In Zechariah 6:12 (KJV) it reads:

And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name [is] The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:

Who is "The BRANCH"?

4 Answers 4


Four Post-Exilic Texts

There are four texts in the Hebrew scriptures that were written in close historical proximity: Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah 1-8.

In their respective books, Ezra and Nehemiah are portrayed as significant leaders during the post-exilic period, especially regarding the efforts to build a new temple in Jerusalem. Likewise, Ezra mentions Haggai and Zechariah as influential prophets who helped lead and encourage this construction project:

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. (Ezra 5.1, NRSV)

So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. (Ezra 6.14, NRSV)

Buried in Nehemiah is a reference that Zechariah was also a priest over the community:

In the days of Joiakim the priests, heads of ancestral houses, were: . . . of Iddo, Zechariah . . . (Nehemiah 12.12,16, NRSV)

The implication is that these four texts were closely united in the effort to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. It's reasonable to infer that their authors were likewise united (to whatever degree) in their views as to what God wanted out of the Jewish community.

Jeshua and Zerubbabel as Leaders of the Returning Jews

If we read these four texts, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah 1-8, we see two names appear together several times: Joshua (also spelled Jeshua), the high priest, and Zerubbabel, a descendant of David and Persia's appointed governor over the repatriated Jews.


Ezra repeatedly associates these two men with the construction of Jerusalem and the temple:

They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah . . . (Ezra 2.2, NRSV)

Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel . . . (Ezra 3.2, NRSV)

. . . Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak . . . appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the LORD. (Ezra 3.8, NRSV)

But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, ‘You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.’ (Ezra 4.3, NRSV)

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set out to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem . . . (Ezra 5.2, NRSV)


Jeshua and Zerubbabel's involvement are also implied by Nehemiah:

Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem; and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in the holy city Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other towns . . . These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua . . . (Nehemiah 11.1, 12.1, NRSV)


Meanwhile, Haggai explicitly states that Jeshua and Zerubbabel had been chosen by God to lead the project:

the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest . . . And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God . . . (Haggai 1.1,14 NRSV)

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts . . . (Haggai 2.4, NRSV)

Haggai's Prophecy About Zerubbabel

After highlighting God's will for both Jeshua and Zerubbabel, Haggai then singles out Zerubbabel as the one through whom God would restore Jerusalem:

Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts. (Haggai 2.21-23, NRSV)

There are three points to keep in mind when reading this prophecy from Haggai to Zerubbabel:

  1. God has chosen Zerubbabel to be his 'signet ring' (i.e. his royal stamp of authority),
  2. Zerubbabel was identified as a descendant of David (cf. 1 Chronicles 1.1-19),
  3. God will dethrone all other kingdoms in relation to the reviving kingdom of Judah.

Zechariah's Prophecy About The Branch

To summarize: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai were largely concerned with the repatriation of the Jews from Babylon, and consequently the reconstruction of Jerusalem and its temple, which would be led by the high priest, Jeshua, and the governor of Judah and descendant of David, Zerubbabel. Haggai places special emphasis on Zerubbabel.

Zechariah 1-2 is a semi-symbolic prophecy concerning the seventy-year exile in Babylon and God's desire for the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

Zechariah 3 symbolically portrays God's appointment of Jeshua to be the high priest and leader during the return from exile. Within this scene, an angel informs Jeshua that God will raise up 'the Branch', which he calls his 'servant'.

Zechariah 4 gives another symbolic vision, this of two olive trees, which explicitly identifies Zerubbabel as the chief leader God has chosen for Jerusalem during the return from exile. Zechariah specifically credits Zerubbabel with initiating the reconstruction of the temple (4.9). The vision of the two trees is interpreted as a union of two God-chosen leaders (4.14), bringing to mind the partnership of Jeshua and Zerubbabel described throughout Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai thus far.

Zechariah shows familiarity with prophetic traditions found in Jeremiah, namely the seventy-year exile (Zechariah 1.12; cf. Jeremiah 25.11-12, 29.10) and 'the Branch' (Zechariah 3.8, 6.12; cf. Jeremiah 23.5, 33.15).

