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God’s Word for You

Zechariah 3:2 snatched from the fire

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 30, 2022

2 The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Thirty-nine years ago this weekend (July 3, 1983), my dad’s paint store caught fire; the western halves of the store and of the apartment above (where my grandparents lived) were destroyed and were never rebuilt. While we cleaned up the mess and got ready for reconstruction of the eastern half that summer, and as we filled dumpster after dumpster with the ruin and the junk that had once been hundreds of cans of paint, tubes of calk, wallpaper, ceiling tiles, two by fours, wall board, carpet, display cases, furniture, and countless other things, I remember thinking to myself: We have to throw out even the things that are just scorched; there will be nothing left of the old store. And so it was. Even those few things that were not really destroyed by the fire were still ruined by it.

The Lord’s rebuke of Satan calls up the same image in my mind: Jerusalem was a ruined, burned-out thing; a shell of what once was. Compared to the former glory of the city, its beautiful high walls and the magnificence of the temple and the royal houses, what was there in Zechariah’s time, the time of the high priest Joshua, was just a ruin. It was like a smoking stick plucked from the fire. The Lord uses the “smoking stick” image about the city, the nation, and this high priest himself.

In the vision, Satan is standing on Joshua the priest’s right hand. To a king on his throne, the man to his right was a trusted advisor and even the prince and heir of the realm the way the ascended Jesus is at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69). However, in a courtroom, the accuser or prosecuting attorney was on the defendant’s right, as we see in Psalm 109:6. What accusation might there be of a priest or a minister as he serves the Lord? The accusations are not hard to imagine: Am I worthy to be here? Don’t my many sins and temptations disqualify me from service? There are other men who are more well-versed in the Scriptures than I am. “I do not come with eloquence or superior wisdom; my message and my preaching are not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Corinthians 2:1,4). Other preachers are quicker to give a good answer, they are better with the old, or the young, or the grieving, than I am. And worst of all: Is what we are doing here today pleasing to God? Isn’t everything we do pitiful, small, and worthless to the kingdom?

The answer comes from the Lord’s own holy lips. He does not answer lightly or idly, or without considering what he says. Whatever doubts were in the priest’s mind, the Lord attacked the devil himself. I rebuke you, Satan! I, the Lord, am the one who chose Judah to be my own, and I am the one who is speaking to you. I rebuke you! (Note that the archangel Michael spoke the same curse according to the inspired author Jude, who said that when Michael was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, he did not raise any particular slander against the devil, but kept his words to the simple: ‘The Lord rebuke you!,’ Jude 1:9. This was in a valley of Moab on one of the descents from the peak of Mount Nebo after Moses had died, Deuteronomy 34:6).

The Lord’s words are a defense of the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. “The Lord has chosen Jerusalem.” This is not about the worthiness or the glory of the city, for the city was a ruin. It wasn’t about the worthiness of the office of the priesthood, or about any of the men who serve as priests or ministers. Rather, it is about the worthiness of the One we serve, who is Christ. This is the role of Jesus Christ our advocate, the one who speaks up for us. “If anybody sins, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

In saying “The Lord rebuke you,” the Lord is saying the same thing as “Curse you!” This is a righteous curse, which in a human being Luther calls “the curse of faith.” Paul cursed the high priest of the Jews when he stood in the Sanhedrin by saying: “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:3). In the same way, Joshua cursed the Gibeonites for their deception (Joshua 9:23). And God cursed Judah because, he said, “you are robbing me” (Malachi 3:9). Such curses are not done from anger or frustration, the way so many foul-mouthed men and women (and their children) curse anything and everything today. But when such curses are sent upon a living person by a godly man for a godly reason, they are a preaching of the law to bring a sinner to repentance. In this case, with Satan cursed, this is simply another example of his eternal damnation multiplied, like a murderer who is already serving many life sentences having another one added on when evidence shows him to be even more a murderer than anyone thought.

The sins of the devil and his fellow demons can never be forgiven. This makes him rage and fume and hate God who condemned him. He should hate himself for his sins; he should have begged for forgiveness, but he did not. Could he—before he betrayed God’s plan and caused Adam and Eve to fall—could he have been forgiven, and been brought back into God’s family in heaven? No. A traitor in heaven could never be tolerated. There was never a chance for the devil to be forgiven once he sinned. This is why that creature of hate despises us. God has forgiven us through Jesus, through the blood of his own Son.

This man, Joshua, was the high priest, the pastor of a tiny remnant of believers that was little more in size than any rural village in America today. This was what was left of God’s faithful people. This man, Joshua, was not spared from the exile by the hand of God simply to be bullied and abused by the devil. He was brought out of the exile to do spiritually what Noah’s children did physically after the flood: he was to be fruitful, and increase the numbers of God’s family of believers. This generation there were a few thousand. The next generation, those few thousands would be several thousands. A generation later, and those would become many thousands, tens of thousands, and so on. They would grow from the small group that they were into the nation of Judea into which the Savior would be born, the Savior who was on his way to take away the sins of the world.

Think of your place in your own family in the same way. Your family might be small, or the Christian portion of your family might be so small as to seem like a burning stick snatched from a fire. You might even be an orphan, rescued from death or obscurity to the place you have been given today. Share your faith. This is the place you have in the kingdom. Whether you feel like a second- or third-generation family member in God’s kingdom, or whether you might be the only one like Joshua standing before God with the devil accusing you this very moment, you are God’s child, a member of God’s family. The Father has qualified you to share in his kingdom (Colossians 1:12). Your whole salvation depends on God alone, and so trust in him (Psalm 62:7). You are forgiven and you are made holy by the blood of Jesus.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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