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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 3

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Zechariah 3:0


Vision of the High PriestThe Fourth Vision: Joshua and SatanThe Prophet's Vision of the High PriestThe Fourth Vision: The Investiture of Joshua
Zechariah 3:1-5Zechariah 3:1-5Zechariah 3:1-2Zechariah 3:1-7
Zechariah 3:3-4
The Coming Branch Zechariah 3:5
Zechariah 3:6-10Zechariah 3:6-10Zechariah 3:6-10The Coming of the “Branch”
Zechariah 3:8-10

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This text (and chapter 4) combined with Genesis 14:0 and Psalms 110:0 caused some of the rabbis to assert that there would be two Messiahs, one royal from the tribe of Judah (cf. Genesis 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:0) and one from the tribe of Levi.

B. From the book of Hebrews in the NT, chapters 7-8, we see that Jesus fulfilled both of these anointed functions.

C. The PRONOUNS in this chapter are very ambiguous. Remember that it is an apocalyptic vision.

D. In the vision the prophet does not ask help from the interpreting angel, which implies that he comprehended the meaning. Zechariah knew Joshua and his office and significance (i.e., Israel was a priestly nation to bring the world to faith in YHWH and His Messiah).

E. Joshua's forgiveness and complete restoration emphasizes the place of the restored temple and its significance as a sign of the fully restored covenant.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 3:1-5 1Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” 3Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” 5Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.

Zechariah 3:1 “he showed me” This seems to be a vision in heaven before God similar to Job 1-2. In Zechariah 1:20 it is YHWH who reveals the vision, so too, here (cf. Septuagint and Vulgate). However, many scholars see this as a reference to the interpreting angel (cf. Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah 1:13, Zechariah 1:14, Zechariah 1:19; Zechariah 2:2).

“Joshua” This Hebrew name (BDB 221) means “YHWH saves.” This is the same as the Aramaic name, Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:21). This particular Joshua was the Zadokian (son of Jehozadak or Jozadak) High Priest who returned in a second wave of returnees with Zerubbabel, a prince of the line of Judah (cf. Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:12, Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2, Haggai 2:4; Ezra 2:2; Ezra 5:2; Nehemiah 7:7; Nehemiah 12:1, Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:26).

“the high priest” This is not the Mosaic title for the leadership of the priests, but a post-exilic title found so often in Haggai and Zechariah. See Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, pp. 397-403.

“standing before” This word (BDB 763, KB 840, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) can be understood in this context in two distinct ways: (1) for priestly service (cf. Deuteronomy 10:8; 2 Chronicles 29:11; Ezekiel 44:11, Ezekiel 44:15, i.e., Joshua acting as High Priest on behalf of the nation) or (2) legal usage of someone brought before a judge (cf. Numbers 27:2; Deuteronomy 19:17; Joshua 20:6; 1 Kings 3:16, i.e., Joshua as sinful representative of all Jews).

“the angel of the LORD” In this context this is obviously a distinct person from YHWH (cf. Zechariah 3:4-5, Zechariah 3:6-7). He is functioning as a defense advocate, speaking for YHWH. See note at Zechariah 1:11. It is hard to be certain if this is meant to be a Messianic reference! The Messiah is surely referred to in this chapter as “My Servant the Branch” (cf. Zechariah 6:12; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15).

As an interpreter my problem in this text is not that “the angel of the Lord” is identified as divine in the OT (cf. Genesis 16:7-13; Genesis 22:11-15; Genesis 31:11, Genesis 31:13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:2-4; Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:19; Judges 2:1; Judges 6:22-24; Judges 13:3-22), but that in Zechariah 1:0 the title is used of an angel who is patrolling the earth for YHWH (cf. Zechariah 1:11) and prays to YHWH (cf. Zechariah 1:13, i.e. separate from deity, cf Genesis 24:7, Genesis 24:40; Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:35; Numbers 22:22; Judges 5:23; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15-30). This does not fit the exalted place of the Messiah. Also in chapter 2 many try to make “me” of Zechariah 2:8, Zechariah 2:9, and 11 refer to the Messiah, when I think it refers to the prophet Zechariah. To put it bluntly interpreters are trying to find the Trinity too much in this ambiguous apocalyptic book (as some do in trying to identify Michael with the Messiah in Daniel). Specificity is not the hallmark of Zechariah's visions! Be careful of (1) dogmatism; (2) reading a tight systematic theological grid into these texts; or (3) allowing personal preference to dictate one and only one possibility.



