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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Zechariah 5


Sixth Vision: The Flying Roll, and the Woman in the Ephah - Zechariah 5:1-1 Kings :

These two figures are so closely connected, that they are to be taken as one vision. The circumstance, that a pause is introduced between the first and second view, in which both the ecstatic elevation and the interpreting angel leave the prophet, so that it is stated in Zechariah 5:5 that “the angel came forth,” furnishes no sufficient reason for the assumption that there were two different visions. For the figure of the ephah with the woman sitting in it is also divided into two views, since the prophet first of all sees the woman and receives the explanation (Zechariah 5:5-Ruth :), and the further development of the vision is then introduced in Zechariah 5:9 with a fresh introductory formula, “And I lifted up my eyes, and saw.” And just as this introductory formula, through which new and different visions are introduced in Zechariah 2:1 and Zechariah 2:5, by no means warrants us in dividing what is seen here into two different visions; so there is nothing in the introduction in Zechariah 5:5 to compel us to separate the vision of the flying roll (Zechariah 5:1-Numbers :) from the following vision of the ephah, since there is no such difference in the actual contents of the two as to warrant such a separation. They neither stand in such a relation to one another, as that the first sets forth the extermination of sinners out of the holy land, and the second the extermination of sin itself, as Maurer supposes; nor does the one treat of the fate of the sinners and the other of the full measure of the sin; but the vision of the flying roll prepares the way for, and introduces, what is carried out in the vision of the ephah (Zechariah 5:5-1 Kings :), and the connection between the two is indicated formally by the fact that the suffix in עינם in Zechariah 5:6 refers back to Zechariah 5:3 and Zechariah 5:4.

Verses 1-4

Zechariah 5:1. “And I lifted up my eyes again, and saw, and behold a flying roll. Zechariah 5:2. And he said to me, What seest thou? And I said, I see a flying roll; its length twenty cubits, and its breadth ten cubits. Zechariah 5:3. And he said to me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the whole land: for every one that stealeth will be cleansed away from this side, according to it; and every one that sweareth will be cleansed away from that side, according to it. Zechariah 5:4. I have caused it to go forth, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts, and it will come into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth by my name for deceit: and it will pass the night in the midst of his house, and consume both its beams and its stones.” The person calling the prophet's attention to the vision, and interpreting it, is the angelus interpres . This is not specially mentioned here, as being obvious from what goes before. The roll (book-scroll, m e gillâh = m e gillath sēpher , Ezekiel 2:9) is seen flying over the earth unrolled, so that its length and breadth can be seen. The statement as to its size is not to be regarded as “an approximative estimate,” so that the roll would be simply described as of considerable size (Koehler), but is unquestionably significant. It corresponds both to the size of the porch of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:3), and also to the dimensions of the holy place in the tabernacle, which was twenty cubits long and ten cubits broad. Hengstenberg, Hofmann, and Umbreit, following the example of Kimchi, assume that the reference is to the porch of the temple, and suppose that the roll has the same dimensions as this porch, to indicate that the judgment is “a consequence of the theocracy” or was to issue from the sanctuary of Israel, where the people assembled before the Lord. But the porch of the temple was neither a symbol of the theocracy, nor the place where the people assembled before the Lord, but a mere architectural ornament, which had no significance whatever in relation to the worship. The people assembled before the Lord in the court, to have reconciliation made for them with God by sacrifice; or they entered the holy place in the person of their sanctified mediators, the priests, as cleansed from sin, there to appear before God and engage in His spotless worship. The dimensions of the roll are taken from the holy place of the tabernacle, just as in the previous vision the candlestick was the mosaic candlestick of the tabernacle. Through the similarity of the dimensions of the roll to those of the holy place in the tabernacle, there is no intention to indicate that the curse proceeds from the holy place of the tabernacle or of the temple; for the roll would have issued from the sanctuary, if it had been intended to indicate this. Moreover, the curse or judgment does indeed begin at the house of God, but it does not issue or come from the house of God. Kliefoth has pointed to the true meaning in the following explanation which he gives: “The fact that the writing, which brings the curse upon all the sinners of the earth, has the same dimensions as the tabernacle, signifies that the measure will be meted out according to the measure of the holy place;” and again, “the measure by which this curse upon sinners will be meted out, will be the measure of the holy place.” With this measure would all sinners be measured, that they might be cut off from the congregation of the Lord, which appeared before God in the holy place.

