“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes’ “ (Zech 3:3-4).
The prophet Zechariah gives us a picture of how God views sin as stains which cannot be removed easily from our garments. As Zechariah continues through the 8 visions he has in the same night, which were designed to encourage God’s people that God was still zealous for them, even though they had endured the Babylonian captivity because of their sins, Zechariah describes the vision he has of Joshua the High Priest of his day (Zech 3:1-10).
Why is Joshua pictured in filthy garments instead of the regular clean priestly garments (Zech 3:3 f; Exodus 28:1-43)? As the High Priest of God, Joshua was the representative of the people before God. He offered sacrifices on behalf of the people in worship to God. In the current situation with the people just returning from Babylonian captivity, Joshua, as the representative of the people before God, is pictured with filthy garments representing the people’s sins.
However, the Angel of the Lord says, “Take away the filthy garments from Him”. He also adds, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes” (Zech 3:4). Joshua is also told that he be given a clean turban (Zech 3:5). Later, the High Priest Joshua will also be given an elaborate crown indicating God’s restored favor upon Himself and Israel (Zech 6:11).
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa 64:6). All of our attempts to be righteous before God fall woefully short when we try to do it our own way and based on our own merit. The apostle Paul described his desire to be found righteous before God: “And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philip 3:9).
Israel was guilty of trying to become righteous by their own traditions and commandments. The apostle Paul wrote, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom 10:1-3).
Jesus made the same application to the Jews of his day when he told them face to face, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:7-9).
To become righteous, we must be made righteous by God’s Holy Word. As the Psalmist David revealed, “My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness” (Ps 119:172). We must submit ourselves to God’s Will and do those things which God tells us to do to become righteous in His sight (Matt 7:21 f; Rom 12:1,2).
When we obey the gospel of Christ our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ as we are immersed in the waters of baptism (Acts 2:38 cf; 22:16). Furthermore, we are baptized “into” Christ where we contact His precious blood that has the power to forgive our sins (Gal 3:27 f; Matthew 26:28). However, like Joshua the High Priest of Zechariah’s day, we too are promised to be clothed in some new garments when we get to heaven. Today, I rejoice that God has forgiven me of my sins through the precious blood of His Son and I look forward to receiving my new garments in heaven.
“He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5).