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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 5

 

 

Verse 1

1. The introductory formula is similar to that in Zechariah 2:1.

A… roll — Among the ancients written documents were preserved in the form of rolls. LXX., omitting the final letter of the Hebrew word, reads “sickle,” which would give good sense, but the dimensions given in Zechariah 5:2 favor the Hebrew text.

Flying — Moving swiftly from the judgment throne above, where the destruction was decreed, to its destination upon earth.


Verses 1-4

The sixth vision — the flying roll, 1-4.

In meaning this vision is similar to the seventh, but there seems insufficient reason for thinking that the two are parts of one and the same vision. The prophet beholds flying through the air an immense roll. He is told by the interpreter that the roll symbolizes the curse of God, and that it will enter the houses of all evil doers and consume them utterly. In Zechariah 3:9, is promised the removal of iniquity from the land; this vision indicates one means by which this is to be accomplished, namely, the destruction of the wicked.


Verses 2-4

2. The interpreting angel calls the attention of the prophet to the new vision by means of a question (compare Zechariah 4:2, and see references there). The roll was unfolded, so that its immense size could be recognized.

Length… twenty cubits… the breadth… ten cubits — The measurements of the porch of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:3) and of the holy place in the tabernacle, as it may be determined from Exodus 26, and as it is given by Josephus (Antiquities, iii, Zechariah 6:4). The exact figures may have been suggested by one or the other of these places, but it is not probable that they possess any special symbolic meaning; all they are intended to do is to indicate the great size of the roll. The Hebrews appear to have used two cubits, one a little longer than the other, but the data are insufficient to determine the exact length of either; the length of the common cubit is estimated at approximately eighteen inches (see Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Weights and Measures”).

The interpretation is given in Zechariah 5:3-4.

This is the curse — We must think of the roll as inscribed, perhaps upon both sides, with a curse or curses, similar to those in Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Deuteronomy 28:15-68, though there is no reason to suppose that the prophet has in mind these curses.

The whole earth — Better, R.V., “land.” Zechariah 5:6 and especially Zechariah 5:11 clearly show that the reference is to Palestine or Judah, or at the most to the extended Judah (Zechariah 2:11). Two classes of criminals are singled out.

Shall be cut off — The Hebrew verb is used ordinarily in the sense of acquit, free from guilt; in this passage most commentators take it in a physical sense, clear away — cut off, or destroy (Isaiah 3:26).

On this side — R.V., “on the one side”; better, margin, “from hence,” that is, from the land.

According to it — According to the curses inscribed upon the roll. Some commentators insist that the more common meaning of the verb should be retained; if that is done the text of the rest of the verse must be changed. Wellhausen reads, “For everyone that stealeth hath for long remained unpunished, and everyone that sweareth hath for long remained unpunished”; therefore Jehovah is sending his judgment.

Everyone that sweareth — Must be interpreted in the light of Zechariah 5:4 as equivalent to “everyone that sweareth falsely by my name.” The Old Testament does not condemn swearing per se; it condemns only false swearing (compare Hosea 4:2); Matthew 5:34 ff., is on the New Testament level.

I will bring it forth — Better and literally, I have caused it to go forth: it has already started on its mission of judgment. Its destination is the houses of the evil doers.

Shall remain — Literally, lodge over night; but it will not sleep.

Shall consume — Not only will it announce the judgment, it will execute it.

It — The house, including the inhabitants.

With the timber thereof and the stones thereof — That is, utterly.

Only two forms of wickedness are specified, stealing and false swearing. It is hardly likely, however, that these were the only sins recognized or prevalent in the days of Zechariah; it seems better to regard these as types of two classes of wickedness, stealing as representing all sins committed against man, false swearing by the name of Jehovah as representing all sins committed against Jehovah. Under these two heads all forms of sin may be grouped, as in the Decalogue. If this is done the vision symbolizes the destruction of sinners of every sort.


Verse 5-6

5, 6. The interpreting angel is the first to appear.

Went forth — As in Zechariah 2:3. The several visions were separated from one another by intervals of inactivity, during which the prophet meditated upon the things seen and heard. During these intervals the angel was lost sight of, but when the moment for a new vision arrived he stood forth. The expression may mean, therefore, simply that the prophet again became aware of his presence. The vision itself is presented in a manner somewhat different from the preceding. Zechariah is exhorted to look; when he does so he becomes conscious of something, but fails to understand what it is; then his companion explains.

This is an ephah that goeth forth — A free translation would express the thought more clearly, “that which goeth forth (that is, appears, comes into sight) is an ephah.” It is difficult to determine the exact capacity of the ephah (see on Amos 8:5), but, speaking in general terms, it may be compared to a bushel (compare Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, iv, p. 912). Since a measure of the size of a bushel cannot contain a woman, the word must be used here of an ephah-shaped measure, without reference to size.

Recognizing the mysteriousness of the vision, the angel immediately proceeds to explain it.

