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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Zechariah 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

Zechariah

A VISION OF JUDGEMENT AND CLEANSING

Zechariah 3:1 - Zechariah 3:10.

Zechariah worked side by side with Haggai to quicken the religious life of the people, and thus to remove the gravest hindrances to the work of rebuilding the Temple. Inward indifference, not outward opposition, is the real reason for slow progress in God’s work, and prophets who see visions and preach repentance are the true practical men.

This vision followed Haggai’s prophecy at the interval of a month. It falls into two parts-a symbolical vision and a series of promises founded on it.

I. The Symbolical Vision [Zechariah 3:1 - Zechariah 3:5].

The scene of the vision is left undetermined, and the absence of any designation of locality gives the picture the sublimity of indefiniteness. Three figures, seen he knows not where, stand clear before the Prophet’s inward eye. They were shown him by an unnamed person, who is evidently Jehovah Himself. The real and the ideal are marvellously mingled in the conception of Joshua the high priest-the man whom the people saw every day going about Jerusalem-standing at the bar of God, with Satan as his accuser. The trial is in process when the Prophet is permitted to see. We do not hear the pleadings on either side, but the sentence is solemnly recorded. The accusations are dismissed, their bringer rebuked, and in token of acquittal, the filthy garments which the accused had worn are changed for the full festal attire of the high priest.

What, then, is the meaning of this grand symbolism? The first point to keep well in view is the representative character of the high priest. He appears as laden not with individual but national sins. In him Israel is, as it were, concentrated, and what befalls him is the image of what befalls the nation. His dirty dress is the familiar symbol of sin; and he wears it, just as he wore his sacerdotal dress, in his official capacity, as the embodied nation. He stands before the judgment seat, bearing not his own but the people’s sins.

Two great truths are thereby taught, which are as true to-day as ever. The first is that representation is essential to priesthood. It was so in shadowy and external fashion in Israel; it is so in deepest and most blessed reality in Christ’s priesthood. He stands before God as our representative-’And the Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us all.’ If by faith we unite ourselves with Him, there ensues a wondrous transference of characteristics, so that our sin becomes His, and His righteousness becomes ours; and that in no mere artificial or forensic sense, but in inmost reality. Theologians talk of a communicatio idiomatum as between the human and the divine elements in Christ. There is an analogous passage of the attributes of either to the other, in the relation of the believer to his Saviour.

The second thought in this symbolic appearance of Joshua before the angel of the Lord is that the sins of God’s people are even now present before His perfect judgment, as reasons for withdrawing from them His favour. That is a solemn truth, which should never be forgotten. A Christian man’s sins do accuse him at the bar of God. They are all visible there; and so far as their tendency goes, they are like wedges driven in to rend him from God.

But the second figure in the vision is ‘the Satan,’ standing in the plaintiff’s place at the Judge’s right hand, to accuse Joshua. The Old Testament teaching as to the evil spirit who ‘accuses’ good men is not so developed as that of the New, which is quite natural, inasmuch as the shadow of bright light is deeper than that of faint rays. It is most full in the latest books, as here and in Job; but doctrinal inferences drawn from such highly imaginative symbolism as this are precarious. No one who accepts the authority of our Lord can well deny the existence and activity of a malignant spirit, who would fain make the most of men’s sins, and use them as a means of separating their doers from God. That is the conception here.

But the main stress of the vision lies, not on the accuser or his accusation, but on the Judge’s sentence, which alone is recorded. ‘The Angel of the Lord’ is named in Zechariah 3:1 as the Judge, while the sentence in Zechariah 3:2 is spoken by ‘the Lord.’ It would lead us far away from our purpose to inquire whether that Angel of the Lord is an earlier manifestation of the eternal Son, who afterwards became flesh-a kind of preluding or rehearsing of the Incarnation. But in any case, God so dwells in Him as that what the Angel says God says and the speaker varies as in our text. The accuser is rebuked, and God’s rebuke is not a mere word, but brings with it punishment. The malicious accusations have failed, and their aim is to be gathered from the language which announces their miscarriage. Obviously Satan sought to procure the withdrawal of divine favour from Joshua, because of his sin; that is, to depose the nation from its place as the covenant people, because of its transgressions of the covenant. Satan here represents what might otherwise have been called, in theological language, ‘the demands of justice.’ The answer given him is deeply instructive as to the grounds of the divine forbearance.

