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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 3



Verses 1-10

The Fourth Vision. The Heavenly Court - The High Priesthood Is Restored. God’s People in the Person of Their Representative High Priest Are Fitted for the Accomplishment of His Purposes (Zechariah 3:1-10).

God’s plan of restoration continues with the vindication of God’s High Priest (Zechariah 3:5) and the promise of the coming of the Branch (Zechariah 3:8-9), which will lead on to the final restoration (Zechariah 3:10). Once again God’s people will be represented before God by one fitted for the task. In his restoration is also to be seen a picture of the restoration of God’s people (Zechariah 3:2)., for he is their representative. It is important to note that God’s people cannot be used by Him unless they are thoroughly cleansed and ‘reclothed’ in the righteousness of God.

The scene is set in the heavenly court with the Angel of YHWH sat as the Judge, and Satan standing by as the Accuser. The awe-inspiring nature of the scene is brought out by the fact that, unusually, Zechariah asks no questions, and is asked none. He can only watch in awed wonder, makes one interjection, and when it is over he has to be stirred as though out of sleep (Zechariah 4:1). For here is a scene set in the Heaven of Heavens where God’s intentions for the future are being laid out. In such a place all must be silence. (There is a certain similarity to 1 Kings 22:19-22. Compare also Job 1, 2. The difference here is that God’s people are represented).

Alternately we may see the scene as taking place in the Temple as the High Priest was ministering there, but if so it becomes the equivalent of the heavenly court for he is brought face to face with the Angel of YHWH (who is always visible) and surrounded by heavenly visitants.

Zechariah 3:1

‘And he showed me Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of YHWH, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary.’

The scene is set. The angel of YHWH is seated in majesty surrounded by His court. The one appointed to represent God’s people on His behalf stands before Him. But there also stands there one who will oppose him, ‘the Satan’ (adversary, accuser), who wants to prevent the restoration of God’s people on the grounds of their sinfulness.

Joshua, as the representative of the people of God, is there at God’s command to receive God’s favour. But that he and the people are unworthy comes out in the sequel. Before they can be used by God they must be cleansed and restored before Him. ‘The High Priest’ is a post-exilic description of ‘the Priest’. Compare Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:11; Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:12; Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2; Haggai 2:4.

‘The Satan’. Here we are introduced to that shadowy figure who lies behind much of man’s history. It was he who in the Garden of Eden first led man astray (Genesis 3). It was he who criticised Job before God (Job 1:1 to Job 2:6). His aim is ever to prevent the success of God’s purposes. Here he has come to oppose God’s people, for he dare not directly oppose God. It is clear from what follows that his accusation is based on Joshua’s unworthiness.

(Note that ‘the Satan’ is not yet specifically a proper name although it is moving in that direction. It is a description, ‘The Adversary’).

This picture portrays vividly the spiritual reality that God’s people continually face. Man in his need approaching God to receive from Him His benefits, and the shadowy figure of the adversary ever seeking to prevent it.

Zechariah 3:2

‘And YHWH said to Satan, “YHWH rebuke you, Oh Satan. Yes, YHWH who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” ’

Yahweh speaks first to the Satan through the angel of YHWH with a word of powerful rebuke. Satan’s accusations are in vain. He has no right to interfere in God’s purposes for it is God Himself Who has chosen Jerusalem and the people in it. Joshua stands there as the representative of Jerusalem, and he stands as a brand plucked from the fire. His people have suffered under God’s judgment, and the fires of God’s judgment have burned. But now they have been plucked out of that fire by God Himself, delivered so as to further His purposes. Satan has no answer to this, and discomfited, passes from the scene defeated. We learn from this that our security from the power of Satan lies in the sovereignty of God.

‘A brand plucked from the fire’. The phrase is also found in Amos 4:11. The idea is of one who is spared at a time of judgment.

Zechariah 3:3

‘Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the angel.’

