a. Kingly aspects
a. Priestly Aspects
This passage marks the concluding prophecy of the series which began with Zech 1:7 and is the only prophecy which calls upon the prophet to take it upon himself to do something. In the previous visions and words, Zechariah has been a passive observer (even though he has asked questions throughout his experience) but now he becomes one who is required to act upon the Word of God.
There are only a few waves of exiles returning from Babylon that are recorded for us in Scripture, the most notable being the ones under Zerubbabel and Joshua (Ezra 2) and Ezra (Ezra 8:1-14), Nehemiah’s being a small party which goes largely unrecorded (Neh 2:9-11). But this does not appear to have been an unusual occurrence as is evidenced by this passage in Zechariah which speaks about some of the exiles returning in between the two previously mentioned.
They brought with them gold and silver, something that Ezra was to do later with the men and women who travelled with him (Ezra 7:14-16, 8:26-30) and which may not have been as rare as would have been expected - the removal of silver and gold from lands naturally made those nations less wealthy and there are ancient records which show that Jews were forbidden from sending money back to Jerusalem for the welfare of the resident Jews (notably records dating from around the time of Christ in Asia Minor and cited in my notes on the Seven Churches).
But Cyrus’ decree seems to still have held authority (Ezra 1:4) even before word had reached the Jews from king Darius as to what his decision was regarding it. At the very least, the Medes and Persians were turning a blind eye to the wealth that was being exported away from the centre of their kingdom - perhaps, even, it was being smuggled out?
The RSV makes Zech 6:10 sound as if the first three named were the returnees and that Josiah was already resident within the land upon their arrival but, as Smith notes
‘It does appear from the MT that [Josiah] was a part of the group because the relative clause with a plural verb “who came from Babylon” follows his name’
Smith also asks the pertinent question whether the four returned exiles’ names were
‘...Heldai, Tobiah and Jedaiah and Josiah (v.10)? Or were they Helem, Tobiah, Jedaiah, and Hen (v.14)?
seeing as the original texts have different names in the two lists (something that modern translations tend to gloss over by emending the text appropriately) and comments that
‘...only the name Josiah the son of Zephaniah is considered a proper name by the LXX. The other “names” are treated as apellatives [Dictionary - ‘a common as opposed to a proper name’] and are translated as such...If the first three “names” are titles, there might have been many more than three or four returnees in the group’
Even though we are unable to be specific with regards the numbers of the returnees in this passage, more importantly is the question as to why Zechariah is told to go to the house of Josiah (6:10). The most logical explanation is that he was some sort of metal worker and that the crown was to be made by him but, in that case, why wasn’t one of the resident metal workers given the task of doing the work?
Whatever, we shall never know for certain but it would appear that Josiah had been returned for a short time otherwise the text would have been unlikely to have stated that Zechariah was to go to his house.
It is worth splitting this prophecy into different sections as there are numerous points that need to be taken individually.
The Branch (Zech 6:12) is a title of the Messiah, God’s anointed One, who the Jews were looking to to restore the kingdom of David. The prophet has already heard one of the angels of the Lord mention Him in a previous passage (Zech 3:8) and there also it was in connection with the High Priest, Joshua.
The former prophets used the title in the same context, Isaiah being the first to prophesy (11:1) that
‘There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse’
while Jeremiah went on to say to the nation before the exile of the Jews into Babylon (Jer 23:5) both that
‘I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land’
‘I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David: and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely’
both passages going on to state that
‘This is the name by which He will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness”’
As can be seen from the Scriptures, the Branch was to be a direct descendant of Jesse through the line of David - something that Joshua the High Priest certainly wasn’t (I Chr 6:3-15, Ezra 5:2) even though it is only he who is associated with that title in Zechariah. Here, then, it is the ‘type’ of Joshua which is an illustration to the people of who their Messiah will be (as it was in Zech 3:8 where God specifically refers to Joshua ‘and his friends’ as men who are a sign - see on that passage for an explanation of the Hebrew phrase).