Haggai's prophecy about Zerubbabel drew on prophetic ideas associated with David's dynasty and imposed them onto Zerubbabel. When we find Zechariah 3-4 placing immense importance on Jeshua and especially Zerubbabel, we should take note that Zechariah has likewise drawn on prophetic ideas associated with David's dynasty.

Zechariah's Second Prophecy About The Branch

Zechariah mentions 'the Branch' a second time, in chapter 6. In this passage, Jeshua is addressed a second time concerning 'the Branch', mirroring what we saw in chapter 3. Here it is made abundantly clear to the reader that Zerubbabel is 'the Branch'.

The word of the LORD came to me [Zechariah] ... say to him [the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak]: Thus says the LORD of hosts: Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. It is he that shall build the temple of the LORD; he shall bear royal honour, and shall sit and rule on his throne. There shall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of them. (Zechariah 6.9-13, NRSV)

In this short passage, all the pieces come together. Jeshua has been chosen by God to lead Jerusalem, and he is a partner to 'the Branch'※ whom God has chosen to rule over the people, and this 'Branch' is credited with rebuilding the temple.

Zerubbabel is 'the Branch'.

This is the interpretation taken by Rashi:

whose name is the Shoot: He is Zerubbabel, mentioned above (3:8): “Behold, I bring My servant, the Shoot,” since his greatness burgeoned little by little. Some interpret this as referring to the King Messiah, but the entire context deals with the [time of the] Second Temple.

With his contemporary Haggai, Zechariah seems to have expected a bright future for Judah to come through the efforts of David's descendant (i.e. 'branch') Zerubbabel. With Zerubbabel leading the reconstruction in Jerusalem, Zechariah apparently anticipated for God to revive the kingdom of Judah through Zerubbabel (and Jeshua).


※ By this I mean that the passage in Zechariah 6 distinguishes between two individuals: the priesthood as represented by Jeshua, and the royal 'Branch'. Some English translations, especially in verse 13, render 'the priest' and 'the Branch' as one individual. Explicitly Christian translations sometimes capitalize the pronouns 'He' and 'His' to identify this individual as God (i.e. incarnate in the person of Jesus).

My answer here instead follows interpretations / translations that distinguish the priest and the Branch as separate individuals, e.g. the NRSV (provided above), the NET, or The Complete Jewish Bible. This interpretation of the text, distinguishing the priest and the Branch, even goes as far back as the Septuagint:

And it is he that shall receive virtue and and shall sit and rule on his throne. And the priest shall be on his right, and peaceful counsel shall be between the two of them. (New English Translation of the Septuagint)

  • 1
    How does the fact that Zach 6:13 makes it plain that it is the priest who will build the temple and who will also be the king who sits upon the throne tally with this interpretation? Zerubbabel was not a priest and he was not a king. He cannot be the branch. Commented May 1, 2015 at 7:36
  • (1) As Zech 6:13 makes clear 'the branch' has both the office of priest and king (most translations make this very clear, the NRSV obscures this) "Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both."' Clearly the man Zechariah had in view unites both offices in the one person. It simply cannot be understood as Zerubbabel as he was neither. Commented May 1, 2015 at 17:52
  • (2) To say it doesn't matter whether Zerubbabel fits the description or not seems counter intuitive to me - how else will we identify the person being described unless we find someone who fits the description. Commented May 1, 2015 at 17:54
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented May 2, 2015 at 7:34
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    @Mark Edward : (A.) First, your clarification is awesome, of your reliance on the NSRV, and the argument that even the Septuagint, (LXX), makes a distinction, that there are two people, a priest and a king. (B.) Though you are correct about the LXX, this same passage, in the LXX, is contradictory with verse 6:11, wherein the LXX combines the two offices. (C.) Because the Septuagint departs from the Hebrew, and gymnastics in Aramaic, I submitted an alternate answer based on the Hebrew text alone; (D.) I think your answer is valid, and upvoting it--even though I disagree. :) Commented May 4, 2015 at 4:32


A priest, Joshua, and a kingly figure, Governor Zerubbabel build a temple. They foreshadow the building of a temple to come, a temple not made by human hands. This future temple is a collaborative effort involving a future Joshua and an individual known as the Branch. Zerubbabel is a foreshadowing of the Branch.

