The Commission of the High Priest
The Branch and His Day
For the Context of the passage, see on Zech 3:1-5.
In Zech 3:1-5, we saw that the Lord was concerned to show the nation of Israel that the Old Covenant could still be reinstituted even though there was no way under the Mosaic Law to cleanse both the High Priest and the nation, having no clean offerer and no way of making him clean.
What God did there was to cleanse by Grace not by works of the Law, to restore a right relationship between the High Priest, representative of the nation, and Himself.
In these final five verses, the angel of the Lord goes on to, firstly, commission the newly cleansed High Priest (Zech 3:6-7) and then to speak of a future time, of which both Joshua and his friends are signs, that will totally remove the guilt of the land and bring in the age of their long expected and anticipated Messiah.
The Commission of the High Priest
Before the commission is spoken, there are necessarily conditions laid upon Joshua and his descendants after him in order that he might be reminded that continued service before the Lord is not solely the bestowal of a gift but has important obligations on behalf of the recipient.
The line of Zadok had remained faithful to God even at the time of national idolatry and occultism (Ezek 44:15-16) and Joshua, who comes from that line (I Chr 6:8, 15, Ezra 5:2), is reminded of the conditions before he receives the commission following his cleansing.
Firstly, he is to ‘walk in My ways’, speaking of a right life.
It was written of the Levites in Deut 33:9 that
‘...they observed Thy word and kept Thy covenant’
As teachers of God’s Law, they were required to be obedient in their own lives to the requirements of that Law. What is mind here is not observance to the ceremonial laws (which are part of the second condition) but the moral laws which are laid upon all the Israelites to observe. Their lives should then be perfect representations of the instruction that comes from their mouths.
As Ezra realised a few years after this prophecy was given, a Levite should set his heart to study the Law of His God, to do it and then be in a position to tell others what God requires from them, having a life that demonstrates his words in action (Ezra 7:10).
A priests’ words are a reflection of his lifestyle and, years later, Malachi was used by God to condemn the priesthood for perverting the teaching that came from them through partiality and injustice (Mal 2:1-9), something that indicates to us that, although the words of God here in Zechariah 3 were very much taken to heart by Joshua, they were quickly forgotten and the priests’ commission compromised.
Secondly, Joshua is commanded to ‘keep my charge’ which relates to right service before the Lord.
Baldwin notes that the word translated here as ‘charge’ occurs nine times in Numbers chapter 3 where the service of the specific tribal groups within the Levites is being detailed. I could only find five, I must be honest, but four of those tie the word in to the specific religious tasks that certain people were commissioned to perform in regard to the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Num 3:8, 25, 31, 36). Zechariah’s words, therefore, naturally indicate the need for Joshua to continue serving God in accordance with the Law system recorded in the early chapters of the Bible.
In Deut 33:10, the Levites are commanded that
‘..they shall put incense before Thee and whole burnt offering upon Thy altar’
part of the original commission to the Levites to observe the law of sacrifice and to minister to God on behalf of the people.
These two responsibilities are summed up in the twin phrase of the need for a right life and right service. Baldwin comments that Joshua
‘...is to fulfil both the moral and ritual requirements’
while Smith notes that the concepts insist that the High Priest
‘...walks in the ways of Yahweh (moral injunctions) and attends His service (ceremonial functions)’
Having now warned him to lay it to heart to observe what God requires, the angel of the Lord goes on to outline the commission of God upon his life. He says (3:8) that
‘...you shall rule My house and have charge of My courts, and I will give you the right of access...’
This recommissioning of the High Priest was for the day in which the Temple would be completed, for his function would have been limited by both the building work and what had yet to be constructed to be used in the Lord’s service, but Isaiah, who was also cleansed from his sin (Is 6:7 Cp comments on Zech 3:4-5), is similarly commissioned into the service of the Lord (Is 6:8-10).
It has never been the case that God cannot use an individual because they have sinned in the past but that, when that person who has been chosen by God acknowledges their sin before Him, He is able and willing to cleanse them as a precursor to establishing them into the ministry that He has earmarked for them. Ability is also from the Lord and should never be a reason for anyone to find that they cannot function in the role to which God has called them (for example Jer 1:6-11 and Ex 4:10-12).
