“Same Ole” Testament: The Gospel According to Zechariah, Part 3

Zacharias_(Michelangelo)

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Literary Analysis

Today we are going to analysis our passage from a theological perspective.  What is Zechariah 3:1-8 saying about God?

Zechariah 3:1-8 contains some of the most profound insight into the purposes and direction of God for his people to found anywhere in the realm of human understanding. In short, Zechariah received a “big picture” revelation of God’s overall plan for the nation of Israel, especially as it related to the crushing experience of exile.1 God deeply desires for his people to be his people and live as he intended for them. But for that to become a reality, for them to follow the law, and to prosper, he must cleanse them internally.2 Obedience therefore is the natural outflow of this God given purity, not the other way around. It is in dramatic fashion indeed this lesson is revealed to the prophet Zechariah. Not only does he witness the symbolic cleansing of the nation through the high priest Joshua, but God also pulls the curtain back on his coming plans for the world, a subject to which this paper will shortly return.

The vision opens with the court scene as described previously, with Joshua standing before God and faced with accusations from Satan. Upon declaring Joshua, and thus Jerusalem, righteous before him, God orders the priest’s “filthy garments” removed. Just as an aside, to enhance the reader’s appreciation for the graphic nature of this scene, the filth described here is used elsewhere only as describing human excrement or a drunkard’s vomit.3 After having his filth (and stench no doubt!) removed, what exactly does Joshua get in return? The answer was once thought to be “royal garments” based on verb cognates used elsewhere. The same consonants are, however, utilized in Arabic and more importantly Akkadian to signify purity.4 In other words Joshua has moved from absolute filth in his iniquity to moral purity with the removal of his sin by the Lord. Thus the sins of the high priest are made null and void by the command of God through no action of his own. This theme of pure garments and righteousness is echoed beautifully elsewhere in the Tanak as well.   Isaiah cries out, “For he has clothed me in garments of salvation and arrayed me in robes of righteousness.”5

The vision is however far from over and as even about to receive a surprising twist. Once Joshua is freshly clothed, apparently Zechariah himself, who up to this point is basically a fly on the wall, cries out to the assembly, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” Is this simply another piece of priestly pageantry? Hardly. Though turbans are mentioned in Aaron’s dress in Exodus 28:4, the term used by Zechariah is used much less frequently and indicates power and royalty.6 It appears there is something unique indeed about this priesthood.

Before progressing any further, it is necessary to reflect for a moment on exactly whose sins have been forgiven and wiped away in the courtroom of heaven. Some have argued that is simply the priest himself who is purified for resuming the cultic rites of temple worship, and that the following promises refer to his maintaining a priestly dynasty.7 No doubt the temple reconstruction project was at the forefront of the prophet’s and people’s mind. For it served as a visible presence not only that God had not abandoned them and intended to keep his covenant but also as a necessity for the inauguration of the messianic age.8 This however is unlikely primarily because the context of the book is blatantly eschatological, not to mention the fact that God grounds his right to forgive solely on the fact that he has chosen Jerusalem, not just Joshua. Furthermore, it is not like the idea of a high priest representing the people is without biblical precedent. It is in fact the sole purpose of the office.9

After purifying the high priest and readying him for service, God then gives Joshua a four-part charge smacking of deuteronomistic theology. Joshua is presented with four conditional clauses all relating to the maintenance of the temple ministry. Many translations divide the protasis and apodosis, in the middle of the four. While this serves to strengthen the high priest’s authority, it is unwarranted by Hebrew grammar. Therefore it makes more sense to read all four as conditional to being granted “access” to the divine council.10 While many commentators exercise the rights of their profession on the final three clauses, many seem to forget the first, “If you walk in my ways,” is only possible because of the newly bestowed purity from verse one through six.11 Throughout Scripture, it is only when the hearts of people are “circumcised” that they can obediently walk with God. Finally, logic demands the faithful exegete to enquire as to what exactly it means to have access to God’s council as a reward for faithful service. If all four conditions are met, Joshua will be granted a privilege reserved only for Israel’s most powerful prophets thus far in salvation history. According to the biblical record Micaiah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all derived their authority form sitting in on the heavenly councils. Joshua is therefore being granted prophetic authority never before enjoyed by the priesthood.12