Note that Joshua’s guilt as the representative of the people is not denied, but tacitly admitted and actually spoken of in Zechariah 3:4. Why, then, does not the accuser have his way? For two reasons. God has chosen Jerusalem. His great purpose, the fruit of His undeserved mercy, is not to be turned aside by man’s sins. The thought is the same as that of Jeremiah: ‘If heaven above can be measured . . . then I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done’ [Jeremiah 31:37]. Again, the fact that Joshua was ‘a brand plucked from the burning’-that is, that the people whom he represented had been brought unconsumed from the furnace of captivity-is a reason with God for continuing to extend His favour, though they have sinned. God’s past mercies are a motive with him. Creatural love is limited, and too often says, ‘I have forgiven so often, that I am wearied, and can do it no more.’ He has, therefore he will. We often come to the end of our long-suffering a good many times short of the four hundred and ninety a day which Christ prescribes. But God never does. True, Joshua and his people have sinned, and that since their restoration, and Satan had a good argument in pointing to these transgressions; but God does not say, ‘I will put back the half-burned brand in the fire again, since the evil is not burned out of it,’ but forgives again, because He has forgiven before.

The sentence is followed by the exchange of the filthy garments symbolical of sin, for the full array of the high priest. Ministering angels are dimly seen in the background, and are summoned to unclothe and clothe Joshua. The Prophet ventures to ask that the sacerdotal attire should be completed by the turban or mitre, probably that headdress which bore the significant writing ‘Holiness to the Lord,’ expressive of the destination of Israel and of its ceremonial cleanness. The meaning of this change of clothing is given in Zechariah 3:4 : ‘I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee.’ Thus the complete restoration of the pardoned and cleansed nation to its place as a nation of priests to Jehovah is symbolised. To us the gospel of forgiveness fills up the outline in the vision; and we know how, when sin testifies against us, we have an Advocate with the Father, and how the infinite love flows out to us notwithstanding all sin, and how the stained garment of our souls can be stripped off, and the ‘fine linen clean and white,’ the priestly dress on the day of atonement, be put on us, and we be made priests unto God.

II. The remainder of the vision is the address of the Angel of the Lord to Joshua, developing the blessings now made sure to him and his people by this renewed consecration and cleansing.

First [Zechariah 3:7] is the promise of continuance in office and access to God’s presence, which, however, are contingent on obedience. The forgiven man must keep God’s charge, if he is to retain his standing. On that condition, he has ‘a place of access among those that stand by’; that is, the privilege of approach to God, like the attendant angels. This promise may be taken as surpassing the prerogatives hitherto accorded to the high priest, who had only the right of entrance into the holiest place once a year, but now is promised the entrée to the heavenly court, as if he were one of the bright spirits who stand there. They who have access with confidence within the veil because Christ is there, have more than the ancient promise of this vision.

The main point of Zechariah 3:8 is the promise of the Messiah, but the former part of the verse is remarkable. Joshua and his fellows are summoned to listen, ‘for they are men which are a sign.’ The meaning seems to be that he and his brethren who sat as his assessors in official functions, are collectively a sign or embodied prophecy of what is to come. Their restoration to their offices was a shadowy prophecy of a greater act of forgiving grace, which was to be effected by the coming of the Messiah.

The name ‘Branch’ is used here as a proper name. Jeremiah [Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15] had already employed it as a designation of Messiah, which he had apparently learned from Isaiah 4:2. The idea of the word is that of the similar names used by Isaiah, ‘a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a Branch out of his roots’ [Isaiah 11:1], and ‘a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground’ [Isaiah 53:2]; namely, that of his origin from the fallen house of David, and the lowliness of his appearance.

The Messiah is again meant by the ‘stone’ in Zechariah 3:9. Probably there was some great stone taken from the ruins, to which the symbol attaches itself. The foundation of the second Temple had been laid years before the prophecy, but the stone may still have been visible. The Rabbis have much to say about a great stone which had been in the first Temple, and there used for the support of the ark, but in the second was set in the empty place where the ark should have been. Isaiah had prophesied of the ‘tried corner-stone’ laid in Zion, and Psalms 118:22 had sung of the stone rejected and made the head of the corner. We go in the track, then, of established usage, when we see in this stone the emblem of Messiah, and associate with it all thoughts of firmness, preciousness, support, foundation of the true Temple, basis of hope, ground of certitude, and whatever other substratum of fixity and immovableness men’s hearts or lives need. In all possible aspects of the metaphor, Jesus is the Foundation.

