Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
In this and the following visions the prophet is shown the future glorification of the church of the Lord. Zac 3:1. "And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Jehovah, and Satan stood at his right hand to oppose him. Zac 3:2. And Jehovah said to Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan; and Jehovah who chooseth Jerusalem rebuke thee. Is not this a brand saved out of the fire? Zac 3:3. And Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. Zac 3:4. And he answered and spake to those who stood before him thus: Take away the filthy garments from him. And he said to him, Behold, I have taken away thy guilt from thee, and clothe thee in festal raiment. Zac 3:5. And I said, Let them put a clean mitre upon his head. Then they put the clean mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of Jehovah stood by." The subject to ויּראני is Jehovah, and not the mediating angel, for his work was to explain the visions to the prophet, and not to introduce them; nor the angel of Jehovah, because he appears in the course of the vision, although in these visions he is sometimes identified with Jehovah, and sometimes distinguished from Him. The scene is the following: Joshua stands as high priest before the angel of the Lord, and Satan stands at his (Joshua's) right hand as accuser. Satan (hassâtân) is the evil spirit so well known from the book of Job, and the constant accuser of men before God (Rev 12:10), and not Sanballat and his comrades (Kimchi, Drus., Ewald). He comes forward here as the enemy and accuser of Joshua, to accuse him in his capacity of high priest. The scene is therefore a judicial one, and the high priest is not in the sanctuary, the building of which had commenced, or engaged in supplicating the mercy of the angel of the Lord for himself and the people, as Theodoret and Hengstenberg suppose. The expression עמד לפני furnishes no tenable proof of this, since it cannot be shown that this expression would be an inappropriate one to denote the standing of an accused person before the judge, or that the Hebrew language had any other expression for this. Satan stands on the right side of Joshua, because the accuser was accustomed to stand at the right hand of the accused (cf. Psa 109:6). Joshua is opposed by Satan, however, not on account of any personal offences either in his private or his domestic life, but in his official capacity as high priest, and for sins which were connected with his office, or for offences which would involve the nation (Lev 4:3); though not as the bearer of the sins of the people before the Lord, but as laden with his own and his people's sins. The dirty clothes, which he had one, point to this (Zac 3:3).
But Jehovah, i.e., the angel of Jehovah, repels the accuser with the words, "Jehovah rebuke thee;... Jehovah who chooseth Jerusalem."
(Note: The application made in the Epistle of Jude (Jde 1:9) of the formula "Jehovah rebuke thee," namely, that Michael the archangel did not venture to execute upon Satan the κρίσις βλασφημίας, does not warrant the conclusion that the angel of the Lord places himself below Jehovah by these words. The words "Jehovah rebuke thee" are a standing formula for the utterance of the threat of a divine judgment, from which no conclusion can be drawn as to the relation in which the person using it stood to God. Moreover, Jude had not our vision in his mind, but another event, which has not been preserved in the canonical Scriptures.)
The words are repeated for the sake of emphasis, and with the repetition the motive which led Jehovah to reject the accuser is added. Because Jehovah has chosen Jerusalem, and maintains His choice in its integrity (this is implied in the participle bōchēr). He must rebuke Satan, who hopes that his accusation will have the effect of repealing the choice of Jerusalem, by deposing the high priest. For if any sin of the high priest, which inculpated the nation, had been sufficient to secure his removal or deposition, the office of high priest would have ceased altogether, because no man is without sin. גּער, to rebuke, does not mean merely to nonsuit, but to reprove for a thing; and when used of God, to reprove by action, signifying to sweep both him and his accusation entirely away. The motive for the repulse of the accuser is strengthened by the clause which follows: Is he (Joshua) not a brand plucked out of the fire? i.e., one who has narrowly escaped the threatening destruction (for the figure, see Amo 4:11). These words, again, we most not take as referring to the high priest as an individual; nor must we restrict their meaning to the fact that Joshua had been brought back from captivity, and reinstated in the office of high priest. Just as the accusation does not apply to the individual, but to the office which Joshua filled, so do these words also apply to the supporter of the official dignity. The fire, out of which Joshua had been rescued as a brand, was neither the evil which had come upon Joshua through neglecting the building of