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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Zechariah 5

 

 

Introduction

ZECHARIAH

(Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23)

"Not by might, and not by force, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of Hosts."

"Be not afraid, strengthen your hands! Speak truth every man to his neighbor; truth and wholesome judgment judge ye in your gates, and in your hearts plan no evil for each other, nor take pleasure in false swearing, for all these things do I hate-oracle of Jehovah."

THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH

(1-8)

THE Book of Zechariah, consisting of fourteen chapters, falls clearly into two divisions: First, chapters 1-8, ascribed to Zechariah himself and full of evidence for their authenticity; Second, chapters 9-14, which are not ascribed to Zechariah, and deal with conditions different from those upon which he worked. The full discussion of the date and character of this second section we shall reserve till we reach the period at which we believe it to have been written. Here an introduction is necessary only to chapters 1-8.

These chapters may be divided into five sections.

I. Zechariah 1:1-6 -A Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah in the eighth month of the second year of Darius, that is in November, 520 B.C., or between the second and the third oracles of Haggai. In this the prophet’s place is affirmed in the succession of the prophets of Israel. The ancient prophets are gone, but their predictions have been fulfilled in the calamities of the Exile, and God’s Word abides forever.

II. Zechariah 1:7 - Zechariah 6:9.-A Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah on the twenty-fourth of the eleventh month of the same year, that is January or February, 519, and which he reproduces in the form of eight Visions by night.

(1) The Vision of the Four Horsemen: God’s new mercies to Jerusalem. [Zechariah 1:7-17]

(2) The Vision of the Four Horns, or Powers of the World, and the Four Smiths, who smite them down [Zechariah 2:1-4], but in the Septuagint and in the English Version. [Zechariah 1:18-21]

(3) The Vision of the Man with the Measuring Rope: Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, no longer as a narrow fortress, but spread abroad for the multitude of her population. {Zechariah 2:5-9;, Hebrews 2:1-5 LXX and English} To this Vision is appended a lyric piece of probably older date calling upon the Jews in Babylon to return, and celebrating the joining of many peoples to Jehovah, now that He takes up again His habitation in Jerusalem. {Zechariah 2:10;, Hebrews 2:6-13 LXX and English}

(4) The Vision of Joshua, the High Priest, and the Satan or Accuser: the Satan is rebuked, and Joshua is cleansed from his foul garments and clothed with a new turban and festal apparel; the land is purged and secure (chapter 3).

(5) The Vision of the Seven-Branched Lamp and the Two Olive-Trees: [Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 4:10-14] into the center of this has been inserted a Word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6-10 a), which interrupts the Vision and ought probably to come at the close of it.

(6) The Vision of the Flying Book: it is the curse of the land, which is being removed, but after destroying the houses of the wicked. [Zechariah 5:1-4]

(7) The Vision of the Bushel and the Woman: that is the guilt of the land and its wickedness; they are carried off and planted in the land of Shinar. [Zechariah 5:5-11]

(8) The Vision of the Four Chariots: they go forth from the Lord of all the earth, to traverse the earth and bring His Spirit, or anger, to bear on the North country (Zechariah 6:1-8).

III. Zechariah 6:9-15 -A Word of Jehovah, undated (unless it is to be taken as of the same date as the Visions to which it is attached), giving directions as to the gifts sent to the community at Jerusalem from the Babylonian Jews. A crown is to be made from the silver and gold, and, according to the text, placed upon the head of Joshua. But, as we shall the text gives evident signs of having been altered in the interest of the High Priest; and probably the crown was meant for Zerubbabel, at whose right hand the priest is to stand, and there shall be a counsel of peace between the two of them. The far-away shall come and assist at the building of the Temple. This section breaks off in the middle of a sentence.

