. There is no envy here; there is no room for it. Here is enough for all. If we are Christians indeed, our happiness, instead of being impaired by the experience of others, will be increased by it. Let me invite all that come within my reach to that mercy which I have found. (William Jay.)
The times of Gospel peace
A second benefit is the taking away of all trouble, and the fear of trouble, which sin procures; and the giving of peace, represented by peoples walking abroad, and daring, in the open fields under shades, to invite and call one another to feasts and enjoyment of the fruits of peace; which promise is spiritually performed to all the elect when they are assured that God is at peace with them; and is sometimes outwardly performed to the Church, when it is for her good, beside what Israel may expect when they shall turn to Christ. Doctrine--
1. True and sound peace comes only from Christ, and from the sense of the pardon of sin through His blood, which those who have fled to Christ ought to take as their allowance to rest confidently upon, whatever danger there be, and feed upon as the choicest of dainties and feasts.
2. As outward peace and tranquillity in the visible Church and nation, where it is a great merely if it be well improven; so it shall not be wanting when it is for her good: for this promise is put in her charter for that also, and left in the hand of her wise and tender Guide, to dispense it as He sees may be for her profit, being the “Lord of Hosts,” to make it forthcoming for her when He pleaseth.
3. As it is a token of a blessed and thorough peace, when with outward and foreign enemies God removes intestine dissensions; and as amity among the inhabitants of a nation, especially in the Church, is a blessing and favour in its own kind; so true, spiritual peace ought to be entertained and improved by mutual godly society, and communication of conditions and experiences for common edification. This is signified to us in that peace, whether inward or outward, is described by “calling every man his neighbour,” living in amity, and inviting to mutual feasts and banquets. (George Hutcheson.)
The stone with seven eyes
The prophet Zechariah, for the length of his prophecy, has rather more than a usual number of allusions to Christ. Among these is the one contained in the passage before us. The language is metaphorical, and derived from the arts of architecture and engraving.
I. The stone with seven eyes. It is generally allowed that this refers directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some, however, understand it of Zerubbabel. But if it be allowed to refer to him primarily, yet only as a type of Christ; for it is the same person who is styled “the Branch” in the preceding verse, in Zechariah 6:12, and in other places where Christ is undoubtedly intended.
1. There are numerous allusions to Christ under the metaphor of a stone (Exodus 17:6; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Psalms 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20).
2. Upon this stone were to be seven eyes. Seven appears to have been a sacred number among the Jews, and one denoting perfection. Hence we read of the “seven golden candlesticks”--”the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes”--the “seven Spirits of God”--the “book with seven seals”--the “seven lamps”--the “seven phials”--and here, of the “stone with seven eyes.” Eyes are explained by commentators to signify intelligence and wisdom. Eyes of the Lord are to be understood of His omniscience. “The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings” (Proverbs 5:21). “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (chap. 15:3). “He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” (Psalms 94:9). Now, as seven in the Scriptures denotes perfection, we are doubtless, by the expression in this place, to understand that the attributes or qualities signified by it are infinitely perfect, forasmuch as they are ascribed to God. It is then, at least, an exhibition of one of the attributes of the infinite Jehovah. Let this be borne in mind, for we shall soon see Jesus Christ possessing this attribute.
3. By these eyes “being upon this stone” some suppose that we are to understand the eyes of the Father beholding the Son. But may we not rather suppose that the seven eyes being upon the stone were designed to signify that the perfections represented by them should be imparted to and become identified with it? And may not this be what is intended by the expression, “I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts”? And may we not, then, suppose that this is an exhibition, by a most beautiful figure, of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ? The engraver was “the Lord of hosts.” And says John, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father). fall of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The things engraved on this stone were the infinite perfections of the Godhead.
II. The work to be accomplished. “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” The whole stupendous work of human redemption centres in one single point;--it was effected by one single act, and that act the work of one single day. The one act which secures it is the sacrificial offering of Himself. The day on which it was effected was the day on which Christ suffered, “the just for the unjust.” Whatever, therefore, was said by way of promise, whatever was revealed by prophecy, or whatever was exhibited by the rites of the Jewish economy, all pointed to and centred in the death of Christ the whole scheme of human redemption was consummated by the one offering of Christ upon the Cross! O my soul, what a day of interest was that to the world! We have heard of a day on which a world was involved in the waters of a flood. We have heard of a day on which whole cities were reduced to heaps of smoking ruins. We have heard of a day on which one decisive battle determined the fate of empires; yea, and we have heard of a day on which the tyrannical yoke of foreign usurpation was broken, and the sweet sound of liberty heard throughout this vast republic. But what are all these in comparison of that day when all heaven, in breathless silence, paused and, with an interest” commensurate with the importance,, of the work beheld the achievement of “the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel”?
III. The effects winch follow. “In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.” Here is, then--
1. A spirit of general benevolence. This is a legitimate fruit, or one of the effects of the great atonement applied to the heart of man. The first step towards the restoration of society to proper principles of feeling and action is to remove that principle which first disorganised society, and which still promotes enmity and separation between man and man. As love is the ruling principle of the soul, all sordid views and selfish interests are excluded from the heart of the Christian, and he looks abroad upon all mankind with a heart flowing with benevolence. He rejoices in the prosperity of the prosperous, and tenderly sympathises with those who are in adversity. In a word, he has learned to call every man his neighbour. But wherever this principle is found in the heart it cannot remain inactive. Hence--
2. A spirit of association. It is not enough for the true Christian that he has peace, order, and happiness within the sanctuary of his own breast, nor yet that he feels a spirit of general benevolence towards all mankind. The language of his heart is, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?” The principle of which he is possessed, and by which he is actuated, ever prompts him to “every good word and work.” Eating together was by the ancients considered a mark of peculiar respect. It was a ceremony used not only as a testimony of mutual friendship, but also for the confirmation of covenants, in the transaction of civil and religious affairs. The place chosen and sanctioned by custom for these purposes was the shade of the vine and of the fig tree. The fruit of these was much depended upon both for nourishment and comfort. Beneath their shade, therefore, was an appropriate place for the interchange of friendships, and especially for the purpose of devotion. When, therefore, any one invited his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree, it was a testimony of his love, and the expression of a desire that his neighbour might with him partake of all the temporal and spiritual blessings of which he himself was a partaker. But viewing these expressions in their more immediate reference to the effects of the great atonement, they very clearly designate the spirit by which every true Christian is actuated towards mankind. It was this spirit, in all its infinite perfection and fulness, which moved the Father to “give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” It was the same love that moved the Son to “give Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity,” and that He might “break down the middle wall of partition” which separated man from God, and man from man; “and in himself of twain to make one new man, so making peace.” It is the existence and operation of this spirit, in the hearts of the ministers of Christ, which stimulates them to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”--to invite and entreat sinners to be “reconciled to God.” It is the existence and operation of this spirit which leads Christians to unite their efforts and put forth their energies in the cause of man. Improvement--
1. That the Christian hath a strong foundation for his faith. In the first part of this subject we have seen that Jesus Christ, by both prophets and apostles, is laid in Zion for a “sure foundation.” He therefore, who believes in Him with a heart unto righteousness, shall not be confounded.
2. We learn from this subject the great privilege of the children of God. Whatever obstacles lay in the way of our salvation, on account of original sin, was “removed in one day” by the death of Christ.
3. Finally, we learn from this subject the duty of every Christian. Was it said that in the day when iniquity should be removed “every” (Christian) “man should call his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree”? This prophecy, then, clearly points out the duty of every lover of Christ. Think not that this duty belongs exclusively to the ministers of the Gospel (Noah Levings.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30