There can be no doubt the three great roles of spiritual leadership in ancient Israel, prophet, priest, and king are merging together in the ministry of the high priest Joshua. A careful reader of Scripture however ought not to be overly shocked at such a development. The Bible introduces its readers to priest-kings early on in the form of Mechelzedek to whom Abram gives an offering.13 Psalms 110 builds on this theme declaring the coming messiah to be a “priest forever in the order of Mechelzedek.”14 Joshua himself is offered a crown in Zechariah 6 in anticipation of the one who will build the true, spiritual temple, forever representing God’s presence and love for all nations.15 Thus, the ministry of Joshua is a sign of a new era in which Israel must prepare for the coming reign of the messiah, the priest of Mechelzedek.416

It is to the continued messianic imagery of the passage we will now focus our attention. Having announced his charge to Joshua, the Lord declares that he will send his servant “the Branch.” Nearly every scholar concurs with the conclusion that this is a title for a Davidic ruler spoken of throughout Israel’s history.17 There is much debate however on the specific identity of this ruler. Some argue Zechariah is speaking about the Persian appointed, Jewish, governor of Jerusalem, Zerubbabel. The reasoning behind this is obvious. He represented the restored line of David after a long interlude in exile in however diminished a form. Zerubbabel is even mentioned in Zechariah 4-10 as the one who will build the temple, and another contemporary prophet Haggai referred to him as a “ my servant” a phrase mimicked by Zechariah 3:7. This is difficult to reconcile to reality however, due to three features in the text. First, if Zechariah is referring to Zerabbabel, why does he not just mention his name as he does elsewhere? Secondly, the hiphil participle בָּא is used to refer to “the Branch.” How can God bring Zerabbabel if by this point he has already been in Jerusalem for around eighteen years?18 Lastly, verse nine connects the coming of “the Branch” with the promise “I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” Certainly no Persian puppet governor had any part of fulfilling such expectations.19 On top of all this, Haggai’s lack of typical royal language seem to indicate he did not anticipate bowing to King Zerabbubal into soon, though he was God’s chosen servant for the time being.20 He is no doubt a symbol of hope for the desperate restoration community. It is also feasible that he is one of the “friends” referred to in verse 8 who are “sign” of the age to come. Zechariah 4:8-14 suggests as much. He however cannot be the one to usher in the age to come. The Branch will be both a Davidic ruler, as well as a high priest who will mediate the forgiveness of Israel’s failures on a future day of glorious reckoning.

Having established the identity of the coming Branch, it becomes clear by looking back on the preceding events of the Fourth Vision; God bases his forgiveness and purification of Joshua in the heavenly throne room on the coming work of a future priest-king who will usher in an era of peace and interaction with God previously unknown in Israel.21 Now that he as been purified of sin on the basis of the Branch’s future work, is only now able to truly serve Israel with a heart dedicated to his God.22

Next time, we will look at the historical context. What was going on when this was written?

Peace,

Ben

Sources:

[1] Kaiser, Promise Plan, 220.

[2] Ezekiel 36:27

[3] Catholic, 555.

[4] Ibid, 556

[5] Isaiah 61:10

[6] Catholic, 557.

[7] JBS, 734.

[8] Baldwin, 21.

[9] Levticus 4:3.

[10] Peterson, 206.

[11] Deuteronomy 30:1-10

[12] Peterson, 208.

[13] Gen. 14:18

[14] Psalms 110:4

[15] Meyer, 67.

[16] Goldingay, 499.

[17] Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 33:15, Psalms 132:17

[18] Catholic, 561.

[19] WBC, 201.

[20] Rose, 243.

[21] Zechariah 3:9-10

[22] Zechariah 3:7

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