By Edward Dennett
In chapter 2 the Lord has revealed His purposes of grace in the future restoration both of Jerusalem and of His people; chapter 3, while containing a distinct vision and complete in itself, explains how He will accomplish His purposes consistently with His righteousness. Hence we have first of all the state of the people exhibited in the person of Joshua, the high priest, as their representative: "And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." (v. 1) There are three parties in this striking scene — Joshua, the angel of the Lord, and Satan. Joshua as the high priest is, as already stated, viewed as representing the people, and the fact of his being clothed in filthy garments (v. 3) shows their guilty condition before God. The angel of the Lord is really Jehovah — Jehovah as He had been revealed in the midst of Israel; for as was said to Moses, "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him." (Exodus 23:20-21.) This makes it very clear that it is Jehovah Himself who is meant. Satan is, as given in the margin, the adversary, the adversary to God and to man, and hence is known, as the word here etymologically signifies, as the enemy or adversary. But in order to understand the scene, it is necessary to remember that Satan has acquired certain rights over man through man's sin; and he is thus spoken of as having had the power of death, which indeed he wielded over man as God's just judgment against sin. (See Heb. 2:14.) It was Satan, in these rights which he possessed over the sinner, that our blessed Lord, as we learn from the scripture just cited, through His death destroyed or brought to nought, in order to deliver those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage; and this must be borne in mind in the explanation of the Lord's action with reference to Joshua. Satan, therefore, had grounds for resisting Joshua, i.e., for opposing God's purposes of grace towards His people. They were guilty, and this was evident from the very garments with which Joshua was clothed; and the problem here to be solved was, How could God bless, righteously bless, His people, according to His purposes, while they were in this condition, seeing, in fact, that they were amenable to judgment, on account of their iniquity? How could the claims of Satan be discharged, and the people be set in favour and blessing?
The answer is found in verse 2, an answer which not only reveals the way of the nation's deliverance, but also teaches the way of justification for every poor sinner who seeks salvation. "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?" Satan had rightly read the terms of the law under which the people had been placed; he had also rightly construed his own power accruing from that ministration of condemnation and death; but he had neglected to observe, indeed it was not possible for his evil heart to understand, the intimations of grace which were scattered here and there throughout the Pentateuch and the Prophets, and he consequently concluded that his claims were irresistible. He was thus but little prepared for the withering answer, "The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan;" and the rebuke is administered because of grace, that grace which had stepped in and rescued Jerusalem and Israel from the curse under which they had fallen, and made it possible for them to be restored to the favour of God. Hence it is added, "Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?"
This may need a further word of explanation. Grace then is expressed in the words, "The Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem." She had indeed failed in her responsibility, and had fallen under the rod of Jehovah's anger; but she was, notwithstanding, the object of His grace; and the grace that had chosen would in due season declare the righteous ground of its action (for grace can only reign through righteousness), and, in the prospect of its full display in blessing, could even now view Jerusalem as a brand plucked out of the fire. This righteous ground was found in the death of Christ (see John 11:51; Acts 5:31), which is alike the foundation for the salvation of believers in this dispensation, and for the accomplishment of God's purposes of grace towards His ancient people.
A full and complete answer is given to Satan in verse 2. Verse 3 brings out distinctly the state of the nation as seen in the person of Joshua, who was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the angel. In verse 4 Jehovah proceeds to act, on the ground of the grace announced in verse 2, and to show how He will make Israel fit, morally fit, for His own presence. "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." (v. 4.) First, He commands those that stand before Him to take away Joshua's filthy garments. This is ever the first action of grace when the sinner comes to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; for the first thing that troubles the soul when divinely awakened to feel its sin is a sense of its guilt, and its consequent unfitness for the presence of God. The answer to this need is discovered in the blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin. But not only are the filthy garments removed, but Jehovah also says to Joshua, "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee," etc. So now God gives the certainty to the soul of being cleansed, even as the Lord Himself when on earth, for example, assured the woman who was a sinner that her sins were forgiven her; for if grace removes our filthy garments, it would also have us know that they are gone.