Not only was the commission relevant for Joshua, but it is a shadow both of Jesus’ commission and that of His Church under the New Covenant. From verse 8 onwards, the angel will go on to speak of days that are still in the future even after Joshua has passed away (and, as will be noted below, both Joshua and his friends are spoken of as the ‘sign’ or foreshadowing of those days. These ‘friends’ are likely to be the group of priests over which Joshua would have presided as head, who would have discussed matters pertaining to the Mosaic Law - the obligations, implications and outworkings that each statute required, but it is Joshua especially who, in the following two characteristics of the commission, is a type of the One, the Messiah, the Branch, who is still to come), so that the commissioning here must necessarily look forward even though it has relevance for the days in which it’s given.
Firstly, Joshua is told to
‘...rule My house and have charge of My courts...’
which speak to us of the Kingly aspect of the priesthood. He is to rule over the Temple courts and make sure that, like a king, nothing is to take place that is not fitting and right in God’s eyes.
In Jesus’ day, Annas ruled over the Temple precinct for self-profit. The ‘Bazaars of Annas’, as they were called (see Edersheim volume 1 Book III pages 367-373 for a detailed description of the things that took place in the Temple of Jesus’ day), were what Jesus came against at the beginning and end of His ministry (John 2:14-16, Mtw 21:12-13), an organisation that lined the High Priest’s pocket and which fleeced genuine seekers of God. But the Lord’s High Priest was supposed to rule the courts to ensure that all people (both Jews and Gentiles) were not restricted in their approach to God. Annas would have been a Sadducee but the trait that he displayed was also true of the Pharisees of whom Jesus spoke (Mtw 23:13) that they
‘...shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in’
The true High Priest, Jesus (Heb 4:14), ruled over the Lord’s house in obedience (Heb 3:6), making access to God free of charge to the multitudes and effecting a way that depended not upon their own efforts but upon the benevolence and mercy of God.
The believer’s commission parallels the Lord’s. Because access has been freely given to us (Rom 6:23), we are under obligation to freely give it to others (I Cor 9:18, Mtw 10:8). Such is the obligation laid upon Joshua here - he must rule over the Temple courts in such a way that whosoever wishes to draw near to the God of Israel is not hindered but, rather, encouraged in his quest.
He must, consequentially, make sure that everything is done in order and that the Temple service represents God, but the primary underlying reason for all this is that men and women may have unrestricted access to God (that is, access as far as the Old Covenant will allow until Christ will come).
Secondly, Joshua is commissioned to have
‘...the right of access...’
which speaks to us of the Priestly aspect of the priesthood.
Just as the first High Priest was given the right to come within the veil where God dwelt (an event which was restricted early on in the Tabernacle service to just once a year - Lev 16:2-3), so too is Joshua called to be the Israelites’ representative in the presence of the Lord.
Zech 3:9 (which we looked at in the notes on 3:1-5) reads
‘...I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day...’
which speaks of the ultimate intercession of the Branch, Jesus, who would stand in the gap between God and mankind and secure a redemption for the sins of the people.
Jesus continues to be the High Priest in the presence of God in heaven who not only rules as King (Heb 2:8, I Cor 15:25, Mtw 28:18) but who is interceding as Priest (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34, John 17:20).
The Church, the Body of Christ, also has that right of access (Heb 10:19-22) and are urged to ‘enter in’. It is in His presence, where we hear His voice, that we will intercede effectively, being the intermediary between God and man (Rev 1:6, I Peter 2:5).
Joshua in his day, though, is the one, above all those who would have been similarly descended from Aaron through Zadok, whom God has cleansed to commission with the duties of the High Priest, to both rule over the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and have the privilege (and responsibility) of access into the presence of God.
The Branch and His Day
Zech 3:6-7 has recorded the commissioning of Joshua following his cleansing in Zech 3:1-5. The passage now turns, unpredictably, to matters concerning future days that were still some years to being fulfilled even after the restoration of the Temple.
3:8 has an unusual phrase, speaking of Joshua and his friends as
‘...men of good omen...’
a translation that is not obvious in meaning. This meaning of this phrase ‘good omen’ (Strongs Hebrew number 4159), according to TWOTOT is
‘...a spectacle or demonstration of the rewards of [obedience]’
so that Baldwin goes on to see the angel of the Lord as effectively saying that these men are tokens (or examples, types) of a future event. This is not unknown in Scripture and, in Is 8:18 where the same word is used, we read of a group of people who are spoken of as a ‘sign’ and ‘a portent’ in Israel of events that are yet to take place.
Therefore, what this priestly group of men are in essence, the Branch will be in fulfilment when He is brought to the nation by the Lord Himself.