the temple (Koehler), nor the guilt of allowing his sons to marry foreign wives (Targ., Jerome, Rashi, Kimchi): for in the former case the accusation would have come too late, since the building of the temple had been resumed five months before (Hag 1:15, compared with Zac 1:7); and in the latter it would have been much too early, since these misalliances did not take place till fifty years afterwards. And, in general, guilt which might possibly lead to ruin could not be called a fire; still less could the cessation or removal of this sin be called deliverance out of the fire. Fire is a figurative expression for punishment, not for sin. The fire out of which Joshua had been saved like a brand was the captivity, in which both Joshua and the nation had been brought to the verge of destruction. Out of this fire Joshua the high priest had been rescued. But, as Kliefoth has aptly observed, "the priesthood of Israel was concentrated in the high priest, just as the character of Israel as the holy nation was concentrated in the priesthood. The high priest represented the holiness and priestliness of Israel, and that not merely in certain official acts and functions, but so that as a particular Levite and Aaronite, and as the head for the time being of the house of Aaron, he represented in his own person that character of holiness and priestliness which had been graciously bestowed by God upon the nation of Israel." This serves to explain how the hope that God must rebuke the accuser could be made to rest upon the election of Jerusalem, i.e., upon the love of the Lord to the whole of His nation. The pardon and the promise do not apply to Joshua personally any more than the accusation; but they refer to him in his official position, and to the whole nation, and that with regard to the special attributes set forth in the high priesthood - namely, its priestliness and holiness. We cannot, therefore, find any better words with which to explain the meaning of this vision than those of Kliefoth. "The character of Israel," he says, "as the holy and priestly nation of God, was violated - violated by the general sin and guilt of the nation, which God had been obliged to punish with exile. This guilt of the nation, which neutralized the priestliness and holiness of Israel, is pleaded by Satan in the accusation which he brings before the Maleach of Jehovah against the high priest, who was its representative. A nation so guilty and so punished could no longer be the holy and priestly nation: its priests could no longer be priests; nor could its high priests be high priests any more. But the Maleach of Jehovah sweeps away the accusation with the assurance that Jehovah, from His grace, and for the sake of its election, will still give validity to Israel's priesthood, and has already practically manifested this purpose of His by bringing it out of its penal condition of exile."
After the repulse of the accuser, Joshua is cleansed from the guilt attaching to him. When he stood before the angel of the Lord he had dirty clothes on. The dirty clothes are not the costume of an accused person (Drus., Ewald); for this Roman custom was unknown to the Hebrews. Dirt is a figurative representation of sin; so that dirty clothes represent defilement with sin and guilt (cf. Isa 64:5; Isa 4:4; Pro 30:12; Rev 3:4; Rev 7:14). The Lord had indeed refined His nation in its exile, and in His grace had preserved it from destruction; but its sin was not thereby wiped away. The place of grosser idolatry had been taken by the more refined idolatry of self-righteousness, selfishness, and conformity to the world. And the representative of the nation before the Lord was affected with the dirt of these sins, which gave Satan a handle for his accusation. But the Lord would cleanse His chosen people from this, and make it a holy and glorious nation. This is symbolized by what takes place in Zac 3:4 and Zac 3:5. The angel of the Lord commands those who stand before Him, i.e., the angels who serve Him, to take off the dirty clothes from the high priest, and put on festal clothing; and then adds, by way of explanation to Joshua, Behold, I have caused thy guilt to pass away from thee, that is to say, I have forgiven thy sin, and justified thee (cf. Sa2 12:13; Sa2 24:10), and clothe thee with festal raiment. The inf. abs. halbēsh stands, as it frequently does, for the finite verb, and has its norm in העברתּי (see at Hag 1:6). The last words are either spoken to the attendant angels as well, or else, what is more likely, they are simply passed over in the command given to them, and mentioned for the first time here. Machălâtsōth, costly clothes, which were only worn on festal occasions (see at Isa 3:22).; They are not symbols of innocence and righteousness (Chald.), which are symbolized by clean or white raiment (Rev 3:4; Rev 7:9); nor are they figurative representations of joy (Koehler), but are rather symbolical of glory. The high priest, and the nation in him, are not only to be cleansed from sin, and justified, but to be sanctified and glorified as well.