The picture depicts man as he is in God’s eyes. The splendour of the High Priest’s vestments count for nothing before Him. They have been stained by the faithlessness of the past. Before God he is ‘filthy’. As Isaiah 64:6 declares, ‘all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’. So Joshua stands before God (Who is there in the person of the Angel of YHWH) totally aware of his filthy state and his utter unworthiness. Man as he is in himself has no place before God.

Of course no High Priest would enter the Temple in such a state which makes it clear that if this is in the Temple it is a surrealistic description. But if we see him as having been brought before the heavenly court, what was earthly might well appear filthy.

Zechariah 3:4

‘And he answered and spoke to those who stood before him, saying, “Take the filthy garments off from him.”

‘Those who stood before Him.’ We now see the solemnity of the scene. This is the heavenly court. YHWH is surrounded by His hosts.

YHWH directs the removal of Joshua’s filthy garments. He is to be reclothed by God’s grace. We learn in Romans that this ‘passing over of sins done aforetime’ was possible because of the work to be finally accomplished on the cross (Romans 3:25).

Zechariah 3:4

‘And to him he said, “See, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel.”

The stress here is on God’s sovereignty and grace. Joshua as representative of His failing people deserves nothing but judgment. But God graciously removes his totality of sin from him and makes him glorious in righteousness, in ‘rich apparel’. New beginnings in God’s work must always begin with the cleansing and renewal of His people.

Zechariah 3:5

‘And I said, “Let them set a fair mitre (turban) on his head.” So they set a fair mitre on his head and clothed him with garments, and the angel of YHWH stood by.’

As the prophet watches in awe he calls for the setting on Joshua of a new and more worthy mitre, significantly in the form of a royal turban (Isaiah 22:18), on the High Priest’s head. This intervention by him is intended to draw attention to the importance of this ‘crowning’. Joshua is being given royal authority. The High Priest’s headpiece ‘of fine linen’ bore on it the inscription ‘Holy to YHWH’ on a plate of pure gold (Exodus 39:30). But here it has been replaced by a royal turban. So the High Priesthood is restored to God’s favour as a ‘royal priest’ and again becomes usable by Him and acceptable to Him. In all this we are to see not only the High Priest himself but also the people he represents, reclothed in righteousness which was not their own as they are prepared for what lies before them.

‘The angel of YHWH stood by.’ YHWH takes a deeply personal interest in what is happening.

Zechariah 3:6-7

‘And the angel of YHWH protested to Joshua saying, “If you will walk in my ways and if you will keep my charge, then you will also judge my house, and you will also keep my courts, and I will give you a place of access among those who stand by.’

Here God guarantees the acceptability of the new Temple that is to be built, on condition of obedience. If Joshua is ready to be obedient and to recognise his calling and be faithful to it, then he will be set in authority over God’s house and have responsibility for it. This will, of course, give him supreme authority over the people of God. Furthermore he will be given direct access into the presence of God. But as ever, all is conditional on obedience. Later generations would seek to retain the authority without the obedience. Thus it became a meaningless formality.

‘Among those who stand by.’ The heavenly court. Thus Joshua is to have similar access to theirs. (Some, however, see this as referring to other priests along with Joshua).

Zechariah 3:8

“Hear now, Oh Joshua the High Priest, you and your fellows who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign.”

Joshua and his ‘fellows’ (the priesthood? the judges of Israel?) are to recognise that they are a sign of what is to come (compare Isaiah 8:18). They have been established to preside over God’s people and are enjoying God’s deliverance. But God plans a yet greater deliverance for His people through a Greater One Who will preside, and they therefore are a sign pointing to the Coming One. Their obedience and concern for justice will point forwards towards, and guarantee, the coming of God’s chosen One through Whom God’s final blessing will come.

Zechariah 3:8

“For behold I will bring forth my servant the Branch (tsemach).”

