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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 5

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-4


Zechariah 5:1-4

A. A large Roll flying over the Land (Zechariah 5:1-2). B. It contains and executes a destructive Curse (Zechariah 5:3-4).

1      And I lifted up my eyes again,1 and saw, and behold a flying roll. 2And he said to me, What seest thou? And I said, I see a flying roll; its length twenty cubits and its breadth ten cubits. 3 And he said to me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole land; for every one that stealeth shall be cut off2 on this side according to it, and every one that sweareth shall be cut off on that side, according 4to it. I have brought3 it forth, saith Jehovah of Hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth by my name to a falsehood, and it shall lodge4 in the midst of his house and consume it, both its wood and its stones.


The series of visions here takes a sharp turn. All that preceded were of a consolatory character, setting forth the overthrow of Zion’s foes, the forgiveness of the people, their illumination and exaltation by the Spirit of God, and consequently the sure and speedy completion of the Temple, Now, however, the prophet is directed to show his countrymen that Jehovah is a holy God, and wickedness cannot dwell with Him. There is no toleration for sinners while they continue such. As many as still remain impenitent, or reject God’s provision of mercy, shall be visited with an exterminating judgment, or experience a captive exile far longer and more dreary even than that which their fathers had suffered in Babylon. This is set forth vividly and plainly in the two visions which follow, which, although entirely distinct in form and manifestation, yet are closely allied in subject and bearing.
The former of the two borrows the groundwork of its striking symbolism from the Mosaic Law (“curse,” “roll”), and sets forth with fearful energy the retributive consequences of sin.
(a.) The Flying Roll (Zechariah 5:1-2). Zechariah 5:1. I lifted up … again. This implies an interval, longer or shorter, since the last vision. What he saw is described fully in the next verse.

Zechariah 5:2. And he said. That is, the interpreting angel said, as is obvious from what precedes. “Roll”=book-scroll or parchment; of course one so large as this must have been composed of many skins fastened together. It is seen flying over the earth unrolled, so that its size could be discerned. Its dimensions are ten yards long by five broad. Some (Köhler, Henderson, et al.) consider these measurements as intended only to state that it was of considerable size. But as that could be so easily expressed in a simpler way, it is better regard the dimensions as significant. But of what? Hengstenberg, Hoffman, Umbreit, following Kimchi, assume a reference to the porch of the Temple which was of the same size (1 Kings 6:3),and infer that the intention was to represent the judgment as “a consequence of the theocracy,” to which, however, it is justly objected that the temple-porch in itself had no symbolic significance, nor was it a meeting-place for Israel. Keil and Kliefoth say that the dimensions were taken from those of the holy place of the tabernacle (twenty cubits by ten), and explain, “the measure by which this curse upon sinners will be meted out will be the measure of the holy place,” i. e., it will act so as to cut them off from the congregation of the Lord which appeared before God in the holy place. I should prefer to take the dimensions as a suggestion of the scope of the impending judgment, namely, the covenant people.

(b.) Meaning of the Roll (Zechariah 5:3-4). Zechariah 5:3. This is the curse. Henderson compares our Lord’s words, “This is (represents) my body.” “The whole land,” i. e., of Israel, as the analogy of the preceding and following visions shows. The curse hovers over the entire region, ready to fall upon its destined objects. These are the thief and the false swearer, who are taken as examples, one from each table of the law; and therefore stand for all sinners. Such are to be cut off=driven out of the fellowship of God’s people, with the usual implication, in that phrase, of destruction. On this side, on that side, refer to the two sides of the roll (Exodus 32:15), on one of which was the curse against one class of sinners, and on the other that against the other class. Then according to it (i. e., according to its terms) refers respectively to these two sides.

Zechariah 5:4. I have brought. To render this in the future, as E. V., is a needless departure from the original. God has caused it to come forth, as the prophet sees. He proceeds now to tell him what it will do. It will enter the house of the sinner, and come to stay. Lodge, literally, pass the night, and hence dwell permanently. Nor will it remain idle, but destroy until not only the contents but even the most durable parts of the house were consumed. Cf. 1 Kings 18:38.


Zechariah 5:1; Zechariah 5:1.—Again. For this meaning of שׁוּב, cf. 2 Kings 1:11.

Zechariah 5:3; Zechariah 5:3.—נִקָּה=emptied, exhausted, here manifestly=destroyed.

Zechariah 5:4; Zechariah 5:4.—הוֹצֵאתִיהָ cannot he rendered, “I will bring it forth.

Zechariah 5:4; Zechariah 5:4.—לָנֶה irregular for לָנָה. It means, to pass the night, h. abide.

