“Same Ole” Testament: The Gospel According to Zechariah, Part 2

Zacharias_(Michelangelo)

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Literary Analysis

God’s word came to and continues to speak all to humanity in the form of the written word. The reasons are eons beyond the scope of this paper and any other, at least to speak with any certainty. Though his handiwork is marvelously displayed and interwoven into the framework of the natural world, it is only through the encapsulation of the written word in human language that people may come to know, appreciate, and love the very God who refused to remain distant. Any attempt to correctly understand and apply the his words, must therefore begin with the literary shape of the passage at hand. For God not only communicated it to his servants in their own time period, but channeled the entire process of redaction and canonization resulting in the end product known today as the Old Testament.

The natural flow of action, having considered the above comments, will be to first consider the place of the entire book of Zechariah as it stands in the Hebrew canon, the literary structure and nature of the book in its final form, and finally a breakdown of the grammar, syntax, and semantics crucial to understanding Zechariah 3:1-8.

Zechariah occupies the penultimate position in both the Prophets section of the Tanak and the ‘Latter Prophets’ subsection. It is in the Latter Prophets the narrative flow of the Old Testament’s storyline is suspended, only to be resumed again with the books of Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. In many ways it is a reflection and commentary on the status of God’s covenant and covenant people as they seek to shift through the pain and doubt of exile and the dashed hopes of a painstakingly slow restoration.4 It is the job of the prophets to not only give the Jewish nation cohesiveness and identity in the midst of a refugee crisis and religious pluralism, but to prepare them for the new covenant which will once and for all satisfy not only demands of the law but achieve the salvation of all people groups.5

Moving from the entire canon, to the book’s local context brings us to the prophets known as ‘the Twelve.’ Consisting the books Hosea through Malachi, ‘the Twelve,’ though disparate in time, geography, and circumstance offers a unified, didactic purpose. Israel’s judgment because of sin coupled with a future hope is a thread commonly woven throughout this prophetic corpus, though it does see a variety of thematic expressions.6   The body’s overall message is therefore not one of doom and gloom as is commonly assumed, but of hope for a day when as Zechariah teaches, “everyone will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.7

The canonical context is crucial to keep in mind as this paper zooms in to focus on the book itself. For most of the history of biblical interpretation, it was assumed that Zechariah along with the rest of the prophets wrote the entirety of the book bearing his name in a single context. That being said, Zechariah was perhaps the first to have his authorial originality questioned. This is due a reference in Matthew 27:9 which seems to quote Jeremiah as the author of Zechariah 11:9. This work by Mede in 1638 set off an academic horse race reaching a peak in the 19th Century when a over 103 scholars weighed in on the issue.8 The evidence that the prophet himself wrote chapters one through eight is secure from both a biblical and historical standpoint due to internal evidence clearly placing this section as being written from October, 520 B.C. to December, 518 B.C. This however is the end of any consensus. Because chapters one through eight deals with concerns immediately felt in the restoration community, many scholars see the more apocalyptic final six chapters as being written in a totally different context.9 Such conclusions are, however, unwarranted if one considers the entire canon as a compositional work. The two halves of the book, while diverging in style and genre, are nonetheless serving a series of unified themes, namely the renewal of the covenant, Gentile inclusion, and the Messiah, among others.10 Thus dividing the book in half is a matter of methodological presupposition rather the literary evidence. It seems most likely chapters nine through fourteen serve as a theological commentary on the more historically focused early chapters.11

Focusing the exegetical lens more closely, it is obvious Zechariah 3:1-8 falls into line as the fourth in a series of oracles delivered by the prophet to the restoration community, culminating with the crowning of Joshua the high priest. The first three deal exclusively with the land, its freedom from oppression, expansion, and prosperity.12 The fourth vision stands out for reasons beyond a thematic shift, including a lack of an interpreting angel, it names a historical person, Satan plays a role, and someone shows the vision to Zechariah as opposed to him actually seeing it per the rest of the oracles.13 From this scene, a high stakes courtroom drama; the themes of the book are brought to head with a stunning reversal of God’s judgment. From here the rest of the book flows describing the progress of history and Israel’s eventual peace with God, though not before a great deal of suffering.

