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CRITICAL NOTES.] Flying roll] Vision sixth.
Zechariah 5:2.] Ten yards long and five yards broad. The size intended to indicate the number of curses contained; and Flying] The velocity of judgments upon the wicked.
Zechariah 5:3. Earth] Land of Judah first; ultimately, to all the earth. Stealeth] Sinners against the second commandment, false swearers against the first. Cut off] Lit. cleared, swept away as offensive (1 Kings 14:10; Ezekiel 24:11). Two sins put for the whole. This side—that side] The scroll was written on both sides, as in Exodus 32:15. Henderson gives: “From that place, whether on the right hand or on the left, he should be swept away by the Divine judgment. Nowhere should he find protection.”
Zechariah 5:4. Forth] Out of the treasure-house (Jeremiah 10:13). Enter and remain] Lit. lodge or stay; not idle, but consuming inmates, beams, and stones (cf. 1 Kings 18:38; Leviticus 14:45).
THE UNCHANGING LAW AND ITS UNIVERSAL CURSE.—Zechariah 5:1-4
The series of visions now take another turn. In the two preceding chapters we have the elements of the gospel, in the destruction of Zion’s foes, the forgiveness of the people, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and the finishing of the temple. Now we learn that God is holy, and cannot tolerate sinners in their wickedness—that all who remain impenitent or reject God’s mercy will be punished with a long and dreary exile, or visited with exterminating judgment. “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” [Lange]. We learn from the connection of these words—
I. That God’s law is not abrogated by change of circumstances. The Jews were restored to their land, forgiven in their sins, and aided in their work; but the law of God still observed, and would punish, their guilt. No place, time, nor circumstances can alter this law. It is “from eternity to eternity.” It is the revelation of God, and the standard of rectitude in all nations and ages. Unchangeable in its nature, demands, and design, it is designed to educate conscience, to keep alive a sense of sin, and to lead to repentance and faith. “The law entered (came in by the way, i.e. provisionally, with the foreseen effect) that the offence might abound.”
II. That the curse of God’s law will come upon all transgressors. “This is the curse that goeth forth.” There is a constant tendency in men to abuse Divine goodness, and encourage sin. But to all who see, the “flying roll” unfolds the knowledge of God. It is still a “fiery law,” pronouncing curses on those who disobey. Sinai still thunders forth its terrors to all who in spirit, word, or deed break its principles. They lay hold upon all, and where is the man that can escape? “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
III. That Divine grace alone will secure a man from the curse of God’s law. The Jews were reminded that sin would hinder their work—that they were to forsake it, if God must continue to help them, and fix them in their own land. In other words, God’s favour alone would be the ground of their security. They are only safe who trust his mercy and obey his will. “The lesson under a different form,” says Wardlaw, “was also, that the land to which they had been restored, must be held by the same tenure as before. God had given it originally by promise. By faith of the promise it was obtained. By ‘the obedience of faith’ it was held. The inheritance was never ‘of the law;’ was never held by any legal tenure—by any kind of desert—any right arising out of the doings of those who occupied it.” Only in Christ are we free from condemnation. We are saved by grace, not by works. “Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
THE FLYING ROLL, OR SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT.—Zechariah 5:1-4
Taking this roll as representing the curse of God, ready to be executed upon transgressors, let us “lift up our eyes and behold” the sins which bring the curse, and provoke God to ruin men in personal and domestic affairs.
I. The sins. Some infer the Divine authority of the roll, from its size, just the dimensions of the temple porch, a place where the law was usually read; others infer, the great number of the sins and curses written upon it. Like Ezekiel’s roll “it was written within and without,” and full of “lamentations, and mourning, and woe.”
1. The sins were grievous. Two kinds are specified as indicating the whole. (a) Sins against man. “Every one that stealeth.” This means every kind of injustice and violence. (b) Sins against God. “Every one that sweareth.” False or profane swearing was common among the Jews. Stealing and perjury often together; for the covetous and fraudulent have no scruple in the use of God’s name (cf. Proverbs 30:9). Innumerable methods of fraud and deceit are constantly practised, and scarcely considered criminal, because customary. But all who are guilty of injustice and dishonesty with their neighbours in whatever form, and all who withhold from God, in principle and action, the reverence due to his name, are under the curse of the law.
