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God’s Word for You

Zechariah 3:5-7 The high priest

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 4, 2022

We return to Zechariah today, in the middle of the fourth vision of the night. The prophet has seen the high priest Joshua, clothed in dirty clothes (perhaps rags), being accused by Satan. The devil points out man’s weaknesses and demands (or tries to demand) that God be just and condemn such sins. The devil, of course, is not wrong about man’s sins. Neither the high priest nor the prophet nor me nor you are free from guilt and shame over our sins. But God’s answer is not the one Satan has hoped for. All of his research into man’s sinfulness, all of his long memory of his successes over our resistance that ended in our failure and fall, are evidence enough! Oh, the falling! Each one of us has fallen, fallen, fallen into sin. Our wretchedness piles over our heads in a pit of slime and flames, so that our guilt makes each one cry out, “Oh, what have I done?! Who is able to save me from my wickedness?” But the holy Scriptures are clear: Satan has no power over us. Let him accuse. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12). God is not only the terrible Judge. He is also gracious. He is also our Savior. His answer to Satan’s accusations in the vision is not directed at Satan at all, but to the angels that are also present in the vision, telling them to replace the priest’s filthy clothes with clean ones.

5 And I said,

We have to stop here and identify who “I” is (and there’s a correctly stated phrase you don’t hear every day). Who is the “I” who is speaking? Outside of the discourse of the questions and other statements of the chapter, the only first-person “I” or “me” references are to Zechariah the prophet. So when he identifies the speaker as the Lord, he says, “The Lord said” (verse 2). When the speaker is an angel, the prophet says, “The angel said” (verse 4). Something we failed to mention along with verse 4 is that the angel here who commanded the change of the clothes is the divine Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who four centuries later would be born as Jesus Christ.

Now in verse 5, the prophet says, “And I said,” and this can only be the prophet Zechariah. Later in the verse the Angel of the Lord is once again mentioned, but in the third person, as someone who is standing there as Zechariah’s imperative is carried out, and approving of Zechariah’s words.

“Let a clean turban be placed on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. The angel of the LORD was standing there.

This turban is the tsanif, something worn by honorable men (Job 29:14), wealthy women (Isaiah 3:23), and also a word for the headpiece of priests (Exodus 28:4) and even by the king in Ezekiel 21:31. The offices of priest and king are united in Christ, which we learn in Psalm 110:1-4. The request of Zechariah is the conclusion the Lord wanted the prophet to reach. The moment he says, “Let a clean turban be placed on his head,” it is done without comment or reservation. Clean clothes are given; a clean headdress is given. The accusations of Satan are answered by the grace of God: Joshua is declared to be forgiven and holy, and he is able to serve.

6 And the angel of the LORD testified to Joshua, 7 “This is what the LORD of hosts says: If you will walk in my ways and keep my office, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among those who are standing here.

The problem of the very first words of the book are now answered. The forefathers of the remnant of Israel would not turn away from their sin. Now God has called out again, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). This is what the people have done. And even though the temple is puny, the walls are not very high or imposing, and the people are stained with sin, they have been forgiven.

Now the assurance comes in the vision that their high priest is right with God, that he is able to serve, and that they may once again bring sacrifices once the altar and temple are completed.

Verse 7 ends with an unusual statement. The Angel of the Lord tells the high priest that he will have “a place,” that is, the right to have access, “among those who are standing here.” This is a way of saying that the high priest and, by extension, his congregation, have direct access to God. This is the same promise Christ makes to the New Testament church and which we all have by faith. For “since we have our great high priest,” who is Christ,  “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). In the days of Joshua and Zechariah, such access was possible only to the high priest and only one day each year. But the time was coming soon when this would be granted to all the people at all times, through the work of the great high priest.

So here we have the work of the great high priest, Jesus Christ, explained and prophesied in advance. There will be a little more to say about this in the verses to follow, and then we will move on to another of the offices of the Messiah, which is that of King.

The work of Jesus Christ on our behalf is the main thing to be remembered no matter what we read and ponder in the Bible. We confess in the very first of our Lutheran Confessions: “Our churches teach that people are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes as righteousness in his sight.” (Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 1-3). Zechariah saw this in a vision and we remember it and confess it with well-chosen words. But this faith is a gift from God in either case. He has given to us what he asks of us. This is the glory and the overwhelming delight of God’s love: He looks for faith in us, and he is the one who has given us that faith. Trust in him, and know that you are his own dear child.

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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