Joshua the High Priest

Francis Bourdillon, 1864


ZECHARIAH 3:1-5.
"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. And the Lord said unto Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, O Satan; even the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?'
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spoke unto those who stood before him, saying, 'Take away the filthy garments from him.' And unto him he said, 'Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with change of clothing.'
And I said, 'Let them set a clean turban upon his head.' So they set a clean turban upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by."


Satan, who stood thus to resist Joshua, is our enemy too the enemy of our souls. He "walks about, seeking whom he may devour," and strives against us in various ways, so far as God allows him; setting temptations in our way, putting evil thoughts into our hearts, and accusing us before God. We have reason to think that he stands by us to resist us even when we are especially in the presence of God, as when we are engaged in public worship or in private prayer.

What a comfort that we have a greater than Satan to stand by us as our friend! Satan speaks against us as our accuser but the Lord Jesus Christ speaks for us, as our Mediator and Intercessor. It was He who spoke for Joshua. For most likely we are to understand our Lord Jesus Christ to be meant when it is said, "And the Lord said unto Satan." And perhaps the angel of the Lord, in the first verse, means the Lord Jesus Christ too, for He is sometimes so described in the Old Testament.

We could not stand before God without Him. We would have nothing to say against the accusations of Satan. Alas! They are too true. We do not know how Satan resisted Joshua, but conscience tells us in some measure of what he may accuse us before God: our sins and shortcomings, our neglect of duty, our carelessness and slothfulness, and a thousand things that we have forgotten our great enemy doubtless remembers too well. How could we answer him without Christ? How can we answer even the stings of our own conscience? But even we ourselves may now rebuke Satan in the Name of our Lord and Master, our Savior and Surety, "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan!"

"Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" Thus was Satan answered. Whatever Joshua might be in himself, it had pleased the Lord to have mercy upon him, and he would not be left in Satan's hand. In Joshua's case, this may refer in part to the captivity at Babylon from which he had been freed, or to the state of lowness and misery out of which he had been raised. Yet it is plain from what follows, that it refers also to his being saved from what his sins had deserved. In our case we must certainly apply the words so. It is true of every person who is brought into a state of salvation and pardoned and accepted in Christ that he is "a brand plucked out of the fire!"

Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, even while he stood before the Angel. Here again, in his case, his low and poor condition may be partly what is meant. What follows the taking away of the filthy garments and the clothing him with change of clothing and the setting a clean turban on his head may also mean, in a measure, though not alone, his being restored to honor as God's high priest, and wearing again the beautiful robes of his office. But, as applied to us, the filthy garments mean our sins that stain and defile us in God's sight, and what follows means our being pardoned and cleansed through Christ.

Joshua stood there in his filthy garments, and until they were taken from him and a change of clothing given him, he had no power to cleanse himself. We too have no power to cleanse ourselves from guilt. We must appear before the throne of grace just as we are poor, sinful creatures. Some who hear the Gospel invitations think they are not worthy to accept them and to go to Christ for salvation without a change; they dare not go as they are; they imagine that they must mend themselves first. True, they are not worthy. But they never will be worthy. And if they wait until they are worthy, they will never go to Jesus at all. Blessed be God unworthy sinners are invited!

These "filthy garments," I said, represent our sins. But you remember that the prophet Isaiah, speaking in prayer to God, says, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags"; so that it is not only our sins that are our "filthy garments," but our righteousnesses too. In other words, we have no righteousness of our own. Our best actions, without Christ, are not righteous in the sight of God. We ourselves are an unclean thing not our sins alone, but we ourselves. Even Paul said, " I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing."

It is a great point to know this about ourselves. Paul knew it, but many do not know it. They think there is some good in them; they do not know that they stand before God in "filthy garments." Yet whether they know it or not it is so. It is a great thing to be brought to know it, for then we shall be glad to hear of forgiveness and "a change of clothing." We shall never care for them otherwise.

By the Lord's command, Joshua's filthy garments were taken away from him; and then the Lord spoke to him thus: "Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with change of clothing." This shows plainly that the filthy garments did not mean Joshua's poor and low condition alone, but also and chiefly his state as a sinner; it was his iniquity that was to pass away from him, not his poverty and captivity.

In like manner, God causes our iniquity to pass from us when we come to Him by Jesus Christ. Then the blood of Jesus takes away our guilt, and we stand accepted in Him and are looked upon as clothed in His righteousness. All that is past is forgiven. He who, until he believed with the heart in the Lord Jesus, was truly guilty in the sight of God now stands before Him cleansed, justified, and accepted.

What follows about the "clean turban" we can perhaps hardly apply closely to ourselves. It seems to relate to Joshua's office as high priest. Yet, in a general way, we may take it to mean that God not only forgives those who come to Him by Christ but also brings them to great honor and glory; as we read in the eighth Chapter of the epistle to the Romans, "and those whom He justified those He also glorified."

There is peculiar comfort in the whole of this passage, because it shows so clearly that it is to us as sinners that God's pardoning mercy in Christ comes. The "filthy garments" represent how a sinner appears in the sight of God. If you feel that you are a sinner, if you have learned to mourn for your sins with true contrition of heart then do not these words, strong as they are, exactly express what you feel about yourself? "Filthy garments!" Yes, you can find no goodness in yourself, nothing but unworthiness and sin. You think of your past days with deep sorrow the burden of guilt lies heavy upon you; and even the present brings you no comfort; for still you feel your own helplessness and sinfulness. You are ready to despond.

Do not despond! It was even while Joshua was clothed in "filthy garments" that the word went forth, "Take away the filthy garments from him!" "Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with change of clothing." You are in "filthy garments" too you feel it you grieve over it; seek the blood of Jesus even now, and believe that you too shall be made clean. Is it not just what you need, and what you most earnestly desire that your iniquity may pass from you, that your sins may be blotted out?

This is the very thing that this history encourages you to believe. God does forgive, fully and at once, all who come to Him by Christ Jesus. He takes away their iniquity, pardons their sins, and receives them into His favor. He will do so for you!

"A brand plucked out of the fire!" seems to express a state of past misery and danger even greater than being clothed in "filthy garments." Your fears may make you think that you are even now in that danger. And indeed perhaps you are, for all are so who are without Christ. But none are so, who have sought and found Christ. Whatever their danger was before they are now saved from it by Him. They are "plucked out of the fire!"

The very words, so strong and startling, seem to express the greatness of the deliverance. God offers it to you in Christ:
to save you from all that your sins have deserved,
to deliver you from an evil conscience,
to set you free from your load of guilt,
to pluck you as a brand out of the fire!

Oh, believe this! Embrace the offer, so full and free. All sinful as you are cast yourself upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It is a matter of life and death; it is a thing that will admit of no delay. Happy will you be when God by His Spirit shall speak pardon and peace within your heart: "Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you! Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" Lord, grant it for Christ's sake!