But this is not all, for there is a further announcement: "And I will clothe thee with change of raiment." And this is effected in the next verse: "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." (v. 5.) The change of person in the speaker is worthy of notice — "And I," not He, "said." It would seem as if the prophet had been so brought into communion with the mind of God by the vision which he beheld that he is used to become its expression. He had heard the divine word, "I will clothe thee [Joshua] with change of raiment," and entering into what had thus been promised, he intercedes, as it were, that it might at once be done. In this lies the principle of all prevailing intercession — the soul entering into the thoughts of God and turning them into prayer. (Compare 2 Samuel 7:25-29; Daniel 9; John 15:7.) The word, "fair" would be more accurately rendered "pure," as the reference is to the high-priestly garments of fine linen (Exodus 28:39), which are specially a type of purity, and in one place of the righteousness of saints (Rev. 19:8); but as worn by the high priest they were a symbol rather of the spotless purity of Christ. And this will enable us to understand the meaning of the action before us. The iniquity of Joshua had been removed, his filthy garments had been taken away, and thus that which disqualified him for the presence of Jehovah was gone; but, now that he was clothed in pure garments, he received his positive fitness and qualification to be before God; and, inasmuch as the mitre was significant of office, he was qualified to be there on behalf of the people. Two things indeed followed upon his receiving the pure garments — he could now stand in righteousness in the presence of Jehovah and he could enjoy continued access there as the ministering priest. Grace thus fully answered the accusations of the adversary, and showed in the completion of its work how "the brand plucked out of the fire," — Jerusalem, or the people — could righteously have a place in the immediate presence of God as a nation of priests.
And it may again be observed that God deals with the individual sinner in precisely the same way; for not only does He, through the applied efficacy of the work of Christ, remove his guilt, but, through his death and resurrection, He brings him into a new place and standing, makes him the righteousness of God in Christ, so that in that new place and condition the sinner answers fully to the mind of God, and can therefore be in His presence in perfect peace and liberty.
If grace, however, brings into blessings and privileges, it makes the realisation and enjoyment of these dependent upon walk and conduct. Accordingly we find Joshua addressed by the angel, in the name of the Lord of hosts, "If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shall also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts; and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by." (v. 7.) To judge the house of God and to keep His courts belonged to the priest's office (see Deut. 17:9-13; Malachi 2:7; also 2 Chr. 26:16-21), but none could do these things truly unless they themselves were walking in obedience to the word; and thus Joshua's occupation of these exalted offices is expressly made conditional upon it, if it be not rather a promise, an encouragement held out to him that he might be enabled to walk in the ways of his God. There is surely a voice in all this for those who take the lead among the saints of God (compare 1 Tim. 3); for just as in Eli's and Samuel's days, when manifold evils, corruptions, and abuses had crept in among the people, to the dishonour of Jehovah's name, when their sons walked according to their own inclinations, instead of keeping the charge of God, so now when man's will in those who lead sets aside the authority of Christ, there can be nothing but confusion and corruption in the assembly. The priests' lips — and this is ever true — should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; and only in this way are those who have prominence among the Lord's people qualified for the maintenance of discipline in the house of God, as upholders and vindicators of the Lord's name and honour entrusted to their care. Moreover Joshua should, if faithful, have a special position before God, liberty of access, and association with, "places to walk among," those that "stand by" in the presence of Jehovah
Verse 7 deals with Joshua in his then relation to the people, charged as he was with the interests of the house of God; whereas verse 8 takes him up, and presents him, as a type of Christ in the days of the kingdom when He will associate Israel with Himself as a nation of priests. (Compare Rev. 1:5-6.) This will help to the understanding of the language employed: "Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at [or, men of marvellous signs are they]: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH." (v. 8.) The fellows of Joshua will be the ordinary priests; and as Aaron, together with his sons, ever represents the Church as the priestly family in association with Christ, so Joshua and his companions, in this connection, shadows forth Christ in the midst of His "fellows" (Heb. 1:9), who, through association with Him will then be a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." And this exaltation will cause them to be men of signs, wondered at, even as when Christ displays the saints in heavenly glory, He will be glorified in them, and admired, wondered at, in all them that have believed. For truly the world will be astonished in beholding the poor despised race of Israel lifted up into association with the King of kings, and Lord of lords, as indeed the prophets have foretold. (See Isaiah 60:14-22, etc.)
