HOW IS JOSHUA A HIGH PRIEST IN ZECHARIAH 3:8 IF HE WAS FROM THE TRIBE OF LEVI?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“Why is Joshua called a high priest in Zechariah 3:8, when he was from the tribe of Ephraim and not the tribe of Levi?” Good question!
You are inquiring about the verse that says: “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH.” The assumption here is that this is Moses’ successor Joshua. Is this supposition correct? We will examine the Bible text!
THE PRIESTLY TRIBE: LEVI
It is correct to say that Levi, not Ephraim, is the priestly tribe in Israel. The Bible says in Exodus 28:1: “And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.” God told Moses that he was to take his brother, Aaron, and Aaron’s four sons, and ordain them as priests in Israel. Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons all belonged to the tribe of Levi (see Exodus 2:1-2,10; Exodus 4:14; et cetera). In fact, Moses and Aaron were great-grandsons of Levi (Exodus 6:16-20), Levi being one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Genesis 29:34), Jacob being the son of Isaac (Genesis 25:26), Isaac being the son of Abraham (Genesis 21:5).
Since Aaron the high priest and his sons (other priests) were members of the tribe of Levi, Levi became known as “the priestly tribe.” As per God’s instructions, only Levites were to be priests in Israel.
MOSES’ SUCCESSOR: JOSHUA, THE SON OF NUN
Every Bible student is at least somewhat acquainted with Moses’ “minister,” or servant (Exodus 24:3). This Joshua is frequently called “the son of Nun” (Exodus 33:11; et cetera)—and that title is very useful in singling him out (as we will see shortly). Just before Moses died, God had him appoint Joshua as his replacement to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 31:14,23). Friend, in your question, you mentioned Joshua the son of Nun being from the tribe of Ephraim. That is correct, according to Numbers 13:8. There, he is called “Oshea;” in verse 16, Moses changed his name to “Jehoshua.” He was also known as “Joshua” and “Hoshea” (Numbers 14:6; Deuteronomy 32:44; et cetera). The Greek form of this name is “Jesus” (see Hebrews 4:8).
HIGH PRIEST: JOSHUA, THE SON OF JOSEDECH
As you pointed out, the Books of Haggai and Zechariah talk about a high priest named “Joshua” (see Haggai 1:1,12,14; Haggai 2:2,4; Zechariah 3:1,3,6,8-9; Zechariah 6:11). This Joshua bears the label “the son of Josedech” (Haggai 1:1,12,14; Haggai 2:2,4; Zechariah 6:11). He is therefore not to be confused with Joshua “the son of Nun” (Moses’ successor). Haggai and Zechariah lived approximately 1000 years after Joshua the son of Nun. The Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim died centuries prior to Haggai and Zechariah. The Joshua of Haggai and Zechariah’s day is the son of Josedech. He functions as a high priest because he is of Levi’s lineage. Joshua the son of Josedech is called “Jeshua” in Ezra and Nehemiah—contemporaries with Haggai and Zechariah. You may refer to Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:2,8-9; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 5:2; Ezra 10:18; Nehemiah 7:7; and Nehemiah 12:1,7,10,26.
The Joshua of Zechariah (and Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai) is a high priest, living hundreds of years after Joshua, Moses’ successor, died. Joshua son of Josedech is of the tribe of Levi, functioning as a high priest. Joshua son of Nun is of the tribe of Ephraim, serving as Moses’ successor. There is no contradiction in the Bible, please understand. We are talking about two totally different Joshuas.
By the way, there were actually four Joshuas in the Bible. Firstly, the most famous Joshua, of course, was Moses’ replacement. Secondly, as we already discussed, there was the high priest named “Joshua” in Zechariah’s day. Thirdly, another man named “Joshua,” from Beth-shemesh, appears in 1 Samuel 6:14-18. Lastly, there was yet another Joshua—the governor of Jerusalem during King Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 23:8). These all lived centuries apart.