There is no easy answer to the question of the passage’s genre. It is not entirely equal to the later apocalyptic writings such as Daniel, because Zechariah 1-8 anchors every event in a historical situation.14 Though an exact definition of the apocalyptic genre remains elusive, it is safe to say that Zechariah is a transitional work to those (i.e., Daniel and Revelation) who would make full use of eschatological imagery to challenge “the histories of the first and second centuries.”15

The uniqueness of this passage merits a closer examination of its syntax and semantics. Immediately intriguing is the appearance of Satan to accuse the high priest Joshua before a Divine Judge in what some commentators have termed a heavenly council type-scene. In Near Eastern literature, such councils represented the absolute highest of decision-making authorities, and they are not uncommon in the Old Testament.16 Thus in Zechariah 3, God sits in the place of judgment against Joshua of Israel, while Satan stands at his right to accuse him. This arrangement adds further intensity to the judgment scene, as it is common to biblical literature involving the reckoning of the wicked.16

Much bedlam has been raised about the evolution of Satan’s role between the Old and New Testaments and even within the Old Testament itself. Critical scholarship is fond of promoting the idea that Persian-Zoroastrianism thought led to the creation of a sort of Christian dualism pitting God his angels against their devilish opposition.17 While acknowledging that all writers are shaped to some degree by their culture in the use of language and terms there is simply no biblical data legitimizing such an shift of thought. True the text literally reads, “the accuser,” a title rather then a personal name. But is it really a stretch at all to recognize the original appellative nature of the title becoming a name? A similar change occurs with “the man,” who after Gen. 5:1 is known simply as Adam or “man.”18 Moreover, there is no difference in his role throughout Scripture. He is always portrayed as one who accuses God’s chosen and is opposed by God, though not outside God’s purpose, because of the latter’s freely given grace, not the baselessness of his accusations. Granted, terminology for the spiritual world may have shifted some due to Persian influence (“sons of God” to “angels”). However, it is clear the canonical editors of Scripture rejected much of these ideas and were careful to exclude works, which overindulged in the specifics of otherworldly imagery.19

Back to the passage at hand, God’s counterattack seems to come before the accuser is even able to speak. He not only dismisses the case, but according to the semantics of the verb יגער rebukes Satan with utterly devastating results. Elsewhere in the Latter Prophets this same verb is employed to describe God drying up the sea with his denunciation of it.20 Thus God totally wipes away the basis for any accusation against Joshua.

The reason for this harsh judgment is first indicated with the participle בָּחַר, then expounded upon with verse three’s supporting clause, “Is this not a burning stick plucked from the fire.” The absolute participle בָּחַר implies the sovereignty of God’s decision to declare Jerusalem righteous as an action independent of any cause. It is the same term employed to describe God’s choice of Abraham, Israel, and David.21 Likewise, the aforementioned clause serves to further display God’s merciful gestures with the graphic imagery of being rescued from a fire. The term for “burning stick” or “firebrand” is used only three times, all in the Prophets.22 Each instance portrays a dramatic and harrowing rescue scene. In other words, the only basis for Jerusalem’s continued existence as a holy nation is God’s grace.23

Another interesting construction is found in verse four with an infinitive absolute לָבֵשׁ meaning “to clothe” defined in grammatical function by its’ antecedent, hiphil perfect verb “to pass away from.” In other words, the two are one action by one person at one time. This display is also used in Zechariah’s contemporary Haggai and further highlights the work of God in removing Joshua’s sin. The great high priest therefore has absolutely nothing to do with his own cleansing. It is wholly out of his control. Both his sin being, literally “passed away from” him, and his new “royal garments” are totally effected by the God’s dismissal of Satan’s attack.

Next time we will look at the historical context of the book’s writing.

Peace,

Ben

Sources:

[1] Dempster, 159.

[2] Jeremiah 31:31-34, Zechariah 8:23 (ESV)

[3] Dempster, 188.

[4] Zechariah 3:10

[5] Word, 171

[6] Drumbrell, 230

[7] Longman, 489.

[8] Dumbrell, 230.

[9] Feinburg, 53.

[10] Catholic Bible Quarterly, 554.

[11] Hanson, 252.

[12] WBC, 175.

[13] Kee, 260.

[14] Psalms 109:6

[15] Platzner, 305.

[16] Gesenius Grammar, 402

[17] Platzner, 305.

[18] Goldingay, 494.

[19] BDB, 103.

[20] Ibid, 15.

[21] Keil,

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