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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 5

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3484. B.C. 520.

In this chapter the prophet is shown two visions,

(1,) That of an immense roll, or book, like that which Ezekiel describes, Ezekiel 2:9-10 , filled with curses, and in the act of flying, to denote the celerity and speed, as well as the certainty with which the thief and false swearer would be visited to their utter destruction, Zechariah 5:1-4 .

(2,) The vision of an ephah, or measure, in which sat a woman representing a nation, whose wickedness was arrived at such a height as required an immediate check. Accordingly a heavy cover is cast over her, and she is carried into exile in a distant land, there to abide the full time allotted for her punishment, Zechariah 5:5-11 .

Verse 1

Zechariah 5:1. Then I turned and lifted up Or, again I lifted up, mine eyes For the verb שׁוב , to return, is often used adverbially; and behold a flying roll That is, a roll of a book, as the expression is Jeremiah 36:2; Ezekiel 2:9; the ancient way of writing being upon long scrolls of parchment, which used to be rolled up. This roll contained an account of the sins and punishments of the people, and is described as flying, both because it was open, and to denote the swiftness of God’s judgments. Hitherto, from the beginning of this prophecy, “all has been consoling, and meant to cheer the hearts of the Jewish people, by holding forth to them prospects of approaching prosperity. But, lest they should grow presumptuous and careless of their conduct, it was thought proper to warn them of the conditions on which their happiness would depend; and to let them see, that however God was at present disposed to show them favour, his judgments would assuredly fall upon them with still greater weight than before, if they should again provoke him by repeated acts of wickedness.” Accordingly, this warning and information are given them by the visions of this chapter, which are of a very different kind from the preceding ones. Blayney.

Verses 2-4

Zechariah 5:2-4. The length thereof is twenty cubits, &c. Such scrolls for writing were usually longer than they were broad; so this was represented as ten yards in length, and five in breadth. The roll was very large, to show what a number of curses would come upon the wicked. Then said he, This is the curse, &c. This roll, or book, contains the curses, or judgments, due to sinners, particularly sinners of the Jews, who have been favoured with greater light and privileges than other people, and whose sins, therefore, are the more inexcusable. That goeth over the face of the whole earth Or rather, of the whole land; for the land of Judea only seems to be here meant. Every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side, &c. The roll was written on both sides, as that mentioned Ezekiel 2:10: and on one side were contained the judgments against stealing, and on the other against false swearing. These two sins are joined together, because in the Jewish courts men were compelled to purge themselves by oath, in case they were accused of theft; and they often would forswear themselves rather than discover the truth. Considering the time when Zechariah prophesied, it seems probable, that those who made use of fraud with respect to what had been dedicated to the rebuilding of the temple, and restoring the service of God, are here particularly referred to. According to Calmet, under the two names of theft and false swearing, the Hebrews and Chaldeans included all other crimes; theft denoting every injustice and violence executed against men, and perjury all crimes committed against God. Instead of on this side, and on that side, Newcome reads, from hence, namely, from the land. And instead of shall be cut off, the Vulgate reads, judicabitur, shall be judged; and Houbigant, shall be punished. It must be acknowledged, however, that the Hebrew word נקה , so rendered, rather means, carries himself as innocent, or, asserts himself to be innocent; or, is declared innocent, or, left unpunished, namely, by the magistrate. Blayney therefore translates the clause, Because, on the one hand, every one that stealeth is as he that is guiltless; and, on the other hand, every one that sweareth is as he that is guiltless. On which he observes, “The reason assigned for the curse going forth through the whole land is, that the good and the bad, the innocent and the guilty, were in every part of it looked upon and treated alike; so that it was time for the divine justice to interpose, and make the proper distinction between them.” And it shall enter, &c. This curse shall come with commission from me; into the house of the thief Where he had laid up that which he got by theft, thinking to enjoy it to his satisfaction. Or, by his house may be understood his family, estate, and goods: it shall take hold of him, and all that belong to him, and shall never leave them till their are utterly destroyed. And it shall remain in the midst of the house It shall stick close to them and theirs, as Gehazi’s leprosy did to him and his posterity; or, like the leprosy that infects a house, and cannot be purged till the house itself be pulled down.

