Study Guide: The Prophecies of Zechariah. Chapter 3.

Joshua the High Priest and the Branch (Zechariah 3:1-10)

Zechariah’s third vision takes place in a heavenly courtroom, of sorts. The High Priest, Joshua (Haggai 1:1), has been brought before the Lord by Satan (Heb. ha satan; literally, “the accuser”). Satan is the adversary of God’s people, bringing their sin and uncleanliness before God and pleading for their condemnation. In this vision, the angel of the Lord is standing beside Joshua acting as his public defender. The charge that Satan has brought against Joshua is a serious one: Joshua’s priestly garments are covered in filth (3:3).

The ESV Study Bible suggests that this filth is not simply dirt, but human waste. A quick look at the Hebrew lends some clarity to this idea: the root of this adjective is צאי (ts’y), a word that is, interestingly, only used twice in the Hebrew Old Testament – both times in Zechariah 3. This rarely-occurring word, evidently, denotes something that is soiled with waste. This being the case, Joshua the High Priest is ceremonially defiled and unclean, unfit to stand in the presence of God.

It was the duty of the High Priest to intercede on behalf of the nation of Israel before God and make atonement for the sins of the community on Yom Kippur (see Leviticus 16), so Joshua’s own defilement presented a serious problem. Yet the angel of the Lord renders Satan’s charges invalid by removing the soiled garments and replacing them with clean priestly vestments – a symbol of Joshua’s worthiness to intercede for Israel in the presence of the Lord. Joshua’s cleanliness (read: righteousness [v. 4]) is imputed by the angel of the Lord; it is not earned. God graciously accepts Joshua – and, by proxy, Israel – based on his own elective authority, not on Joshua’s own merits.

The angel of the Lord then gives Joshua a command, followed by a promise: if Joshua will live in righteous obedience to the Lord, then he will be granted unprecedented access to God’s heavenly courts. Consider this vision in the greater context of Zechariah’s previous prophetic visions: Zechariah’s visions are meant to reassure Israel that God is still attentive to the needs of his people. By granting Joshua access to the heavenly council, God is granting his people a human representative to advocate and intercede for them directly before God.

The purpose of this vision is quickly made clear to Zechariah: Joshua the High Priest is meant to symbolize much greater blessings to come. God will send his Servant, the Righteous Branch (stop here and read Jeremiah 33:14-16) who will forever serve as a heavenly human advocate to intercede and atone for Israel’s sins. God inscribes a stone before Joshua as a symbol of this divine promise. God proclaims that, through his Servant, the Branch, God will remove the sins of the whole land “in a single day” (v. 9) and hosts of people will come to sit under the “vine and fig tree”. Again, we see a future vision of the fulfilled promise of God’s blessings extending beyond Israel, to people of all nations. The vine and the fig tree are symbols of peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25). The prophet Micah envisioned the day when the throne of God will be established over the whole world, and,

“Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
. . .
Everyone will sit under their own vine
    and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”
(Micah 4:2, 4:4)

Summary of Zechariah 3

Zechariah has a vision of the High Priest, Joshua, standing before God. Joshua is made pure and holy before God, symbolizing God’s gracious preservation and election of Israel. However, Joshua is merely a symbol for greater things to come. There will be a day when God will send his Servant, who will be an even greater human advocate for God’s people than Joshua. Through the ministry of this Servant, God will remove the sins of his people in one fell swoop and restore peace and prosperity to the land.

As the Branch-Servant theme is developed in the New Testament, it is revealed that this promised individual is Jesus Christ, who serves as the human high priest advocating and atoning for the sins of all God’s people.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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