And what are the ‘seven eyes on the stone’? That may simply be a vivid way of saying that the fulness of divine Providence would watch over the Messiah, bringing Him when the time was ripe, and fitting Him for His work. But if we remember the subsequent explanation [Zechariah 4:10] of the ‘seven,’ as ‘the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth,’ and connect this with Revelation 5:6, we can scarcely rest content with that meaning, but find here the deeper thought that the fulness of the divine Spirit was given to Messiah, even as Isaiah 11:2 prophesies of the sevenfold Spirit.

‘I will engrave the graving thereof’ is somewhat obscure. It seems to mean that the seven eyes will be cut on the stone, like masons’ marks. If the seven eyes are the full energies of the Holy Spirit, God’s cutting of them on the stone is equivalent to His giving them to His Son; and the fulfilment of the promise was when He gave the Holy Spirit not ‘by measure unto Him.’

The blessed purpose of Messiah’s coming and endowment with the Spirit is gloriously stated in the last clause of Zechariah 3:9 : ‘I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.’ Jesus Christ has ‘once for all’ made atonement, as the Epistle to the Hebrews so often says. The better Joshua by one offering has taken away sin. ‘The breadth of Thy land, O Immanuel,’ stretched far beyond the narrow bounds which Zechariah knew for Israel’s territory. It includes the whole world. As has been beautifully said, ‘That one day is the day of Golgotha.’

The vision closes with a picture of the felicity of Messianic times, which recalls the description of the golden age of Solomon, when ‘Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree’ [1 Kings 4:25]. In like manner the nation, cleansed, restored to its priestly privilege of free access to God by the Messiah who comes with the fulness of the Spirit, shall dwell in safety, and shall be knit together by friendship, and unenvyingly shall each share his good with all others, recognising in every man a neighbour, and gladly welcoming him to partake of all the blessings which the true Solomon has brought to his house and heart.


Verse 7

Zechariah

A VISION OF JUDGEMENT AND CLEANSING

THE RIGHT OF ENTRY

Zechariah 3:7.

A WORD or two of explanation will probably be necessary in order to see the full meaning of this great promise. The Prophet has just been describing a vision of judgment which he saw, 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, his foul raiment stripped off him, 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, in highly figurative fashion, is that of free and unrestrained 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, first, 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 so in old days-to have the right of entrée, at all moments and in all circumstances, to the monarch. With regard to the latter, the prerogative of the high priest, who was 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, who with one pair of wings veiled their faces in token of the incapacity of the creature to behold the Creator; ‘with twain veiled their feet’ in token of the unworthiness of creatural activities to be set before Him, ‘and with twain did fly’ in token of their willingness to serve Him with all their energies. 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. We may live with God, and in Him, and wrap a veil and ‘privacy of glorious light’ about us, whilst we pilgrim upon earth, and may have hidden lives which, notwithstanding all their surface occupation with the distractions and duties and enjoyments of the present, deep down in their centres are knit to God. Our lives may on the outside thus be largely amongst the things seen and temporal, and yet all the while may penetrate through these, and lay hold with their true roots on the eternal. If we have any religious life at all, the measure in which we possess it is the measure in which we may ever more dwell in the house of the Lord, and have our hearts in the secret place of the Most High, amid the stillnesses and the sanctities of His immediate dwelling.

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.’ Thus we, too, may have ‘a place of access among them that stand by,’ and not need to envy the angels and the spirits of the just made perfect, the closeness of their communion, and the vividness of their vision, for the same, in its degree, may be ours. We, too, can turn all our desires into petitions, and of every wish make a prayer. We, too can refer all our needs to His infinite supply. We, too may consciously connect all our doings with His will and His glory; and for us it is possible that there shall be, as if borne on those electric wires that go striding across pathless deserts, and carry their messages through unpeopled solitudes, between Him and us a communication unbroken and continuous, which, by a greater wonder than even that of the telegraph, shall carry two messages, going opposite ways simultaneously, bearing to Him the swift aspirations and supplications of our spirits, and bringing to us the abundant answer of His grace. Such a conversation in heaven, and such association with the bands of the blessed is possible even for a life upon earth.