At this moment the prophet feels compelled to utter the prayer that they may also put a clean mitre upon Joshua's head, which prayer is immediately granted. The prayer appears at first to be superfluous, inasmuch as the mitre would certainly not be forgotten when the dirty clothes were taken away and the festal dress was put on. Nevertheless, the fact that it is granted shows that it was not superfluous. The meaning of the prayer was hardly that the high priest might be newly attired from head to foot, as Hengstenberg supposes, but is rather connected with the significance of the mitre. Tsânı̄ph is not a turban, such as might be worn by anybody (Koehler), but the headdress of princely persons and kings (Job 29:14; Isa 62:3), and is synonymous with mitsnepheth, the technical word for the tiara prescribed for the high priest in the law (Ex. and Lev.), as we may see from Eze 21:31, where the regal diadem, which is called tsânı̄ph in Isa 62:3, is spoken of under the name of mitsnepheth. The turban of the high priest was that portion of his dress in which he carried his office, so to speak, upon his forehead; and the clean turban was the substratum for the golden plate that was fastened upon it, and by which he was described as holy to the Lord, and called to bear the guilt of the children of Israel (Exo 28:38). The prayer for a clean mitre to be put upon his head, may therefore be accounted for from the wish that Joshua should not only be splendidly decorated, but should be shown to be holy, and qualified to accomplish the expiation of the people. Purity, as the earthly type of holiness, forms the foundation for glory. In the actual performance of the matter, therefore, the putting on of the clean mitre is mentioned first, and then the clothing with festal robes. This took place in the presence of the angel of the Lord. That is the meaning of the circumstantial clause, "and the angel of the Lord stood" (ritum tanquam herus imperans, probans et praesentia sua ornans, C. B. Mich.), and not merely that the angel of the Lord, who had hitherto been sitting in the judge's seat, rose up from his seat for the purpose of speaking while the robing was going on (Hofmann, Koehler). עמד does not mean to stand up, but simply to remain standing.
In these verses there follows a prophetic address, in which the angel of the Lord describes the symbolical action of the re-clothing of the high priest, according to its typical significance in relation to the continuance and the future of the kingdom of God. Zac 3:6. "And the angel of the Lord testified to Joshua, and said, Zac 3:7. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, If thou shalt walk in my ways, and keep my charge, thou shalt both judge my house and keep my courts, and I will give thee ways among these standing here. Zac 3:8. Hear then, thou high priest Joshua, thou, and thy comrades who sit before thee: yea, men of wonder are they: for, behold, I bring my servant Zemach (Sprout). Zac 3:9. For behold the stone which I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone are seven eyes: behold I engrave its carving, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts, and I clear away the iniquity of this land in one day. Zac 3:10. In that day, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts, ye will invite one another under the vine and under the fig-tree." In Zac 3:7 not only is the high priest confirmed in his office, but the perpetuation and glorification of his official labours are promised. As Joshua appears in this vision as the supporter of the office, this promise does not apply to Joshua himself so much as to the office, the continuance of which is indeed bound up with the fidelity of those who sustain it. The promise in Zac 3:7 therefore begins by giving prominence to this condition: If thou wilt walk in my ways, etc. Walking in the ways of the Lord refers to the personal attitude of the priests towards the Lord, or to fidelity in their personal relation to God; and keeping the charge of Jehovah, to the faithful performance of their official duties (shâmar mishmartı̄, noticing what has to be observed in relation to Jehovah; see at Lev 8:35). The apodosis begins with וגם אתּה, and not with ונתתּי. This is required not only by the emphatic 'attâh, but also by the clauses commencing with vegam; whereas the circumstance, that the tense only changes with venâthattı̄, and that tâdı̄n and tishmōr are still imperfects, has its simple explanation in the fact, that on account of the gam, the verbs could not be linked together with Vav, and placed at the head of the clauses. Taken by themselves, the clauses vegam tâdı̄n and vegam tishmōr might express a duty of the high priest quite as well as a privilege. If they were taken as apodoses, they would express an obligation; but in that