Zechariah 3 Commentary: So far in our study of the book of Zechariah, we’ve seen three visions.
The first was a vision of horses. And the message to Zechariah and his people through that message was that God was aware that his people were suffering while those who oppressed them were doing just fine. And therefore, God was going to return to Jerusalem and his people with compassion.
The second vision featured four horns and four craftsmen. And the emphasis there was that God was going to destroy the enemies of his people – these nations that had oppressed the Jews.
The third vision had a man with a measuring line. And what we saw in that vision is basically a combination of the first two visions and then a progressing beyond them. There was more emphasis on God choosing Israel and determining to punish the nations that had oppressed them. But then he went further and promised to dwell in their midst and that Gentile nations would join themselves to the Lord at that time when God himself dwells in the midst of Israel.
And that brings us to the fourth vision in the book of Zechariah. So, let’s turn our attention to the 3rd chapter of the Old Testament minor prophet Zechariah – Zechariah 3.
We’re going to study the first five verses in this chapter, but we’ll read the entire chapter to get the full context.
[Read Zec 3…]
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Intro w/ 5 Characters (1)
So, to begin with, Zechariah sets the scene which he saw on that one night around 520 BC. And he identifies five characters that he saw in his night vision. See if you can pick them out as we read the first verse one more time.
KJV Zechariah 3:1 ¶ [And/Then/Next] [he shewed me/I saw] Joshua [LXX: Jesus] the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, [and/with] Satan [LXX: Devil] standing at his right [hand/side] to [resist/accuse] him.
So, who are the five characters introduced in this verse?
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Angel that Spoke with Zechariah
Well, the first character we become aware of in this vision is relatively minor. But he’s a player nonetheless. And that’s the angel that spoke with Zechariah. Now, he’s not identified by his full title in this vision, but we see him referred to as “he” – the second word in verse 1.
Who showed Zechariah these things? It’s this communicating angel – the angel that spoke “with” or even “in” Zechariah on this one night in 520 BC. He’s the first of five characters introduced in this verse.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Zechariah
The second character in order of appearance is Zechariah himself. He says that the angel showed “me.” Of course, that’s the prophet himself. And he plays a small but important role in this vision – both by receiving and then communicating the vision to us – and by suggesting that some action be taken later on in this vision. So, Zechariah is the second character in this vision.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Joshua
The third character is Joshua. He’s the high priest at the time of Zechariah’s ministry. This man is mentioned only in this book and in the book of Zechariah’s contemporary – Haggai. He’s not the son of Nun – Moses’ assistant. He’s the son of Jehozadak – and he’s the high priest during this period when Judah was trying to rebuild their temple and their walls and their nation. So, this Joshua the high priest is the third character in this vision.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Angel of the Lord
So, our fourth character is the angel of the Lord. And we’ve seen in this series that sometimes this being is a manifestation of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. I think that’s the case again in this passage and we’ll discover why later on. But even here, we get the idea that what we’re being allowed to view is some sort of judicial environment over which the angel of the Lord – as I’m saying, Jesus Christ – is presiding. We have Joshua standing before the judge – the angel of the Lord – Jesus Christ. And Joshua we discover is taking the position of defendant before his judge.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Satan
And any time you have a judge and a defendant you also would have a prosecutor. And that’s where our fifth and last character is introduced in this verse. And he’s identified as “Satan.” His activity is solely to “resist” or to “accuse” Joshua – true to his nature of being the “accuser of the brethren” as he’s called in the book of Revelation.
In fact, the Hebrew of verse 1 reads this way – “Satan was standing at his right hand to satan him.” The word “satan” is actually a Hebrew term – so, if you know that word, you know some Hebrew! And the meaning of that word is “adversary” or “accuser.” So, Satan was there to satan Joshua. The Accuser was there to accuse Joshua.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Heavenly Courtroom
And there’s no human courtroom involved here. This is a heavenly visionary court. And here we are – thanks to Zechariah, receiving a glimpse into the proceedings.
The judge is there. The prosecution is aggressively bringing its case to the judge. The defendant seems to have nothing to say.
But, what’s missing? We have a judge. We have a prosecutor. We have witnesses – Zechariah, at least – and we’ll see later that there are others standing around as well. We even have a defendant. But oftentimes the defendant is not representing himself. He hires someone to do that for him.
