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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 5

 

 

Verses 1-4

The Sixth Vision. The Flying Scroll - God’s Moral Demands Go Forth to Bring Judgment (Zechariah 5:1-4).

Together with the establishment of the High Priesthood and the building of the Temple, it is necessary for sin to be rooted out of the land. The purifying of the people must be made fact. And this occurs now as the curse which results from disobedience to the Law goes out among the people (compare Deuteronomy 30:7).

Zechariah 5:1-2

‘Then again I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll. And he said to me, “What do you see?” And I answered, “I see a flying scroll twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.” ’

A scroll of ten cubits wide is a phenomenon (a cubit is from elbow to finger tip). Its size indicates that its source is God, and that it is divinely effective. The fact that it is flying indicates that what is written in it is being enacted or is about to be enacted. Thus here we have a scroll from God going among the people.

Zechariah 5:3-4

‘Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes forth over the face of the whole land. For every one who steals will be purged out according to it on the one side, and everyone who swears (falsely) will be purged out according to it on the other side. ‘I will cause it to go forth’, the word of YHWH of Hosts, ‘and it will enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him who swears falsely in my name, and it will remain in the midst of his house and will consume it with its timber and stones’.”

‘The curse’. The idea behind the word here is a curse resulting from obligation. It is used in Deuteronomy 30:7 where it is linked with the curses put on all those who do not obey God’s law. Its connection here with stealing and swearing falsely, two of the ten commandments, suggests that the idea is that God’s commands go forth as a curse on those who do not obey them. Indeed the idea of a curse on one or other of these types of dishonesty are found in Judges 17:2; 1 Kings 8:31-32; Job 31:29-30 compare Psalms 24:4-5.

It is possible that theft and dishonesty before the courts of justice were two of the major problems that had to be dealt with at this time if their society was to prosper. It is distinctive of God’s word that honesty in word and action is always treated as of prime importance. We can contrast this with lands and parts of society where the word of God does not prevail and dishonesty is a way of life.

So God tells Zechariah that theft and false swearing must be dealt with severely even to the breaking down of the houses of those who continue in them so that they will leave the place (a Persian form of punishment, compare Ezra 6:11). And the assurance is that even if justice cannot track down the perpetrators, God Himself will. Thus this is a stern warning to those on the land that these things must be put aside for they will no longer be treated lightly.


Verses 5-11

The Seventh Vision. The Woman in the Measuring Vessel - Idolatry to be Removed From the Land (Zechariah 5:5-11).

Not only must dishonesty and false witness be removed from the land, so also must all connections with idolatry and wickedness. In this vision Zechariah sees such things being removed to Babylon,

Zechariah 5:5-6

‘Then the angel who talked with me went forth and said to me, “Lift up your eyes now and see, what is this that goes forth?” And I said, “What is it?” And he said, “This is the ephah that goes forth.” He said as well, “This is their eye in all the land.” ’

An ephah is a large unit of measurement (Leviticus 19:36) and became applied to the vessel of the correct size which contained an ephah (Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:14). Here in Zechariah it is a measuring vessel with a lid. The ephah will be carried from the land to Shinar by two winged women (Zechariah 5:9-11).

Note how the prophet constantly questions the angel. He wants us to know that he took care to ensure he had understood the visions correctly.

‘This is their eye’. The idea may be that this ephah is a testing measure which acts like an eye, testing out and measuring the behaviour of the people. It may be the eye of heavenly beings (compare Zechariah 4:10) or the eye of the judicial authorities who represent the people. Or it may represent the idea of what is seen, and therefore of all seeing it.

The Septuagint translates ‘eye’ as ‘iniquity’. This may well rather be an interpretation although it may result from a different Hebrew reading. In that case we would see the ephah as the measure of wickedness (Zechariah 5:8). In both cases the idea is of behaviour measured and judgment carried out.

Zechariah 5:7-8

‘And behold there was lifted up a talent of lead, and this is a woman sitting in the midst of the ephah. And he said, “This is wickedness.” And he thrust her down in the midst of the ephah and he put the weight of lead on its mouth.’

