The word of the Lord came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’ The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God.”
This short passage is complex and reflects editorial activity that has re-interpreted an original version of the oracle. It interacts with both chapters 3 and 4 but isn’t consistent with them about the identity of the Branch, nor the roles and responsibilities of Joshua and Zerubbabel. The latter was probably the focus of whatever the original v.12 said, which now, confusingly, seems to suggest that Joshua is being introduced to the Branch, or that someone connected to this figure is going to build the temple. Verses 11 and 14 refer to plural crowns, which might have been symbols of the joint leadership of the High Priest and Governor. A diarchy is envisaged in v.13 which accords royal honour to Zerubbabel (the temple builder) and refers to the priest also on (not by) his throne – the Hebrew preposition is the same both times. The crowns are to be made from precious metals collected from a group of returned exiles; and to be housed safely in the temple after their ceremonial use.
We cannot know what prompted an editor to rework this text, nor understand why its meaning has been left opaque; but it reminds us that all biblical texts have been written by fallible humans!
The final verse is much clearer: other people will come to join in the work of rebuilding the temple and it promises that everything prophesied by Zechariah will be fulfilled if the community obey what God has spoken through him. As always, what God wills for us and reveals to us, depends for its fulfilment on us heeding God’s word and faithfully responding in obedience. Unless we actively participate in God’s transforming work we become obstacles hindering God’s purposes. Let’s welcome others who want to join with us in this mission and get on with it.
Gracious God, forgive us when we fail to understand your word, or become confused about how you intend to accomplish your purposes.
May your Holy Spirit enable us to discern what you require of us, your people, in these days and empower us to live obediently.
Show us those with whom you call us to co-operate; and save us from becoming the obstacles that hinder the work of building your kingdom. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.