By J.R. Miller
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. His prophetic career seems to have been brief. His mission was that of an encourager. The people in trying to rebuild Jerusalem had become greatly discouraged. A deep depression had settled on them. Zechariah sought to kindle hope in their hearts and to induce them to undertake the work of building. In visions which are interpreted by the angel, the prophet gives his message.
Our passage gives one of the visions. "He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary." This is a strange picture--the high priest in his place before God, and Satan standing beside him. We understand at once that Satan is not there for any friendly purpose. He is never anywhere for a friendly purpose in behalf of a godly man, or for the good of the world. No matter in what guise Satan appears, or what his profession may be--his real object is always sinister and wicked.
Probably if we could see spirits with these eyes of ours--we should many times behold pictures like this--good people in good places with good intent--and Satan standing at their right hand. When we go to church, Satan no doubt keeps near us or has some of his messengers near us, not because he enjoys going to church, nor because he likes to be with us--but because he has some evil design on us. He is always our adversary, whatever he may profess to be--never our friend.
Life is full of insidious dangers. Ofttimes when we think we are safest--we are in the greatest peril. Many of our gravest dangers are unsuspected, because they hide in the sunshine of our sweetest blessings. Prosperity has its perils, which are worse in many cases than what we dread so in adversity or misfortune. Disease is more apt to lurk in a soft, dreamy atmosphere, balmy and pleasant--than in the sharp, chill, wintry air of January. More demons hide in luxurious conditions, than in circumstances of hardship and honest poverty. So it is in spiritual things. Living in a church--would not keep the devil away from one's ear. The minister in his pulpit or at the communion table--is not sheltered from the assaults of Satan, the adversary. When the priest and the prophet stand before God, Satan always stands beside them!
While Satan was standing beside Joshua, so was the angel of Jehovah. That counteracted the danger. Satan could not harm the godly priest, while the Lord was taking care of him. Satan will no doubt follow us wherever we go, even intruding himself into the holiest places. But if we are where duty calls us or leads us--we know that God is beside us as well as Satan, and that no harm can come to us so long as we trust in Him and are faithful and obedient. If in the picture Satan alone stood, unseen, beside God's priest--it would be full of alarm, for no mortal is a match for Satan. But while the Lord also is present--there is a safe shelter into which the imperiled soul may flee. "God is our refuge ... a very present help in trouble!" "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it, and is safe!"
The best way we can answer those who would harm us--is to let God answer for us. "And the LORD said to Satan: I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you." The Lord is the friend of His people and will not stand by inactive, when Satan is plotting against any one of them. He is the defender especially of the defenseless.
This characteristic of the divine love is revealed in all parts of the Scriptures. God is the God of the weak. In the Mosaic laws, definite provision was made for the widow and the orphan. Something was to be left for them, when the harvests were gathered. The poor were put under special protection, to shield them from the oppression of the rich and the strong. Every child of God is an object of peculiar divine care. The weakest of them all--is as safe in God's keeping, even amid the greatest dangers--as safe as if they were already in heaven!
In a great flood in one of the rivers of the West, some men in a skiff saw an infant's cradle floating in the middle of the wide, turbulent river, and, rowing to it, found in it a little baby sleeping sweetly, in quiet peace, wrapped warm and dry in its blankets. No harm had come to the child in the wild torrent. Just so does God hold His little ones in the midst of earth's wildest dangers. No harm can come to one of them--while nestling in His bosom.
The form of the rebuke here suggests that we may safely leave our defense in the Lord's hands--when Satan assails us and when anyone would do us harm.
It is probable that Joshua did not see his adversary standing beside him, and did not see the Lord nor hear His word of rebuke to Satan. This suggests that many a time when we are not aware of our danger--the Lord has saved us from it by His own hand, delivering us from the hand of the adversary. The only true safety for us--is in trusting in God, for ofttimes we do not know when danger is near; and if we have not God to care for us--we must perish! True faith is simply doing our duty--and letting Christ look after the keeping of our life.
"Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" A "brand" is a piece of wood, charred, almost burned up--but then snatched out of the fire. Though so nearly destroyed, it yet has wood in it and may be capable of noble uses. A "brand plucked out of the fire" may seem hopeless--yet it may have in it the possibilities of great usefulness and beauty.
This "remnant" of returned Jews was only a brand plucked from the fire of captivity--but it was not dead, and under God's gentle culture it would become a nation and be great and strong. We know well what did become of this brand--the Messiah, and at length Christianity. We ought never to despise nor despair of any life that has immortality in it.
The vision was suggestive. "Take off his filthy garments." This was an acted parable. We may read a good deal of gospel teaching into it--and yet not wrest the Scripture. The filthy garments were a true picture of Joshua's moral condition in the eyes of the Lord God. The "adversary" meant to prove that the high priest was not a holy man. The Lord did not question this charge. But He commanded those who stood by--to take off those filthy garments, saying then to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you!" So the change of clothing meant more than just that. It was a picture of what the redemption of Christ does for all those who trust Him as Savior. It finds them clad in filthy garments. Satan stands by and accuses them. "They are not holy," he says; "not worthy of heaven or everlasting life. Look at their sins!" Very true in one sense. None are holy--none are worthy of heaven. But Jesus died for sinners. He made an atonement for sin. He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And He comes and strips off the filthy garments of the flesh, and clothes those who believe on Him in the beautiful clothing of righteousness. He says, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you!"
The parable is continued: "So they put a clean priestly turban on his head and dressed him in new clothes." They put upon him the priestly dress. The mitre had a gold plate across the forehead, with the inscription, "Holiness to the Lord." This indicated the sacred character of him who wore it--set apart for God. It also signified that he on whose brow the words were shining, was a forgiven man--unworthy in himself--but cleansed and accepted. The garments were also priestly garments, beautiful and clean.
Christ's redeemed ones are a "kingdom of priests." When we are received by Him--we are clad in priestly turban and new apparel. We are to be holy. Every Christian life should be a transfigured life. Forgiveness means cleansing. The putting away of sins means not merely acquittal, the remission of penalty. It is the putting away of sin itself out of the life. This wonderful result is accomplished by the entrance into the heart of the Holy Spirit, who, making His dwelling place there, transforms the whole being.
A promise of honor and power is given: "If you follow my ways and obey my requirements, then you will be given authority over my Temple and its courtyards. I will let you walk in and out of my presence along with these others standing here." The way to rise to higher places--is to be faithful in the humbler places in which our lot is cast. All promotion depends upon faithfulness. Unless we do well the smaller things which God gives us to do--He will not entrust greater things to us. The man who was faithful and diligent in the use of his two talents--saw the two become four, and found himself put in trust also with new responsibilities.
We are specially concerned with the lesson that faithfulness in the common duties of the passing days--is the most important thing of life with us. We need not seek promotion, nor think of honor or reward; we should desire and strive only to be true and loyal to God and to the duty He gives. Doing this, He will lead us step by step into the larger service or greater usefulness as He may find us ready.
The words take a prophetic turn. "I will bring forth, my servant the Branch." Just then the Jewish nation was like the mere stump of a tree which had been cut down. There was no beauty and but little sign of life. The glory of David's days had failed. The nation was now in captivity. A few of the people had returned to their own old land, and there was a feeble effort made to renew the old national and religious life. But all this seemed very small and unpromising. It did not appear to human eyes--that the ancient glory could ever be seen again. Yet here is a promise that out of this mere stump should come a "Branch," a shoot, which should grow into great luxuriousness of life, far surpassing the splendor of the original tree which once had been so noble and so fruitful. We know how this promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who came of this lowly stock, and whose life and glory now fills earth and heaven.
Prosperity would follow: "In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the LORD Almighty." This is a picture of peace--under the vine and under the fig-tree. It suggests quiet and security, joy and gladness. The gospel brings peace!