The ‘talent of lead’ is a lid made of lead of that weight. When the lid is lifted up a woman is found to be inside. The angel describes her as representing ‘wickedness’. And he pushes her down to make sure she does not escape, and closes the lid firmly. The heavy weight of the lid suggests that the woman is eager to break free and must be firmly held. It possibly indicates that the power of God is keeping her in place.

‘This is wickedness.’ Women are often seen as representing evil, especially when related to idolatry. We can compare the ‘scarlet woman’ in Revelation 17. This may have been partly perhaps because of the failure of Eve (Genesis 3), partly because they are seen as being a temptation to man, but far more because idolatry was powerfully connected with goddesses and accompanying sexual depravity. A connection may also be seen with the way in which Jezebel was infamous as introducing the idolatrous worship of Baal Melkart to Israel. Goddesses were typical of idolatrous religion and acted as a snare to men, for so much of idolatrous religion was based on sex. This comes out in that Hebrew had no word for goddess. The idea was repugnant to them.

The picture would seem to represent the fact that measurement is being made, judgment is being carried out and the wickedness and idolatry thus discovered is contained in the ephah. Idolatry was not strictly a problem with the returnees themselves. But the inhabitants of the land partook in a syncretistic form of Yahwism which included idolatry, into which some could easily be attracted, and as Malachi will bring out a hundred years later there were women in the land who worshipped foreign gods and were attractive to the returnees because they held land rights. Thus it was necessary for YHWH to bring out that all who partake in such must recognise that they are thereby renewing their connection with Babylon, and might expect to be exiled there again.

Some, however, see the woman in the ephah as representing greed and a seeking after wealth which represented the spirit of Babylon and caused them to break or manipulate the covenant.

Zechariah 5:9-11

‘Then I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold there came forth two women, and the wind was in their wings. Now they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they bearing the ephah?” And he said to me, “To build her a house in the land of Shinar. And when it is prepared she will be set there in her own place”.’

The idea behind this picture would seem to be of the removal of idolatry from the land. Stealing and swearing falsely have already been dealt with. Now idolatry, and all connected with it, is also dealt with, including divination and the use of magical objects (Zechariah 10:2). It must be removed from the land and returned where it belongs, to Babylon. Babylon is always seen as the epitome of idolatry, the representation of all that is bad.

The two women. The description of them as women together with the woman in the ephah prevents us from seeing these as angels. They would appear to be all part of the same idea, that of idolatry, or at least of uncleanness. The stork was an unclean bird - Leviticus 11:19; Deuteronomy 14:18. Thus the emphasis may have been of uncleanness. Women necessarily spent much time as unclean due to menstruation.

Some have seen in this a deliberate caricature of Ezekiel 1. Just as YHWH rode in majesty on the Cherubim to the River Chebar, so now this imprisoned goddess is borne to Babylon.

‘To build her a house.’ That is, a Temple. There she is to be installed well away from the land of Judah. She is now in ‘her own place’. There is no place for her in the land where the Temple of YHWH is being built. This may indicate that the woman may have the Queen of Heaven in mind who was falsely worshipped before the Exile (Jeremiah 44:17-19)

‘The land of Shinar.’ Babylon - see Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:2; Isaiah 11:11; Daniel 1:2.

The idea is that any connections with idolatry and its practises are to be removed once and for all so that when the Jerusalem Temple is built it may be completely free from the idolatrous connections which had destroyed the old Temple. The people of God and idolatry have nothing to do with each other. There must be no compromise. All must be tested out and any idolatrous connections expelled.

It must be recognised that idolatry is not just seen as a separate sin from others. Idolatry is abhorred by God because it demonstrates that man’s heart is firmly fixed on the flesh rather than the Spirit. Thus it is tied up with sexual depravity, carnal longings, seeking the future through occult practises, love of the world, its pleasures and its wealth, and commitment to what is ‘natural’ rather than spiritual. The natural man does not discern the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 2:14). See Paul’s vivid description of idolatry and its results in Romans 1:18-32. Many modern persons would not look on themselves as idolaters, but their behaviour proves that they worship ‘Mammon’ or ‘nature’ with their offer of things of the flesh and nature’s invasion into the occult.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/zechariah-5.html. 2013.

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