And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.…
Sin in act or in heart takes all the meaning and joy out of God's richest promises and gifts. So it prevented the Israelites from appropriating the former gracious words until its baleful influence was removed by the fourth vision of our lesson. It is a vision of free forgiveness for the nation. Joshua, the high priest, represents Jerusalem and the people. His filthy garments are symbols of their sins, and his clean raiment is a pledge of their pardon.
I. THE ADVERSARY. Who was the great opponent of those afflicted Hebrews? Was it the nations around? Or was God Himself against them? The vision reveals their true enemy. It was neither of these, but the great adversary of souls; he who tempted Christ, the prince of darkness. The foe of man is Satan, not man; much less God, who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save it. The very names of this enemy betray his character. The Hebrew word Satan means "adversary." And here, exemplifying his name, he is standing at Joshua's right hand "to be his adversary." When did he ever do a deed or suggest a thought really to help or bless a man! The assaults of Satan are well timed. It was when Joshua stood in foul raiment, symbol of the moral uncleanness of the people, and when the bright hopes of the returning exiles were fading away, that Satan seized the opportunity to accomplish their ruin. The days of sin, failure, despair find him at hand to do his fatal work. God's past dealings with us are a pledge of the future, an assurance of final victory.
II. PARDON. How vivid and repugnant sin must have become under such a symbol. The garments were not coarse, or old, or worn and soiled with use, but filthy. By such striking symbolism God taught His chosen people to hate sin. This was no euphemistic language softening and covering the wrong-doing, but rather a proclamation of it. Sin masked under the forms of fashion or elegance is doubly dangerous. With garments so filthy, but one thing can be done. They cannot be covered up. The blackest spots cannot be sponged off — as men try to do with their guilt; for every thread of the clothing is defiled. Moreover, the wretched man seems powerless to remove the unclean garments. In fact, they are part of him, they are his life, his character, himself. God must work the deed which shall free him from the burden of his sins. "Take away the filthy garments and clothe him in fair raiment," "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee."
III. SUBSEQUENT LIFE. Pardon was never intended to be the end of effort or of progress. Accordingly, the Angel of Jehovah does not pardon Joshua and dismiss him; but rather pardons and then hastens to declare solemnly: "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: If thou writ walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge," then thou shalt have the honour of priesthood, with its authority and its free access into God's presence. After pardon comes obedience. The order cannot be reversed. Joshua's previous efforts to obey were vain. Only with the consciousness of forgiveness can there be full and unconstrained obedience. But after one is pardoned, walking in God's ways is the condition of further blessing. Not that God who has forgiven once is unwilling to forgive again. He is love, and His mercies are everlasting. But a man cannot wilfully and constantly transgress God's law, and continually and lightly seek forgiveness. Upon the high priest there was an especial obligation to careful obedience. He was in a sense God's representative. His office carried with it wide influence for good or evil. Before God, indeed, all are under the same supreme law of right. But towards, their fellow men, some are under heavier obligations than others. The obligation rests most heavily on the representative of God, the teacher or preacher whose influence is wider than that of one in a humbler sphere, and whose opportunity to help and guide is greater. Our opportunity to serve man is the measure of our responsibility to man. A larger promise limited to no man or family is now introduced by the emphatic words, "Hear now...for behold." It is an old promise renewed. From earliest ages the hopes of all godly Jews had centred about one dim future figure, ever expected, ever receding. Moses spoke of Him as a prophet, the highest ideal in his mind. David sang of Him as a righteous king, the loftiest conception of man in that age. The coming One was pictured as the servant of Jehovah, and as a sprout growing up out of dry ground from the stump of the fallen house of David. But still He was the hope of Israel. The lowly names by which He was known became transformed into titles of honour and glory. "Behold I will bring forth My servant, the Branch." That promise has been fulfilled to us. And when we, like Zechariah, would urge as a motive for action God's greatest gift, we must speak of that same Servant, of His life and death and resurrection. Wonderful power in human life. His name brought fresh zeal and courage into the feeble remnant under Joshua and Zerubbabel twenty-five hundred years ago. It has never lost its power. This great promise of the Branch, pledge of the continued care and favour of Jehovah, is naturally accompanied by more definite promises of immediate help. The seven eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth and are the symbol of perfect watchfulness, shall be directed to each stone, of the temple now building under great difficulties. More than that, He will "engrave the graving thereof," He will give the stone its beauty. He will both watch and work with His people. Man's work is ever incomplete. In spiritual matters, no less than in temporal, our work needs and certainly receives its vitalising and beautifying power from Him who transforms the elements into flower and fruit. Peace and prosperity complete the picture of the future of the forgiven people. Everyone shall call his neighbour to come and sit under his fig tree. Righteousness and peace with God were doubtless included in this favourite Hebrew thought, but temporal peace, with all its glorious blessings, was the chief element in the anticipated reign of the Messiah. Some of the loftiest conceptions of the Jewish religion are found in these verses. Each is a shadow of a vastly greater and more inspiring truth which is familiar to the Christian.
(G. R. Hovey, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.