IV. Chapter 7-The Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah on the fourth of the ninth month of the fourth year of Darius, that is nearly two years after the date of the Visions. The Temple was approaching completion; and an inquiry was addressed to the priests who were in it and to the prophets concerning the Fasts, which had been maintained during the Exile while the Temple lay desolate. [Zechariah 7:1-3] This inquiry drew from Zechariah a historical explanation of how the Fasts arose. [Zechariah 7:4-14]

V. Chapter 8-Ten short undated oracles, each introduced by the same formula, "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts," and summarizing all Zechariah’s teaching since before the Temple began up to the question of the cessation of the Fasts upon its completion-with promises for the future.

(1) A Word affirming Jehovah’s new zeal for Jerusalem and His Return to her (Zechariah 8:1-2).

(2) Another of the same (Zechariah 8:3).

(3) A Word promising fullness of old folk and children in her streets (Zechariah 8:4-5).

(4) A Word affirming that nothing is too wonderful for Jehovah (Zechariah 8:6).

(5) A Word promising the return of the people from east and west (Zechariah 8:7-8).

(6 and 7) Two Words contrasting, in terms similar to Haggai 1:1-15, the poverty of the people before the foundation of the Temple with their new prosperity: from a curse Israel shall become a blessing. This is due to God’s anger having changed into a purpose of grace to Jerusalem. But the people themselves must do truth and justice, ceasing from perjury and thoughts of evil against each other (Zechariah 8:9-17).

(8) A Word which recurs to the question of Fasting, and commands that the four great Fasts, instituted to commemorate the siege and overthrow of Jerusalem, and the murder of Gedaliah, be changed to joy and gladness (Zechariah 8:18-19).

(9) A Word predicting the coming of the Gentiles to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:20-22).

(10) Another of the same (Zechariah 8:23).

There can be little doubt that, apart from the few interpolations noted, these eight chapters are genuine prophecies of Zechariah, who is mentioned in the Book of Ezra as the colleague of Haggai, and contemporary of Zerubbabel and Joshua at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple. [Ezra 5:1;, Ezra 6:14] Like the oracles of Haggai, these prophecies are dated according to the years of Darius the king, from his second year to his fourth. Although they may contain some of the exhortations to build the Temple, which the Book of Ezra informs us that Zechariah made along with Haggai, the most of them presuppose progress in the work, and seek to assist it by historical retrospect and by glowing hopes of the Messianic effects of its completion. Their allusions suit exactly the years to which they are assigned. Darius is king. The Exile has lasted about seventy years. Numbers of Jews remain in Babylon, and are scattered over the rest of the world. [Zechariah 8:7, etc.} The community at Jerusalem is small and weak: it is the mere colony of young men and men in middle life who came to it from Babylon; there are few children and old folk. {Zechariah 8:4-5] Joshua and Zerubbabel are the heads of the community and the pledges for its future. [Zechariah 3:1-10;, Zechariah 4:6-10;, Zechariah 6:11 ff.} The exact conditions are recalled as recent which Haggai spoke of a few years before. {Zechariah 8:9-10] Moreover, there is a steady and orderly progress throughout the prophecies, in harmony with the successive dates at which they were delivered. In November, 520, they begin with a cry to repentance and lessons drawn from the past of prophecy. [Zechariah 1:1-6] In January, 519, Temple and city are still to be built. [Zechariah 1:7-17] Zerubbabel has laid the foundation; the completion is yet future. [Zechariah 4:6-10] The prophet’s duty is to quiet the people’s apprehensions about the state of the world, to provoke their zeal (Zechariah 4:6 ff.), give them confidence in their great men (Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14), and, above all, assure them that God is returned to them (Zechariah 1:16), and their sin pardoned (Zechariah 5:1-11). But in December, 518, the Temple is so far built that the priests are said to belong to it; [Zechariah 7:3] there is no occasion for continuing the fasts of the Exile, [Zechariah 7:1-7; Zechariah 8:18-19] the future has opened and the horizon is bright with the Messianic hopes. [Zechariah 8:20-23] Most of all, it is felt that the hard struggle with the forces of nature is over, and the people are exhorted to the virtues of the civic life. [Zechariah 8:16-17] They have time to lift their eyes from their work and see the nations coming from afar to Jerusalem. [Zechariah 8:20-23]

These features leave no room for doubt that the great bulk of the first eight chapters of the Book of Zechariah are by the prophet himself, and from the years to which he assigns them, November, 520, to December, 518. The point requires no argument.

