Zechariah’s fourth vision takes him into the heavenly council which mirrors the reality of the holy courts of the temple where priests officiate before the Lord (similar to Isaiah 6:1-3). The earthly temple is the meeting place of the heavenly council. The temple is one place where heaven and earth overlap.
Zechariah sees three persons: Joshua who is the high priest, the satan, and the angel of Yahweh. Others “standing before” the angel of Yahweh are present to carry out the wishes of Yahweh’s angel. The scene parallels Job 1 where the heavenly council (“sons of God”) weighs Job’s faith. Here the question is what to do with Israel’s sin, Joshua’s filthy clothes.
The angel of Yahweh and the satan oppose each other. In a way this is surprising. Yahweh had judged Judah for its sin (Zechariah 1:4-6). The satan, the accuser (which is the meaning of the Hebrew term), is correct. Joshua’s clothes are dirty; Judah has sinned. The temple was destroyed. The satan appears as an angelic prosecutor—he stands at Joshua’s right side to accuse as if in a legal proceeding (cf. Psalm 109:6). The accuser tells the truth about Judah’s sin.
But the angel of Yahweh opposes the accuser. Yes, Joshua is dirty; Yahweh passed judgment. But the satan is not telling the whole truth because Yahweh delights in Jerusalem. Yahweh loves Israel. The satan is rebuked….twice. The repetition is emphatic. Yahweh will not reject Israel; Jerusalem is chosen. When God elects, no one can dispute. It is God who justifies (cf. Romans 8:31-33).
This election is not temporary. God has chosen; the accuser backs down. Grace and mercy triumph over sin. Judah is a “stick plucked from the fire” (cf. Amos 4:11). God has redeemed Jerusalem once again and yet the question (as in Amos) remains—will they return to Yahweh (Zechariah 1:3)?
Though Joshua stands before the angel of Yahweh in dirty clothes, Yahweh chooses him and changes his clothes. The others who stand before God in the heavenly council are ordered to remove the filthy clothes and put “rich garments” on him. The new clothing is a white, costly, festive garment. This is both forgiveness and investment. It is cleansing and adornment. Joshua is reinvested with priesthood and now not only officiates before the Lord and celebrates the relationship between God and the people of Israel.
This priestly investment, however, is not simply about Joshua’s priesthood. It is also about Israel’s role in the world. Israel was called as a priestly nation who would mediate the presence of God to the nations. Israel is a priest for the world so that the nations might be blessed. The nations will become the people of God because Israel is their priest (Zechariah 2:11). Indeed, humans were invested with a priestly function in creation as we represent God in the creation and serve in the temple which God created. Humanity will again become priests serving before God in the temple that is the new heaven and new earth.
Zechariah, excited by what he was seeing, interrupts the scene with a further appeal to honor Joshua. Don’t forget the “turban,” Zechariah excitedly contributes. What is the “turban”? Many think it refers to the headgear of the high priest (Exodus 28:4). But this is not the same Hebrew word. Rather, this word, derived from a verb meaning “to wrap around,” describes the dress of wealthy or prominent people (Isaiah 3:23; 62:3; Job 29:14). It is a sign of favor. It is a further grace that God gives Israel. God has fully clothed Joshua; Yahweh honors his people as the “apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
Having invested and honored Joshua, the angel of Yahweh now addresses him along with the other priests (and by extension Israel itself). It is, in effect, the message of Zechariah: “return to me.” Joshua, and Israel, must “walk in [Yahweh’s] ways and keep [Yahweh’s] commandments.” Joshua is charged with governing the house of God but only as long as he reflects the glory of God’s presence in that temple. Joshua is called to image God and practice the holiness of God as God’s holy priest. What Adam failed to do, what Joshua’s forefathers failed to do, Joshua is now called to do. Alas, ultimately, he will fail as well. What is a nation to do? What is humanity to do?
The hope of Israel is not Joshua; he is only a sign, a token or, theologically, a type of things to come. Rather, the hope of Israel is Yahweh’s “servant, the Branch.” The oracle of hope following the vision report focuses on the future reality that the “Branch” will realize. The Hebrew “Joshua” appears as “Jesus” in New Testament Greek.
The oracle combines two Messianic traditions in earlier prophets. Isaiah’s obedient but suffering servant (Isaiah 42:1; 49:3; 52:13-53:12) is combined with Jeremiah’s royal, Davidic Branch (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; cf. Isaiah 4:2-5; 11:1). This priestly servant is also invested with royal authority. This coming one—anointed as both priest and king—will inaugurate a new day. That day will be both a day of atonement when Yahweh “will remove the sin of this land in one day” but also on that day everyone “will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree.”
The oracle assures Joshua and his priests that the future is hopeful by drawing attention to the inscribed “stone” with “seven eyes” set in front of them. The meaning of this stone is the subject of varied interpretations. Some identify it with the engraved stones of the high priest’s clothing (Exodus 28:9-12) while others identify it as one of the stones for temple-building and the “eyes” are interpreted as divine omniscience. But a more recent suggestion is that the term for “eyes” is better translated “springs” and it refers to seven fountains of water that flow from the stone. Seven fountains would be sufficient as the number is a complete one.
The stone, then, is a Messianic type for cleansing and refreshing water that renews the land or causes the Branch to shoot up out of the ground. Water flows from Eden out to the world in Genesis 2:10 and the fountain of the new temple of Ezekiel 47:1 rises from below the Holy of Holies.
Whatever the case may be the stone represents renewal for Israel and ultimately for the earth. The inscription might very well anticipate the ending of Zechariah when everything upon the earth—even the bells of horses and cooking utensils—are inscribed “Holy to the Lord” just like the headgear of the high priest of Israel (Zechariah 14:20).
The future vision is the removal of sin from the land, from the earth. A day is coming when all the brokenness of the earth will be removed; there will be no more curse and the land will become new (cf. Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-5). The fruit of the land will mean healing for the nations. Neighbor will invite neighbor—in a reconciled community—to share the joy of the redeemed land. Everyone will have their vine and fig tree which is but a metaphor for a secure, peaceful and fulfilling life (cf. Micah 4:4). That day the nations will live in peace with each other, seek guidance from Yahweh and be called the people of God along with Israel.
On that day nations will, according to Isaiah (2:1-4) and Micah (4:1-5), beat their swords into plowshares and “learn war no more.” May God speed the coming of that day and may the disciples of Jesus, the Branch, embrace that message and lifestyle even now.