That’s what we’re missing – the defense attorney. Where’s the defense? Joshua is the defendant. But he needs a defender. He needs an advocate.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: To Satan (2)
And amazingly, we discover in verse 2 that the Judge – the angel of the Lord – in my estimation, a manifestation of Jesus Christ – he steps into the role of defense attorney for Joshua.
2 [And the/The] LORD said [unto/to] Satan [LXX: Devil],
[The/May the] LORD rebuke [thee/you], [O Satan/Satan] [LXX: O Devil];
[even the/Indeed the/May the] LORD [that hath/who has] chosen Jerusalem rebuke [thee/you]:
[LXX: Behold!] [is not this/Is this not/Isn’t this man like/Is not this man] a [brand/burning stick] [plucked/snatched] [out of/from] the fire?
Zechariah 3 Commentary: The Lord said
Now, note that we’re told who is speaking to Satan as Joshua’s defense. It’s the LORD – all caps. And we weren’t initially aware of it, but the Lord is also present in the courtroom.
And it’s possible that the Lord is now introduced as a sixth character in this vision whereas he hasn’t been properly introduced until now. Or we see here what we see elsewhere in Scripture – that the angel of the Lord is sometimes identified as the Lord – either because he is speaking on behalf of the Lord – or in some cases because the Scripture really does want us to understand that this angel of the Lord is actually the Lord himself.
I am going to assume that this first reference to the Lord in this verse is speaking of the judge presiding over this courtroom – the angel of the Lord. In other words, the angel of the Lord is the Lord.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: The Lord rebuke you
And that’s really interesting – because the Lord in this vision calls on the Lord to rebuke Satan. The Lord … is calling on the Lord to do something.
And that’s a little unusual. Maybe not what we would expect. I could imagine Joshua calling on the Lord to rebuke Satan. I could even imagine Zechariah doing that. But the Lord himself is calling on the Lord to rebuke Satan.
This is very similar to what we saw in the last vision where the Lord of Hosts is prophesied as sending the Lord of Hosts. And we understood there that this is a reference to a reality that we know happened in the New Testament – that God the Father sent God the Son. And when that happened and when it will yet happen again in the future when Jesus returns – it can truly be said that the Lord of Hosts sent the Lord of Hosts.
So, too, in this fourth vision – the Lord is rebuking Satan in the Lord’s name. The angel of the Lord – Jesus Christ – God the Son – is calling on the Lord – God the Father – to rebuke Satan.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: who has chosen Jerusalem
But why the rebuke?
Because Satan is accusing the God-ordained head of Israel’s religious system at the time – the high priest, Joshua.
And the central location of the religious system which Joshua leads is also the place which the Lord has chosen – Jerusalem. God is letting everyone know that he is favorable toward both Jerusalem and the religious system that was based in that city.
Now, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, God’s displeasure toward this city and its religious system was part of what made him send the Jews out of Jerusalem and into exile in 586 BC.
But now – through this vision – God is making very clear that he is ready to receive worship from his people through the means that he had originally established with them – at a temple in the city of Jerusalem.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
And the Lord admits that Joshua the high priest and the religious system that he represents – that these were in some serious trouble for a while. They were like a brand plucked out of the fire. Like a stick that’s burning in the fire. And if things don’t change, that stick will be totally consumed.
And the Lord could have allowed things to continue with Israel the way they had been going. He could have never returned them from exile. He could have completely abandoned his religious system and the city of Jerusalem completely.
And the Lord acknowledges that possibility when he compares Joshua the high priest to a burning stick that he pulls out of the fire. But God is in the business of snatching people from the fire. And so, he claims that he does that very thing concerning Israel’s religious system in this vision.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: To Helpers (3-4a)
So, we’ve had our introduction to the 5 characters in this vision. Then we saw the angel of the Lord rebuke Satan. And now he’s going to speak to some previously unidentified helpers in the first part of verse 4.
But first, Zechariah fills us in on an important detail that we were previously unaware of. Joshua the high priest is dressed in filthy clothing. Verse 3.