“Satan” This is literally “the adversary” (BDB 966, KB 1316, cf. Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-7; 1 Chronicles 21:1). In 1 Kings 22:19ff, Satan is also before YHWH in heaven as one of the angelic attendants. The Bible often uses a court metaphor to describe activity in heaven (cf. Hosea 2:0; Ezekiel 23:0; Revelation 4-5).


“standing at his right hand” This language speaks of a judicial setting. The idiom is used of God's presence with His people in Psalms 16:8; Psalms 109:31; Psalms 110:5, while in Job 30:12; Psalms 109:6, it is used of an accuser, as it is here. The advocate or accuser stood on the defendant's right side.

Zechariah 3:2 “the LORD. . .the LORD” The first seems to refer to the angel of the Lord mentioned in Zechariah 3:1 (NET, NJB, TEV, NAB, JPSOA).

“The LORD rebuke you, Satan” The rebuke (BDB 172, KB 199, Qal IMPERFECT, an obvious JUSSIVE) is apparently directed at Satan's accusations (unrecorded) against Joshua, his priesthood, and his nation. Satan cannot attack what God wills and establishes (cf. Job 1-2; Jude 1:9).

“who has chosen Jerusalem” YHWH has chosen (BDB 103, KB 119, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) Jerusalem again as in the days of Moses. This statement relates to Zechariah 1:17 and Zechariah 2:12. God's renewed covenant is evidenced by:

1. YHWH's promise of restoration and prosperity for the cities of Judah (cf. Zechariah 1:17)

2. YHWH's promise of restoration to Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 2:12)

3. YHWH's refusal to condemn Joshua, but to forgive and restore the cultus

“a brand plucked from the fire” God's people had experienced God's judgment (cf. Amos 4:6-12), but now they were brought out from under God's wrath (cf. Amos 4:11).

The term “brand” (BDB 15) was possibly a curved stick used to stir the fire (cf. Isaiah 7:4).

The Hophal VERB (BDB 664-5, KB 717) has the connotation (from Hiphil form) “to rescue,” “to recover,” “to deliver from enemies,” or “to deliver from sin and guilt” (cf. Psalms 39:8; Psalms 51:14; Psalms 79:9; Psalms 119:170).

Jacobus Nande, in his article in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 1, p. 304, says, “the figure in Amos 4:11 and Zechariah 3:2 suggests that Israel as a nation had been rescued from the furnace of Babylon to become a torch to enlighten the nations.” This redemptive world-wide purpose for the Jews must be seen as the essence of God's having a chosen people (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

Zechariah 3:3 “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments” This is a Hebrew metaphor for defilement. He was the sinful representative of the chosen people (cf. Isaiah 64:6). Even the priesthood and temple were corrupt (cf. Ezekiel 8:0; Jeremiah 7:0). “Filthy” (BDB 844) refers to ceremonial pollution by human excretion (cf. Deuteronomy 23:9-14), which separated the people from their holy God.

“standing before the angel” This refers to Zechariah 3:1. Notice “the angel of the LORD” from Zechariah 3:1 is now just “the angel.” However, this angel either speaks for YHWH (cf. Zechariah 3:4, Zechariah 3:6) or this is a way of referring to the Messiah. It seems because the Messiah is referred to in v. Zechariah 3:8 that this angel speaks for YHWH. The “he” is ambiguous in Zechariah 3:4-5 and the PRONOUNS shift from third person to first person.

Zechariah 3:4 “to those who were standing before him” Who does the “him” refer to (1) the angel of the LORD or (2) the LORD? Notice there are more angelic beings present than just the angel of the Lord and Satan. This is the throne-room of heaven. There are many angelic attendants (cf. Zechariah 3:5).

“Remove the filthy garments. . .I have taken your iniquity away” This is a Hiphil IMPERATIVE (BDB 693-4, KB 747). Joshua's reproach is symbolically removed.