After construction is complete, the Branch will be given a royal throne and sit down to rule alongside the priestly Joshua.

All of the explanations that try to prove that Joshua is the Branch are avoiding linguistic indications that these are two separate individuals. In Haggai, Zerubbabel is linked to divine authority by being likened to the signet ring of God. This is a prescient statement that looks ahead to a future of divine authority for Zerubbabel.

Haggai 2:23

On that day, says the LORD of heavenly forces: I will take you, Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, my servant, says the LORD; I will make you like a signet ring because I have chosen you, says the LORD of heavenly forces.

In Ezra, we see the two individuals laboring to complete the temple of their day.

Ezra 3:8 - Laying the foundations of God’s house

In the second month of the second year after their arrival at God’s house in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and Jeshua, Jozadak’s son and the rest of their kin—the priests and the Levites and all who had come from the captivity to Jerusalem—made a beginning.

In Zechariah, we see that the speaker is addressing Joshua but speaking about another individual, my servant Branch:

Zechariah 3:8 -9

8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou and thy fellows that sit before thee; for they are men that are a sign; for, behold, I will bring forth My servant the Shoot. 9 For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone are seven facets; behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts: And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. 10 In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig-tree.

Again in Zechariah 6, it is clear in the language that the Branch is not Joshua. The instructions are to place the crown on the head of Joshua, and then, “say to him...here is a man. His name is Branch.” It seems abundantly evident that the Joshua figure is not the Branch.

Zechariah 6:11-13

11 yea, take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set the one upon the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest; 12 and speak unto him, saying: Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying: Behold, a man whose name is the Shoot, and who shall shoot up out of his place, and build the temple of the LORD; 13 even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and there shall be a priest before his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. 14 And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, as a memorial in the temple of the LORD. 15 *And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the LORD**, and ye shall know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. And it shall come to pass, if ye will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God—.’


I think that 1 Peter talks substantively about the temple that will be built by a future Joshua and Zerubbabel. I think we also see the fulfillment of “who will come to rebuild the Lord’s temple from far away”. And they will offer up spiritual sacrifices instead of the blood of bulls and lambs. And we see also the stone (like a capstone) that will crown the edifice:

1 Peter 2:4-10 CEB

Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. 5 You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed.[a] 7 So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. 8 This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people.

If Joshua is a prefigure for Jesus, then, the language that asks Joshua to "Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou and thy fellows that sit before thee; for they are men that are a sign; for, behold, I will bring forth My servant the Shoot" in Zechariah 3 and in Zechariah 6 "Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest; 12 and speak unto him, saying: Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying: Behold, a man whose name is the Shoot". They translate "Branch" as "Shoot", but I think you get the same sense from both of these words. But in both cases, God is saying Listen Joshua...here is the man called the Shoot (or Branch). Whether there are two thrones or two aspects of a single ruler, the language is clearly directing Joshua to listen to the word of the Lord about a man called Shoot or Branch. How awkward would this language be if God is talking about a future appearing of Joshua himself? Now, if there is no possible way that Joshua is a prefigure for Jesus, then, this whole line of thought falls apart and the point I'm trying to make is pointless.



Question Restatement: Who/what does the "Branch" refer to in the prophecy in Zechariah 6:12.

Caveats, notably, this answer doesn't apply to the two branches mentioned later, in Chapter 11.

Conclusion: It is more than reasonable to conclude that the "Branch" refers to the "Messiah"--based on the Hebrew text alone; and also, Zechariah's indication of the role of the "Branch", as the "Messiah" in chapter 3; and also, Zechariah's own indication of a "King Priest",

Acknowledgment to Counter-Argument:

However, a differing conclusion has been posted, supported on the basis of the Greek Septuagint, (LXX), translation, and reliance on the NSRV, (upon the LXX).

