Zec_3:1-5. And he shewed me Joshua the high-priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the Angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said. Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.
THE prophecies of Zechariah are by no means easy to be understood: but by attending to the general scope of his subject, we shall generally get an insight into their true meaning. It is not any one particular expression that will give us the best clew to the meaning of the prophet: on the contrary, we may, by laying an undue stress on some word or form of expression, involve the whole in insurmountable difficulty. For instance; if, because it is said, “The Lord hath chosen Jerusalem,” we suppose Joshua to represent Jerusalem, and the whole people of the Jews; or, because “Satan is said to stand at Joshua’s right hand,“(the place of the accuser in a court of justice,) we interpret the whole as a judicial process, we shall never acquire a just and consistent view of the prophecy: we must bear in mind the prophet’s main object, and then every part of his prophecy will appear easy, natural, and clear.
It shall be my endeavour to set before you,
Its primary and prophetical import—
The prophet was sent on purpose to encourage the Jews to rebuild their temple, and restore the whole worship of the temple as it had been prescribed by Moses. The former of these objects he had already attempted, by assurances that Jerusalem should be restored to a great measure of its former splendour and prosperity: and the latter he now endeavours to promote, by declaring to them a vision with which he had been favoured, wherein it had been shewn him, that, however improbable such an event might be, it was ordained of God, and should surely and speedily be accomplished.
[Joshua the high priest is here represented as ministering before the Lord Jesus Christ, in the regular exercise of his priestly office [Note: The priests stood to minister. See Deu_10:8.].
What the precise state of Joshua’s mind was at the time, we are not certainly informed: but, from the whole of the vision, it appears, that he was bemoaning his own sins, and the sins both of the priests and people, and entreating God to interpose for the restoration of his own worship among them.
To obstruct his efforts, Satan put forth all his power. Satan is peculiarly active when the honour of God and the interests of immortal souls are to be opposed. He knew how greatly the restoration of divine worship would advance both the one and the other of these objects, and therefore he set himself instantly to counteract the designs of Joshua. It is probable that the means he used for this end were, first, by representing to God the greatness of the people’s sins, to alienate the mind of God from them (in this way it was that he resisted Job [Note: Job_1:6-12; Job_2:1-6.];) and then by similar representations to discourage the heart of Joshua, and to fill him with despondency.
In support of Joshua, “the Angel of the Lord,” that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, rebuked Satan, saying, “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.” In this form of speaking, a distinction of Persons in the Godhead is clearly marked, as it is also in many other places [Note: Gen_19:24. Psa_110:1.]. The Angel of the Lord is here exercising the unalienable prerogative of Jehovah in forgiving sins; yet refers it to the Father to rebuke Satan, because he is acting the part of an Advocate with the Father in behalf of Joshua and the Jewish Church: and in the rebuke itself, he assures Satan, that all his attempts against Joshua shall fail. “The Lord had chosen Jerusalem;”and would not suffer his own eternal purposes to be defeated. Besides, Joshua, and the Jewish Church whom he represented, were “as a brand plucked out of the fire.” This Satan could not but know and acknowledge: could he think therefore that they had been plucked out of the fire in order to be cast back again into it? Was this ever the way in which Jehovah acted? Were not rather the manifestations of his mercy and love pledges and earnests of yet further blessings? Thus was Satan confounded before him, and Joshua comforted with the hope of ultimate success.
Satan being thus baffled, the angel proceeds to impart more fully to Joshua the assurance he so much desired. The temple not being rebuilt, Joshua had none but old and “filthy garments” wherein to minister before the Lord: the Lord Jesus therefore commands that these be taken from him, and exchanged for others more worthy of the office which Joshua was called to execute. And, as a mitre was no less requisite for the high priest than pure and holy garments, he orders “a fair mitre to be put upon his head.” This signified two things; first, the removal of all guilt from Joshua and those whom he represented, so that they might stand with acceptance before God; and next, the restoration of the temple service in all its excellency and glory. These were the points which Joshua had been pleading for before the angel; and these were the points assured to him in this vision.
The attendant angels were employed in executing Jehovah’s purpose in relation to these things: and “the Angel of the Lord,” the Lord Jesus Christ, “stood by,” to see that completed, which, by his effectual mediation, he had obtained.]