Secondly, let us consider this promise as a pattern for us of what Christian life should be, and, alas! so seldom is.

All privilege is duty, and everything that is possible for any Christian man to become, it is imperative on him to aim at. 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 subject who never presented himself in the court to which he had the right of free entr饿 His absence would be a mark of disloyalty, and would be taken as a warning-bell in preparation for his rebellion. 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 a 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?’ I think we shall need little else, in the nature of evidence, that our piety and our religious experience are terribly stunted and dwarfed, in comparison with what they ought to be.

There is an old saying, ‘He that can tell how often he has thought of God in a day has thought of Him too seldom.’ I dare say many of us would have little difficulty in counting on the fingers of one hand, and perhaps not needing them all, the number of times in which, to-day, our thoughts have gone heavenwards. What we may be is what we ought to be, and not to use the prerogatives of our position is the worst of sins.

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 to-day. But still there is a truth in the interpretation which we need not neglect. Only let us remember that nothing-so far as Scripture teaches us-begins yonder except the full reaping of the fruits of what has been sown here, and that if a man’s feet have not learned the path into the Temple when he was here upon earth, death will not be the guide for him into the Father’s presence. 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?

‘Ye are come’-even here on earth-’to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born,’ but for us all there may be the quiet hope that hereafter we shall ‘dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’; and ‘in solemn troops and sweet societies’ shall learn what fellowship, and brotherhood, and human love may be.

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.’ That is to say, you cannot keep the consciousness of God’s presence, nor have any blessedness of communion with Him, if you are living in disobedience of His commandments or in neglect of manifest duty. A thin film of vapour in our sky tonight will hide the moon. Though the vapour itself may be invisible, it will be efficacious as a veil. And any sin, great or small, fleecy and thin, will suffice to shut me out from God. 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, were put upon him. It is the cleansed man that has access among ‘those that stand by.’ And if you ask how the cleansing is to be effected, take the great words of the Epistle to the Hebrews as an all-sufficient answer, coinciding with, but transcending, what this vision taught Zechariah: ‘Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest of all, by the blood of Jesus, . . . and having a High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.’ Cleansed by Christ, and with Him for our Forerunner, we have boldness and ‘access with confidence by the faith of Him,’ who proclaims to the whole world, ‘No man cometh to the Father but by Me.’


Verses 8-10

Zechariah

A VISION OF JUDGEMENT AND CLEANSING

Zechariah 3:1 - Zechariah 3:10.

Zechariah worked side by side with Haggai to quicken the religious life of the people, and thus to remove the gravest hindrances to the work of rebuilding the Temple. Inward indifference, not outward opposition, is the real reason for slow progress in God’s work, and prophets who see visions and preach repentance are the true practical men.

This vision followed Haggai’s prophecy at the interval of a month. It falls into two parts-a symbolical vision and a series of promises founded on it.

I. The Symbolical Vision [Zechariah 3:1 - Zechariah 3:5].

The scene of the vision is left undetermined, and the absence of any designation of locality gives the picture the sublimity of indefiniteness. Three figures, seen he knows not where, stand clear before the Prophet’s inward eye. They were shown him by an unnamed person, who is evidently Jehovah Himself. The real and the ideal are marvellously mingled in the conception of Joshua the high priest-the man whom the people saw every day going about Jerusalem-standing at the bar of God, with Satan as his accuser. The trial is in process when the Prophet is permitted to see. We do not hear the pleadings on either side, but the sentence is solemnly recorded. The accusations are dismissed, their bringer rebuked, and in token of acquittal, the filthy garments which the accused had worn are changed for the full festal attire of the high priest.

What, then, is the meaning of this grand symbolism? The first point to keep well in view is the representative character of the high priest. He appears as laden not with individual but national sins. In him Israel is, as it were, concentrated, and what befalls him is the image of what befalls the nation. His dirty dress is the familiar symbol of sin; and he wears it, just as he wore his sacerdotal dress, in his official capacity, as the embodied nation. He stands before the judgment seat, bearing not his own but the people’s sins.

Two great truths are thereby taught, which are as true to-day as ever. The first is that representation is essential to priesthood. It was so in shadowy and external fashion in Israel; it is so in deepest and most blessed reality in Christ’s priesthood. He stands before God as our representative-’And the Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us all.’ If by faith we unite ourselves with Him, there ensues a wondrous transference of characteristics, so that our sin becomes His, and His righteousness becomes ours; and that in no mere artificial or forensic sense, but in inmost reality. Theologians talk of a communicatio idiomatum as between the human and the divine elements in Christ. There is an analogous passage of the attributes of either to the other, in the relation of the believer to his Saviour.

