The Lord rebuke you, Satan…
Context: The Prophet Zechariah was a “postexilic” prophet, one of the prophets God sent to the Israelites after their exile in Babylon. Interestingly, Zechariah’s name means “the Lord remembers.” Indeed, the Lord remembered that Israel’s captivity was due to their rejection of Him and His principles over hundreds of years. However, He also remembered His promise to return them to Jerusalem. He sent a series of visions to Zechariah that he delivered to the Hebrew people when their 70-year exile was complete and returned to the Land. Before His visions began, however, Zechariah foretells God’s complete message: “return to Me that I may return to you” (1:3) for “the Lord will possess Judah... and [I] will again choose Jerusalem” (2:12).
In this fourth vision, Zechariah saw Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord and to his right stood the “accuser.” Joshua, though he stood before God wearing filthy clothes, it was to his accuser that God spoke – “I rebuke you…I rebuke you” (3:2).
Zechariah’s message is not merely for Joshua, however. Joshua represents all of Israel, and in this vision, God shows Zechariah exactly how He feels about Israel. Yes, He abhorred and punished their sin, but they still belonged to Him and if they chose to return to Him, He would return to them.
Primary Message: God confirmed that Israel was still His chosen people – chosen with the same purpose to which they were originally called - because God is always faithful to His promises.
God knew the level of sin in the innermost being of every Hebrew who was returning from captivity; Israel had indeed been made filthy by sin. However, as Satan stands beside Joshua rebuking him, it is made obvious that there is something Satan does not understand about God. God wanted Israel to know that despite their rebellion and rejection, which He punished severely, He never forgot His covenant, and it is a covenant of grace.
Zechariah saw Israel, wearing filthy clothes, standing before God in judgment for her sin. The word translated “filthy” is a Hebrew word that means soiled, as if excrementitious.* It’s as though Israel stood before God covered in feces. That’s the level of sin that had taken hold in Israel, and Satan stood right beside Joshua, pointing that out (3:1). Satan wanted Israel to look inward and feel ashamed of their spiritual heritage and how deeply they had failed God. He wanted them to feel too guilty to seek God’s mercy. Satan saw their blackened heart; God saw it as well. God knew it was as black as a stick in a roaring fire, but He had plucked them out of that fire. He chose them, and as He had promised, He redeemed them (3:2).
However, God did not just pluck them from the fire. He cleansed them, and then He clothed them with “festal robes and a clean turban” (3:4,5). David sought a clean heart; Zechariah received a clean turban on his head. As the High Priest, Joshua’s new turban would have confirmed his acceptance back to his calling (v. 6).
Application: Satan does not understand the grace and mercy of the Father. We don’t either without pursuing a deeper relationship with Him. When we seek to know Him and to be known by Him, we feel safe enough to come before His throne and offer our filthy hearts. We can trust Him with the depth of depravity he reveals to us because when God allows sin to be revealed, He doesn’t do so to shame us. That is Satan’s tactic alone. God reveals to heal. When we stand before God and offer Him the sin He has revealed to us, we do so without condemnation. Condemnation causes us to hide and stops the restoration process. But God only condemns Satan, “I rebuke you, Satan!” He heals us when we come before His throne in our time of need. We can always feel safe bringing our unfaithfulness to God because He is faithful. Don't let shame hide you from God or lead you to try and hide sin in your heart. If you have been convicted of sin, it is God who is revealing that to you. Remember, He always reveals to heal!
Father, I cannot confess that which I do not know. Thank you for revealing the depth of sin in my heart and for giving me the courage to offer that sin to you. Thank you, Father, for showing the extent of your love for me so that I feel confident in standing before your throne. I am returning to you once again and am so very thankful that you remember your covenant of love toward me and promise to return to me as well. Thank you for recreating my stony heart. Thank you for putting a clean turban on my head and for clothing me in righteousness. When my heart is made aware of the darkness of sin, I know you don’t want me to hide my guilt from you shamefully. Whether a word misspoken, a thought run rampant, greed left unchecked, or an act of utter rebellion, you desire that my heart might be broken by sin, not shamed by sin. Remind me again and again that you rebuke Satan, not me. You choose me and you redeemed me. You snatched me from the fire and “grant me free access” to your throne room (3:7). And there I stand unashamed and redeemed. Forgive me my sin. Amen
Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:16
What’s next: God doesn’t complete the work of sanctification in us instantly. He wants us to finish our journey here learning to grow more and more complete in our new identity. He does this work, little by little.