3 Now Joshua [LXX: Jesus] was [clothed/dressed] [with/in] filthy [garments/clothes], [and stood/and standing/as he stood] [before/there before] the angel.
Now, remember that this is a courtroom scene. And when people go to court even in these days, most try to look their best.
But here we have Joshua and he’s not in nice-looking clothes. No – his clothing is filthy.
And I think that this is probably meant to represent the condition of Israel’s religious system to this point in history. The priests had defiled both themselves personally and their office. They had led the nation in worshipping idols and turning their backs on the Lord.
And so, in this vision we’re given the leader of this religious system – and he’s represented as being in soiled, dirty clothing.
No wonder Satan was accusing him. Israel’s religious system had not been blameless in any way. It was just as defiled as Joshua the high priest’s clothing.
But the angel of the Lord – Jesus Christ – as the song says – can make the foulest clean. And that’s just what he’s going to do with Israel’s religious leader, Joshua.
4 [And he answered and spake/He spoke and said/The angel spoke up/The angel said] [LXX: The Lord answered and spoke] [unto those that stood/to those who were standing/to those standing] [before him/all around], saying,
[Take away/Remove/Take off] [the filthy garments from him/his filthy clothes].
So, Joshua needs a change of clothing. The angel of the Lord is going to remove his filthy clothing from him.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: unto those that stood before him
And yet, it’s not the angel who does the work that he just commanded. He actually has helpers all around him to do his will. And you and I wouldn’t have known it until this point. But all of a sudden here the angel of the Lord speaks directly to these helpers.
Who are they anyway? They’re mysterious. They’re apparently just standing by and watching the proceedings. Maybe if this is a court room setting, these are witnesses. But they don’t say anything. They’re not the jury because they really don’t reach any verdict.
I think that between what we know of these beings in this verse and what we’ll see later, these who are standing before the angel of the Lord are probably angels. Angels, according to the book of Hebrews are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation. They serve. They do God’s will. And right here in Zechariah’s vision, God’s will is to remove the dirty clothing from Joshua the high priest.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Take away the filthy garments from him
Now, what does that symbolic act indicate? Because surely – especially in a vision like this – we’re not simply being let in on the fact that Joshua needed to change his clothes here – just like everyone does every single morning of their lives.
No, but rather I think that this act – which I would describe as symbolic – indicates once more what we’ve seen that God is doing here. He’s cleansing Israel’s religious system. The human leader of that religious is dressed in filthy clothing, representing the uncleanness that had come on the system and on that office. But now God is going to cleanse both Joshua’s office and the system that he heads-up.
Alright – so, the angel of the Lord just spoke to those who stood before him and commanded them to remove Joshua’s dirty clothing.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: To Joshua (4b)
And now in the last part of verse 4, the angel of the Lord speaks directly to Joshua.
We’re going to see that the angel of the Lord describes the meaning of removing Joshua’s filthy clothing from him. And when it comes down to it, the angel is going to explain that this act indicates that he has forgiven Joshua’s sin.
[And/Again/Then] [unto him/to Joshua] he said,
[Behold, I/See, I/I] have [caused thine iniquity to pass from thee/taken your iniquity away from you/have freely forgiven your iniquity/have taken away your sin],
So, the angel of the Lord in this verse is claiming the right to forgive sins – Joshua’s sins in particular. And we’re left to ask ourselves – along with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day – “Who can forgive sin but God alone?!”
And yet, the angel of the Lord is forgiving Joshua’s sin. The conclusion I reach is that this angel of the Lord is Jesus Christ himself in this passage. God the Son is forgiving sins here.
So, the literal meaning behind the symbolic act of removing Joshua’s filthy clothing is that Jesus has forgiven the sin of this man. And in this vision, as Jesus forgives the sin of this man, it’s likely that the forgiveness and cleansing extend to both Joshua personally – as well as his office – as well as the entire system that he is charged with leading.
Jesus Christ at this point in history – after so many sins committed by the religious leadership of Israel that had utterly defiled the system of worship that the Lord had instituted through Moses – he now is thoroughly cleansing and forgiving and restoring.
It’s definitely a message of hope for this nation that was struggling to reestablish its identity and practices as ordered by the Lord.
But, it’s not just the removal of sin that’s needed – though that is indeed needed.