The flight of the roll symbolized the going forth of the curse over the whole land. כּל־הארץ is rendered by Hofmann, Neumann, and Kliefoth “the whole earth,” because “it evidently signifies the whole earth in v. Zechariah 4:10, Zechariah 4:14, and Zechariah 6:5” (Kliefoth). But these passages, in which the Lord of the whole earth is spoken of, do not prove anything in relation to our vision, in which כּל־הארץ is unmistakeably limited to the land of Canaan (Judah) by the antithesis in Zechariah 5:11, “the land of Shinar.” If the sinners who are smitten by the curse proceeding over כּל־הארץ are to be carried into the land of Sinar, the former must be a definite land, and not the earth as the sum of all lands. It cannot be argued in opposition to this, that the sin of the land in which the true house of God and the true priesthood were, was wiped away by expiation, whereas the sin of the whole world would be brought into the land of judgment, when its measure was concluded by God; for this antithesis is foreign not only to this vision, but to the Scriptures universally. The Scriptures know nothing of any distribution or punishment of sins according to different lands, but simply according to the character of the sinners, viz., whether they are penitent or hardened. At the same time, the fact that כּל־הארץ denotes the whole of the land of Israel, by no means proves that our vision either treats of the “carrying away of Israel into exile,” which had already occurred (Ros.), or “sets before them a fresh carrying away into exile, and one still in the future” (Hengstenberg), or that on the coming of the millennial kingdom the sin and the sinners will be exterminated from the whole of the holy land, and the sin thrown back upon the rest of the earth, which is still under the power of the world (Hofmann). The vision certainly refers to the remote future of the kingdom of God; and therefore “the whole land” cannot be restricted to the extent and boundaries of Judaea or Palestine, but reaches as far as the spiritual Israel or church of Christ is spread over the earth; but there is no allusion in our vision to the millennial kingdom, and its establishment within the limits of the earthly Canaan. The curse falls upon all thieves and false swearers. הנּשׁבּע in Zechariah 5:3 is defined more precisely in Zechariah 5:4, as swearing in the name of Jehovah for deceit, and therefore refers to perjury in the broadest sense of the word, or to all abuse of the name of God for false, deceitful swearing. Thieves are mentioned for the sake of individualizing, as sinners against the second table of the decalogue; false swearers, as sinners against the first table. The repetition of מזּה כּמוה points to this; for mizzeh , repeated in correlative clauses, signifies hinc et illinc, hence and thence, i.e., on one side and the other (Exodus 17:12; Numbers 22:24; Ezekiel 47:7), and can only refer here to the fact that the roll was written upon on both sides, so that it is to be taken in close connection with כּמוה : “on this side ... and on that, according to it” (the roll), i.e., according to the curse written upon this side and that side of the roll. We have therefore to picture the roll to ourselves as having the curse against the thieves written upon the one side, and that against the perjurers upon the other. The supposition that mizzeh refers to כּל־הארץ is precluded most decidedly, by the fact that mizzeh does not mean “thence,” i.e., from the whole land, but when used adverbially of any place, invariably signifies “hence,” and refers to the place where the speaker himself is standing. Moreover, the double use of mizzeh is at variance with any allusion to hâ'ârets , as well as the fact that if it belonged to the verb, it would stand after כּמוה , whether before or after the verb. Niqqâh , the niphal, signifies here to be cleaned out, like καθαρίζεσωαι in Mark 7:19 (cf. 1 Kings 14:10; Deuteronomy 17:12). This is explained in Zechariah 5:4 thus: Jehovah causes the curse to go forth and enter into the house of the thief and perjurer, so that it will pass the night there, i.e., stay there ( lâneh third pers. perf. of lūn , from lânâh , to be blunted, like zûreh in Isaiah 59:5, and other verbal formations); it will not remain idle, however, but work therein, destroying both the house and sinners therein, so that beams and stones will be consumed (cf. 1 Kings 18:38). The suffix in כּלּתּוּ (for כּלּתהוּ , cf. Ges. §75, Anm. 19) refers to the house, of course including the inhabitants. The following nouns introduced with ואת are in explanatory apposition: both its beams and its stones. The roll therefore symbolizes the curse which will fall upon sinners throughout the whole land, consuming them with their houses, and thus sweeping them out of the nation of God.