There are, however, three passages which provoke further examination-two of them because of the signs they bear of an earlier date, and one because of the alteration it has suffered in the interests of a later day in Israel’s history.

The lyric passage which is appended to the Second Vision {Zechariah 2:10 Hebrew, Zechariah 6:1-13 LXX and English} suggests questions by its singularity: there is no other such among the Visions. But in addition to this it speaks not only of the Return from Babylon as still future-this might still be said after the First Return of the exiles in 536-but it differs from the language of all the Visions proper in describing the return of Jehovah Himself to Zion as still future. The whole, too, has the ring of the great odes in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13, and seems to reflect the same situation, upon the eve of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon. There can be little doubt that we have here inserted in Zechariah’s Visions a song of twenty years earlier, but we must confess inability to decide whether it was adopted by Zechariah himself or added by a later hand.

Again, there are the two passages called the Word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel, Zechariah 4:6 b-10a; and the Word of Jehovah concerning the gifts which came to Jerusalem from the Jews in Babylon, Zechariah 6:9-15. The first, as Wellhausen has shown, is clearly out of place; it disturbs the narrative of the Vision, and is to be put at the end of the latter. The second is undated, and separate from the Visions. The second plainly affirms that the building of the Temple is still future The man whose name is Branch or Shoot is designated: "and he shall build the Temple of Jehovah." The first is in the same temper as the first two oracles of Haggai. It is possible then that these two passages are not, like the Visions with which they are taken, to be dated from 519, but represent that still earlier prophesying of Zechariah with which we are told he assisted Haggai in instigating the people to begin to build the Temple.

The style of the prophet Zechariah betrays special features almost only in the narrative of the Visions. Outside these his language is simple, direct, and pure, as it could not but be, considering how much of it is drawn from, or modeled upon, the older prophets, and chiefly Hosea and Jeremiah. Only one or two lapses into a careless and degenerate dialect show us how the prophet might have written had he not been sustained by the music of the classical periods of the language.

This directness and pith is not shared by the language in which the Visions are narrated. Here the style is involved and redundant. The syntax is loose; there is a frequent omission of the copula, and of other means by which, in better Hebrew, connection and conciseness are sustained. The formulas, "thus saith" and "saying," are repeated to weariness. At the same time it is fair to ask how much of this redundancy was due to Zechariah himself? Take the Septuagint version. The Hebrew text which it followed, not only included a number of repetitions of the formulas, and of the designations of the personages introduced into the Visions, which do not occur in the Massoretic text, but omitted some which are found in the Massoretic text. These two sets of phenomena prove that from an early date the copiers of the original text of Zechariah must have been busy in increasing its redundancies. Further, there are still earlier intrusions and expansions, for these are shared by both the Hebrew and the Greek texts: some of them very natural efforts to clear up the personages and conversations recorded in the dreams, some of them stupid mistakes in understanding the drift of the argument. There must of course have been a certain amount of redundancy in the original to provoke such aggravations of it, and of obscurity or tortuousness of style to cause them to be deemed necessary. But it would be very unjust to charge all the faults of our present text to Zechariah himself, especially when we find such force and simplicity in the passages outside the Visions. Of course the involved and misty subjects of the latter naturally forced upon the description of them a laboriousness of art, to which there was no provocation in directly exhorting the people to a pure life, or in straightforward predictions of the Messianic era.

Beyond the corruptions due to these causes, the text of Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23, has not suffered more than that of our other prophets. There are one or two clerical errors; an occasional preposition or person of a verb needs to be amended. Here and there the text has been disarranged; and as already noticed, there has been one serious alteration of the original.

From the fore going paragraphs it must be apparent what help and hindrance in the reconstruction of the text is furnished by the Septuagint. A list of its variant readings and of its mistranslations is appended.