Positively, sinners need a change of clothes – as it were. There is a taking off – but there is also replacing what has been taken off and then “putting on.”
And that’s what the angel of the Lord describes at the end of verse 4.
and I will [clothe thee with change of raiment/clothe you with festal robes/dress you in fine clothing/put rich garments on you] [LXX: Clothe ye him with a long robe].
Zechariah 3 Commentary: and I will clothe thee with change of raiment
Now, in Exodus 28:4 Moses is commanded to make the following clothing for the high priest: “a breastpiece,an ephod,a robe, a fittedtunic, a turban, and a sash.”
So, this change of clothing would surely include some of these items. In fact, the word used earlier in this verse for Joshua’s filthy clothes is sometimes translated as “robes.” And the word “raiment” that we just read at the end of verse 4 also refers to robes.
So, out of all of the garments of a high priest that Exodus 28:4 speaks of, we have the robe included at least. Joshua is getting at least a new robe in this vision.
Zechariah 3 Commentary: Zechariah Speaks (5)
And the prophet Zechariah himself really likes this idea of the angel of the Lord clothing Joshua the high priest with new clean holy robes.
And so, in verse 5 Zechariah speaks up and offers a suggestion regarding another article of clothing that he’d like to see Joshua the high priest put on – it’s another article of clothing mentioned in Exodus 28:4 – a turban.
5 [And/Then] I [said/spoke up], [LXX omits this line]
[Let them set/Put] a [fair/clean] [LXX: pure] [mitre/turban] upon his head.
So, Zechariah was likely a priest himself. Not the high priest of course, but a priest. And as such it seems that he’s well aware of the garments that the Lord commanded the high priest to wear.
And so, Zechariah is participating in this vision. And I guess we’re not explicitly told his mindset and emotions at this point. But I kind of imagine Zechariah getting excited about this. I don’t picture him as sitting back and with an air of boredom rather flatly stating, [in monotone] “Let them set a clean turban on his head.”
No, I think Zechariah is pretty excited about the proceedings. He’s excited to see the leader of his group of Yahweh-worshippers be cleansed and helped and forgiven and strengthened. The successes and blessings of his spiritual leader are also his own. And Zechariah is thoroughly enjoying what’s transpiring and how it’s turning out for the benefit of his whole nation through the blessing of that group’s religious leader.
Well, the heavenly helpers all around in this scene swing into action at the command of Zechariah.
So they [set/put] a [fair/clean] [mitre/turban] upon his head,
and clothed him with garments.
And it’s at this point where I wonder if this passage is teaching us something about prayer. Why do I say that? Well, can you believe that a man can give a command – and heavenly helpers just swing into action?
But isn’t that what we’re encouraged to believe that our prayers accomplish? Jesus tells us that we can pray and move mountains. We’re to pray according to his will with full confidence that he will answer – and when we do that, he promises that it will happen.
Obviously, Zechariah here is not praying for things that are unworthy of the Lord. And neither should we, of course.
But when we’re praying according to God’s will, he promises that he hears us and grants us the petitions that we make.
And we don’t know if the way in which the Lord grants those petitions is through heavenly helpers like we see in this vision or not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it this way.
Alright, so Zechariah gives an excited and joyful command for the benefit of his spiritual leadership and the angels immediately respond.
But if you think about this transaction, you might be wondering if this was just Zechariah’s desire or if the Lord himself wanted this to happen. Did the heavenly helpers just start to obey the will of a man – while perhaps God is standing by a little displeased for some reason?
And so, what we’re told in the last part of verse 5 confirms that the angel of the Lord did indeed approve of what was happening in this scene – including Zechariah’s command.
[And/while] the angel of the LORD [stood by/was standing by/stood nearby].
So, the angel of the Lord – who is the Judge and the Defense and, really, the Jury in this vision – whom we know to be the Lord Jesus Christ – he approves of this restoration of the religious leadership and system of his people.
So, what we’ve basically seen so far really serves as an introduction to the real message of the rest of this vision. We’ve seen a lot of symbolic activity and actions.
But next time Lord-willing we’ll study the message that goes along with these actions. It’s a message of hope for the present and the future – with the promise of the coming of a mysterious being known as God’s “servant, the Branch.”