Verses 5-8

To this there is appended in Zechariah 5:5-1 Kings : a new view, which exhibits the further fate of the sinners who have been separated from the congregation of the saints. Zechariah 5:5. “And the angel that talked with me went forth, and said to me, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, what is this that goeth out there? Zechariah 5:6. And I said, What is it? And he said, This is the ephah going out. And He said, This is their aspect in all the land. Zechariah 5:7. And behold a disk of lead was lifted up, and there was a woman sitting in the midst of the ephah. Zechariah 5:8. And he said, This is wickedness; and he cast it into the midst of the ephah, and cast the leaden weight upon its mouth.” With the disappearing of the previous vision, the angelus interpres had also vanished from the eyes of the prophet. After a short pause he comes out again, calls the prophet's attention to a new figure which emerges out of the cloud, and so comes within the range of vision ( היּוצאת הזּאת ), and informs him with regard to it: “This is the ephah which goeth out.” יצא , to go out, in other words, to come to view. The ephah was the greatest measure of capacity which really existed among the Hebrews for dry goods, and was about the size of a cubic foot; for the chōmer , which contained ten ephahs, appears to have had only an ideal existence, viz., for the purpose of calculation. The meaning of this figure is indicated generally in the words זאת עינם כב , the meaning of which depends upon the interpretation to be given to עינם . The suffix of this word can only refer to the sinners mentioned before, viz., the thieves and perjurers; for it is contrary to the Hebrew usage to suppose that the words refer to the expression appended, בּכל־הארץ , in the sense of “all those who are in the whole land” (Koehler). Consequently עין does not mean the eye, but adspectus , appearance, or shape, as in Leviticus 13:55; Ezekiel 1:4.; and the words have this meaning: The ephah (bushel) is the shape, i.e., represents the figure displayed by the sinners in all the land, after the roll of the curse has gone forth over the land, i.e., it shows into what condition they have come through that anathema (Kliefoth). The point of comparison between the ephah and the state into which sinners have come in consequence of the curse, does not consist in the fact that the ephah is carried away, and the sinners likewise (Maurer), nor in the fact that the sin now reaches its full measure (Hofm., Hengstenberg); for “the carrying away of the sinners does not come into consideration yet, and there is nothing at all here about the sin becoming full.” It is true that, according to what follows, sin sits in the ephah as a woman, but there is nothing to indicate that the ephah is completely filled by it, so that there is no further room in it; and this thought would be generally out of keeping here. The point of comparison is rather to be found in the explanation given by Kliefoth: “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.” We have no hesitation in appropriating this explanation, although we have not rendered הארץ “the earth,” inasmuch as at the final fulfilment of the vision the holy land will extend over all the earth. Immediately afterwards the prophet is shown still more clearly what is in the ephah. A covering of lead ( kikkâr , a circle, a rounding or a circular plate) rises up, or is lifted up, and then he sees a woman sitting in the ephah ( 'achath does not stand for the indefinite article, but is a numeral, the sinners brought into a heap appearing as a unity, i.e., as one living personality, instead of forming an atomistic heap of individuals). This woman, who had not come into the ephah now for the first time, but was already sitting there, and was only seen now that the lid was raised, is described by the angel as mirsha‛ath , ungodliness, as being wickedness embodied, just as in 2 Chronicles 24:7 this name is given to godless Jezebel. Thereupon he throws her into the ephah, out of which she had risen up, and shuts it with the leaden lid, to carry her away, as the following vision shows, out of the holy land.

Verses 9-11

Zechariah 5:9. “And I lifted up my eyes, and saw, and behold there came forth two women, and wind in their wings, and they had wings like a stork's wings; and they carried the ephah between earth and heaven. Zechariah 5:10. And I said to the angel that talked with me, Whither are these taking the ephah? Zechariah 5:11. And he said to me, To build it a dwelling in the land of Shinar: and it will be placed and set up there upon its stand.” The meaning of this new scene may easily be discovered. The ephah with the woman in it is carried away between earth and heaven, i.e., through the air. Women carry it because there is a woman inside; and two women, because two persons are required to carry so large and heavy a measure, that they may lay hold of it on both sides ( תּשּׂנה with the א dropped; cf. Ges. §74, Anm. 4). These women have wings, because it passes through the air; and a stork's wings, because these birds have broad pinions, and not because the stork is a bird of passage or an unclean bird. The wings are filled with wind, that they may be able to carry their burden with greater velocity through the air. The women denote the instruments or powers employed by God to carry away the sinners out of His congregation, without any special allusion to this or the other historical nation. This is all that we have to seek for in these features, which only serve to give distinctness to the picture. But the statement in Zechariah 5:11 is significant: “to build it a house in the land of Shinar.” The pronoun לה with the suffix softened instead of לּהּ , as in Exodus 9:18; Leviticus 13:4 (cf. Ewald, §247, d), refers grammatically to האיפה ; but so far as the sense is concerned, it refers to the woman sitting in the ephah, since a house is not built for a measure, but only for men to dwell in. This also applies to the feminine form הנּתחה , and to the suffix in מכנתהּ . The building of a house indicates that the woman is to dwell there permanently, as is still more clearly expressed in the second hemistich. הוּכן refers to בּית , and is not to be taken hypothetically, in the sense of “as soon as the house shall be restored,” but is a perfect with Vav consec.; and hūkhan , the hophal of kūn , is not to be taken in the sense of restoring, but, in correspondence with m e khunâh , in the sense of establishing or building on firm foundations. M e khunâh : the firmly established house. In this the woman of sin is brought to rest. The land in which the woman of sin carried away out of the holy land is permanently to dwell, is the land of Shinar. This name is not to be identified with Babel, so as to support the conclusion that it refers to a fresh removal of the people of Israel into exile; but according to Genesis 10:10 and Genesis 11:2, Shinar is the land in which Nimrod founded the first empire, and where the human race built the tower of Babel which was to reach to the sky. The name is not to be taken geographically here as an epithet applied to Mesopotamia, but is a notional or real definition, which affirms that the ungodliness carried away out of the sphere of the people of God will have its permanent settlement in the sphere of the imperial power that is hostile to God. The double vision of this chapter, therefore, shows the separation of the wicked from the congregation of the Lord, and their banishment into and concentration within the ungodly kingdom of the world. This distinction and separation commenced with the coming of the Messiah, and runs through all the ages of the spread and development of the Christian church, until at the time of the end they will come more and more into outward manifestation; and the evil, having been sifted out by the judicial power of God and His Spirit, will form itself into a Babel of the last days, as Ezekiel 38 and 39 clearly show, and attempt a last struggle with the kingdom of God, in which it will be overcome and destroyed by the last judgment.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Zechariah 5". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.