Though they would have necessarily looked to a fulfilment within their own lifetime, the fulfilment would not be for a great many years still to come but they should be encouraged that they are the forerunners and the demonstration of what the Branch will be given jurisdiction over.
As Smith comments
‘Perhaps the priests would witness the coming of the messianic age but until it came they were to be signs of its coming...The priests then were the signs of the coming messianic age, not of the building of the temple or of the verification of the words of the prophet’
The time that the angel of the Lord is talking about here is that age when the Branch, a designation of the Messiah (Is 11:1, Jer 23:5, 33:15), would come, repeated in Zech 6:12 where more details are given there concerning who He will be rather than here which describes the age that He will bring in.
However, as noted above, the twin commission that represented Joshua as being both a type of king and priest is paralleled in Jesus, the fulfilment of all that Joshua could only be a shadow or illustration of. Though the friends are spoken of along with Joshua as being a ‘sign’ of what was to come in Christ, it is Joshua in particular who fills the role of the illustration of the person He was to be when He walked the earth.
Zech 3:9 has many problems in the Hebrew and I don’t have the ability (and neither the inclination!) to go in to the various possibilities that could yield very varied translations, except to say that, as far as I can see, though many different phrases can be used, most of them cause the passage to become disjointed and fragment what the angel of the Lord is trying to say.
The reader who follows the RSV’s
‘For behold, upon the stone which I have set before Joshua, upon a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day’
is left wondering what on earth a stone with seven inscriptions has to do with the coming of the Branch and the removal of guilt! Better by far is Baldwin’s translation of the text (which requires no emendation of the Hebrew) which reads
‘See the stone which I have set before Joshua. On a single stone, seven springs! See, I open their openings, says the Lord of hosts, and I will take away the guilt of the land in a single day’
Even though the ‘stone’ still presents some problems to interpretation (commentators can’t even agree whether we’re looking at something the size of a boulder or the size of a precious stone that Joshua could have worn on his ‘turban’ during his priestly service!), the alternate translation of ‘springs’ fits in well with the cleansing that will be achieved in one future day. Apart from the number 7 here (a number which is indicative of the perfect nature of the cleansing being made), the prophetic word is similar, if not identical, to a later verse in Zechariah (13:1), a Scripture which also appears to look beyond the present for fulfilment.
‘On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’
even though there appears to be no other explanatory sentence with which it can be explained.
This fountain of cleansing was also spoken of by Jesus, the fulfilment of the Branch, in John 7:37-39. In that passage, the implications to a stream which brings cleansing is not immediately apparent but see my notes here at 3bii where I have explained the implications of the phrase in the context of its Jewish festival setting.
Therefore, the Branch being the reason for the fountain of cleansing that will remove the guilt of the land in a single day is entirely in keeping with the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Finally, the vision concludes by noting (Zech 3:10) that, in the day of the Branch (or, in the day of that cleansing)
‘...everyone of you will invite his neighbour under his vine and under his fig tree’
This phrase is used in Micah 4:4 where it is spoken of in the context of a time when the Lord God is Sovereign over the nations of the world, a time that is reminiscent of its usage here in Zechariah.
The phrase, though used to speak of a time yet to come, seems to have been used in Israel and Judah to mean contentment, rest, prosperity and ease in this life and seems to hold this meaning in I Kings 4:25 and Is 36:16. Those characteristics will be evident on the day of the Branch, the righteous High Priest/King (see on 3:1-5), who will both rule and intercede on behalf of His people.
Though it would have been true of Joshua in his own lifetime, it was perfectly true of Jesus, the complete King/Priest who has caused His Body, the Church, to (have the potential to) fulfil both kingly and priestly offices throughout the world (even if His people fall far short on too many occasions).
The High Priest has been cleansed (3:1-5) and been recommissioned (3:6-7) so that there is now a purpose to their rebuilding of the Temple - though many may have doubted how God could reinstate sacrificial service because of the uncleanness of the priests, He has chosen, by Grace, to remove the guilt not only of His intermediary but of the people.
What God has done is also indicative of what God is about to do in healing the land of its guilt through one man, the Branch, and in causing Him to be both a King and a Priest in His service before God.
Though the Israelites may have looked to finite affairs and short-term events, their vision is projected into the future to see the ultimate cleansing and fulfilment of the promises of God to them as a nation, of which they are the forerunners, the illustration of what is about to take place.
Instead of being an ‘aside’ in the purposes of God, they are the central issue. If it wasn’t for them, the Branch would not come and it is because of their building of the Lord’s House, that the prophetic word has established them with both a future and a hope.
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