Because the Greek translation is--very--different from the Hebrew text, and because the Hebrew text is not at all ambiguous, and because other Hebrew contexts support a "Messianic" interpretation, I respectfully disagree with the LXX translation--though fully acknowledge it as a valid answer, (even though disagree).


Since this passage is "prophetic", then the entirety of this context, (Hebrew Scripture, etc), must be examined as a commentary unto itself.

Since /every/ prophetic passage regarding an individual, (including the passage in Zechariah just three chapters before), and each implies the Messiah/Messianic Kingdom, then it is certainly a reasonable conclusion, based solely on the texts, to infer that the "Branch" indicates the Messiah.

Affirmation, from other Prophetic Contexts:

Jeremiah 23:5

HEB: וַהֲקִמֹתִ֥י לְדָוִ֖ד צֶ֣מַח צַדִּ֑יק וּמָ֤לַךְ

NAS: a righteous Branch; And He will reign

Jeremiah 33:15

HEB: אַצְמִ֥יחַ לְדָוִ֖ד צֶ֣מַח צְדָקָ֑ה וְעָשָׂ֛ה

NAS: I will cause a righteous Branch of David

Zechariah 3:8

HEB: אֶת־ עַבְדִּ֖י צֶֽמַח׃

NAS: in My servant the Branch.

Zechariah 6:12

HEB: הִנֵּה־ אִ֞ישׁ צֶ֤מַח שְׁמוֹ֙ וּמִתַּחְתָּ֣יו

NAS: whose name is Branch, for He will branch

Note: Copied and pasted from www.biblehub.com for expediency.


There is a man whose name is Branch—and from his place he will branch out and he will build the temple of the Lord. He will build the temple of the Lord, and taking up the royal insignia, he will sit as ruler upon his throne.

The branch was Zerubbabel. This is quite clear from the immediate text and Zechariah's earlier testimony about this man, who is the last descendant of King David mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Zerubbabel's identity with the "branch" is also hinted at by his name, which means planted in Babylon. His sprouting in Babylon and "branching out" in Jerusalem is a typical example of biblical word play.

The first part of the prophecy in the OP - he will build the temple of the Lord - is a certain reference to Zerubbabel, as the prophet makes this quite clear in an earlier oracle:

Zechariah 4:9

The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this house, and his hands will finish it. Thus you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

But even though Zerubbabel indeed built the temple, there is no record of his ever having taken up the royal insignia (6:11) or sitting as a ruler upon the throne. This presents us with a mystery as to what happened to him. One clue is found in the accusation of the neighboring peoples. Ezra 4 describes how the local populace turned against Zerubbabel after he turned down their help in rebuilding the temple. They wrote letters against him and also bribed royal officials to frustrate his plans. This continued through the reigns of succeeding Persian kings. Finally, we find that Zerubbabel's successor Nehemiah is even accused of actually trying to make himself king:

Neh. 6

Among the nations it has been reported—Gashmu is witness to this—that you and the Jews are planning a rebellion; that for this reason you are rebuilding the wall; and that you are to be their king. 7 Also, that you have set up prophets in Jerusalem to proclaim you king of Judah... Matters like these will reach the ear of the king (of Persia).

We are not told what happened to Zerubbabel. Is it possible that he actually did take up the crown and sit as king - with the result that he was removed from office by the Persians or local opposition? The Jewish Encyclopedia refers to the hypothesis of German scholar Ernst Sellin:

Zerubbabel was actually made King of Judah, but was overthrown and put to death by the Persians. This kingdom, [Sellin] believes, was regarded as Messianic, and in Isa. 53. he sees an allusion to Zerubbabel's martyrdom.

Whether this is true or not I would submit that Zerubbabel's mysterious disappearance from the record was indeed the result of political opposition, whether or not he attempted to restore David's throne after the Temple was completed.

Conclusion: The "branch" originally referred to Zerubbabel. Because he did not entirely fulfill the prophecy, it came to been seen as referring to someone who would arise in the future. This would be Jesus for Christians and the Messiah son of David for Jews.

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