The second thought in this symbolic appearance of Joshua before the angel of the Lord is that the sins of God’s people are even now present before His perfect judgment, as reasons for withdrawing from them His favour. That is a solemn truth, which should never be forgotten. A Christian man’s sins do accuse him at the bar of God. They are all visible there; and so far as their tendency goes, they are like wedges driven in to rend him from God.

But the second figure in the vision is ‘the Satan,’ standing in the plaintiff’s place at the Judge’s right hand, to accuse Joshua. The Old Testament teaching as to the evil spirit who ‘accuses’ good men is not so developed as that of the New, which is quite natural, inasmuch as the shadow of bright light is deeper than that of faint rays. It is most full in the latest books, as here and in Job; but doctrinal inferences drawn from such highly imaginative symbolism as this are precarious. No one who accepts the authority of our Lord can well deny the existence and activity of a malignant spirit, who would fain make the most of men’s sins, and use them as a means of separating their doers from God. That is the conception here.

But the main stress of the vision lies, not on the accuser or his accusation, but on the Judge’s sentence, which alone is recorded. ‘The Angel of the Lord’ is named in Zechariah 3:1 as the Judge, while the sentence in Zechariah 3:2 is spoken by ‘the Lord.’ It would lead us far away from our purpose to inquire whether that Angel of the Lord is an earlier manifestation of the eternal Son, who afterwards became flesh-a kind of preluding or rehearsing of the Incarnation. But in any case, God so dwells in Him as that what the Angel says God says and the speaker varies as in our text. The accuser is rebuked, and God’s rebuke is not a mere word, but brings with it punishment. The malicious accusations have failed, and their aim is to be gathered from the language which announces their miscarriage. Obviously Satan sought to procure the withdrawal of divine favour from Joshua, because of his sin; that is, to depose the nation from its place as the covenant people, because of its transgressions of the covenant. Satan here represents what might otherwise have been called, in theological language, ‘the demands of justice.’ The answer given him is deeply instructive as to the grounds of the divine forbearance.

Note that Joshua’s guilt as the representative of the people is not denied, but tacitly admitted and actually spoken of in Zechariah 3:4. Why, then, does not the accuser have his way? For two reasons. God has chosen Jerusalem. His great purpose, the fruit of His undeserved mercy, is not to be turned aside by man’s sins. The thought is the same as that of Jeremiah: ‘If heaven above can be measured . . . then I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done’ [Jeremiah 31:37]. Again, the fact that Joshua was ‘a brand plucked from the burning’-that is, that the people whom he represented had been brought unconsumed from the furnace of captivity-is a reason with God for continuing to extend His favour, though they have sinned. God’s past mercies are a motive with him. Creatural love is limited, and too often says, ‘I have forgiven so often, that I am wearied, and can do it no more.’ He has, therefore he will. We often come to the end of our long-suffering a good many times short of the four hundred and ninety a day which Christ prescribes. But God never does. True, Joshua and his people have sinned, and that since their restoration, and Satan had a good argument in pointing to these transgressions; but God does not say, ‘I will put back the half-burned brand in the fire again, since the evil is not burned out of it,’ but forgives again, because He has forgiven before.

The sentence is followed by the exchange of the filthy garments symbolical of sin, for the full array of the high priest. Ministering angels are dimly seen in the background, and are summoned to unclothe and clothe Joshua. The Prophet ventures to ask that the sacerdotal attire should be completed by the turban or mitre, probably that headdress which bore the significant writing ‘Holiness to the Lord,’ expressive of the destination of Israel and of its ceremonial cleanness. The meaning of this change of clothing is given in Zechariah 3:4 : ‘I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee.’ Thus the complete restoration of the pardoned and cleansed nation to its place as a nation of priests to Jehovah is symbolised. To us the gospel of forgiveness fills up the outline in the vision; and we know how, when sin testifies against us, we have an Advocate with the Father, and how the infinite love flows out to us notwithstanding all sin, and how the stained garment of our souls can be stripped off, and the ‘fine linen clean and white,’ the priestly dress on the day of atonement, be put on us, and we be made priests unto God.

II. The remainder of the vision is the address of the Angel of the Lord to Joshua, developing the blessings now made sure to him and his people by this renewed consecration and cleansing.

First [Zechariah 3:7] is the promise of continuance in office and access to God’s presence, which, however, are contingent on obedience. The forgiven man must keep God’s charge, if he is to retain his standing. On that condition, he has ‘a place of access among those that stand by’; that is, the privilege of approach to God, like the attendant angels. This promise may be taken as surpassing the prerogatives hitherto accorded to the high priest, who had only the right of entrance into the holiest place once a year, but now is promised the entrée to the heavenly court, as if he were one of the bright spirits who stand there. They who have access with confidence within the veil because Christ is there, have more than the ancient promise of this vision.

The main point of Zechariah 3:8 is the promise of the Messiah, but the former part of the verse is remarkable. Joshua and his fellows are summoned to listen, ‘for they are men which are a sign.’ The meaning seems to be that he and his brethren who sat as his assessors in official functions, are collectively a sign or embodied prophecy of what is to come. Their restoration to their offices was a shadowy prophecy of a greater act of forgiving grace, which was to be effected by the coming of the Messiah.

The name ‘Branch’ is used here as a proper name. Jeremiah [Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15] had already employed it as a designation of Messiah, which he had apparently learned from Isaiah 4:2. The idea of the word is that of the similar names used by Isaiah, ‘a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a Branch out of his roots’ [Isaiah 11:1], and ‘a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground’ [Isaiah 53:2]; namely, that of his origin from the fallen house of David, and the lowliness of his appearance.

The Messiah is again meant by the ‘stone’ in Zechariah 3:9. Probably there was some great stone taken from the ruins, to which the symbol attaches itself. The foundation of the second Temple had been laid years before the prophecy, but the stone may still have been visible. The Rabbis have much to say about a great stone which had been in the first Temple, and there used for the support of the ark, but in the second was set in the empty place where the ark should have been. Isaiah had prophesied of the ‘tried corner-stone’ laid in Zion, and Psalms 118:22 had sung of the stone rejected and made the head of the corner. We go in the track, then, of established usage, when we see in this stone the emblem of Messiah, and associate with it all thoughts of firmness, preciousness, support, foundation of the true Temple, basis of hope, ground of certitude, and whatever other substratum of fixity and immovableness men’s hearts or lives need. In all possible aspects of the metaphor, Jesus is the Foundation.

And what are the ‘seven eyes on the stone’? That may simply be a vivid way of saying that the fulness of divine Providence would watch over the Messiah, bringing Him when the time was ripe, and fitting Him for His work. But if we remember the subsequent explanation [Zechariah 4:10] of the ‘seven,’ as ‘the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth,’ and connect this with Revelation 5:6, we can scarcely rest content with that meaning, but find here the deeper thought that the fulness of the divine Spirit was given to Messiah, even as Isaiah 11:2 prophesies of the sevenfold Spirit.

‘I will engrave the graving thereof’ is somewhat obscure. It seems to mean that the seven eyes will be cut on the stone, like masons’ marks. If the seven eyes are the full energies of the Holy Spirit, God’s cutting of them on the stone is equivalent to His giving them to His Son; and the fulfilment of the promise was when He gave the Holy Spirit not ‘by measure unto Him.’

The blessed purpose of Messiah’s coming and endowment with the Spirit is gloriously stated in the last clause of Zechariah 3:9 : ‘I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.’ Jesus Christ has ‘once for all’ made atonement, as the Epistle to the Hebrews so often says. The better Joshua by one offering has taken away sin. ‘The breadth of Thy land, O Immanuel,’ stretched far beyond the narrow bounds which Zechariah knew for Israel’s territory. It includes the whole world. As has been beautifully said, ‘That one day is the day of Golgotha.’

The vision closes with a picture of the felicity of Messianic times, which recalls the description of the golden age of Solomon, when ‘Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree’ [1 Kings 4:25]. In like manner the nation, cleansed, restored to its priestly privilege of free access to God by the Messiah who comes with the fulness of the Spirit, shall dwell in safety, and shall be knit together by friendship, and unenvyingly shall each share his good with all others, recognising in every man a neighbour, and gladly welcoming him to partake of all the blessings which the true Solomon has brought to his house and heart.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Zechariah 3:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/zechariah-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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