The RSV’s translation of Zech 3:12
‘Behold, the man whose name is the Branch’
naturally reads as if it refers to Joshua as being the one promised, but the Hebrew literally runs (so Baldwin)
‘Behold a man, Branch by name’
which is not so specific. Joshua, then, was to be an illustration to the people, but he was not to be the fulfilment of that promise.
The Branch who is promised here is both King and Priest. So closely will they be united in that One Person that Zechariah twice refers to differing aspects in the same phrase that makes his prophecy look odd.
Firstly, he is told to (6:11)
‘...make a crown and set it upon the head of Joshua’
Zerubbabel was the one descended from the line of the kings, specifically from David (I Chr 3:10-19, Mtw 1:6-12), and he is the one who, naturally speaking, the crown should have been placed upon. Therefore one would immediately have raised an eyebrow when the event was being performed because it seemed to contradict what had been already plainly revealed through the former prophets.
Some commentators assert that later copyists swapped the name from the original Zerubbabel when he never succeeded to the throne, but this is without foundation and, as Baldwin notes,
‘If it could be demonstrated that scribes were in the habit of adjusting texts they copied in this way, the argument would be more weighty, but the evidence is all in the other direction’
Secondly, Zechariah is told (6:13 - my italics and capitals) that
‘...there shall be a priest ON His throne...’
After speaking of the kingly aspects of the Messiah, Zechariah comes out with this enigmatic phrase that has caused the RSV to soften the full implication of the word ‘on’ by using the word ‘by’. But, even though there is one throne, the text actually says that a priest shall be sat on it along with the previous description of the King.
The subsequent phrase (Zech 6:13)
‘...and peaceful understanding shall be between them both’
harmonises both aspects - there will be a perfect unity between the kingly and priestly characteristics of the Branch, the Messiah, so that one shan’t contradict the ministry of the other.
These twin aspects are not only contrasted here but are mentioned in the other phrases which occur throughout the prophetic word in both Old and New Testaments.
a. Kingly aspects
Zechariah is told concerning the Branch (Zech 6:13) that
‘It is He who...shall bear royal honour and shall sit and rule upon His throne’
The ‘crown’ (6:11, 14) is also indicative of sovereignty [NB - The Hebrew actually reads ‘crowns’ rather than the singular ‘crown’ in both verses but, in the latter verse, it is followed by a singular verb. Baldwin writes
‘Hebrew used the plural as one way of denoting excellence and, therefore, we may take Zechariah to be speaking of the excellence of the Messiah’s sovereignty above all others’
It is the ultimate crown for the ultimate king.
Alternatively, the plural may have been used, as Baldwin also notes, because
‘Eastern crowns were circlets, which would be worn singly or fitted together to make a composite crown...The mention of two different metals indicates that there were at least two circlets’
The latter is the more likely explanation but we shouldn’t think that one naturally excludes the possibility of the other]
This parallels the word of God through Jeremiah who prophesied of (23:5)
‘...a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King...’
and, in the NT (I Cor 15:25), Jesus is proclaimed as having to
‘...reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet’
(see also 33:15, Is 9:6-7 and Heb 1:8)
b. Priestly Aspects
Zechariah is told (6:12-13) that
‘...[the Branch] shall grow up in [Joshua’s] place...a priest...’
and the Psalmist is so bold as to say of the coming King (Ps 110:4) that
‘...You are a priest forever...’
(see also the passage Heb 7:1-8:2 in the NT which is a lengthy exposition regarding the High Priesthood of Jesus)
Both in Zerubbabel (the heir - Hag 2:23) and in Joshua (the High Priest), we see aspects of the future Messiah, but here in Zechariah 6:9-15 the priestly ones are being emphasised because it is only Joshua who is being crowned.