This promise relates to Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1 onward. ‘In that day shall the Branch (tsemach) of YHWH be beautiful and glorious ---- There will come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a Branch (netser - different Hebrew word but same meaning) from his roots will bear fruit, and the Spirit of YHWH will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of YHWH.’ This promise was further taken up by Jeremiah who declared, ‘Behold the days come, says YHWH, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch (tsemach), and He will reign as king and deal wisely, and will execute judgment and justice in the land’ (Jeremiah 23:5 compare Jeremiah 33:16) and He then confirms that He will guarantee the line of David until this promise is fulfilled (Jeremiah 33:21).

Here then in Zechariah God renews the Messianic promise of the coming, Spirit-filled king, of whom Joshua is a type, a symbol (Zechariah 6:12).

Zechariah 3:9

“For, see, the stone that I have set before Joshua, on one stone are seven eyes (or ‘fountains, springs). Behold I will engrave its engraving (or ‘I am opening its opening’), says YHWH of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of the land in one day.”

The crowning of Joshua has been highly symbolic. It has pointed forward to the Messianic king. The stone mentioned may be that set in the High Priest’s turban. The seven eyes may represent ‘the eyes of YHWH’ as ‘they run to and fro through the whole earth’ (Zechariah 4:10), just in fact as the horsemen scouts did in Zechariah 1:10-11. In this case they emphasise that in the Branch God will fulfil His universal purpose, and that God will be watching over all His concerns. The eyes of YHWH on His people regularly indicates His supreme care for them and watch over them (Deuteronomy 11:12; Psalms 34:15; Ezra 5:5)

‘Behold I will engrave its engraving.’ This would then signify that its firm engraving was ‘holy to YHWH’ (see on Zechariah 3:5). In this case God’s promise is that He Himself will personally make the Branch, of whom Joshua is a sign and symbol, ‘holy’ to Himself, set apart and treasured, for He Himself will engrave His own personal mark upon Him.

However, the word used for ‘eyes’ can also mean ‘fountains, springs’ (it is used in this way in the masculine in the Targums). Thus the thought may be of the opening of seven springs which will water the earth and produce the conditions described in 3:11. (Compare how the sevenfold lampstand will be prominent in the next chapter). Note accompanying this the possibility of the translation ‘I am opening its openings’. In mind may be the opening of the rock in the wilderness for water to pour forth, here fulfilled seven times over (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:8; Numbers 20:11). Later tradition linked these rocks with the Messiah (1 Corinthians 10:4). Compare in this regard the phrase below ‘and I will remove the iniquity of the land in one day’ which may possibly be combined with ‘the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness’ in Zechariah 13:1, although a different word for fountain is used there. In that case the coming one will make it possible sevenfold for the iniquity of the land to be removed in one day.

‘And I will remove the iniquity of the land in one day.’ Either way the purifying of Joshua (Zechariah 3:4-5) is symbolic of a greater day when the iniquity of the land will be dealt with at a stroke. Then (as we now know, through the death of the chosen Messiah) a fountain will be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13:1).

Zechariah 3:10

“In that day,” says YHWH of Hosts, “you will call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.”

This is the typical representation of the age of deliverance to come. Every man will have his own vine and his own fig tree (1 Kings 4:25), and they will be neighbours to each other in behaviour as well as in fact. It is a representation of total freedom, of perfect harmony and of complete material independence, a picture to delight the heart of man. It would be depicted in the special love that His people would have for one another and come to its final realisation in the New Heaven and the New Earth in eternity.

The prophets invariably depict the final future in these material terms. They lived and preached among practical people who had no conception of ‘eternity’. They thought in terms of this life rather than an afterlife and so the future hope is set in these terms. But it is the ideas conveyed, not the outward trappings, which constitute the promise.

So the cleansing and investiture of Joshua for his present task is also to be seen as a sign of the One Who is to come to finally bring about God’s salvation for the world, the Fulfiller of God’s final purposes.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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