Verses 1-4

THE SIXTH VISION: THE WINGED VOLUME

Zechariah 5:1-4

The religious and political obstacles being now removed from the future of Israel, Zechariah in the next two Visions beholds the land purged of its crime and wickedness. These Visions are very simple, if somewhat after the ponderous fashion of Ezekiel.

The first of them is the Vision of the removal of the curse brought upon the land by its civic criminals, especially thieves and perjurers-the two forms which crime takes in a poor and rude community like the colony of the returned exiles. The prophet tells us he beheld a roll flying, he uses the ordinary Hebrew name for the rolls of skin or parchment upon which writing was set down. But the proportions of its colossal size-twenty cubits by ten-prove that it was not a cylindrical but an oblong shape which he saw. It consisted, therefore, of sheets laid on each other like our books, and as our word "volume," which originally meant, like his own term, a roll, means now an oblong article, we may use this in our translation. The volume is the record of the crime of the land, and Zechariah sees it flying from the land. But it is also the curse upon this crime, and so again he beholds it entering every thief’s and perjurer’s house and destroying it. Smend gives a possible explanation of this: "It appears that in ancient times curses were written on pieces of paper and sent down the wind into the houses" of those against whom they were directed. But the figure seems rather to be of birds of prey.

"And I turned and lifted my eyes and looked, and lo! a volume flying. And he said unto me, What dost thou see? And I said, I see a volume flying, its length twenty cubits and its breadth ten. And he said unto me, This is the curse that is going out upon the face of all the land. For every thief is hereby purged away from hence, and every perjurer is hereby purged away from hence, I have sent it forth-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts-and it shall enter the thief’s house, and the house of him that hath sworn falsely by My name, and it shall roost: in the midst of his house and consume it, with its beams and its stones."


Verses 1-11

THE SEVENTH VISION: THE WOMAN IN THE BARREL

Zechariah 5:5-11

It is not enough that the curse fly from the land after destroying every criminal. The living principle of sin, the power of temptation, must be covered up and removed. This is the subject of the Seventh Vision.

The prophet sees an ephah, the largest vessel in use among the Jews, of more than seven gallons capacity, and round like a barrel. Presently the leaden top is lifted, and the prophet sees a woman inside. This is Wickedness, feminine because she figures the power of temptation. She is thrust back into the barrel, the leaden lid is pushed down, and the Whole carried off by two other female figures, winged like the strong, far-flying stork, into the land of Shin’ar, "which at that time had the general significance of the counterpart of the Holy Land," and was the proper home of all that was evil.

"And the angel of Jehovah who spake with me came forward and said to me, Lift now thine eyes and see what this is that comes forth. And I said, What is it? And he said, This is a bushel coming forth. And he said, This is their transgression in all the land. And behold! the round leaden top was lifted up, and lo! a woman sitting inside the bushel. And he said, This is the Wickedness, and he thrust her back into the bushel, and thrust the leaden disc upon the mouth of it. And I lifted mine eyes and looked, and lo! two women came forth with the wind in their wings, for they had wings like storks’ wings, and they bore the bushel betwixt earth and heaven. And I said to the angel that talked with me, Whither do they carry the bushel? And he said to me, To build it a house in the land of Shin’ar, that it may be fixed and brought to rest there on a place of its own."

We must not allow this curious imagery to hide from us its very spiritual teaching. If Zechariah is weighted in these Visions by the ponderous fashion of Ezekiel, he has also that prophet’s truly moral spirit. He is not contented with the ritual atonement for sin, nor with the legal punishment of crime. The living power of sin must be banished from Israel; and this cannot be done by any efforts of men themselves, but by God’s action only, which is thorough and effectual. If the figures by which this is illustrated appear to us grotesque and heavy, let us remember how they would suit the imagination of the prophet’s own day. Let us lay to heart their eternally valid doctrine, that sin is not a formal curse, nor only expressed in certain social crimes, nor exhausted by the punishment of these, but, as a power of attraction and temptation to all men, it must be banished from the heart, and can be banished only by God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Zechariah 5:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/zechariah-5.html.

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