Verses 5-8

Zechariah 5:5-8. The angel that talked with me went forth Or rather, went on, as the verb יצא often signifies; (see 2 Chronicles 21:19; Jeremiah 25:32;) and so it may signify at the end of this verse, and in the next, where it occurs again. And I said, What is it? What does this signify, or, what thing is this? And he said, This is an ephah An ephah was a measure containing somewhat less than our bushel, and consequently too small for a woman to sit in; we must therefore understand here a measure, in the form only of an ephah, but of a larger size, which was probably the reason why Zechariah did not know what it was: and being the measure whereby they bought and sold dry things, it seems to have been intended to denote the unjust dealings of the Jews in buying and selling; their fraud, deceit, and extortion in commerce, were sins abounding among them; as they are among that people at this day. He said moreover, This is their resemblance Or, as the LXX. render it, This is their iniquity (reading עונם , instead of עינם ) through all the earth Or, through all the land; that is, by this you may make an estimate of their unjust dealings all over the land. Besides the intimation given by this vision of the ephah, that the dealings of the Jews with each other were unjust, its largeness and its going forth corresponded with the iniquities that prevailed in the land, both as exceeding the ordinary measure, and also as continually increasing, so as already to have arisen to such a pitch as made it necessary to repress them. And behold there was lifted up a talent Or, a huge mass; of lead This seems to have been intended to denote the weight, or severity, of the judgments here threatened. And this is a woman, &c. What thou seest besides, is a woman sitting carelessly upon the ephah, and fearing no evil. So Grotius, “super epha, superba et nihil mali metuens.” That she appeared at first sitting upon the ephah, is evident from what is said in the following words, namely, that the angel cast her into the midst of the ephah; which implies that she was not there before. And he said, This is wickedness This woman denotes wickedness: or, this is iniquity itself, or corruption of heart, the mother or spring of thefts, perjuries, and all kind of crimes. Blayney renders it, This is the wicked one. Public states, or societies, are often represented by women, as the mothers of their people, as we see in the ancient coins. By the same analogy, corrupt societies are expressed by harlots, and women of lewd characters; so here, the corrupt state of the Jews is set forth by a wicked woman. And he cast it Rather, he cast her, into the midst of the ephah So the LXX., ερριψεν αυτην εις μεσον του μετρου . So also the Vulgate. Newcome renders it, He cast her within the ephah, that is, (as he explains it,) “caused her to contract herself within the compass of the vessel, denoting the check given to her further progress.” And he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof That is, of the epah, ne quis esset exitus, says Grotius, that there might be no exit, or way of escape. Or to signify, that when a people have filled up the measure of their iniquities, they sink under the weight of their sins, and cannot escape the judgment of God, and that thus it should fare with the Jewish people.

Verses 9-11

Zechariah 5:9-11. Then lifted I up mine eyes, &c. Great difficulties attend the interpretation of this part of the vision, and commentators are much divided upon it. According to Calmet, the woman enclosed in the ephah denoted the iniquity of Babylon; the mass of lead which fell down upon her was the vengeance of the Lord; and the two women who lifted her up into the air were the Medes and Persians, who destroyed the empire of Babylon. Houbigant, however, observes, “that nobody has yet found out, nor ever will find out, why these women should carry the ephah into the land of Shinar, or of the Chaldees, if Shinar be understood literally, and not metaphorically. The Jews were not again carried captive into the land of the Chaldeans, after the rebuilding of the temple by Zerubbabel; nor can the Chaldeans be understood by the ephah which is carried into the land of Shinar with the woman, who abused it to fraudulent purposes; for the ephah is a Hebrew measure; and this woman, who is kept shut up in the ephah, is carried into a land not her own. Shinar will be more properly understood, as spoken metaphorically of the last captivity, under which the Jews now live; being, in the several kingdoms of the world, in the same state of servitude as they lived in under, the kings of the Chaldeans; having their dwelling everywhere, with the deceitful ephah, to denote their usury and fraud. There is no necessity to be anxious about explaining why the ephah was to be carried by two women, and not by one only, or more, for the empire of the Greeks and Romans is not denoted hereby, but two women pertain only to the parable; as it might have seemed too much for one to have carried into a distant country an ephah burdened with lead, and with a woman shut up in it.” Archbishop Newcome understands the words in this sense: considering the two women as “mere agents in the symbolical vision;” the meaning of which, he says, seems to be, “that the Babylonish captivity had happened on account of the wickedness committed by the Jews; and that a like dispersion would befall them, if they relapsed into like crimes. Thus the whole chapter would be an awful admonition that multiplied curses, and particularly that dispersion and captivity, would be the punishment of national guilt.” Blayney interprets the vision in a similar way. “These, [namely, two women, ] and the other circumstances mentioned Zechariah 5:9, seem to indicate nothing more particular, than that Providence would make use of quick and forcible means to effect its purpose.” Hence these women are said to have had wings like the wings of a stork; the stork, like other birds of passage, being provided with strong wings. Though the land of Shinar signifies, as he observes, the land of Babylon, (see Genesis 11:2,) yet “this does not necessarily imply that Babylon would be the scene of the next captivity; but only that the people, in case of fresh transgression, might expect another severe captivity, like that in Babylon, but of still longer duration. In this manner Egypt is used proverbially for any grievous calamity, inflicted by the judgment of God: see Deuteronomy 28:68; Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3.”

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Zechariah 5". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/zechariah-5.html. 1857.
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