Verses 5-11


Zechariah 5:5-11

A. The Prophet sees an Ephah going forth (Zechariah 5:5-6). B. A Woman thrust down in it and shut in (Zechariah 5:7-8). C. The Ephah carried away to Shinar (Zechariah 5:9-11).

5And the angel that talked with me came forth, and said to me, Lift up thine eyes, I pray, and see what is this that goeth forth. 6And I said, What is it? And he said, This is the ephah that goeth forth. And he said, This is their aim5 in all the land. 7And behold, a round piece6 of lead was lifted up, and this is a7woman sitting in the midst of the ephah. 8And he said, This is wickedness; and he cast her into the midst of the ephah, and cast the weight8 of lead into its mouth. 9And I lifted up my eyes, and saw, and behold, two women came forth and the wind was in their wings, and they had wings dike a stork’s wings; and they lifted9 up 10the ephah between earth and heaven. And I said to the angel that talked with me, Whither are these taking the ephah? 11And he said to me, To build for her10 a house in the land of Shinar; and it shall be established11 and settled there upon its own base.


a. The Ephah (Zechariah 5:5-6). Zechariah 5:5. And … goeth forth. This shows that we have a new vision here, and a continuation of the preceding one (Umbreit, Neumann, Keil). The two are closely allied, indeed, in tone and character, still they are distinct in form and as such were represented to the prophet.

Zechariah 5:6. What is it? The Prophet sees some vague form rising, as it were, out of mist, but is a not able to distinguish what it is. To his question he receives the reply that this is the ephah, i, e., the one which is to constitute the main feature of the vision. The ephah was one of the most familiar of dry measures among the Hebrews Its capacity cannot now be exactly determined; according to Josephus it contained something more than eight gallons and a half; according to the Rabbinists, a little less than four gallons and a half. Nothing in the interpretation depends upon its exact measurement. The latter part of the verse is difficult. עֵינָם is rendered by the LXX., Peshito, and Arabic, as if it were pointed עֲוֹנָם (their sin). and these have been followed by Hitzig, Burger, and Fürst (in Lex.). But for such a reading there is only one MS. authority, and besides, as Pressel says, in that case the ephah would be called unrighteousness in Zechariah 5:6, and the woman in it would receive that name in Zechariah 5:8. we must, therefore, accept the traditional pointing, and render their eye, but in what sense? Many from Luther down say that it means appearance, or as in E.V. “resemblance” i. e., the people are like the sin-containing ephah (Rosenmuller, Maurer, Bunsen, Keil). But this is an unusual sense of the world, and besides gives a frigid sentiment. It is better to take the term as designating the object to which men’s eyes were directed (Umbreit, Hengstenberg, Köhler, Pressel). The dwellers in all the land were looking to the ephah as a measure to be filled with sin. Their success and its unhappy results are set forth in what follows.

b. Its Contents (Zechariah 5:7-8) Zechariah 5:7. A round piece of lead. The symbol is still further developed, and the prophet sees now a circular mass of metal lifted up over the ephah.כִכַּר is often rendered talent elsewhere in cases where its meaning as such is determined by a following noun, but here it is better to adhere to the literal sense. This is. Now for the first time it appears that the ephah has an occupant. Hence the form of the expression “This is,” equivalent to, See, there is a woman, etc. אחת is probably used merely for the indefinite article (1 Kings 20:13); but if it is to be pressed as=one woman, it will then indicate that the sinners, although many in number, are considered as one living personality.

Zechariah 5:8. This is wickedness. On the meaning attached to this phrase turns the entire bearing of the vision. Many (Calvin, Köhler, Pressel, Baum garten, Henderson), take it as=wickedness in itself, abstracted from its perpetrators, and this, they say, is confined, sealed up, and transported far off, so as to leave the land where it once dwelt pure; and thus the vision is one of promise. But this view is opposed by the tenor of the preceding vision which all admit to be closely allied to this one, as well as by its own intrinsic improbability, although Hengstenberg speaks far too strongly when he says “It is only concrete sin that admits of being carried away. The transportation of sin apart from sinful individuals, is nonsense.” How would that learned man have reconciled with his statement such language as that of the Psalmist (Psalms 103:12), “Far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us!” But on this hypothesis it is difficult to conceive of any reason why Shinar rather than any other place should be mentioned as the place of deportation (Zechariah 5:11). It is better therefore to take the other view (Marck., Hengstenberg, Keil), which regards the woman as a personification of the ungodly Jewish nation. A somewhat similar usage is found in 2 Chronicles 24:7, where (in Hebrew) Athaliah is called “the wickedness.” Consequently, the subsequent acts of the angel, in casting the woman down into the measure and then closing the same with the heavy solid lid, simply indicate the full provision made for the due punishment of the sinners thus carefully secured.

c. Its Removal (Zechariah 5:9-11).

Zechariah 5:9. Two women came forth, etc. The removal of the ephah with its contents is described. This is done by two women,—women because it was a woman they were carrying away, and two, because the burden was too heavy for one to bear. They are furnished with wings, because the movement is to be through the air. The wings are specified as being those of a stork, not because the stork is a bird of passage (Umbreit, Baumgarten, etc.), for the movement here is not periodical; nor because it flies fast (Maurer), for other birds fly faster; nor because it was an unclean bird (Köhler); nor because it was a pia avis (Neumann), which does not suit the object; but simply because it had broad pinions, and such were required to sustain so heavy a mass as the ephah with its leaden lid. The wind was in these wings to increase their velocity. The women have been supposed to represent Israel and Judah, or Ezra and Nehemiah, or the two last kings of Judah, or the two captivities, or Titus and Hadrian; but there is no need of strictly defining them, since they belong to the mere drapery of the symbol, and stand only as representatives of the powers employed by God to carry away the sinners of his people.

Zechariah 5:11. To build.… Shinar. In reply to the Prophet’s question he is told that the abject of the two women is to prepare a permanent habitation for her, i. e., the woman in the ephah. Shinar is an old historic name (Genesis 10:10), afterwards applied poetically to Babylon (Isaiah 11:11; Daniel 1:2). Its occurrence here led Rosenmüller to suppose that the entire vision referred to the past, and not to the future, which is simply impossible. There is no difficulty in explaining it by a reference to the usage of the Prophets, to represent future events by images drawn from the past, and at the same time transfer to the former the names which belong to the latter. This verse then simply foretells the punishment of wickedness by another exile,—like that to Babylon, and therefore called by its name, but far more prolonged. This latter feature is expressed by the building of the house, but intensified by the final clause—“established and settled on its own base.” According to Keil, Shinar is not here a geographical epithet, but taken as an ideal designation of the sphere of ungodliness, and the symbol accordingly expresses the truth that the wicked will be removed out of the congregation of the Lord and permanently settled within the ungodly kingdom of this world. This distinction and separation will run on through the ages, and at last be completed in the general judgment. Henderson maintains that the woman in the ephah represented idolatry which was carried away by the two women, i. e., Assyria and Babylonia, to Chaldæa, where it was to commingle with its native elements and never be reimported into Canaan; in support of which he cites the fact that for two thousand years the Jews have never once lapsed into idolatry. But idolatry did not at this time exist in Judea, and therefore could not be removed out of it; and if it was taken to Babylon, it certainly did not remain there, for the Mohammedan occupants of that region are not idolaters. It agrees better with the original force of the word, with the connection, and with the preceding vision, to take the term as denoting the entire wickedness of the people of all kinds, or rather the people as such embodied wickedness. As thus understood, the vision was fulfilled centuries afterward, when the Jews as a whole, having rejected with scorn their Messiah, were given over to the stroke of vengeance. After a most desperate struggle, they were crushed by the Roman Emperors, and scattered to the four winds of heaven. And so they remain, shut up in the ephah, the tremendous weight of their own obstinacy forbidding the prospect of release. The corresponding passage to this one in the second part is couched in different terms (Zechariah 11:15-16). After the rejection of the good shepherd and the breaking of his staves of office, the wretched flock is given over to a foolish or wicked shepherd who does what he ought not to do, and fails to do what he ought, and so the poor sheep suffer in every way. But wholly different as the imagery is in the two passages, there is a remarkable sameness in the underlying idea.


1. In the two preceding chapters the constituent elements of the Gospel were presented; here we are brought face to face with the Law. The white robes of innocence and the golden oil of the Holy Spirit disappear, and in their place comes a fearful curse overshadowing the land and threatening an irrecoverable overthrow. There is no contradiction, no inconsistency in this. The one message was as true and as pertinent as the other. Zechariah’s design was not simply to urge on the rebuilding of the Temple at all costs and hazards, but to educate the national conscience, to keep alive the memory of sin, and lay deep the foundations of faith and repentance. When this was accomplished, all outward works would proceed of themselves. And there was at least a part of the people, who needed to be stimulated by the presentation of the sterner side of the divine character. There was a golden future in store for Israel, but not absolutely, not for all simply by virtue of their national origin. The day of the Lord was darkness as well as light (Amos 5:18), and sinners in Zion would find the messenger of the Lord like refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap (Malachi 3:1-2).

Our Lord indicated this very plainly throughout his personal ministry. The remarkable Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) begins with a soothing strain of beatitudes pronounced upon the lowly, and meek, and sorrowful, etc., but very soon corrects any false impressions as to the object of the Messiah by setting forth the perpetuity of the law and his purpose to confirm and establish rather than abrogate its authority. While, therefore, he sweeps away the wretched evasions and glosses accumulated by men’s perverse ingenuity, he reaffirms all its particulars as the unchangeable statute of his kingdom,—both as regards precept and penalty. His ends are gained, and his grace is manifested, not by erasing the sanctions of Law, but by meeting and discharging them. He soothes conscience not by enervating or deluding it, but by satisfying its anxious cravings. The mawkish sentimentalism which denies hell, and refuses to hear of endless retributions, finds no precedent in his words or course.
2. But what was needful for Israel after the exile is equally needful in all ages of the Church. The moral law requires to be continually set forth in its sanction as well as in its precept, and it is an emasculated theology which dispenses with either. The Gospel loses its meaning if there be no such thing as Rectoral Justice. Calvary presupposes Sinai, just as ransom presupposes bondage. What need is there of forgiveness, if there is nothing to forgive? Hence the visions of Satan overthrown and of the luminous golden candelabrum have for their background this wide-spread roll of curses. God will visit for sin, for all sin, whether committed against himself directly or against his creatures. The two tables of the law stand on the same basis, and no man dare pick and choose to which he will render obedience. The anathemas of Scripture are not a mere brutum fulmen, but a solid and terrible reality. The lightning of heaven is not more certain and irresistible. Where the curse once enters, it takes up its abode and consumes all. The standing historical illustration of this truth is seen in that gloomy and death-like sea which is all that now remains of a region once bright with verdant plains and full of populous cities.

3. The strokes of punitive wrath do not fall capriciously or at random. There is ample reason in every case, so that one may always say, This [the ephah] is their object in all the land. Men go on ceaselessly adding sin to sin, and because judgment is not suddenly executed, think that there is impunity; whereas they are only filling the measure. God waits. There is an appointed time with Him, and He will not anticipate. He announced a general principle when he told Abraham that his seed could not take possession of the land of promise, “for the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.” The wicked are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. When the end comes, the symbolism of Zechariah is realized. Sinners are shut up with their sins in the measure, the weight of a talent shuts down the lid, and then they are carried where the retribution begins and does not end. Just like that deportation to the figurative Shinar. Its solitary example among the nations testifies of a permanent retribution.
Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest?
The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country,— Israel but the grave.


Moore: It is needful to tell the love of God, to unfold his precious promises, and to utter words of cheer and encouragement. But it is also needful to declare the other aspect of God’s character. There is a constant tendency in the human heart to abuse the goodness of God to an encouragement of sin. Hence ministers of the Gospel must declare this portion of God’s counsel as well as the other.…. The finally impenitent shall be driven from God into gloomy exile, and left to himself, “to rest on his own base,” to be subject to the thrall of his own lawless lusts that he has so long pampered into strength, and to reap as he has sowed through a long and limitless banishment.

Wordsworth: None who enter the porch of the visible Church may flatter themselves that they can escape God’s wrath and malediction, if they commit any of the sins condemned by the comprehensive commination of this Flying Roll, which may be compared to a net coextensive with the world and drawn throughout the whole from side to side.


Zechariah 5:6; Zechariah 5:6.—עֵינָם, lit., eye, here that to which the eye is directed=aim. The Genevan version gives sight. See Exeg. and Grit.

Zechariah 5:7; Zechariah 5:7.— כִּכַּר. Margin of E. V. gives weighty piece, but the word denotes shape rather than size or weight. It Is another word that is rendered weight in the next verse.

Zechariah 5:7; Zechariah 5:7.—אַחַת. This seems to be one of the cases in which the first numeral is employed as an indefinite article, as Exodus 29:3.

Zechariah 5:8; Zechariah 5:8.—אֶבֶך=stone, here lead-weight, just as in Zechariah 4:10 it is used with הַבִּלילֹ to mean tin-weight or plummet.

Zechariah 5:9; Zechariah 5:9.— In תִּשֶּׂנָה the quiescent א is dropped (Green, H. G., § 164, 2).

Zechariah 5:11; Zechariah 5:11.— The grammatical subject of the suffix in לָה is of course the ephah, but logically it must refer to the woman it contains, as a house is not built for a measure. The marginal Masoretic note calls for a Raphe to mark the absence of a dagesh in the ה, but it is not found in the text.

Zechariah 5:11; Zechariah 5:11.—חוּכָן according to its gender is to be construed with בַיִתּ, and הֻכִּיחָה with אֵיפָה or the woman inclosed in it.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 5". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/zechariah-5.html. 1857-84.
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