2. The sins were open. They were not only written on the roll, but the roll was open, and of extraordinary size. “It was not rolled up and sealed, but fully expanded to view, that nothing it contained might be concealed,” says one. Sins are written legibly on our moral constitution, in the sight of God and man, and are “known and read of all men.” Sin is self-revealing. It is impossible to hide wrong doing. Jupiter was supposed to write down the sins of men in a book. God keeps a record of human guilt, which will be unfolded on earth and in eternity. “Some men’s sins are open (manifest, clear,) beforehand, going (like heralds) before to judgment; and some men they follow after.”
II. The punishment. “This is the curse that goeth forth.” The curse of the Divine law must be denounced against all transgressors. Its sanction must be set forth and not erased. The theology which denies Divine justice, and deludes the conscience, finds no place in the teaching of the prophet. “The anathemas of Scripture are not a mere brutum fulmen, but a solid and terrible reality.”
1. The curse was universal. “Every one shall be cut off.” It hangs over “the face of the whole earth,” ready to fall upon its objects.
2. The curse was inevitable. “I will bring it forth, saith the Lord.” Who can turn aside that which Almighty power sends forth? On “this side, and on that,” the ungodly are “cut off.”
3. The curse was swift. Its speed was not slow: “I see a flying roll.” Judgments sleep not, but suddenly break forth, and overtake the disobedient. The lightning from heaven is not more swift and irresistible. “He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly.”
4. The curse was destructive. It penetrated the house, and consumed everything inside, like the plague of old. “It shall enter into the house.” (a) It destroys families. The homes of the thief and the false-swearer were attacked. The curse of God comes to the sinner where he thinks himself most protected and most secure. (b) It destroys possessions. Vengeance enters and remains in the house until it answers the end for which it is sent. It “remains in the midst of it;” abides like leprosy, infecting, wasting, and consuming all. Ahab multiplied his house, and defied the curse pronounced against it; but the stroke swept all away (1 Kings 21:20-22). “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the just.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zechariah 5:1. Prophecies partly appertain to those in whose times the sacred writers prophesied, partly to the mysteries of Christ. And therefore it is wont of the prophets, at one time to chastise vices and set forth punishments; at another, to predict the mysteries of Christ and the Church [Aug. de Civ. Dei]. It was a wide, unfolded roll, as is involved in its flying; but its flight signified the very swift coming of punishment; its flying from heaven, that the sentence came from the judgment-seat above [Pusey].
Zechariah 5:2. Its large size might denote two things:—the large number and amount of the Divine denunciations it contained; and at the same time, there being room for writing them large, that they might be seen. It was at the same time “flying.” By which, also, two things might be denoted—that it was not meant for any particular city or locality, but to make a progress through the length and breadth of the land; and also, that the denunciations of Jehovah written in it would come speedily and surely on those against whom they were pointed [Wardlaw].
Zechariah 5:3. Cut off: lit. cleansed away. The moral meaning of the Hebrew word suggests, the defiling and offensive nature of sin, and the several measures necessary to take it away. “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, co-extensive with the world, and drawn throughout the whole from side to side” [Wordsworth].
Zechariah 5:4. A man’s house is termed his castle, but is unable to hold out against Divine judgments, which may be noticed—
1. for terribleness;
2. suddenness; and
3. retributive end. Property and estates often cut off, families dried up root and branch, and doomed to perpetual curse (cf. Job 18:14-15). “It is a curse that embitters every sweet, and gives more than twofold intensity to every bitter. From this world it must accompany and follow a man to another, and settle with him there for ever. The special reference made to their houses, with the stones thereof and the timber thereof, forcibly points to the care which they had been taking of their own accommodation, in comfort and elegance, while Jehovah’s house was neglected” [Wardlaw].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Zechariah 5:3. Curse. The good make a better bargain, and the bad a worse, than is usually supposed, for the rewards of the one, and the punishments of the other, not unfrequently begin on this side of the grave [Colton’s Laconics]. The wages that sin bargains with the sinner are—life, pleasure, and profit; but the wages it pays them with are—death, torment, and destruction. He that would understand the falsehood and death of sin, must compare its promises and payments together [South].
“Our pleasant vices make instruments to scourge us” [Shakespeare].
Zechariah 5:5.] Seventh vision. Wickedness driven from Judah to mingle with its kindred elements in Babylon.