The ground of all is the introduction of the Branch — the Messiah in whom, and by whom, all blessing, whether for the Church or for Israel, is secured. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied of Christ in this character (Isa. 4:2, Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5, Jer. 33:15, etc.), and a single citation from one of these will explain its meaning. "There shall come forth a rod," says Isaiah, "out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots." (Isa. 11:1) The figure of a branch is thus evidently derived from the fact that the Messiah has sprung from the family of David according to the flesh, from a root or stock long hidden, as if dead, but which, as will one day be seen, is still full of sap and life. In Revelation we learn that He is the root as well as the offspring of David (Rev. 22:16); for He who became of the seed of David according to the flesh, was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Rom. 1:3-4.) He was therefore both David's Son and David's Lord. (Matt. 22:42-4.5.)
The bringing forth of Jehovah's servant, the Branch, will, then, be the means of the accomplishment of the promised blessing; and hence it is that the actual stone which had been laid before Joshua, the foundation stone of the temple, was a type of Christ as the foundation in Zion, "a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation." (Isaiah 28:16). And there are three things connected with Him in this character: first, "upon one stone shall be seven eyes." (v. 9.) This "one stone" is Christ; and Christ, inasmuch as the stone is to be laid in Zion, as the foundation of God's government in the earth; and on this stone will be the seven eyes, because there will be seen in it the omniscience of God, His perfect intelligence, as displayed in Messiah's righteous government, from Zion as the centre, of the nations of the earth.1 The second thing is, "Behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts." It should receive the exact impression of His own thoughts, have His own endorsement, be graven with His own device or seal, and thus be publicly known as His; and then we have, thirdly, "I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day." This will be the consequence of the all-efficacious work of Christ; for it was through His death and resurrection that He became the foundation stone, and when His government is established in Zion, His people will have looked upon Him whom they had pierced (see chapters 12 - 14), and thus will, through repentance and faith, have been brought under the value of His atoning sacrifice, so that Jehovah will righteously remove the iniquity of the land in one day. It looks forward to the time when the nation will be cleansed from their sins by the blood of Christ, and when it will thus be possible for Jehovah to dwell once more in the midst of His people.
It is interesting to point out the reference to, and the application of, this scripture by the apostle Paul. "Nevertheless," he says, "the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal ['the graving thereof'], The Lord knoweth them that are his. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ [or, of the Lord] depart from iniquity." (2 Tim. 2:19) The foundation no one could overturn; and the Lord knew in a day of confusion and ruin, who were resting upon it; but it was incumbent upon all who professed His name, owned His authority, to depart from iniquity. If in Zechariah it was God stepping in, on His people's repentance, to remove the iniquity of His land, in Timothy it is the responsibility of all who acknowledge Christ as Lord to walk in separation from evil — this being the evidence of the reality of their profession.
But to return. Following, then, upon the purging of the land there is further blessing. "In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree." (v. 10) This is the blessed effect of the reign of the Prince of Peace, of Christ in the character of Solomon, and therefore the fulfilment of the words spoken of Solomon's reign: "Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry." (1 Kings 4:20.) It is the favour and blessing of God, and peace with one another, and, as a consequence in the kingdom, full earthly prosperity — the realisation indeed of the truth of the words of the angels at the birth of Christ. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men [or; in men]." (Luke 2:14.)
1) For the profit of the reader the following remarks of another are transcribed: "In 2 Chronicles 16 we find the eyes of Jehovah represented as running to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards Him. This is the faithfulness of God in taking cognizance of all things in His ways of government. In Zechariah the eyes are found upon the stone that is laid in Zion. It is there that the seat of that government is placed which sees everything and everywhere. In verse 10 of the next chapter these eyes, which behold all things, which run through the whole earth, are said to rejoice when they see the plummet in the hands of Zerubbabel, that is to say, the house of Jehovah's habitation entirely finished. In this case they are not presented as established in the seat of government upon earth, but in their character of universal and active oversight, and in this providential activity, never resting until Jehovah's counsels of grace towards Jerusalem are accomplished; and then they shall rejoice. The active intelligence of providence finds its full delight in the accomplishment of the unchangeable purpose of the will of God. Finally these eyes are again seen in Revelation 5, in the Lamb exalted to the right hand of God, who is about to take possession of His inheritance of the earth. Here it is the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth; for the government is in the hands of the Lamb, although He has not yet exercised it in the earth, of which He is about to be put in possession." — Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by J. N. D., vol. ii., 3rd edition.