Justified From All Things
In the book of Zechariah the prophet announces the grace that is to be shown to Jerusalem after all her failure. The city is to be rebuilt, and “shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein; and I, saith Jehovah, I will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her” (Zech. 2: 4, 5). However, blessing in the future after failure in the past always necessitates the putting away of guilt. Hence following directly on those gracious announcements, we have “Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (Zech. 3: 1). Now Joshua, as the high priest, was the representative of the nation before God. What God did for him was to be regarded as done for Israel. If the high priest was accepted, the nation represented by him was accepted as well.
What a scene! The central figure was the Angel of Jehovah, before Him stood Joshua and at Joshua’s right hand was Satan. In the background, as it were, but witnesses of all that went on, were others, ministers of Jehovah to do His pleasure (see v4).
So what was Satan about? “To resist him” means literally to be his adversary. Satan was doing the work of an adversary to Joshua, and of course, through Joshua, opposing Jerusalem and Israel. Now how came Joshua’s garments to be filthy? The nation, which as high priest he represented, had sinned, and, in a personal way, he himself had, of course sinned as well. What answer could he then make to the accusations of Satan? The garments were a proof against him which he could not deny. There was no need for any false accusation on the part of the enemy to increase the chance of conviction. No doubt all that Satan said was true. Nor was there any reason for exaggerating the offences. Joshua’s garments were enough, and, if all depended on his defence, conviction was certain.
The devil was there in the character of prosecutor. Doubtless he had helped on, though he had not begun, the failure of the people. Man yields to him, and then becomes his tool. Satan’s activity had surely contributed to the state of those garments. So did he minimise Joshua’s guilt and plead an excuse on his behalf? Did he sue for mercy for the sinner? Did he, like the penitent thief, acknowledge his part in what Joshua had done? We know he didn’t. As many a man or woman has found, the one who urged them on in their course of sin is, at the end, proved not to be for them but against them. It was the same with Joshua and his people. Satan was not acting as a friend, but an enemy. He was not there to excuse but to accuse. The devil was not an advocate for Joshua but a busy advocate against him, and he well knew that here was a man that could not protest anything in mitigation.
Evidently Satan was allowed to say what he wished, and all he wished. Joshua was silent—what could he say? Should Judgment go according to his and the people’s deserts, a sentence of banishment forever from the divine presence must be pronounced. Nothing that Joshua could have pleaded would have altered the justly deserved penalty. What a moment! The sinner in the presence of the Judge, the sinner’s mouth shut and the adversary pressing all he could against him.
Joshua remained perfectly silent. At length the Angel spoke, and His words, the only ones of importance for us to know, have been recorded. He addressed Himself first to Satan: “Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan! Yea, Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee! Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zech. 3: 2). Were the devil’s accusations false? We have no hint of that, but rather the contrary. Joshua was a brand plucked out of the fire. How this spoke of his danger—plucked out of the fire. How it spoke, too, of worthlessness in itself—a brand plucked out of the fire! Could nothing more favourable be said of Joshua, and those he represented? No. He and they deserved punishment. What then, arrested that judgment? Could a brand pluck itself out of the fire? Could it arrest the progress of the flame? No more, then, could Joshua do anything to arrest the judgment which he deserved. But just as another might intervene, and deliver the brand from the fire, so God can come in, and righteously deliver from punishment those deserving it. Silence became Joshua, silence becomes the sinner. But what a thing to know, that when speechless before God because we have sinned, He can speak and set us free, and make us at home in His presence! God convinces of sin that every mouth may be stopped in order that He may then speak, and announce how He can justify the ungodly.
After rebuking the devil, and refusing to listen to his accusations, the Angel of Jehovah spoke to them that stood by. In a coming day the Lord will address the ministers that do His pleasure, and tell them what to do with the tares sown in the field. Angels will by and by come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire (see Matt. 13: 49, 50). Was this to be Joshua’s portion? Was this to be God’s instruction to his angels? No, for now the command went forth, not to take Joshua away, but to “Take away the filthy garments from off him” (Zech. 3: 4).
With the filthy garments removed, the Angel now for the first time addresses the high priest: “See, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I clothe thee with festival-robes” (v4), or as others give it, ‘rich apparel’. All this proceeded from the Angel. He would do it without reference to what Joshua deserved. He would do it of His own sovereign grace. And Joshua and all were to hear it from the Angel of Jehovah Himself. All that could be urged against Joshua had doubtless been pressed with an ability, a zest, and a subtlety such as the most skilful advocate on earth could never equal, but it was all in vain. “Take away the filthy garments” was the answer to it all. To the charges, however true, the Angel of Jehovah refused to listen. All could see that since Joshua was clothed with God’s rich apparel, every stain of sin must have been forever removed. Who indeed “shall bring an accusation against God’s elect? [It is] God who justifies: who is he that condemns?” (Rom. 8: 33, 34). If ability and persistency could prevail, surely the devil would have succeeded. Joshua’s iniquity, however, was passed away from him, and he stood there clothed in new and rich attire, fitted to be in the divine presence. The Angel of Jehovah has spoken and the devil is silenced.
The reason for the Lord’s action, then not declared, has since the cross been made plain, for “now without law righteousness of God is manifested, borne witness to by the law and the prophets; righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ towards all, and upon all those who believe: for there is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which [is] in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth a mercy–seat, through faith in his blood, for the shewing forth of his righteousness, in respect of the passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God; for [the] shewing forth of his righteousness in the present time, so that he should be just, and justify him that is of [the] faith of Jesus” (Rom. 3: 21–26). In virtue of the then future sacrifice, God could say to Joshua “I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I clothe thee with festival–robes” (Zech. 3: 4). In virtue of that sacrifice, now completed and accepted, God justifies the ungodly. Let the sins be ever so black and the charges ever so true—to none of them will He listen if the sinner has really believed on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Thus God has made known how it is that He is perfectly righteous in justifying the sinner.Does any believer on Christ entertain one lingering doubt that perhaps, after all, he may meet with his just deserts? Let him that thinks that pause and reflect that never was there a better opportunity for convicting an offender whom God had chosen, than when Joshua stood before the Angel in his filthy garments, and Satan undertook the part of prosecutor against him. Signally defeated then, he will be as signally and finally defeated in any similar cause which he may espouse. The Gospel is clear, simple, and full of encouragement, for through Christ “remission of sins is preached to you, and from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses, in him every one that believes is justified” (Acts 13: 38, 39).