case they would appear somewhat superfluous, because the obligations of the high priest are fully explained in the two previous clauses. If, on the other hand, the apodosis commences with them, they contain, in the form of a promise, a privilege which is set before the high priest as awaiting him in the future - namely, the privilege of still further attending to the service of the house of God, which had been called in question by Satan's accusation. דּין את־בּיתי, to judge the house of God, i.e., to administer right in relation to the house of God, namely, in relation to the duties devolving upon the high priest in the sanctuary as such; hence the right administration of the service in the holy place and the holy of holies. This limitation is obvious from the parallel clause, to keep the courts, in which the care of the ordinary performance of worship in the courts, and the keeping of everything of an idolatrous nature from the house of God, are transferred to him. And to this a new and important promise is added in the last clause (ונהתּי וגו). The meaning of this depends upon the explanation given to the word מהלכים. Many commentators regard his as a Chaldaic form of the hiphil participle (after Dan 3:25; Dan 4:34), and take it either in the intransitive sense of "those walking" (lxx, Pesh., Vulg., Luth., Hofm., etc.), or in the transitive sense of those conducting the leaders (Ges., Hengst., etc.). But apart from the fact that the hiphil of הלך in Hebrew is always written either הוליך or היליך, and has never anything but a transitive meaning, this view is precluded by the בּין, for which we should expect מבּין or מן, since the meaning could only be, "I give thee walkers or leaders between those standing here," i.e., such as walk to and fro between those standing here (Hofmann), or, "I will give thee leaders among (from) these angels who are standing here" (Hengstenberg). In the former case, the high priest would receive a promise that he should always have angels to go to and fro between himself and Jehovah, to carry up his prayers, and bring down revelations from God, and supplies of help (Joh 1:51; Hofmann). This thought would be quite a suitable one; but it is not contained in the words, "since the angels, even if they walk between the standing angels and in the midst of them, do not go to and fro between Jehovah and Joshua" (Kliefoth). In the latter case the high priest would merely receive a general assurance of the assistance of superior angels; and for such a thought as this the expression would be an extremely marvellous one, and theבּין would be used incorrectly. We must therefore follow Calvin and others, who take מהלכין as a substantive, from a singular מהלך, formed after מחצב, מסמר, מזלג, or else as a plural of מהלך, to be pointed מהלכים (Ros., Hitzig, Kliefoth). The words then add to the promise, which ensured to the people the continuance of the priesthood and of the blessings which it conveyed, this new feature, that the high priest would also receive a free access to God, which had not yet been conferred upon him by his office. This points to a time when the restrictions of the Old Testament will be swept away. The further address, in Zac 3:8 and Zac 3:9, announces how God will bring about this new time or future.
To show the importance of what follows, Joshua is called upon to "hear." It is doubtful where what he is to hear commences; for the idea, that after the summons to attend, the successive, chain-like explanation of the reason for this summons passes imperceptibly into that to which he is to give heed, is hardly admissible, and has only been adopted because it was found difficult to discover the true commencement of the address. The earlier theologians (Chald., Jerome, Theod. Mops., Theodoret, and Calvin), and even Hitzig and Ewald, take כּי הנני מביא (for behold I will bring forth). But these words are evidently explanatory of אנשׁי מופת המּה (men of wonder, etc.). Nor can it commence with ūmashtı̄ (and I remove), as Hofmann supposes (Weiss. u. Erfll. i. 339), or with Zac 3:9, "for behold the stone," as he also maintains in his Schriftbeweis (ii. 1, pp. 292-3, 508-9). The first of these is precluded not only by the fact that the address would be cut far too short, but also by the cop. Vav before mashtı̄; and the second by the fact that the words, "for behold the stone," etc., in Zac 3:9, are unmistakeably a continuation and further explanation of the words, "for behold I will bring forth my servant Zemach," in Zac 3:9. The address begins with "thou and thy fellows," since the priests could not be called upon to hear, inasmuch as they were not present. Joshua's comrades who sit before him are the priests who sat in the priestly meetings in front of the high priest, the president of the assembly, so that yōshēbh liphnē corresponds to our "assessors." The following kı̄ introduces the substance of the address; and when the subject is placed at the head absolutely, it is used in the sense of an asseveration, "yea, truly" (cf. Gen 18:20; Psa 118:10-12; Psa 128:2; and Ewald, 330, b). 