“See” This is a Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 906, KB 1157). This is a form of the same term used in Zechariah 1:8, Zechariah 1:18; Zechariah 2:1, Zechariah 2:9 to denote a new vision, but here the IMPERATIVE is used for emphasis. Joshua has been forgiven, recommissioned, and fully restored as priest and cultic supervisor! This new temple will be staffed!

“I have taken your iniquity away from you” This is a Hiphil form of a word (BDB 716, KB 778) which meant “to pass over” (i.e., a river) or “pass through” (i.e., a land), but it came to have the connotation of forgiveness, deliverance (cf. Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 13:2; Micah 7:18-19).

“will clothe you with festival robes” This is a Hiphil INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE. Not only is sin removed, but blessing and status are restored (cf. Luke 15:11-32). Often in the Bible clothing is used as a symbol of our spiritual life (e.g., Job 19:9; Job 29:4; Psalms 132:9, Psalms 132:16, Psalms 132:18; Isaiah 3:18-24; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 61:10). This is especially true of Paul's writing in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 6:11; Colossians 3:10, Colossians 3:12; and 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Zechariah 3:5 “Then I said” This refers to the speaker of Zechariah 3:4, but who is it? The last phrase of Zechariah 3:5 implies it was not the angel of the LORD, but the LORD. J. Baldwin (Tyndale OT commentaries, p. 114) thinks it is Zechariah (“and I said”) who blurts out the need for the complete high priestly outfit.

“clean turban” This term (BDB 857) is a cognate of the Hebrew term used in Exodus. It refers to the miter of the High Priest (cf. Exodus 28:36-39; Exodus 39:28, Exodus 39:31).

Verses 6-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 3:6-10 6And the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, saying, 7”Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here. 8Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. 9For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,' declares the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. 10In that day,' declares the LORD of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.'“

Zechariah 3:6 Notice the angel of the LORD either speaks on YHWH's behalf as the prophet does (cf. Zechariah 2:9, Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 4:9; Zechariah 6:15) or this is a Messianic reference. It is hard to decide, but I think it is YHWH Himself speaking through the angel. see Special Topic: The Angel of the Lord.

“admonished” This is a Hiphil form of the Hebrew word (BDB 729, KB 795) for “witness.” In this form BDB says it means “exhort solemnly,” “admonish,” or “charge” (cf. Exodus 19:23; 2 Kings 17:13; Nehemiah 9:29-30; Jeremiah 11:7).

This message is very important. YHWH has fully and freely forgiven Joshua and, by implication, His covenant people, but the covenant is still conditional. Forgiveness of past acts does not remove the responsibility of future obedience!

Zechariah 3:7 “If you will walk in My ways” Notice the conditional element of a daily covenant lifestyle faith (i.e., “walk,” e.g. Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 28:9). Biblical faith is a way of life, not a building, a creed, or a special event or ritual. By their fruits you will know who knows God (cf. Matthew 7:0).

The term “ways” (BDB 202) is a Hebrew idiom of lifestyle godliness (cf. Zechariah 1:6; Joshua 1:8, Joshua 1:15a; 45:13; 48:15; Jeremiah 3:21; Jeremiah 12:1; Jeremiah 23:12; Hosea 10:13; Ezekiel 7:3, Ezekiel 7:8, Ezekiel 7:9, Ezekiel 7:27; Ezekiel 14:22-23; Ezekiel 18:25, Ezekiel 18:29, Ezekiel 18:30; Ezekiel 24:14; Ezekiel 33:17, Ezekiel 33:20; Ezekiel 36:19).

“if you will perform My service” This refers to the ritual duties of the Levites and priests. The VERB (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal IMPERFECT) and DIRECT OBJECT (BDB 1038) come from the same Hebrew root. God wants covenant obedience from priests and people.

“you will govern My house” This is a Qal IMPERFECT (BDB 192, KB 220), which is used basically of the right to judge (of the Messiah in Psalms 72:2) or rule over.

“and also have charge of My courts” This is the same verb as “perform My service” and refers here to the temple (BDB 346 I).

