The new leadership for the eschaton: Zechariah 3-4

A new style of rule will dominate the new eschaton.  The eschaton showed the priest, in his separation from the temple, to be unclean and the king to be impotent.  Essentially, they cannot function.  At the same time, the exile offered a unique teaching of humility towards the Lord, qualifying them for rule.  The Lord by fiat made Joshua capable of serving as High Priest and Zerubbabel of ruling as king.

Establishing the High Priest and the Branch: Zechariah 3

In chapter 3 of Zecharaiah, the Lord made a High Priest out of an ineligible candidate, and split the power of the new land in two.  As the Lord prepared Zerubbabel as his signet at the very end of Haggai, the Lord prepared his High Priest, Joshua, in the present chapter.  In the first scene, the accusing angel, the Satan, indicts Joshua (3:1-6).  We learn that Joshua is unclean, which likely resulted from being born away from the land and temple, in Babylon.  The angel of the Lord argued on Joshua’s behalf, that he is a “brand plucked from the fire,” which referred to captivity in Babylon.  More specifically, Joshua was likely born in Babylon, Joshua’s father, Jehozadak, was exiled by the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar (1 Chron 5:40-41), and Joshua’s grandfather was executed when the Babylonians took over the temple (2 Kings 25:19-21).  Joshua’s ties to Babylon render him unclean, but are also justification for cleansing him.

The angel of the Lord spoke against the obvious.  Effectively, Joshua was an unclean outsider, unable to function as a high priest.  Nevertheless, the fact that he was brought out of Babylon was used in his favor.  Joshua personally followed the path of Exodus.  By grace, the angels removed the iniquity from Joshua by removing the filthy garment.  By grace, they prepared him to be the High Priest, even though he could have remained ineligible.

The Lord explained the sharing of power in the eschatological kingdom, for Joshua would rule alongside Zerubbabel (3:7-10).  The Lord began with a typical injunction, that Joshua must follow the Lord’s commands if he wants to rule (v. 7).  The word here for “rule” is not from the more typical root, מלך mlk, meaning “to own” or “be in charge,” but from דין dyn, meaning “to judge” or “to create judgments.”  At first it seems odd that Joshua would rule, not Zerubbabel.  As a result, this role for the High Priest, to make judgments, showed that rule would be split, and that obedience to the commandments empowers Joshua to judge.

Rule over the land proceeds from the Lord.  The Lord elaborated on the next ruler of the land, the “Branch.”  He is the shoot coming out of Jesse from Jeremiah 23 and Isaiah 11.  First, the Lord will establish the Branch to rule; second, he will hand the seven-faceted carved stone to Joshua.  Significantly, the symbol of Joshua’s power is prepared by the Lord himself.  Once he raises the Branch and hands Joshua the symbol of power, the Lord will remove the land’s guilt immediately, just as he removed Joshua’s guilt.  Hospitality throughout the land will display this new era of rule.

The judgment about Joshua came down to whether he is capable of serving as High Priest because of his exile.  This judgment applies additionally to the whole people.  Babylon corrupted Joshua and the people because it was a land of idolatry that did not follow the Lord’s teaching.  As the Lord told the people early on not to mingle with the Canaanites, lest they follow the Canaanites’ ways, the exile in Babylon could be read in the same light.  This was the case for Joshua, hence his dirty clothing.  At the same time, suffering in exile purified Joshua, based on the ruling by the angel who ordered Joshua’s filthy clothing to be removed.  Thus exile was the source of impurity, but ultimately also of cleansing for Joshua and the people.

The new style of rule: Zechariah 4

This chapter describes how the Lord will use the new secular and religious rulers to perpetuate his law. The Lord’s strength, not humans’, will characterize this new era of history.

The text uses a common apocalyptic technique of heavenly dialogue wherein the visionary/prophet ask each other questions and describe the scene.  The characters effectively narrate the story, placing the reader in the role of observer of heavenly things.

The first part of the chapter, 4:1-7, establish the content of the vision.  Two olive trees produce oil, which flow into a bowl, then flowing into a lampstand with seven lamps, and each lamp has seven pipes, which are probably wicks for light.  Zechariah asks about the meaning of this vision–after a bit of absurd back-and-forth in 4:4-5–and the angel answers cryptically.

The ruler, Zerubbabel, will rule not by strength but by the spirit of the Lord and completely redefine what power is.  Each scene we’ve seen in the latter part of the Book of the XII displays a new natural order that defines the eschatological era.  Nature itself, represented by the mountain, will bow down before him.  The power that the world knew to this point will be turned upside-down.  The symbol of this power is the seven-faceted stone, carved by the Lord, mentioned above in 3:9-10, that is presented to Joshua.  The new natural order will produce the symbol of power for the new age.

Zerubbabel’s power comes from the Spirit of the Lord, but that spirit is manifested concretely in his willingness to complete constructing the temple (4:8-10).  This temple obviously won’t live up to the stature of the First Temple of Solomon.  (It took Solomon 7 years to build that temple [1 Kings 6:38].)  Zerubbabel, though, will get it done, and with his hands.  We should remember that the original temple was completed thanks to tens of thousands of men conscripted to work (1 Kings 5:27-30).  The new temple did not know such forceful power.  Zerubbabel will hold the special diadem–which represents the eye of the Lord’s judgment in the whole world–in his hand as the symbol of power.

At the end of the chapter, 4:11-14, Zerubbabel returned to the dialogue at the beginning of the chapter, and the angel explained how the leaders will be the means for spreading the Lord’s teaching.  Oil is the basic means for providing light in darkness in the ancient Near East, and light is equated with knowledge.  The trees producing the oil are the “sons of oil” (literally in Hebrew), that is, Zerubbabel and Joshua.  Their new style of leadership in the paradigm of the eschatological era will “enlighten” or teach all the corners of the world.

The new rulers function as means for the Lord to perpetuate his glory, namely, that he can create an entire era out of nothing.  No one needs to do anything.  The greatness of human or natural strength are meaningless.  Rulers in this era will teach that the Lord’s will and Torah (teaching) are all that matter.

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