From the Book of Ezra (chapter 2:36-39), we learn that among the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon were Joshua and 4,289 priests. But they stood in a sad contrast to the original picture of the Lord’s holy priesthood, as it was represented in Aaron’s zealous grandson, Phinehas. The priests in these days were guilty of turning aside out of the way of God’s Law themselves, and they had also caused many others to stumble with them. As a judgment upon such a degenerate priesthood, they had fallen under great reproach. There is also reason to believe that the regulations for the people’s support of the priesthood had fallen into disuse, and so they had neither robes nor vessels nor the proper equipment required for proper worship in the house of God.
Under such conditions, then, there was great propriety in Zechariah’s vision of “Joshua the high priest, standing before the Angel of the Lord… Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the Angel.” There was no miter upon his head, and no insignia of exalted office upon his person; and his disheveled robes told the sad story of neglect. At the very least, the description reflected the general conception that was entertained of the priesthood; and the question may even have been raised as to whether there was any use in rebuilding the Temple, while the officiating ministers were so unworthy of their high calling.
But is there not a deeper meaning here? Does not Joshua represent all believers, who have been made priests unto God, and are called “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”? (1 Peter 2:5) Are there not times in our lives when we feel unfit to render that sacred service? It may be at the hour of evening prayer, when the household is assembling; but we hesitate to open the Sacred Word or engage in prayer, because something has gone amiss during the preceding hours, which has soiled the heart and ruffled the inward peace. What is to be done under such circumstances? Should we renounce our priesthood? No! Like Joshua did, we must simply remain standing before the Angel of the Covenant – the Lord Jesus. He knows it all; we do not need to shrink from His searching eyes, for He loves us infinitely! He has the power to make our iniquity pass away from us, and to clothe us with the pure white linen of His righteousness.
It is at such moments, however, that our great adversary puts forth his worst insinuations. The prophet beheld “Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary” (verse 1). Ever since he was cast out of his first estate, he has been the hater of good and the accuser of the people of God. He discovers the weak spots in their character; he is as keen as steel and as cruel as hell. He cannot enter the presence of the Son of God in heaven now, but he still pokes hard at the members of His Body; he misses no opportunity of thrusting at Him as he accuses them. Such is what he was doing here with Joshua. But let us notice the intervention and answer of Christ, the Angel of the Covenant. It is spontaneous and unsought! Before Joshua even had time to cry out, “Shelter me!” – his faithful Friend and Advocate had cast around him the assurance of His Protection, and had silenced the adversary! “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan!” He said. As our Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, our Savior forever lives to make intercession on our behalf; as the torpedoes of the enemy are launched against us, He catches them in the net of His inter-cession, and makes them powerless to hurt us. And the reason for His doing this is founded entirely upon amazing grace! Before Christ chose His Bride, He foresaw all that she would become – all her backslidings and rebellions, all her filthy garments, and all her wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. But notwithstanding all that, He still set His heart upon her. Surely, then, He would not abandon her because of anything that her adversary might rake up to her discredit! He already knew the worst about her before He even chose her to be His own. Satan could allege nothing which the Advocate had not already weighed in the balances of His Divine foreknowledge. He had realized the very worst before making His final choice – and yet He still made that loving choice! These are foundation-thoughts upon which we rest all our hopes.
The promises made to Joshua in verses 6-7 all point to Jesus – of whose High Priesthood, Joshua’s priesthood was a shadow. No matter what trials we may pass through, or what services we perform, our whole dependence must rest upon Him; for He is the Branch of righteousness (verse 8). And He is also the precious Cornerstone (verse 9), upon which are focused the eyes of all believers. Ever since the Fall, they had looked forward to it in the types and pictures that were prophetic of the Messiah; and now, all believers look to this Cornerstone with faith, hope, and love. By Him, sin has been taken away – both the guilt and the dominion of it. He did this work of redemption in one day (verse 9) – that day in which He suffered and died. And now, what can terrify His people? Their sins have been taken away, and so nothing can hurt them. We may sit down under Christ’s shadow with delight, and enjoy the shelter of it (verse 10); just as the Israelites, in times of peace, would sit down under the shadow of their vines and fig-trees. And the powerful grace of the Gospel makes believers inclined to call others to join them under this shadow.
Lord, we acknowledge that we are indeed clothed with filthy garments, but we beseech You to wash us clean from our impurities in Jesus’ precious blood! Amen.
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