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In Zec. 3:2, what is the meaning of "a brand plucked from the fire" (אוּד מֻצָּל מֵאֵשׁ)?

Hebrew text:

וַיֹּאמֶר יהוה אֶל הַשָּׂטָן יִגְעַר יהוה בְּךָ הַשָּׂטָן וְיִגְעַר יהוה בְּךָ הַבֹּחֵר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם הֲלוֹא זֶה אוּד מֻצָּל מֵאֵשׁ

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  • This is talking about Joshua the priest. The next passage shows that Joshua is being restore to the priesthood and Passage 7 talks about how Joshua will be keep charge of the priestly role if he walks in the G-d's ways.
    – Yeddu
    Dec 4, 2021 at 13:13
  • I have no doubt that the wooden poker was called that because it was shaped like a serpent and that its head glowed red like an "apple".
    – R. Emery
    Sep 11, 2022 at 20:56

6 Answers 6

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A similar phrase occurs in Amos 4:11 where Yahveh says that Israel was "like a brand plucked from the burning" (כְּאוּד מֻצָּל מִשְּׂרֵפָה). "Burning" (שְׂרֵפָה) is evidently related to "fire" (אֵשׁ), since the former is produced by the latter (cp. Isa. 64:11).

Gesenius (p. 20) wrote that the noun אוּד referred to "a wooden poker, so called from the fire being stirred with it." Supposedly אוּד is related to an unused verb אוּד which means "to bend, to inflect; hence, to turn, turn over" (ibid).

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Thus, the idea is that the noun אוּד is something one uses to turn things over that are baking/ burning in a fire. The noun אוּד occurs three times in the Tanakh:

  • Isa. 7:4
  • Amos 4:11
  • Zec. 3:2

The LXX translates each occurrence by a declension of the noun δαλός, meaning "a firebrand."

Jastrow (p. 22) notes that אוּד also occurs in tractate Beitzah 33a (English | Hebrew) (cp. Shabb. 143a; English | Hebrew). In this particular context, the אוּד can be taken out of a "wood shed" (בית העצים), which implies that the אוּד itself is wooden. In addition, the אוּד may be broken (נשבר) and set on fire (used as fuel) (להסיק). The context seems to confirm that אוּד is a wooden instrument.

In the context of Zec. 3:2, the fire represents Yahveh's wrath and judgment. Compare:

At the time the prophet Zechariah prophesied, Israel (or, more specifically, the Kingdom of Judah, to whom Zechariah prophesied; cp. Zec. 1:12) was in captivity/ exile in Babylon. Exile/ captivity was considered a punishment/ curse imposed upon the people for disobedience (cp. Deu. 29:28). It was used in order to prompt Israel towards repentance (cp. Amos 4:11: "but you have not returned to Me").

While Yahveh's anger was kindled against His people (Isa. 5:25), the adversary (whether the angelic Satan himself, or a human adversary) stood to accuse Israel. However, Yahveh rebukes Satan, for Yahveh had chosen Jerusalem (Israel).

Jerusalem (i.e., Yahveh's people) is a wooden firebrand, a people punished but never entirely consumed by their punishment. Rather, they are rescued and spared by Yahveh Himself. The purpose of the punishment is to provoke His people to repentance.

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a brand .... like a cattle branding for men are called cattle. , a burning of a sign into the forehead. Hebrew letters: Tav - resh - samech - vav

Tav (the mark, sign or BRAND), resh (the head of a man-conscience), samech (thorn or sin ), vav (hooked or attached or added) Tav --The brand Resh -- on head of a man Samech --Sin -- the Thorn Vav -- Connected - branded

The Brand on the head of a man, the THORN - the sin that connects. Literally, branded with the THORN the MARK of the hot branding iron, the slave brand of the Whore. . what the MARK of the beast is. 6 witnesses: the mind determines what the hands do. -1 Timothy 4:2 Such teachings come from the hypocrisy of liars whose own CONSCIENCES have been BURNED, as if with a RED-HOT BRANDING IRON. -Isaiah 3:24 Then, there will be instead of perfume, a stench; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a shaved scalp; instead of a rich robe, a sackcloth skirt; and a SLAVE-BRAND instead of beauty. -Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a REPROBATE MIND, to do those things which are not convenient;… -Titus 1:15 Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their MIND and CONSCIENCE is DEFILED. -Micah 7:4 The best of them is a BRIAR, the most upright worse than a THORN hedge. The time of your watchmen — of your punishment — has come; now they will be CONFUSED. -Deuteronomy 32:30 After all, how can one chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to rout, unless their Rock SELLS THEM to their enemies, unless Adonai hands them over?

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The "brand plucked from the fire "from Zechariah ch. Three vs two could mean "is this, not a man plucked from the fire "where the fire is a state of mind for that man plucked from the fire."

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    Dec 4, 2021 at 13:58
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The brand plucked out of the fire could mean mean that what was once intended for man’s use of showing ownership is now property of God’s and is only to be used of God for his purposes

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  • 1
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    Sep 11, 2022 at 20:03
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@Yeddu is correct to point out that the line refers to Joshua, the high priest who worked together with Zerubbabel in the first stages of the restoration of the Temple. However the "brand from the fire" does not refer to Joshua himself. Rather, it is an instrument by which he himself will be qualified for his office:

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.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by. (3:3-5)

In context, the "brand from the fire" is the means by which Joshua's filthy clothes (whether literal or symbolic) would be burned after they were removed from him, to be replaced the rich garments of his priestly office.

The scene is reminiscent of the call of Isaiah:

I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” (Is. 6:5-9)

The prophet Zechariah had high hopes for Joshua and his partner Zerubbabel, the appointed governor who was a lineal descendant of King David. He presented them as Two Olive Trees (4:11), "anointed ones" who stand before the Lord. Joshua had been somehow polluted and was unqualified for his mission.

The "brand from the fire" is the means by which Joshua will be cleansed in preparation for his task, much as Isaiah, a man of "unclean lips" was cleansed by a live coal in preparation for his.

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Gen 3:18

“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; יְהֹוָה עוּר

Lev 21:9

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

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