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The idea that the covenant of God is an agreement or contract, first between God and Adam, now between God and His people in Christ, has prevailed in Reformed theology for many years. At the heart of this view of the covenant lies the teaching that there are always two parties who contract with one another in the establishment of the covenant. Until very recently, Zechariah 6:13 has been a key passage in defense of this view.

Most of those who teach a two-party covenant have understood, and rightly, that whatever the covenant may be, it must have an eternal pattern in God Himself. This is, of course, true of all God’s works, but also of the covenant. God is never different in His revelation of Himself to us from what He is in Himself. All His works have not only their source but also their pattern in the being and life of God.

Those, then, who believe that the covenant is an agreement or contract, look for some kind of agreement in God Himself and in His own life which can be the eternal pattern of the covenantal agreement that He makes with His people. This agreement, so they say, would have demands, promises, and penalties, as any agreement or contract should have, and would have as its purpose the salvation of God’s people. At one time, proof for such an eternal agreement within the Godhead was found in Zechariah 6:13 which speaks of “the counsel of peace” that “shall be between them both.” This “counsel of peace,” therefore, was interpreted as referring to an eternal agreement between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Son, and demanded, with appropriate penalties, the incarnation and obedience of the Son, promising salvation to God’s people.

In these studies it is not our purpose to discuss or defend one view of the covenant over against another, nor even to repeat all the arguments that have been raised against this interpretation ofZechariah 6:13. The fact is that even a superficial reading of the passage will show that this interpretation has been “read into” the text, and that Zechariah 6:13 has nothing at all to do with the doctrine of the covenant. In recent years this has been conceded even by those who still teach the whole idea of a two-party covenant. Prof. L. Berkhof, an ardent defender of this view of the covenant, says for example, “Coccejus and others found in this passage a reference to an agreement between the Father and the Son. This was clearly a mistake . . .” (Systematic Theology, p. 266).

Nevertheless, because this passage has been so long misused and misinterpreted, almost all discussion of the passage has centered in either a defense or rejection of that older interpretation, and the positive teaching of the passage has been forgotten or neglected. This is not surprising, but is often the result of controversy over a passage of Scripture. It is to be especially regretted here, however, since the passage is the key first of all to a proper interpretation of the first six chapters of Zechariah’s prophecy, and in the second place to a clear understanding of the offices of Christ in relation to His work as Mediator. To that positive teaching we wish to give our attention.

The prophecy of Zechariah, as we know, was addressed to the Jews after their return from captivity in Babylon, and the subject especially of the first six chapters is the rebuilding of the temple. This is clear not only from Zechariah 6:13 but also fromEzra 6:14. At that time the leaders of the Jews were the High-priest, Joshua, the son of Josedech, and Zerubbabel, a scion of the royal line of David, who ruled the people as governor in the name of the King of Persia.

In Zechariah 6:9-13 we have the climax and conclusion of all the preceding visions, particularly the vision of chapter 4. These verses are not themselves another vision, therefore, but record an incident that sheds light on the other visions of the first six chapters.

Three men, Jews of the captivity, had recently come from Babylon to Jerusalem with gifts of gold and silver for the temple. Zechariah is commanded to go and meet the men before they have the opportunity to present these gifts in the temple. Zechariah must take the gifts himself, make from then a crown, and put the crown on the head of Joshua the High-priest. This action would be a sign to Joshua and all Israel concerning the building of the temple (cf. vss. 12, 13).

We must remember how very strange this command must have seemed to Zechariah and to the people who witnessed the sign. Never before in all their history had the High-priest worn the crown of the king, or the King the robes of the priest. The one man who had tried to assume both offices, King Uzziah of Judah, had been punished by God for his presumption with a terrible plague of leprosy. God had always insisted that the two offices of priest and king remain separate in Israel. The only one the Jews could remember who had borne both offices had been Melchizedek, the King of Jerusalem in the days of Abraham, but he was connected with their history only through his meeting of Abraham when Abraham returned from his victory over the armies of the five kings (Gen. 14:17-24).

Nevertheless, strange though the sign may have seemed to the people, it pointed to the necessity of the union of these two offices in connection with the building of the temple of God. In the case of Zerubbabel and Joshua this union was not complete, but was seen only very dimly in the cooperation that existed between them in the work of building the temple. This union did not mean that either of them had to give his rightful office to the other. Rather it meant that they must be one in zeal and purpose in rebuilding and maintaining Gods house.

This co-operation was necessary first of all because only Zerubbabel as ruler had the authority and power to cause the work to continue. It was necessary in the second place because only through the work of Joshua as priest could the Lord dwell in the house as the God of His people. Thus we find in chapter 3 a special Word of God to Joshua as the one through whom the Lord will remove the iniquity of the land (Zechariah 3:7-9), and in chapter 4 to Zerubbabel as the one whose hand had laid the foundation, and who would also bring forth the headstone and finish the work (Zechariah 4:7-10).

Through their co-operation, therefore, the promises revealed and illustrated in the visions of chapters 1-5 would be fulfilled. The house would be built (Zechariah 1:16). God Himself would dwell in that house (Zechariah 2:10-11), and His presence would be the glory of that new-built house (Zechariah 2:5), though it was small and despised in the eyes of others (Zechariah 4:10). Thus also the fruit of God’s presence would be peace and prosperity for His people (Zechariah 3:9-10). The unity and co-operation of Joshua and Zerubbabel in their respective offices are, therefore, the typical, Old Testament fulfillment of the counsel of peace prophesied in Zechariah 6:13.

This was something that the people could understand. Their own history showed that the inevitable result of a lack of co-operation between priest and king was the neglect of the worship of God and ruin of the temple. When the king was wicked, then, no matter who was priest, the doors of the temple were shut, its treasures sold, and the building itself fell into disrepair (II Chron. 24:17, 28:24, etc.). When the priests did not fear God then all the authority and wealth of the rulers was not sufficient to maintain the true worship of God among the people and then also the temple was abandoned and ruined (Mal. 2:1-8). The “counsel of peace,” therefore, was absolutely necessary for the spiritual well-being of the nation.

We must not forget, however, that all of this was only the typical fulfillment of this sign of the crowning of Joshua that God had given to Zechariah. That is immediately evident from the fact that the two offices were not personally united in one man, but remained separate and distinct. Joshua did not replace Zerubbabel as ruler when he was crowned, nor did he even continue to wear the crown. Rather, the crown, as a sign of a future and better unity between the offices of priest and king was placed in the temple for a memorial (Zechariah 6:14). And as long as these two offices were not united in one man, the possibility of disharmony and disunity always remained as a threat to the spiritual life of God’s Old Testament people.

Zechariah is also commanded, then, in connection with this sign, to call the attention of Joshua and the people to one man who will be a priest upon the throne, who will both rule and bear the glory, whose name shall be The Branch. In Him the counsel of peace is fully revealed and the offices united forever. Because He is a priest upon the throne, He also shall be able to build a better temple than Joshua and Zerubbabel could ever build.

This man, The Branch, is of course our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom we read in Hebrews 8:1: “We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” He is a high-priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, for He is both King of peace and priest of the most high God (Heb. 7:1-3). Thus it is that both the glory of His Kingly office and the power of His priestly office are increased, the significance of His coming and work revealed, and the full wonder of our salvation made known for our comfort and for the glory of God.