Zechariah 5:6. Ephah] A familiar dry measure, denoting unjust dealings in buying and selling (cf. Amos 8:5). Resemblance] Lit. eye (i.e. that to which the eye was directed, their aim, viz. evil, some). The ephah was an image of the wickedness of the Jews in the land.
Zechariah 5:7. Lifted] The ephah was covered. Talent] Lit. a round piece of metal, 125 lbs. weight. A woman] In miniature, perhaps; Lit. one woman personified wickedness (cf. Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 5:3-4). Lit. the wickedness in its peculiar form.
Zechariah 5:8. Cast] it within; caused her to contract herself within the compass of the vessel [Newc.]. Wickedness had risen up, but was cast down again, and sealed up in the ephah. The weight] Lit. the stone, round mass of lead, to secure her. No escape from judgments.
Zechariah 5:9. Two women] removed the ephah with its contents. One not enough to carry the load [Maurer]. The Assyrians and Babylonians, by whom God removed idolatry in the persons of apostate Jews out of the land [Henderson]. Wings] like storks’ wings, strong and ample. Wind] To represent the swiftness of movement, flying before instead of struggling against wind [Wardlaw]. Lifted] up above hindrance and earthly power.
Zechariah 5:11. Build] a permanent habitation. Shinar] An old historic name for Babylon (Genesis 10:10; Isaiah 11:11; Daniel 1:2). Wickedness is to be punished by another exile, longer than the former one. Established] Wickedness cast out of Judah, will dwell long and firmly, but not permanently, in Babylon; a type of the final separation of the ungodly from the godly in time and eternity.
THE WOMAN IN THE EPHAH, OR THE WICKEDNESS AND PUNISHMENT OF THE NATION.—Zechariah 5:5-11
The scope of this vision is not much indicated by the angel, and is differently interpreted by commentators. In the former vision, God pursues personal sins with private calamities; in this, the nation fills up the measure of its iniquity, and is cast out of its land. Taking the woman as representing the Jewish nation—the Church of God, and the ephah—the wickedness, the corruption in which the nation had fallen; we have a prophetic warning or denunciation for the future. The two visions, distinct in form, are allied in meaning and purpose.
I. The wickedness of the nation. “This is an ephah that goeth forth.” Dr. Henderson regards the wickedness as meaning “idolatry with all its accompanying atrocities.” Wardlaw and others take the ephah as an emblem of worldly traffic or merchandise. This traffic was mixed up with fraud and treachery, and the ground of complaint and expostulation.
1. The wickedness was universal. “This is their resemblance through all the land.” “Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation” (cf. Malachi 3:9).
2. This wickedness was deeply rooted. The woman is represented as sitting in the ephah. Worldliness dwells in the Church. “The love of this present world” leads many astray.
3. This wickedness was measured. The ephah was gradually filled, and every one contributed to the full measure. All helped to make the heap, and ripen the nation for judgment. Sin was a common store, Divinely permitted and exactly measured (cf. Genesis 15:16). “Fill ye up the measure of your fathers” (Matthew 23:32).
II. The punishment of the nation. The nation was shut up with its sins in the measure; enclosed so that they could not escape; and carried where the retribution begins, but does not seem to end.
1. The nation was carried away. They might be permitted to build and work for God, but if they heeded not the warning, they would be lifted up out of their land, and dispersed to other countries.
2. The nation was openly carried away. “They lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven.” The punishment was before the eyes of all, a public example of God’s vengeance to the world.
3. The nation was carried away by suitable agencies. Whatever the two women represent, they are set forth as agents, swift and sufficient, to execute the Divine purpose, without let or hindrance. “Rapidly, inexorably, irresistibly, they flew and bore the ephah between heaven and earth. No earthly power could reach or rescue it” [Pusey].
4. The nation was carried away to an appointed place. “In the land of Shinar.” Babylon was an emblem of restored and repeated captivity. A place which symbolizes the anti-christian or ungodly powers, who by violence, art, and falsehood war against the truth.
5. The punishment of the nation in this appointed place would be of long duration. “The building of a house” for the ephah, and “the setting of it on its own base,” represent the long duration of the second dispersion. For two thousand years the Jews have remained a distinct people in a scattered state, a proof of God’s faithfulness, and a warning to all nations. Unjust measures, whatever they be, will bring righteous retribution upon their possessors. The instrument of defrauding God and man will become the agent of punishment. Sinners will be driven away in their own wickedness, and sent to their “own place.” Let us seek our portion with the true Israel, and avoid the curse of Babylon’s doom. “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (cf. Revelation 17:3-5).
