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And I turned . . . and looked, and behold a flying roll
The flying roll
The object of this discourse is to present to you the Scriptures as a phenomenon of the world around us.
Consider them as an appearance in the circle of our observation, a fact in the history of our race, and ask, what account is to be given of it? The attention of our age is taken up much and wisely with the study of phenomena. We may interpret the Scriptures in one way or another; we may study or neglect, revere or despise them; we may consider them to be the dictates of observation, or below the level of human intelligence; we may call them a word of delusion, or the Word of God; but in the extremest varieties of opinion no one can escape from this,--that they are a leading phenomenon in the history of civilisation and religious thought, in the aspect of the moral world as it now stands and moves before us. In the text an angel speaks in vision to one of the last of the prophets, and asks, as if in the very spirit of modern research, “What seest thou?” The prophet raises his eyes and sees a winged book, “a flying roll.” It is of gigantic dimensions. It is of restless speed. It “goeth forth over the face of the whole earth.” It was the roll of the Lord’s judgments--a consuming fire. In this respect the Bible corresponds with it only in one of its parts, but in that part perfectly: in its testimony against, unrighteousness, its sentence upon those who love and practise dishonour, its “fiery law.” Dealing with the “flying roll” more generally, what are the points that we discover in it?
1. The extraordinary dimensions of the book, “its length twenty cubits, and its breadth ten.” What a space does the Bible fill in the gaze of mankind, though it can be carried about in the hand of the feeblest wayfarer! Do we not speak truly of its wonderful dimensions when it holds on its ample pages such a widely scattered wisdom, and is discerned from so far?
2. Its preservation and continuance through so long a sweep of time. This is remarkable even at a first glance. Since faithful Abraham came out from Chaldaea vast tribes and strong nations have risen to renown and passed away into silence. Founders of states have not so much as secured the name of what they founded. Dispensers of religion have left neither a priest for their successor nor a shrine for their monument. Oracles of wisdom have grown forgotten as well as dumb. Genius and learning have gone down into the dust, and there is not a finger track of an inscription upon it for their posterity to read. Whole literatures have disappeared, their tongues having ceased, and their characters become illegible or blotted entirely out. But here is writing, from many hands, and in a long series of instructions, dating as far back as the school lessons of human improvement. It has defied time. It has repelled decay. The linen, or the parchment, or whatever frail material it was confided to, held fast its trust, while brazen trophies were melted down and marble columns were pulverised. The temple of the Lord protected its archives; though its huge stones were unable to hold themselves together, and its sacred vessels served at last but for the ornaments of a heathen triumph.
3. Its spread. It is, indeed, a “flying roll.” The Scriptures move rapidly. They are not only preserved, but incredibly multiplied. They were addressed for the most part to one people, and they now speak to all people. They were written in their own peculiar tongues, and now they call all tongues their own. Have they not “gone forth over the face of the whole earth”? They are among the studies of learned men, who find there a wisdom higher than all else they know; while the ignorant and the simple, reading as they run, are made wise to life everlasting.
4. The honour with which they have been received as they have flown along. They are recognised in the public worship of most of the civilised tribes now under heaven. They are enshrined in cathedrals. They are revered, at least with all outward forms of homage, in the courts of the proudest empires. They are sworn upon when the most solemn vows by which we can be bound are to be attested. The patient fingers of holy recluses could for centuries find no better task than to copy them; and countless presses are now perpetually busy, that they may be distributed over the globe. The rarest genius and the profoundest learning are employed upon the illustration of them. It may be objected that we have said nothing of the disrespect and derision with which the Scriptures are regarded by multitudes, and have always been. We may admit this, but press the consideration, that they have withstood even this trial. Familiarity and levity have not subjected them to contempt. Nothing could better show how deeply they are seated in the veneration of mankind.
5. Their influence, their surprising power. There may be a high repute without any true efficiency. But that roll of the Divine covenants has always been of a Divine force. It has acted upon communities, wherever it has been introduced, so as to accomplish the most astonishing consequences. Are you inquiring what overthrew many of the massy oppressions, the enormous abuses, of the elder times? It was its paper edges that smote upon all that dark strength, and before those thin leaves buttress and battlement went down. How much has it done for individual minds.
6. Their immeasurable superiority, as mere traditions, above everything that has been handed down to us from the ancient world. There is in their contents a deep spring of instruction, such as the old generations nowhere furnish, and the coming ones are not likely soon to exhaust. Your own minds will surely leap to the inference: the finger of God was here. You may be perplexed with many passages in your Bible. You may slight some things as unimportant, and repel others as uncongenial. You may think you discern great blemishes and errors here and there. But what of that? It should throw no mistrust over the spontaneous conclusion: the finger of God was here. Yes, the Divine providence ordained and protected this charter of man’s truest liberty and highest good. Let us look thoughtfully at it, then, as it flies on its holy errand. (N. L. Frothingham.)