NASB, NJB“free access” NKJV“places to walk” NRSV“the right of access” TEV“I will hear your prayers”

This phrase (BDB 237) speaks to the duty of priests to approach God on behalf of needy/sinful people. Israel was to be a kingdom of such priests (cf. Exodus 19:5-6). Joshua and his fellow priests' intimacy and immediacy with God are meant to encourage all Jews that the sacrificial system had been fully renewed. Joshua's special access was not a personal privilege, but a cultic, corporate necessity. Joshua has access to God, even as Satan has access to God; one for advocacy and one for prosecution! God will hear both sides. It is not Joshua's sinlessness that provides access, but his role as high priest for God's people.

E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, asserts that the Hebrew word is a Chaldee PARTICIPLE in the Hiphael, which means “to guide” (p. 279).

“these who are standing here This refers to the heavenly court of angels.

Zechariah 3:8 “you and your friends who are sitting in front of you” This refers to the other priests and Levites.

“symbol” This is literally “wondrous sign” (BDB 68-69). How the priests will be a symbol is not specified.

“My Servant” This is an honorific title of the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11) and also of Moses (cf. Joshua 1:1), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), David (2 Samuel 7:5), and Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23). This is possibly the background for Paul's use of “slave of Christ.”

“the Branch” This may be “sprout” (BDB 855). This is another Messianic title (see Special Topic: The Branch of the Lord. cf. Zechariah 6:12; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15). See full discussion and Special Topic: JESUS THE NAZARENE.

This title is used of Zerubbabel in Zechariah 6:12 as a symbol of the royal Davidic line. It is surprising that it is used in this context which emphasizes the priestly aspect of the Messiah. The twin aspects of redeemer (priestly, cf. Isaiah 53:0) and administrative leader (kingly, cf. Isaiah 9:6-7) are merged in the book of Zechariah (cf. chapter 4).

Zechariah 3:9 “the stone. . .one stone” The identity and purpose of this stone has caused great confusion among interpreters. Some theories are (1) that it relates to the High Priest's breastplate (cf. Exodus 28:15-20; Exodus 39:10-14), the stone for Judah; (2) that the Messiah is represented by Zerubbabel (cf. Zechariah 6:12; Haggai 2:23); (3) that it is the Messianic kingdom (cf. Daniel 2:44-45); (4) that it is a stone set in the miter worn by the High Priest (cf. Zechariah 3:5); (5) that it is building material for the temple, possibly the cornerstone or capstone (cf. Psalms 118:22-23; Isaiah 8:14-15; Isaiah 28:16); or (6) that it is another Messianic title (servant, branch, stone).

“seven eyes” This (BDB 744) refers to (1) eyes or (2) facets of a gem. This, like Zechariah 4:10 and Ezekiel 1:18, seems to be a symbol for God's knowledge. see Special Topic: Symbolic Numbers in Scripture.

“I will engrave an inscription on it” This VERB (BDB 836 II, KB 988), in Piel PARTICIPLE form, is used most often of engraving a gem. Therefore, cornerstone or capstone is only a remote possibility for the theories of meaning.

“I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” The VERB (BDB 559 I, KB 561 Qal PERFECT) is a metaphor for cleansing and forgiveness. Does this refer to Joshua's forgiveness in Zechariah 3:4? This could be an extension of his forgiveness. It may have a future reference (i.e., “in that day”) to (1) the temple being rebuilt or (2) the Messiah's coming.

This verse would remind the Jews of the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16:0), which includes rituals involving the cleansing of the High Priest himself and their rituals for the cleansing of the nation.

Zechariah 3:10 “In that day” This is a prophetic idiom (cf. Zechariah 2:11) of the coming day of judgment, forgiveness, and restoration of God's plan for all humanity. It is common in Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, and Joel. See Special Topic: That Day.

“to sit under his vine” Palestine was an agricultural society. This was a cultural idiom of family security and prosperity (cf. 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4). Also note the twin emphases of prosperity and community fellowship.

The vine here could be (1) parallel with fig tree and denote fruit or (2) a way of identifying a cool, shady place for relaxation and community fellowship.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Who was Joshua? Who is the Angel of the LORD? Who is the Branch?

2. What is the meaning of Joshua's filthy garments in Zechariah 3:3?

3. How is Zechariah 3:7 related to Zechariah 3:4?

4. What or who is the stone of Zechariah 3:9?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Zechariah 3". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/zechariah-3.html. 2021.
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