This appears to me to be the primary and prophetical import of the vision before us. We proceed to notice,
Its secondary and mystical import—
As individuals, no less than the Church at large, are the temple of Jehovah, so every true believer, no less than Joshua, is a priest unto his God [Note: 1Pe_2:9. Rev_1:6.]. Hence we may fitly consider Joshua as the representative of individual saints; all of whom minister before the Lord from day to day, under diversified discouragements, but with certainty of ultimate success. See here,
1. Their discouragements—
[The state of the Jews at that time may not unfitly be regarded as characterizing the state of a believer in the earlier stages of his progress. He has been delivered indeed from bondage; but he is still in a very low and destitute condition, and is ready to doubt whether the work that has been begun within him can ever be perfected. He goes before his God from day to day; but comes away more discouraged than before. Satan, that malignant adversary, is more especially active at such seasons, and stands at his right hand to resist him. Numberless are the stratagems which this subtle enemy uses to obstruct his progress and to damp his hopes. He represents to the believer’s mind the enormity of his sills; and intimates, that they are too great to be forgiven. He adduces them as proofs that God has not elected him; and that therefore to seek for mercy is a hopeless task. It is on this account that Satan is called “The accuser of the brethren,” because he accuses them to God, and God to them; yea, and accuses them also to themselves, in order to bring them to despair.
We forbear to notice the outward opposition which Satan raises against them, by persecutions and temptations of different kinds, because it is of that opposition which he makes to them at the throne of grace that we are more particularly led to speak. But “he desires to have them,” as he did to have Peter of old, “that he may sift them as wheat:” and if he were left without controul from a higher power, he would soon reduce them all to chaff.]
Their certainty of final success—
[Believers “have an Advocate with the Father,” the Lord Jesus Christ, “who is also the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1Jn_2:1.]:” and through the care of this ever watchful Protector they are secured, so that “no weapon that is formed against them can prosper.” In the rebuke which this Almighty Friend gives to Satan, there are two things which afford them peculiar consolation; namely, the evidence which they have, that, notwithstanding all their remaining infirmities, a work of grace has been begun upon them; and, the immutability of Him who has thus distinguished them by his grace. True, they see in themselves the fearful marks of the fire in which they have been burned, and a lamentable susceptibility of impression from fire, if by any means they come in contact with it. But from these very things a question arises in their minds, How is it that I am not wholly consumed? If “the bush burn with fire and is not consumed,” is there not reason to hope that God is in the bush? Then I will hope, and not be afraid: for though with man it would be impossible to make use of me as a part of God’s temple, it is not so with God; for with him all things are possible; and “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Rom_11:29.].”
Further; whilst deploring their extreme unworthiness to serve and enjoy God, they hear the order given, “Take from him his filthy garments, and give him a change of raiment:” and, clothed in the unspotted robe of their Redeemer’s righteousness [Note: Rev_3:18.], they know that “their iniquity is taken away, and their sin covered [Note: Isa_61:10.].” They see that there is a sufficiency in the provision thus made for them [Note: Rev_3:18.], and they rejoice in it: and, thus habited, they hope to minister before God with increasing pleasure upon earth, and to stand before him with acceptance in his temple above.
Here is their hope; “The Angel of the Lord stands by.” That Angel has said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world: and, with such an Advocate and Intercessor, they defy all the power of their enemy; assured, that “neither the power nor policy of hell shall ever prevail against them.”]
Would we make a suitable improvement of this passage?
Let us not despair of the Church’s prosperity, however low or desolate her present condition may be—
[The prophet’s word was accomplished: and low as the state of the Jewish Church is, all that is spoken respecting her shall yet be accomplished. She is destined to be the joy and glory of the whole earth. The degradation and dispersion of her members shall not always continue. Glorious days are yet in reserve for her [Note: Zec_1:17; Zec_2:10-12; Zec_8:1-8.]; and, “when she shall turn to the Lord, her Messiah, ungodliness shall be turned away from her, and all Israel shall be saved [Note: Rom_11:26.].”
The Gentiles also, though now so dark,—millions upon millions of them being as ignorant of God and his Christ as the very beasts that perish,—shall one day be joined to the Lord, and, as a royal priesthood, shall offer to him the sacrifices of prayer and praise continually, throughout the whole earth. Who that sees the state of the Heathen world would suppose that this could ever be? But God has said, that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God:” and “he is not a man, that he should lie; nor the son of man, that he should repent.”]
Let us commit our own souls altogether to the care of our all-prevailing Advocate and Mediator—
[Jesus lives: and because he lives, we shall live also; for “he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” If we be his people, we must expect that Satan will use his utmost efforts to destroy us: but he is a vanquished enemy; and “if we resist him manfully, he will flee from us.” When he seems as if he would overpower us, let us call in Omnipotence to our aid, and say, “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.” Let us never doubt the power of our Almighty Friend to succour us, or his faithfulness to preserve us. If we look to ourselves, or if we look to our great adversary, there is nothing but discouragement: but if we look unto Jesus, there is no ground for fear: he can overcome the strong man armed, and liberate us from his yoke. He who “spoiled principalities and powers upon the cross,” and “led captivity captive” in his ascension, can he not bruise Satan under our feet now? He can; he will: and the weakest believer who trusts in him shall “be more than conqueror” over earth and hell. “Faithful is He who hath promised; who also will do it.”]