The flying roll
The import of this vision is threatening, to show that the object of the prophet was to produce genuine repentance. The parts are significant. A roll, probably of parchment, is seen, 30 by 15 feet, the exact dimensions of the temple porch; where the law was usually read, showing that it was authoritative in its utterance, and connected with the theocracy. Being a written thing, it showed that its contents were solemnly determined beyond all escape or repeal. It was flying, to show that its threats were ready to do their work, and descend on every transgressor. It was unrolled, or its dimensions could not have been seen, to show that its warnings were openly proclaimed to all, that none might have an excuse. It was written on both sides, to connect it with the tables of the law, and show its comprehensive character. One side denounced perjury, a sin of the first table, the other stealing, a sin of the second; and both united in every case where a thief took the oath of expurgation to acquit himself of the charge of theft. This hovering curse would descend in every such case into the house of the offender, and consume even its most enduring parts, until it had thoroughly done its work of destruction. The immediate application of this vision was to those who were neglecting the erection of God’s house to build their own, and thus robbing God and forswearing their obligations to Him. On such the prophet declares a curse shall descend that will make this selfish withholding of their efforts in vain, for the houses they would build should be consumed by God’s wrath. The teaching of this vision is that of the law. It blazes with the fire, and echoes with the thunder of Sinai, and tells us that our God is a consuming fire. We learn thus a lesson of instruction to those who have succeeded the prophets of the Old Testament, as the authorised expounders of God’s will under the New. 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. They must declare to men who are living in neglect of duty, that withholding what is due to God, either in heart or life, is combined robbery and perjury. For those who thus sin, God has prepared a ministry of vengeance. There is something most vivid and appalling in this image of the hovering curse. It flies viewless and resistless, poising like a falcon over her prey, breathing a ruin the most dire and desolating, and when the blind and hardened offender opens his door to his ill-gotten gains, this mystic roll, with its fire tracery of wrath, enters into his habitation, and, fastening upon his cherished idols, begins its dread work of retribution, and ceases not until the fabric of his guilty life has been totally and irremediably consumed. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
The flying roll
I. The man who is marked as a special transgressor is marked also for special judgment. The curse went “forth over the face of the whole earth,” but it was to cut off the thief and the false swearer. In the Hebrew nation there were many sinners, but there, as everywhere else, there were sinners who had not yet filled up the measure of their iniquity, and there were others who had passed all bounds, whose transgressions were so great as to make them marks upon which the lightnings of God’s displeasure must fall.
II. Escape from the consequences of unrepented sin is impossible. It is not necessary that the sin should reveal itself in action to ensure the entail of the certain penalty. If it never passes the boundary of the inner man there will be a reaction upon the man’s spirit as certainly as night follows day, and more so because, though God has suspended the laws of nature, we have no reason to suppose He has ever interposed to prevent the consequences of sin, unless the sinner has come under the power of another law,--the law of forgiveness by confession and repentance. However hidden the transgression, the curse will find out its most secret hiding place.
III. Theft and perjury include all other sins. The son who forges his father’s name includes in that one act every other crime that he can commit against him except that of taking his life. He only needs occasion to reveal his readiness for any other act of dishonour toward his parent. The man who deliberately appeals to God to uphold him in his false statements forges the name of the Eternal Himself, and seeks to turn the God of truth into the Father of lies.
IV. The special sins of some bring suffering upon many. The curse went forth “over the whole earth,” or land. It is a truth proclaimed by God and verified by experience, that many may suffer by the sin of the few to whom they are in no way related. See this principle, and its bright reverse, illustrated by St. Paul in Romans 5:18. (Outlines by London Minister.)
The flying roll
The threatenings here are directed against the defects and transgressions of the Jewish people at that time. God gives them to understand by this vision that whilst it was His purpose to make His promise good, in the establishment of His Church, He would by no means connive at their sins and corruptions, but would visit them with present punishment, and with future extirpation, if they persisted in their unbelief and rebellion.
I. The sins more especially condemned.
1. Theft and sacrilege.
2. Perjury and false swearing.
II. The punishment threatened. Partly personal and partly domestic.
1. A personal judgment is denounced. Everyone shall receive his reward and punishment according to his sins, and according to the sentence of the roll.
2. It was to extend to his relative and domestic interests. “It shall enter into the house of the thief.” “It shall remain in the midst of his house.” “And shall consume it with the timbers thereof, and the stones thereof.” This subject may well teach heads of families a lesson of religious caution, lest by an undue anxiety for their own worldly success, or that of their children, they frustrate their most cherished purposes, and entail a curse rather than a blessing. We shall do well to remember that no external evil which may befall a particular class of mankind, in consequence of the faults of their progenitors, renders any individual of that class less acceptable to God, if he turn from his wickedness and repent. But the very curse may become a blessing, if it operate to warn an individual against the sin by which it was brought down upon him. On the other hand, let no children of religious parents suppose that the piety of a long line of ancestors will avail in their behalf, unless they are themselves the possessors of religious principle. And since all are exposed to an infinite danger on account of sin, how deep should be our gratitude to that Divine Redeemer, who bore the curse for us, that we might escape the impending penalty, and inherit the unspeakable blessings of His salvation. (S. Thodey.)