This is their resemblance through all the earth — R.V., “This is their appearance in all the land.” Of the two, R.V. is to be preferred. Much ingenuity has been expended in the interpretation of this peculiar expression. Two attempts may be mentioned. “The ephah is the shape, that is, represents the figure displayed by sinners in all the land, after the roll of the curse has gone forth over the land; that is, it shows into what condition they have come through that anathema.… Just as in a bushel the separate grains are all collected together, so will the individual sinners over the whole earth be brought into a heap, when the curse of the end goes forth over the whole earth” (Keil). A slightly different interpretation is suggested by Perowne: “This, namely, the ephah with all that you will see in the vision regarding it, is the resemblance or representation of the wicked through all the land and of what shall befall them.” These are only two out of a great number of suggested interpretations, all of which are more or less artificial and require a stretch of the text and of the imagination. The difficulty is entirely removed if we accept the LXX. reading, “their transgression,” for “their resemblance”; the whole clause, “this is their transgression in all the land.” The pronoun is explained by “in all the land,” equivalent to “the transgression of the inhabitants of all the land.” This transgression is symbolized by the ephah and its contents, though the latter have not yet been revealed to the prophet. This translation and interpretation of Zechariah 5:5-6 seem to give a satisfactory sense, though it may be admitted that the reading is not as smooth as it might be. The apparent awkwardness of the text leads Nowack and others to alter it so as to read, following Lift up now thine eyes, and see — “what is this ephah that goeth forth? And I said, What is it? And he said, That is their transgression in all the land.”


Verses 5-11

The seventh vision — the woman in the midst of the ephah, Zechariah 5:5-11.

When the prophet lifts up his eyes again he beholds an ephah, in which is sitting a woman. Its opening is securely fastened with a heavy cover. As the prophet continues to gaze he sees two women with wings lifting up the vessel and carrying it through the air. Upon inquiry he is informed that the woman is to be established in the far-distant Shinar. As the vision unfolds the interpreter points out its symbolical meaning. The woman represents wickedness, which, according to Zechariah 3:9, is to be removed from the land. It is fastened securely in the ephah, but to make practically impossible the pollution of the land it is to be removed to the distant Shinar, there to be established forever. This removal will forever free the land from wickedness. It is evident, then, that the seventh vision is a continuation and complement of the sixth.


Verse 7

7. While the interpreter was still speaking, the cover was lifted from the top of the ephah.

A talent of lead — Literally, a circle; margin, “a round piece” (of lead). The ephah is pictured as round. Now the prophet beholds the contents.

And this is a woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah — If the first part of Zechariah 5:7 is taken as a parenthetical clause (so R.V.), these words are a continuation of Zechariah 5:6, dependent on “He said moreover.” If Zechariah 5:7 is taken by itself as describing the sight which met the prophet’s eyes, a better rendering would be, “And, behold! a round piece of lead was lifted up; and (behold) this! one (lone) woman sitting in the midst of the ephah”; one woman is in apposition to this (G.-K., 136d, note). It says not “a woman,” but “one woman”; the numeral is used to indicate that nothing else was in the ephah.


Verses 8-10

8. The interpreter proceeds to explain the significance of the woman.

This is wickedness — The wickedness of the whole land (Zechariah 5:6) is personified in the one woman. As the cover is lifted up she begins to rise, but the angel throws her back and makes escape impossible by replacing the lid upon the mouth, that is, the opening of the ephah.

Weight of lead — Literally, the stone of lead; synonymous with “round piece of lead” in Zechariah 5:7.

Zechariah 5:9-10 describe the removal of the ephah from the land.

Then lifted I up mine eyes — This phrase introduces not a new vision, but a new phase of the same vision. Looking up from the ephah, he beholds two new figures appearing upon the scene.

Two women — These women have no special symbolical significance; they appear only as the agents appointed to remove the ephah. Women are selected rather than men because a woman is in the ephah, two women because one alone could not have carried the burden.

Wings — To enable the women to move more quickly, they were supplied with wings. The air would offer fewer obstacles than the land; besides, the wind of heaven might assist creatures flying through the air in their movements.

Like the wings of a stork — The stork is introduced not because he is an unclean bird (Leviticus 11:19), but on account of the great size of his wings.

The wind was in their wings — That they might proceed with greater swiftness.

Between the earth and the heaven — That is, in the air. Thus the women began their journey.

As they move away the prophet inquires where they are going, to which the angel makes answer. 11.

To build it [“her”] a house — The pronoun refers primarily to the ephah, but includes the contents, the woman, for houses are built ordinarily for human beings. The building of a house implies that the stay is to be permanent.

In the land of Shinar — Babylonia (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:2); the home of the long-time enemy of the people of God, the land of exile. Sin, which had brought serious disaster upon Judah, is to be removed to the land of the enemy, there to cause distress and destruction. That the stay is to be permanent is further indicated in the second half of the verse. R.V. is to be preferred: “and when it is prepared, she shall be set there in her own place.”

When it is prepared (R.V.) — That is, the house.

She shall be set there (R.V.) — The woman (and the ephah).

In her own place (R.V.) — In the house erected for her use.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 5:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/zechariah-5.html. 1874-1909.

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