“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” [Lange]
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Zechariah 5:6. This is equivalent to see, there is a woman, &c. The strokes of punitive wrath do not fall at random or capriciously. 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 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 [Lange]. We too are taught by this, that the Lord of all administers all things in weight and measure. So foretelling to Abraham that his seed should be a sojourner, and the cause thereof—“for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” i.e. they have not yet committed sins enough (Genesis 15:16) to merit entire destruction, wherefore I cannot yet endure to give them over to the slaughter, but will wait for the measure of their iniquity [Pusey].
The ephah may therefore represent—
1. The sins of the people. Every one contributing to fill up the measure.
2. Their ripeness for Divine judgment. The measure filled up.
3. The just retribution of their punishment. “The unjust measure was one of Judah’s leading sins, and thus, in just retribution, their punishment.”
Zechariah 5:6. They who had dealt treacherously with others, were dealt treacherously with themselves. What measure men mete to others, God metes to themselves (Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 33:1) [Fausset].
Zechariah 5:8. Lead on the mouth of it. The ephah was covered, and the heavy lid of lead carefully put down upon the mouth of it. This is a significant emblem of the impossibility of escape from the merited judgments of God. So the Jewish people, considered conditionally, as retaining their character, would be carried away in their worldliness, as the woman was borne in the ephah. The very ephah, the instrument of their merchandise and wealth, is represented as the means of confinement; so does the worldly-mindedness, the ambition, and covetousness of the Jewish people shut them up to retributive vengeance [Wardlaw].
Zechariah 5:9 to Zechariah 11:1. A people abusing afflictions and marvellous deliverances from it, by sinning yet more, may expect their afflictions to be returned upon them with harder measure; for a new and sorer captivity, and longer dwelling under it, is here threatened upon renewed provocations.
2. The Lord hath sufficient instruments at command to execute his judgments, who, being employed against his sinful people, shall find all things concurring with them in their work; two women enough to carry the ephah; wings, enabling them to flee and do their work violently and swiftly; high in heaven and earth, above the opposition of men; and wind in their wings, to indicate providence helping them forward.
3. Captivity and exile in profane nations, from the face of God, and the society of one another in his ordinances, is one of the sorest judgments by which the Lord plagues his Church; wickedness is carried to the land of Shinar.
4. As the Church is no place for sin to reign and get a biding habitation; so enemies to the Church are accounted by God as the common sink of wickedness, whom he will punish; for wickedness is carried from the holy land to Shinar, its own place, where all wickedness dwelt, from which the Jews might gather that, as he punished them so he would not spare their enemies [Hutcheson]. The prophet intimates to the Jews of his own age, that if they sin against God by the sins here mentioned, their restoration to Jerusalem is frustrate and abortive; they are not, in heart, in Zion, the city of peace, but in Babel, the city of confusion; and though they may pride themselves in building a city and temple at Jerusalem, yet their own proper place, where their own house is built, is the land of Shinar [Wordsworth].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Zechariah 5:7. Behold. The angel bids him behold the sins of the people Israel; heaped together in a perfect measure, and the transgression of all fulfilled—that the sins which escaped notice, one by one, might, when collected together, be laid open to the eyes of all, and Israel might go forth from its place, and it might be shown to all what she was in her own land [Pusey].
Zechariah 5:8. Lead. Iniquity, as with a talent of lead, weighs down the conscience [St. Ambrose]. Escape is contrary to the laws of God and God’s universe. It is as impossible as that fire should not burn, or water run uphill. Your sins are killing you by inches; all day long they are sowing in you the seeds of disease and death [Canon Kingsley].
Zechariah 5:9-11. This vision, like the other visions of Zechariah, extends to Christian times. In the Christian Church universal corruptions have arisen which may find a solemn warning here. The Church of Rome boasts herself to be Sion: but she is the mystical Babylon of the Apocalypse. Her sovereign pontiff is “the lawless one” of St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). This prophecy may be applied, and ought to be applied, as a warning to those who are tempted to communicate with her in her errors and corruptions. Her doom will be, to be removed from her place, and to be swept away by the whirlwind of God’s wrath, because she rebels against his will and word [Wordsworth].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Zechariah 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany