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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Zechariah 3

 

 

Verse 1

1. He showed me — Either Jehovah, who is the author of all prophetic revelation (Zechariah 1:20; Amos 7:1), or the interpreting angel, who acts as the divine agent both in presenting and in interpreting the visions; probably the latter.

Joshua — Called also Jeshua (Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:2), the son of Jehozadak (Haggai 1:1; 1 Chronicles 6:15), the grandson of Seraiah (2 Kings 25:18). He was the ecclesiastical head, while Zerubbabel was the civil ruler (Haggai 1:1).

The high priest — Joshua appears throughout the entire vision in his official capacity, not as a private individual (see introductory remarks to the vision).

Angel of Jehovah — See on Zechariah 1:11.

Standing before — For what purpose is not stated. The phrase is used in a judicial sense of a person standing before a judge, either as plaintiff or as defendant (Numbers 27:2; 1 Kings 3:16; Deuteronomy 19:17); more frequently of a servant standing before his master, to minister to his wants (Genesis 41:46; Deuteronomy 1:38); here in the judicial sense. The angel of Jehovah sits upon the judgment seat, Joshua stands before him as the accused, the adversary appears as the accuser.

Satan — Better, with margin R.V., “the Adversary”; the presence of the article indicates that the noun is not to be understood as a proper name; otherwise in 1 Chronicles 21:1 (see Introduction, p. 599; compare Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Satan”).

At his right hand — Equivalent to by his side (Compare Psalms 109:6).

To resist him — Better, R.V., “to be his adversary,”

that is, to present the accusation. The verb is derived from the same root as the noun adversary.

Since no opportunity was given to present the charges, it remains a matter of conjecture what were the indictments the adversary desired to present; and it is not strange that from the earliest rabbinical period to the present much speculation concerning this point has been indulged in. The place of Joshua in the vision as the representative of the people precludes the idea that the reference is to the removal of personal sins of the high priest, whether moral or ceremonial. The question, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” also would seem to indicate that it is the people against which the adversary appears. It seems more satisfactory, therefore, to think that the sins against which complaint is made are the sins of the people, which the high priest bears as the representative and mediator of the people. That corruption was not entirely wiped out by the exile is made clear in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. The adversary was anxious to make prominent the shortcomings which remained, in order to bring about the destruction of the people; but the gracious purpose of Jehovah provided a way of escape. Nowack’s contention, that there was no ground for the accusation, is contrary to the facts, as stated by the postexilic prophets.


Verses 1-10

The fourth vision — the trial and acquittal of the high priest Joshua , 1-10.

In the fourth vision Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of Jehovah; at his right hand is the adversary, ready to bring accusations against him; but before he can open his mouth he is severely rebuked (1, 2). At the command of the angel the servants take from Joshua his filthy garments and clothe him in the rich garments of the high-priestly office, including the miter (3-5). Whereupon the angel instructs Joshua in the duties and responsibilities of the office to which he is restored; Joshua is promised access to the Most High if he will properly discharge his duties (6, 7); he and his fellows are proclaimed a sign of the coming of “Branch,” who will remove iniquity from the land in one day, and restore peace and prosperity forever (8-10).

The first, second, and third visions deal with the judgment upon the nations, the restoration from exile, the rebuilding of the city and temple, and the expansion of the new community to the four corners of the earth. To make possible permanent peace and harmony between the people and their God there is needed, in addition to all these things, a moral and spiritual regeneration. This regeneration is symbolized by the fourth vision. Primarily the vision concerns the religious leader, the high priest; his sin is washed away (4), and he is restored to intimate fellowship with Jehovah. But these experiences come to him, in the vision, not as an individual, but as the representative of the people. Whatever befalls him affects the whole people. His cleansing symbolizes the cleansing of the people; his restoration to fellowship with Jehovah symbolizes the restoration of the people to fellowship with their God, which needed to be accomplished if the new community was to become in truth the people of Jehovah. Because the cleansing of the high priest symbolizes this regeneration, he can become a sign of the coming of “Branch,” who will complete the task and become the ruler of the regenerated community.


Verses 2-4

2. Permission is denied to the adversary to present his charges.

Jehovah — Identical with “angel of Jehovah” in Zechariah 3:1 (see on Zechariah 1:11).

Satan — As in Zechariah 3:1.

Rebuke thee — Reprove, put to silence (Jeremiah 29:27). The sentence is repeated for the sake of emphasis, and to permit the addition of a clause explaining why Jehovah must rebuke the adversary.

Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem — The adversary was seeking to persuade Jehovah to cast off Judah and Jerusalem; it cannot be done, for Jehovah has made his choice (compare Zechariah 1:17; Zechariah 2:12), which must stand. True, the sins of the people prevent a close union between them and Jehovah, but these sins he can remove.

Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? — Not Joshua, but the people represented by Joshua, their high priest. The fire is the exile (compare Amos 4:11); from it Jehovah has restored his people; surely he will not leave his work incomplete; he cannot permit the adversary to bring to naught his own gracious purpose.

Zechariah 3:3 ff. show what Jehovah is determined to do with the sins that form the basis of the adversary’s accusation.

Filthy garments — There is no allusion here to the custom, described by Livy, of accused persons wearing sordid garments during their trial. The filthy garments are a symbol of sin, of moral uncleanness (Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 64:6); as already said, not of the personal sins of the high priest but of the sins of the people. “A nation so guilty… could no longer be the holy and priestly nation; its priests could no longer be priests; nor its high priest be high priest any more.” If the sin could be removed the community need not be cast off; once more it might be called “an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” This Jehovah proceeds to do. He answered —The angel. For answer see on Zechariah 1:10.

Those that stood before him — The servants; they are ordered to remove the filthy garments. Then the angel turns to Joshua and explains to him the significance of the proceeding; it symbolizes the removal of his sin, or, better, the people’s sin. At the same time he issues orders to substitute clean garments for those that have been discarded.

I will clothe — Should be translated as an imperative (G.-K., 113z; so LXX.), “clothe,” which is co-ordinate with “take away.” The carrying out of the command is recorded in Zechariah 3:5, “they clothed him.”

Change of raiment — R.V., “rich apparel.” A word found again only in Isaiah 3:22, where R.V. translates “festival robes”; not necessarily costly and magnificent, but fresh and clean garments; the putting on of these completes the process of purification.


Verse 5

5. And I said — If the present Hebrew text is original, the prophet must be the speaker. He has been an interested bystander; now he can contain himself no longer, and he prays that the diadem be restored to the high priest. LXX. omits these words and continues with the imperative, “set,” which is co-ordinated to “take away” and “clothe” in Zechariah 3:4. LXX. presents the smoother reading and may be original.

Set a fair [“clean”] miter upon his head — The miter completes the high-priestly dress; its restoration will prepare Joshua to act again as the mediator between God and the people; therefore the placing of the miter upon the head completes the transaction begun by the removing of the filthy garments. The people are not only cleansed, but fellowship and communion with Jehovah is re-established. The word translated “miter” is not identical with the one used in Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:36-38, but it undoubtedly refers to the same thing.

The command of the angel was executed, Joshua was clothed with clean garments, and the miter was placed upon his head.

The angel of Jehovah stood by — Superintending the proceedings and by his presence giving to them his approval. Some commentators combine the last clause of Zechariah 3:5 with Zechariah 3:6 and read the two, “And the angel of Jehovah rose and protested unto Joshua,” which is smoother; but is there sufficient justification for the change?


Verses 6-10

In Zechariah 3:6-10 is contained the address which the angel of Jehovah makes to Joshua — again not as a private individual but as the representative of the people — concerning his duties and privileges; at the same time he points to the coming of one who will completely remove sin from the land, and restore permanent peace and prosperity.

Protested — Affirmed solemnly and earnestly (Genesis 43:3; Jeremiah 11:7, where the same word is used).

Walk in my ways — The ways pointed out by Jehovah; in other words, if the conduct is in accord with the principles of Jehovah’s righteousness.

Keep my charge — The high-priestly office. The first refers primarily to uprightness in the private life, the second to the faithful performance of official duties.

Thou shalt also judge my house — With these words begins the apodosis. Commentators are not agreed on the interpretation of this clause. Some hold that house is used metaphorically for people (compare Hosea 8:1; Hosea 9:15), and that the promise means that the high priest will be the sole head of the community; he will take upon himself even those duties which in pre-exilic times were discharged by the king, and at present by Zerubbabel. A modified form of this interpretation understands the promise to imply only that the high priest is to “direct the people in all things respecting the law of God, and especially to judge those who ministered in the sanctuary.” If house is taken to mean people there is no justification for limiting the high priest’s authority to things religious. Others understand my house to refer to the temple, soon to be completed; in it the high priest will be supreme. In view of the fact that Zechariah gives such prominent place to Zerubbabel, and so to the family of David, it is not likely that he expected the supreme authority in secular affairs to pass entirely into the hands of Joshua or his descendants; therefore the second interpretation is to be preferred (see closing remarks on Zechariah 3:7). The next clause speaks of the performance of the common priestly duties.

Keep my courts — Perform properly the priestly duties, and keep out of the temple everything that is idolatrous and unclean.

I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by — R.V., “a place of access.” Another difficult clause. The meaning of the expression translated “place of access” or “places to walk” is uncertain. Some consider the Hebrew word an Aramaic form of the Hiphil participle of the verb to walk, with the transitive meaning leaders or the intransitive meaning walkers. This formation of the verb is found only in the Aramaic portions of Daniel (Daniel 3:25; Daniel 4:34), never in Hebrew; but if it is assumed here the transitive meaning is to be preferred. With this translation the promise means that Jehovah will provide for Joshua leaders or guards, who will protect and defend him from all dangers. These leaders are to be among these that stand by, that is, the angels. In this case out of or from among instead of among would be more suitable. This peculiarity creates a suspicion concerning the correctness of the translation and interpretation; besides, the promise seems to be vague and indefinite. It is preferable, therefore, to take the word as the plural of a noun meaning walk or place of access, the plural being used to express the thought that the high priest may come again and again. Joshua is to be permitted to walk among the heavenly host and thus to have free access to the throne of God, and this privilege is to be enjoyed not only after the resurrection (Targum), but in this life, whenever the high priest desires to bring his petitions and requests for the community to the throne of God.

In connection with these promises it should never be overlooked that they are made to the high priest as the representative of the people. Whatever is promised to him symbolizes a similar promise to the whole people, though it is also true that when the people are restored to fellowship with Jehovah the office of the high priest will be clothed with new splendor.

Zechariah 3:8-9 contain a more remarkable promise.

Hear — Addressed to the high priest alone. The address itself begins with “thou and thy fellows.”

Thy fellows that sit before thee — Not now, while Joshua is in the presence of the angel, but in the gatherings of the priests (compare 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 6:1). These words form the subject, what follows is the predicate, a fact which is obscured in the English translation.

For — Hebrews ki does not introduce a causal clause, but should be rendered “indeed,” “truly” (G.-K., 148d).

They are men wondered at — R.V., “they are men that are a sign”; literally men of sign are they. A better rendering of the whole sentence would be, “thou and thy fellows that sit before thee are truly men of sign,” that is, men who in their persons and office foreshadow some future event. The event foreshadowed in this case is immediately stated.

I will bring forth — Better, I am about to bring forth; in the near future.

My servant — Any individual or group of individuals commissioned to carry out the divine purpose may be called Jehovah’s servant. In this sense the title is applied to the prophets (2 Kings 9:7; Isaiah 20:3), to the Messianic king (Haggai 2:23), to Israel as the Messianic nation (Isaiah 40-53), etc.

The Branch — In Hebrew without the article, “Branch”; margin, “Shoot,” or “Sprout,”

which shows that the word is to be understood as a proper name (compare Zechariah 6:12). The title is derived from such passages as Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15. In Isaiah 11:1, a different word is used; compare also Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24. It is a shoot that will sprout from the ruined dynasty of David; and Zechariah 6:12-13 (compare Zechariah 4:9), shows that the prophet has in mind Zerubbabel.

Zechariah 3:9 makes it clear that Zechariah expected the kingdom of God to be established and the Messianic king to appear in the near future, but in details the verse is exceedingly obscure.

For — Connects Zechariah 3:9 with Zechariah 3:8, especially with the verb “I am about to bring forth”; it introduces a statement which indicates that the fullness of time is at hand.

The stone that I have laid before Joshua — The words appear to be addressed to the high priest; therefore before Joshua is equivalent to before thee. Joshua is urged to look upon the stone that is already prepared. What is the stone? Many answers have been given to this question. Some say the foundation stone of the temple; some, the top stone (Zechariah 4:7); some, the precious stone adorning the high priest’s breastplate; some, the Messiah, some, an altar or a substitute for the ark as an instrument of propitiation; some, the temple itself; some, the people of Israel as the foundation of the new order of things; some, “the kingdom or people of God, outwardly insignificant when compared with the great mountain (Zechariah 4:7), which symbolizes the power of the world.” These are the most important interpretations suggested; all are more or less doubtful, probably not one offers the right interpretation. Standing by itself or in some other connection the word might, perhaps, mean any one of these, but in the present connection they are not suitable. The interpretation that fits most perfectly in the context is one first suggested by Wellhausen, who sees in the stone the precious stone for the diadem of “Branch,” who is the Messianic king (compare Zechariah 6:9 ff.). It is already placed before the high priest, ready for use when “Branch” appears, which may be at any time.

Upon one stone shall be seven eyes — A kind of parenthetical clause, describing the stone more fully. The numeral one is used to emphasize the peculiarity, equivalent to upon this single stone. If the above interpretation is correct, the eyes are the facets of the precious stone, which sparkle like eyes; seven might be understood literally, or, as in other passages, to indicate a “moderately large number” (Isaiah 4:1), so that the thought would be simply that it was completely covered with eyes.

I will — Or, I am about to.

Engrave the graving thereof — What the inscription will be is not stated, probably the name of “Branch,” that is, Zerubbabel (Zechariah 6:9 ff.; Haggai 2:23). With this interpretation the connection between Zechariah 3:8 and Zechariah 3:9 becomes natural and complete.

The first result of the dawn of the Messianic age will be the complete removal of iniquity, the beginning of which is symbolized by the cleansing of the high priest (see on Zechariah 3:1).

That land — Better, this land, that is, Judah, now not limited to the old territory, but extending in all directions (Zechariah 2:11).

In one day — That is, speedily. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews identifies this one day with the day on which Jesus was crucified (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 10:10). 10. With the Messianic king on the throne and all iniquity removed, an era of peace and prosperity will commence. For the picture see on Joel 1:12; compare Micah 4:4.

Call — R.V., “invite”; to share the comforts.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/zechariah-3.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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