Monday, September 18, 2006

The Three-Wipe Diaper

My wife and I have a running gag that whenever one of us changes a soiled diaper, we rate how loaded the diaper was by the number of wipes it took to clean up the mess. One wipe indicates a lightly soiled diaper; two wipes means that we cannot skip baths tonight, and three, well, you get the picture. This introduction is not meant to sound crude, but to draw attention to the vivid nature of language.

Often, the English translators of the Bible tone down the actual meanings of some words so as to allay the coarseness of the language. So, naturally the job of the responsible exegete then becomes the revivifying of the language in the weekly exposition. Sometimes able students of the Scriptures miss the nature of what God is trying to communicate and the meaning of certain words cannot be overlooked so as to get a true and grand picture.

Zechariah 3:3 says, "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel." When I was a boy, my mom used to tell me often that I was filthy after a day of outside play. She would hose me down at the back door before I was allowed to come in, sort of a "pre-bath." This was naturally the meaning I assigned to the word filthy and as such it undermines the true meaning of this text.

Joshua the priest is standing before God, Satan accusing him. The children of Israel had been back in the Promised Land for about eighteen years after a debilitatingly long exile. Spirtual lethargy had once again set in, the temple had yet to be completed, and they were slipping back into some of the same sins that resulted in their exile seventy years earlier. Zechariah preaches to them a message of repentance and hope, concerned greatly with the people's spiritual renewal. Even though the people had returned from Babylon and had started to rebuild the temple, there was still the contamination of sin that needed to be purged. The inauguration of God's presence back in Israel could not take place until the sins of the people were propitiated.

Joshua is standing before God, yet he is clothed with filthy garments. This is not just a dirty, sweaty tunic. The garment draped about Joshua is stained with human excrement, a literal rendering of the Hebrew term. God is setting before us in the strongest language possible how vile and disgusting sin is to Him. Somehow the degradation of sin is lost in just using the term "filthy." Joshua is standing before God in garments stained with (his own?) feces. It is no wonder Satan can accuse him; at this point he has every right to. Joshua has no defense of his own, no mediator, no go-between. He is proof positive that "there is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). If a high priest cannot stand before God, who can?

Yet in the following verses, something amazing happens. God speaks to the angel standing nearby, and He says, "Remove the filthy garments from him...See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and I have clothed you with festal robes." The festal robe represents the dazzling white raiment of the priest, as he ministers in the temple before God, fully accepted and made able to do his priestly work.

Let us not however miss the connection between Joshua's change of raiment and his unrighteous standing before God. Joshua took no part in the heavenly act that took place on his behalf. Satan stood rightfully accusing him, mocking the poor priest. He had nothing to offer God; nothing except a three-wipe diaper! There was nothing that Joshua could have done to cleanse himself of his sorry state. God took the initiative; God commanded the angel to remove Joshua's garments; God made the declaration, not just that his sins were forgiven, but that they were taken away. They were completely removed from Joshua and then God gave him the perfect garments of salvation. Isaiah says, "For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10).

Many people are consumed with image; "image is everything," so the slogan goes. Other's perceptions are often taken very seriously, choosing to look horrid in the eyes of God and lovely in the sight of men. The consequences of looking good in the sight of others is often just a matter of the situation. Sometimes it may cost only a bit of embarassment, a chink in the ego yet easily recoverable. Sometimes it may cost a bit more such as a friendship or a witnessing opportunity. But ask yourself this question, honestly.
Do I care if I look good in the eyes of God?
God's opinion is what matters most as Joshua discovered in a grand and beautiful way. Satan accused him heartily. Yet Joshua, a sinful man, looked good in the sight of God. For the individual Christian it can certainly be the same way. Only the goodness of Jesus as it is credited to our account can we look good in the eyes of God. Christ's righteousness is imputed to the Christian and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us, just as that change of robes belonged afresh and anew to Joshua, the High Priest.

"...through the obedience of One the many will be made righteous" (Romans 4:19).

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30).

"...the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17).

"...and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:9).

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

Sometimes the shock value of words in the Scriptures do indeed get lost on us, but one thing is clear. We should never get over the shock that a loving God sent His Son to die the death that we deserve so that you and I might live and be made acceptable before Him.


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