'Anshē mōphēth, men of miracle, or of a miraculous sign, as mōphēth, τὸ τέρας, portentum, miraculum, embraces the idea of אות, σημεῖον (cf. Isa 8:18), are men who attract attention to themselves by something striking, and are types of what is to come, so that mōphēth really corresponds to τύπος τῶν μελλόντων (see at Exo 4:21; Isa 8:18). המּה stands for אתּם, the words passing over from the second person to the third on the resuming of the subject, which is placed at the head absolutely, just as in Zep 2:12, and refers not only to רעיך, but to Joshua and his comrades. They are men of typical sign, but not simply on account of the office which they hold, viz., because their mediatorial priesthood points to the mediatorial office and atoning work of the Messiah, as most of the commentators assume. For "this applies, in the first place, not only to Joshua and his priests, but to the Old Testament priesthood generally; and secondly, there was nothing miraculous in this mediatorial work of the priesthood, which must have been the case if they were to be mōphēth. The miracle, which is to be seen in Joshua and his priests, consists rather in the fact that the priesthood of Israel is laden with guilt, but by the grace of God it has been absolved, and accepted by God again, as the deliverance from exile shows," and Joshua and his priests are therefore brands plucked by the omnipotence of grace from the fire of merited judgment (Kliefoth). This miracle of grace which has been wrought for them, points beyond itself to an incomparably greater and better act of the sin-absolving grace of God, which is still in the future.
This is the way in which the next clause, "for I bring my servant Zemach," which is explanatory of 'anshē mōphēth (men of miracle), attaches itself. The word Tsemach is used by Zechariah simply as a proper name of the Messiah; and the combination ‛abhdı̄ Tsemach (my servant Tsemach) is precisely the same as ‛abhdı̄ Dâvid (my servant David) in Eze 34:23-24; Eze 37:24, or "my servant Job" in Job 1:8; Job 2:3, etc. The objection raised by Koehler - namely, that if tsemach, as a more precise definition of ‛abhdı̄ (my servant), or as an announcement what servant of Jehovah is intended, were used as a proper name, it would either be construed with the article (הצּמח), or else we should have עבדּי צמח שׁמו as in Zac 6:12 - is quite groundless. For "if poets or prophets form new proper names at pleasure, such names, even when deprived of the article, easily assume the distinguishing sign of most proper names, like bâgōdâh and meshūbhâh in Jeremiah 3" (Ewald, 277, c). It is different with שׁמו in Zac 6:12; there shemō is needed for the sake of the sense, as in Sa1 1:1 and Job 1:1, and does not serve to designate the preceding word as a proper name, but simply to define the person spoken of more precisely by mentioning his name. Zechariah has formed the name Tsemach, Sprout, or Shoot, primarily from Jer 23:5 and Jer 33:15, where the promise is given that a righteous Sprout (tsemach tsaddı̄q), or a Sprout of righteousness, shall be raised up to Jacob. And Jeremiah took the figurative description of the great descendant of David, who will create righteousness upon the earth, as a tsemach which Jehovah will raise up, or cause to shoot up to David, from Isa 11:1-2; Isa 53:2, according to which the Messiah is to spring up as a rod out of the stem of Jesse that has been hewn down, or as a root-shoot out of dry ground. Tsemach, therefore, denotes the Messiah in His origin from the family of David that has fallen into humiliation, as a sprout which will grow up from its original state of humiliation to exaltation and glory, and answers therefore to the train of thought in this passage, in which the deeply humiliated priesthood is exalted by the grace of the Lord into a type of the Messiah. Whether the designation of the sprout as "my servant" is taken from Isa 52:13 and Isa 53:11 (cf. Isa 42:1; Isa 49:3), or formed after "my servant David" in Eze 34:24; Eze 37:24, is a point which cannot be decided, and is of no importance to the matter in hand. The circumstance that the removal of iniquity, which is the peculiar work of the Messiah, is mentioned in Eze 37:9, furnishes no satisfactory reason for deducing ‛abhdı̄ tsemach pre-eminently from Isa 53:1-12. For in Zac 3:9 the removal of iniquity is only mentioned in the second rank, in the explanation of Jehovah's purpose to bring His servant Tsemach. The first rank is assigned to the stone, which Jehovah has laid before Joshua, etc.