True, there are statements concerning the King and they are not far from the mind even though all the words centre in Joshua, but Zerubbabel is largely forgotten about here for the sake of proclaiming the Truth concerning the Messiah. Had Zerubbabel been chosen to receive this honour and be the object of the prophetic word, the Jews might never have thought that there was anything strange in the declaration, but crowning the High Priest immediately makes one sit up and take notice that there is more to the word than initially meets the eye.
So confusing did the prophetic words appear to the Jews that they went on to propose two ‘messiahs’ - one who would fulfil the function of a priest while the other would reign as king. But the word is made plain here that both priest and king shall sit on the one throne and, if the Branch is one, then what must be witnessed is a harmony of function within one man, not two.
In the NT it is declared that in the man, Jesus Christ, both roles are perfectly united and fulfilled.
We have already noted above that the Hebrew word is plural and proposed two possible explanations for this. Here, I want to comment on the statement (Zech 6:14) that
‘...the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder...’
If this were a fictitious event or a word that Zechariah did not expect himself to have to act out, we would expect there to be no further mention of the crown that was specifically made for Joshua. But, in the Mishnah (a body of Jewish writings which attempted c.200AD to encapsulate Rabbinic teaching around the time shortly before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD), we read concerning the Temple (Middoth 3:6, 8)
‘The laver stood between the Porch and the Altar, towards the south. Between the Porch and the Altar was twenty-two cubits...And cedar posts were fixed between the wall of the Sanctuary and the wall of the porch that it might not bulge. And golden chains were fixed to the roof-beam of the Porch by which the young priests could climb up and see the crowns, as it is written “And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah for a memorial in the temple of the Lord”...’
So it would appear that, just as the Scripture says, the crown was made and, after being put on Joshua, was laid aside in the Temple to serve as a reminder to subsequent generations that the Branch who was to come would be both Priest and King.
Zech 6:15 reads
‘And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord’
This verse is a continuation of the thought of 6:12 that I didn’t comment on previously where it is said of the Branch that
‘...He shall build the Temple of the Lord’
In that first occurrence, it is difficult to see how the word of the Lord could be taken to be referring to the building construction currently underway - and history does not record for us any individual who rose up at this time who performed both kingly and priestly functions and helped rebuild the Temple (whose completion occurred within the next four years - Cp Zech 1:7 with Ezra 6:15).
Therefore we don’t appear to be wrong to see in the words a future time still to come even after the Temple completion when the Branch was to come and ‘build the Temple’. This statement concerning Him is what probably lay behind the Jews accusation of Mtw 26:61 (a misquote of John 2:19-22) where, before the High Priest, witnesses accused Jesus of saying
‘...I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days...’
It wasn’t that they were trying to label Jesus as a madman who could not possibly be taken seriously but that they were trying to make the charge stick that He had proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah, the Branch, who had been prophesied as rebuilding the Temple of God back in Zech 6:12. What appears to be the strangest thing is that the priests seemed to be more concerned with having Jesus say that He was the Messiah than in actually examining the facts of the matter to see if He was!!
But Jesus’ words, misapplied at the trial, really did refer to the prophetic word and yet, were to find a better fulfilment in His death and resurrection when He paid the price for a people - both Jews and Gentiles - who would be the new Temple of God (I Cor 3:16-17, 6:19, II Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21, I Peter 2:5) replacing the old structure which became obsolete.
Therefore, when we read of ‘those who are far off’ (Zech 6:15) coming to help in the building of the Temple, the times of the New Covenant must be in mind even though, initially, there could have been no concept of what those times were to entail.
The phrase may, initially, have thought to have referred to the scattered Jews throughout the world (known as the Diaspora) but, as we now know, both Jews and Gentiles are welcomed into the one covenant in order that mankind might be brought together in Christ.
The Jews are reminded (6:15) that these things (that is ‘those who are far off’) shall only come to pass
‘...if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God’
and we are left in the dark as to what might happen should the Israelites choose to reject His words. But Paul’s words in Rom 11:11-12 make us see that their disobedience did not restrict the Gentiles from being used to build the new Temple, it only disallowed themselves (for a time) from being partakers of the promises.
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