Zechariah 3

 

1.3) A celestial satan as accuser: 

The trial of Joshua the High Priest in the Book of Zechariah

 

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In the next vision, Zechariah’s Angelic interlocutor shows him the High Priest Joshua in a court of justice, perhaps in the very Court of Heaven, or at the Gate of Heaven.  Joshua stands before the Angel of Yahweh, and at the priest’s right side is the satan, exercising the function of accuser.  But before we hear any accusation from the satan, Zechariah says that “Yahweh” [the text should say, “the Angel of Yahweh”] intervenes, saying to the satan, “May Yahweh rebuke you, O satan!  May Yahweh who has made Jerusalem His own rebuke you!  Is not this man a brand snatched from the fire?” (Zech. 3.1-2).

What follows indicates not so much that the satan’s charges of wrongdoing have been rejected, but rather that they have been admitted and absolved.  Joshua had come to Court dressed in filthy clothes, which indicated that he was in a state of mourning over a national calamity and also that he was confessing guilt and repentance because of it.  The Angel of Yahweh orders his clothes to be removed and replaced with robes of state.  He proclaims, “You see, I have taken your iniquity and guilt away from you.”  He adds, “Thus says Yahweh Sabaoth:  ‘If you will walk in My ways and keep My requirements, then you shall rule My House and have charge of My Courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here” (Zech. 3.3-7).  In other words, Joshua will be able to communicate with the Court of Heaven.  Whether it will involve any further dealings with the satan is not clear.

Back in 1939 Adolphe Lods4 analyzed both the Zechariah satan and the Job satan with an eye to seeing whether they resemble government ministers in any of the surrounding kingdoms or supernatural figures in the Mid-Eastern religions.  He concluded negatively concerning the sort of attorney general or official prosecutor seemingly suggested by Zechariah.  There is no accusing or prosecuting functionary evident in terrestrial or celestial contexts, either elsewhere in

 

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the Hebrew Bible or in any surviving historical or literary religious and political contexts.  Admittedly, in the Zoroastrian world-view, there is a “triage” that takes place after human beings die, in which they are classified as good or bad, but there is no trial or even pronouncement of sentence.  The good simply make it over the bridge to heaven, and the bad tumble down to hell.  Only later does a tribunal of three judges appear.

As for the satan of the Book of Job, however, Lods finds that he resembles a widespread figure in the human governments of the time, namely, the official inspector and informer employed by the central authorities.  For instance, in Egypt, we hear of “the Two Eyes of the King in Upper Egypt” and “the Two Ears of the King in Lower Egypt.”  But it is particularly in the Persian kingdom that the “Eyes and Ears of the King” attracted notice.  Xenophon speaks of these functionaries in his Cyropedia (8.6.16), and Lods surmises that Zechariah applies this concept not only in his earlier vision of the four horsemen, as I suggested above, but also and especially in another vision of Seven Lamps, which are the “Seven Eyes of Yahweh that range through the whole earth” (Zech. 4.10).  We can see a reflection of this in the New Testament as well, in the Lamb of the Apocalypse, who has seven horns and seven eyes, “which are the Seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5.6).

Xenophon reported on the Persian system of regional inspectors under Cyrus the Great, who captured Babylon in 539 BC and allowed the Jews to return to Israel in the following year.  But the organization of the inspecting network became especially well developed under Cyrus’s powerful successor, Darius I, who came to power in 522 and died in 486 BC.  Zechariah’s vision of the satan accusing the high priest should not be taken, therefore, as implying a permanent prosecutor but rather the activity of one of the field-inspectors who returns to court to make occasional accusations as his “research” warrants.  This would reflect the situation in Jerusalem early in Darius’s reign, and, if the author of the Prologue to Job was influenced by Darius’s organization of government agents, it follows that he was writing after

 

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Zechariah.  Lods is inclined to date him accordingly, while admitting other possibilities (as noted above, the date of the whole of Job is still much debated).

We remember (see the Introduction) that the chief religion of the Persians was that of Zoroaster, but the government policy was one of religious toleration, and there was never any attempt to impose the Mazdean forms of worship upon conquered peoples, nor has any Biblical scholar or historian made bold to scent a whiff of the evil Angra Mainyu in either of the satans we have been discussing here, Job’s persecutor or Joshua’s accuser.

 

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Now let’s see what the Greek translators did in the celestial sphere, in the three passages in which a supra-human satan appears: namely, Numbers, Job, and Zechariah.

In Numbers, the Septuagint scholars translated “the Angel of Yahweh” as “the Angel of the Lord,” as usual, but they took away from him the epithet of “satan” during his encounter with Balaam.  Instead, they provided him with a verb and a noun of opposition (endiaballein and diabole).

In Job, however, they did find a supernatural and “proper” Satan in the Son of God who patrols the earth and functions as the tempter of Job.  In their translation he is consistently called ho Diabolos, “Devil.” The same person, Devil, is to be seen as the celestial prosecutor in the Book of Zechariah, whereas in the Hebrew of Zechariah (as in the Hebrew Job) there is only “a satan.”  Furthermore, Devil in Zechariah is accusing the High Priest Jesus—since “Jesus” is the Greek version of Joshua.  We have here a forecast of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament.  This Epistle says that Jesus through his death destroyed Devil, who had control over Death (Heb. 2.14), and thereby Jesus was constituted as our High Priest at the Throne of God (Heb. 8.1)(chap. 5.3).