Zechariah 3 – The Filth of Sin Can Only Be Cleansed by a Sovereign Act of Almighty God

Zechariah is one of only three books in the Old Testament where Satan gets a starring role. The others being I Chronicles and Job (mentioned 11 times!). In this chapter he is doing to Joshua the high priest what comes naturally to him given his name, accusing him. That’s what Satan always does, accuses, and I think he shows up in this chapter because the Lord is giving us a very big picture lesson. It is a vision of the gospel, and it can bear no other interpretation.

“The Lord,” says to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Another veiled reference to the Trinity, or he would just say, “I rebuke you.” Then we are told it is the Lord “who has chosen Jerusalem.” What is the point of putting that in the narrative? After what, a thousand years of rebellion, after he has scattered his people and allowed the city to be destroyed, he in what appears to be anger asserts Jerusalem is his? Remember the context is the remnant coming back to Jerusalem. At the end of the previous chapter we read of the Lord’s declaration of a universal salvation, and that again he would choose Jerusalem. This place, this city, is from where the salvation of mankind is to come. And he chose it specifically in spite of what the people had done, not because. It is a sovereign act of his mercy and grace, and Satan doesn’t like it one bit!

So what exactly is Satan accusing Joshua of? It doesn’t say directly, but we can infer from the text. Right after he rebukes Satan, the Lord says, “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Is this, then, not a picture of complete, sovereign mercy and grace? What could be more helpless than a burning stick in a fire? Not much the stick can do to save itself, now can it. Then to fill in the picture of exactly what this helplessness refers to we’re told that “Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” Of the word filthy Strong’s Concordance says:  from an unused root meaning to issue; soiled (as if excrementitious). In other words he was covered in poop! What in the world? But we see from the very next verse what this filth represents:

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

It is our sin! That is the object of Satan’s ire. And who hasn’t felt the sting of his accusations; we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, according to this chapter way short! You might say, shit short! We are by nature filthy, smelly sinners worthy of condemnation. But by a sovereign act of Almighty God he takes away our sin and clothes us in garments of righteousness. And what exactly did Joshua do to “deserve” this? Nothing! As do we in our own salvation. As Charles Hodge says, it is the sovereign, supernatural work of God in the soul of man.

Then the Lord tells him without equivocation exactly how all this is going to happen. Joshua and his associates are “symbolic of things to come.” He is going to bring his “servant, the Branch.” Then he sets a stone in front of Joshua that has seven eyes on it, seven being the symbolic number of perfection in Scripture. This perfection will be all seeing. And to what end is all this symbolism:

I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

How in the world could he do that? Another Joshua, crucified on a Roman cross some 500 years into the future would take away the sins of the world on a Good Friday afternoon. I suppose a pious believing Jew could say the text says “this land” so it can’t refer to Jesus, but throughout the Old Testament “the land” is often referred to in symbolic and eschatological terms. The last simple words of the chapter give it this latter, eschatological sense:

10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The essence of sin is alienation, from God, ourselves, and others. This simple invitation is another piece of the symbolism of the chapter. And think about it, why is Joshua the lead character in the symbolic picture of the salvation to come? Because he’s the high priest, and his job is to enter the Holy of Holies once a year into the presence of God to atone for the sins of the people. When this happens as Zechariah’s vision proclaims, God’s presence will be available to all his people, and we now know in the person of the Holy Spirit. Alienation becomes shalom in us, and one day all the world.




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