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The Flying Roll And The Ephah
The visions of glory which we have been contemplating in the last two chapters are succeeded by others of very diverse kind. If Judah and Jerusalem are to be blessed, it must be on the ground of sovereign grace alone. Merit there was none, but the very opposite. It is this the “flying roll” makes manifest. It speaks of unsparing judgment “according to their works,” which must fall on all who refuse to judge themselves according to the word of the living God. But it lets us know likewise that He, the Holy One, so grievously sinned against, has found a way to save in a righteous manner all who turn to Him and call upon His name; otherwise all should of very necessity be cut off.
There is no word or apparent hint of anything but wrath to the uttermost; yet, read in the light of the preceding symbols, our hearts are lifted up in holy exultation to the praise of the grace that saves.
We are told, “Then I turned and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll. And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll: the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits. Then said he unto me, This is the curse that go-eth forth over the face of the whole earth (or, land, R. V.; i. e., Palestine): for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it. I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by My name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it, with the timber thereof and the stones thereof” (vers. 1-4).
I have quoted the account of both the vision and its interpretation in full; for it is of a most solemn character, and may well speak loudly to every heart, both of the sinners of the Gentiles and of the people of Israel. Primarily it refers distinctively to Judah. They will be restored to the land in unbelief when it has its fulfilment. Note well that the Revised reading, “land,” in verse 3, here, as generally in the Prophets, is much to be preferred to the more general “earth” of the A.V. In studying the seventeen books that make up the last part of the Old Testament, it is of prime importance to remember that throughout God has Israel as a people and Palestine as their land before His eyes. That apparently insignificant strip of country is, for Him, the centre of the earth, and of all His ways with men on the earth. He gave it by inviolable covenant to Abraham and his descendants. There His blessed Son was born, and lived and died. Thence He ascended to heaven. To that same land He shall descend in person to usher in the kingdom long foretold.
For centuries that land has been trodden ignominiously beneath the foot of the haughty Gentile conqueror, while its rightful inhabitants have, for their sins, been dispersed among the nations. But thither they shall return; yea, even now are returning in large numbers, though as yet in darkness of soul and unbelief. There, God will pass them through a trial of unequaled fierceness, called “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” or “the great tribulation,” separating thereby the precious from the vile; destroying the sinners and transgressors from among them, and saving the repentant subjects of His grace, who shall form the nucleus for the kingdom in the day of His power.
Of this preparatory judgment the vision now claiming our attention speaks. Zechariah beheld in the heavens a vast scroll in majestic yet hurried notion, moving swiftly through the air, over all the land of Canaan. Closely observing, he saw that it was written on both sides with curses and judgments. On the one side was God’s word against those who wronged their neighbor, in accordance with the second table of the law (first mentioned, for man can best appreciate the wickedness of sin against his fellow); on the other side, the doom pronounced on those guilty of impiety, according to the first table.
That law, in itself “holy, and just, and good,” becomes their condemnation; for “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). The Jew makes his boast in that law; yet it speaks only for his condemnation.
The flying roll is the answer to the foolhardiness of the people who cried at Sinai, “All that the Lord hath spoken will we do.” After a trial lasting through long centuries and millenniums, it is the witness against them, making manifest the solemn fact that they have failed at every point, so must be cut off in judgment.
Into every house where the thief or the false swearer is found the curse enters, bringing utter destruction in its wake. This is all the law can do for any sinner. It can only condemn and curse the violator of it.
And who has not violated it? Wherever it has been promulgated, it has found many to promise, but none to perform. No honest man can claim to have kept it; therefore on that ground, as righteousness he has not, salvation there cannot be.
But, blessed be God, He has found a ransom for men and women who have forfeited all title to His favor. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). On the ground of an accomplished redemption, grace flows out now to every transgressor who owns his lost condition and trusts the sinner’s Saviour. On the same ground will the flying roll be turned aside from the houses of all the remnant of Judah in the last days, who turn to God in repentance, and, like their fathers on the passover night in Egypt, find shelter beneath the blood of atonement. This the wondrous vision of chapter three has already set forth.
Beginning with verse 5, we have another and a stranger symbol. Zechariah, evidently musing with downcast eyes on the awful portent we have been considering, was aroused by the interpreting angel, and called upon to observe the next remarkable vision. He saw a great ephah, a vessel for measuring merchandise, with a weighty piece of base metal, akin to lead, upon the top of it. This being lifted, he beheld a woman who was cast into the ephah, which was again covered with the lead. Two other women then appeared, with wings like those of a stork, who lifted up the measure between them and flew with it to the north. In reply to the seer’s question, “Whither do these bear the ephah?” the angel said, “To build it a house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base” (vers. 5-11).
Such was the strange portent beheld by the prophet. What is the meaning to be gathered from it?
It is noticeable that, as we go on with the series, there is less and less given in the way of interpretation. It is as though the Lord would give enough in regard to the earlier visions to lay a solid foundation for the understanding of the later ones. Thus the need of carefully comparing what we have here with what has already come before us.
Various interpretations have been suggested, many of which seem to be extremely fanciful. One of the most common is this: The ephah is a symbol of commercialism, setting forth the great characteristic mark of the Jewish race, who are a nation of keen bargainers. The woman sets forth iniquity in business, now come to the full. The carrying of the woman in the ephah to the land of Shinar indicates the revival of the ancient city of Babylon in great splendor as the commercial centre of the coming day. Interpreters of this stamp point to certain negotiations now going on for the opening up of Mesopotamia and the extension of railroad enterprise in that direction as sure indications that they are on the right track. But to our mind all this is pure speculation, and absolutely unsupported by Scripture. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah make it clear, in my judgment, that Babylon has fallen to rise no more.33 It has been literally burned with fire and utterly destroyed, and God Himself has solemnly declared that for that wicked city there shall be no healing nor revival.
Nor is there any solid reason for supposing that the ephah is in itself, of necessity, a symbol of great commercial enterprise. Is it not rather the recognized symbol of measurement, telling us that God shall weigh and measure Judah’s sin, and the sin of the whole house of Israel, with unerring accuracy. When their iniquity has come to the full, in wondrous grace He will separate the wickedness from the preserved remnant, dealing with it in connection with the place of its origin, the land of Shinar. For the woman in the ephah sets forth unmistakably, I judge, wickedness of a religious character, as in the parallel cases of the woman hiding the leaven of evil teaching in the food of the people of God (Matthew 13:0), and the woman Jezebel corrupting the assembly at Thyatira, issuing in the awful impiety of the scarlet woman of Revelation 17:0.
Now, Israel’s great religious sin was idolatry. They had been separated from the nations to be Jehovah’s witnesses to the unity of the Godhead. Instead of maintaining the place of testimony thus given them, they turned to the practices of the heathen, provoking their Rock and causing Him to fall upon them in indignation. Babylon was the mother of idolatry. It was the home of all that is false in a religious way. In the time of the end this spirit of wickedness will be separated from Judah and carried by stork-winged women (symbol surely of the unclean energy of the human mind, femininely lovely, but propelled by the energy of the prince of the power of the air) to the land of Shinar, where its house will be built. That is, there its habitation will be, and there will it be judged.
It is a moral continuity. In mystical Babylon literal Babylon finds her identity continued and her sin fully dealt with. With her sorcery have all nations been deceived, and in her shall be “found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth” (Revelation 18:24).
Thus shall Israel be purified and idolatry of every form meet its just and final doom, preparatory to the establishment of the world-kingdom of our God and His Christ.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Zechariah 5". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20