The answer to the question, what this stone signifies, or who is to be understood by it, depends upon the view we take of the words עינים ... על אבן. Most of the commentators admit that these words do not form a parenthesis (Hitzig, Ewald), but introduce a statement concerning הנּה האבן. Accordingly, הנּה האבן וגו is placed at the head absolutely, and resumed in על אבן אחת. This statement may mean, either upon one stone are seven eyes (visible or to be found), or seven eyes are directed upon one stone. For although, in the latter case, we should expect אל instead of על (according to Psa 33:18; Psa 34:16), שׂים עין על does occur in the sense of the exercise of loving care (Gen 44:21; Jer 39:12; Jer 40:4). But if the seven eyes were to be seen upon the stone, they could only be engraved or drawn upon it. And what follows, הנני מפתּח וגו, does not agree with this, inasmuch as, according to this, the engraving upon the stone had now first to take place instead of having been done already, since hinnēh followed by a participle never expresses what has already occurred, but always what is to take place in the future. For this reason we must decide that the seven eyes are directed towards the stone, or watch over it with protecting care. But this overthrows the view held by the expositors of the early church, and defended by Kliefoth, namely, that the stone signifies the Messiah, after Isa 28:16 and Psa 118:2, - a view with which the expression nâthattı̄, "given, laid before Joshua," can hardly be reconciled, even if this meant that Joshua was to see with his own eyes, as something actually present, that God was laying the foundation-stone. Still less can we think of the foundation-stone of the temple (Ros., Hitz.), since this had been laid long ago, and we cannot see for what purpose it was to be engraved; or of the stone which, according to the Rabbins, occupied the empty place of the ark of the covenant in the most holy place of the second temple (Hofmann); or of a precious stone in the breastplate of the high priest. The stone is the symbol of the kingdom of God, and is laid by Jehovah before Joshua, by God's transferring to him the regulation of His house and the keeping of His courts (before, liphnē, in a spiritual sense, as in Kg1 9:6, for example). The seven eyes, which watch with protecting care over this stone, are not a figurative representation of the all-embracing providence of God; but, in harmony with the seven eyes of the Lamb, which are the seven Spirits of God (Rev 5:6), and with the seven eyes of Jehovah (Zac 4:10), they are the sevenfold radiations of the Spirit of Jehovah (after Isa 11:2), which show themselves in vigorous action upon this stone, to prepare it for its destination. This preparation is called pittēăch pittuchâh in harmony with the figure of the stone (cf. Eze 28:9, Eze 28:11). "I will engrave the engraving thereof," i.e., engrave it so as to prepare it for a beautiful and costly stone. The preparation of this stone, i.e., the preparation of the kingdom of God established in Israel, by the powers of the Spirit of the Lord, is one feature in which the bringing of the tsemach will show itself. The other consists in the wiping away of the iniquity of this land. Mūsh is used here in a transitive sense, to cause to depart, to wipe away. הארץ ההיא (that land) is the land of Canaan or Judah, which will extend in the Messianic times over the whole earth. The definition of the time, beyōm 'echâd, cannot of course mean "on one and the same day," so as to affirm that the communication of the true nature to Israel, namely, of one well pleasing to God, and the removal of guilt from the land, would take place simultaneously (Hofmann, Koehler); but the expression "in one day" is substantially the same as ἐφάπαξ in Heb 7:27; Heb 9:12; Heb 10:10, and affirms that the wiping away of sin to be effected by the Messiah (tsemach) will not resemble that effected by the typical priesthood, which had to be continually repeated, but will be all finished at once. This one day is the day of Golgotha. Accordingly, the thought of this verse is the following: Jehovah will cause His servant Tsemach to come, because He will prepare His kingdom gloriously, and exterminate all the sins of His people and land at once. By the wiping away of all guilt and iniquity, not only of that which rests upon the land (Koehler), but also of that of the inhabitants of the land, i.e., of the whole nation, all the discontent and all the misery which flow from sin will be swept away, and a state of blessed peace will ensue for the purified church of God. This is the thought of the tenth verse, which is formed after Mic 4:4 and Kg1 5:5, and with which the vision closes. The next vision shows the glory of the purified church.