Saturday, March 30, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (11)

Prior to the destruction of Solomon’s temple by the Chaldeans, back when there was an Ark of the Covenant in which holy things could be stored, God occasionally ordered the preservation of certain items: the tablets of the covenant, Aaron’s rod that budded, a jar of manna. Somewhere along the line, two of these went missing, but in their time, they served as reminders to Israel of God’s law, sovereignty and provision.

His eight visions finally completed, Zechariah now receives an object lesson from the Lord, a Messianic illustration to act out in front of witnesses, to be commemorated with the only God-given physical reminder of the Second Temple era.

II. Four Messages

1/ Object Lesson – The Future King will be a Priest

Zechariah 6:9-14 – The Branch

“And the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And say to him, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.’ ” And the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah.”

Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Josiah

God chose three men to donate silver and gold for Zechariah’s object lesson. Something more than seventeen years had passed since the first wave of exiles returned to Jerusalem during the reign of Cyrus. Ezra 2 lists the names of many of the more significant family heads in this group, but none of these men appear there. Probably as a result, some commentators construct elaborate fantasies around the presumed meanings of their names, looking for some significance beyond the obvious: that they possessed gold and silver and were willing to participate.

A second major wave of exiles would take place around sixty years after the first, during the reign of Artaxerxes (see Ezra 7), but by that time Zechariah would have been a very old man, assuming he was even still alive, so it is highly unlikely Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah came from this second group. Most likely, these three made the trip from Babylon at some point between the two major returns documented in Ezra in a group not large enough to mention, and represented a new generation of returned exiles. For all we know, there may have been many of these intermediate returns, as the kings of Persia were consistently open-handed with Jews who wished to return home. When these men arrived, they would have found Jerusalem still in a comparatively sorry state after almost two decades, its walls reduced to rubble, and work on a smaller replacement for Solomon’s temple underway. Possibly they needed some encouragement. In any case, this is what God provided.

God chose a fourth man to be involved in his object lesson. This was Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. There are plenty of Josiahs in the Old Testament historical records, but none we can clearly identify with this man. One plausible explanation for his participation is that Josiah was a skilled craftsman or smith, as the crown was to be made at his house. Perhaps he had a workshop or forge there.

The Crown and the Priest-King

The Hebrew word for crown is plural. It is literally “crowns” that Zechariah was commanded to have made. Some suggest it was an elaborate, compound headpiece made of both gold and silver. It was the diadem of a king, and Zechariah was commanded to set it on the head of the serving high priest.

Normally, such an event would be impossible in Israel. High priests wore a turban with an engraved gold plate on the forehead, not a diadem. Moreover, the priestly line came exclusively from the tribe of Levi and the original high priest Aaron, while the kingly line came through David of the tribe of Judah. No merely human priest-king could ever legitimately sit on Israel’s throne, and there was no suggestion in the coronation of Joshua that he personally would do so. Rather, his coronation anticipated the future priest-king, Israel’s Messiah.

The concept of a priest-king was not unheard of in Israel, though it remained a mystery how God might accomplish this unlikely union of two separate and critically important offices in one individual. David’s magnificent Psalm 110 speaks of a king who will rule in the midst of his enemies, a king that David himself calls “Lord”. Then in verse 4, he tells us this future king from David’s line will be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. God has sworn it.

Hebrews 7 expounds on the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ. Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of the Most High God in the days of Abraham, predating both Law and Kingdom. A priest after the order of Aaron could never sit on the throne, but a priest after the order of Melchizedek could. This is what the crowning of Joshua symbolizes, and why the crown was to be preserved in the Second Temple as a reminder of the good things God had in store for his people.

A Dual Role

Zechariah spells out the dual role of the future priest-king. He is to build the temple of the Lord, but he is also to sit and rule on his throne. He will be a priest on the throne, and bring unity to the offices of priest and king. “The counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

In addition, this future priest-king is called the Branch. Again, this was not a new concept to devout Jews. The Branch is first mentioned in Isaiah 4, some 150 years earlier, though it’s not crystal clear Isaiah was referring to a person. A few years later, Jeremiah made it explicit when he said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.” It’s as if David were a tree, and Messiah the great, spreading limb that comes from him. The Branch is therefore associated with the revival and restoration of Israel, which we now anticipate during Christ’s millennial reign.

In Zechariah, we get an explanation for this name of Christ. He is called the Branch because he will branch out from his place. Or, as Isaiah put it, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” No area of life will be untouched by Messiah’s influence. The offices of prophet, priest and king all unite in him.

The Temple of the Lord

It’s tempting for Christians to want to read ourselves into this passage, but the spiritual temple of the Lord that Christ is building in our present era is not what is in view here. Nor is the rule of which Zechariah speaks the present day seating of Messiah at the right hand of God. Yes, the Lord Jesus is building a temple at this present time, and yes, there is a sense in which all authority has been given to Jesus Christ even now, but the visible exercise of that authority is something the world has yet to see. Likewise, there is a literal, physical temple coming in millennial Jerusalem that Christ himself will build. As with so many of the promises of God, these are being fulfilled figuratively and will in a future day be fulfilled literally, to the great joy of Israel and Church alike.

Zechariah 6:15 – A Plethora of Volunteers

“And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

The expression translated “those who are far off” is a single Hebrew word frequently used to convey the idea of other nations or foreigners, but to translate it “Gentiles” would be too limiting. David also uses it to mean far off in time, which is an interesting possibility. Then there is Isaiah 43, which refers to “sons and daughters” being brought from afar off, meaning Jews and Israelites who had yet to return from exile. All the prophets speak of this millennial return to Israel by its “lost” children from all over the world.

So then, whether it is foreigners eagerly streaming to help with the future temple, or literal descendants of Jacob doing so, the proof of the truth of Zechariah’s prophecy is a great wave of volunteer temple builders. This is exactly the opposite of what the builders of the Second Temple encountered from the foreigners in their land when they began to do the work God had commanded. It is a message of hope about a far greater high priest in a more elaborate temple to be built in a future day.

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