The flying roll--Divine retribution
I. As following sin.
1. The particular sins which retribution pursues.
(1) Theft and sacrilege.
(2) Perjury and false swearing.
The sins here mentioned are not mere specimens, but root or fountain sins. The “flying roll” of Divine retribution followed sin with its curses. There is a curse to every sin, and this is not vengeance, but benevolence. It is the arrangement of love.
2. The way in which just retribution pursues them.
(1) Openly. The roll is spread open, and is written in characters that are legible to all Divine retribution is no secret to man. It is not some intangible, hidden, occult thing. It is open to all eyes. Every man must see the “riving roll,” not only in the history of nations and communities, but in his own domestic and individual life. The “flying roll” hovers over every sin.
(2) Rapidly. Retribution is swift. It is a “flying roll.” Retribution follows sins swifter than the sound of the swiftest thunder peal follows the lightning flash.
(3) Penetratingly. “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.” Wherever the sinner is, it will find him out. No mountain so high, no cavern so deep, no forest so intricate and shadowy as to protect him from His visitation. It serves to illustrate retribution.
II. As abiding with sin. “It shall remain in the midst of his house.” Not only does it rule the house of the sinner, “it remains in the midst of it” like a leprosy, infecting, wasting, consuming, destroying. It abides in the house to curse everything, even the timber and the stones. Guilt, not only, like a ravenous beast, crouches at the door of the sinner, but rather, like a blasting mildew, spreads its baneful influence over the whole dwelling. The sin of one member of a family brings its curse on the others. The sins of the parents bring a curse upon the children. (Homilist.)
Judgment with consolation
The angel shows, in this chapter, that whatever evils the Jews had suffered, proceeded from the righteous judgment of God; and then he adds a consolation--that the Lord would at length alleviate or put an end to their evils, when He had removed afar off their iniquity. Interpreters have touched neither heaven nor earth in their explanation of this prophecy, for they have not regarded the designs of the Holy Spirit. Some think that by the volume are to be understood false and perverted glosses, by which the purity of doctrine had been vitiated; but this view can by no means be received. There is no doubt but that God intended to show to Zechariah that the Jews were justly punished, because the whole land was full of thefts and perjuries. As their religion had been despised, as well as equity and justice, he shows that it was no wonder a curse had prevailed through the whole land, the Jews having by their impiety and sins extremely provoked the wrath of God. This is the import of the first part. And then, as this vision was terrible, there is added some alleviation by representing iniquity in a measure, and the mouth of the measure closed, and afterwards carries to the land of Shinar, that is, into Chaldea, that it might not remain in Judea. Thus, in the former part the prophet’s design was to humble the Jews, and to encourage them to repent, so that they might own God to have been justly angry; and then he gives them reason to entertain hope, and fully to expect an end to their evils, for the Lord would remove to a distance, and transfer their iniquity to Chaldea, so that Judea might be pure and free from every wickedness, both from thefts and acts of injustice, by which it had been previously polluted. (John Calvin.)
This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth--
The Lord’s curse
This type is expounded to signify the Lord’s curse going forth to do execution in all the land of Judah, and to cut off sinners against the first and second tables of the Law. Doctrine--
1. Whatever be the particular punishment inflicted by God for sin, yet this is seriously to be laid to heart, that every such punishment hath in its bosom a curse, till the sinner, awakened thereby, flee to Christ, who became a curse, that His own may inherit a blessing.
2. The Lord is an impartial avenger of sin, when it is persevered in without repentance; and when other means are ineffectual, He will not spare to cut off the desperate sinner; for the curse goes forth “over the face of the whole earth,” or land; and “everyone shall be cut off,” without exception, who are guilty.
3. The Lord will not spare but indifferently punish sin, whether against the first or second tables, in avoiding of both which the Lord’s people are to testify their sincerity. This is signified by “cutting off everyone that stealeth, and everyone that sweareth.”
4. When a people are delivered out of sore troubles, and yet their lusts are not modified, they ordinarily prove covetous, false, and oppressing, as labouring by all means to make up these things that trouble hath stript them of; therefore is there a particular threat against everyone that stealeth, it being a rife sin at their return from captivity, for they went every man to his own house (Haggai 1:9), were cruel oppressors (Nehemiah 5:1-3), yea, and robbed God of tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8).
5. Covetous and false men, in their bargains with men, will make no bones of impiety and perjury, if that may help to gain their point; for with the former is joined “everyone that sweareth,” which is expounded, Zechariah 5:4, to be “swearing falsely by God’s name.” (George Hutcheson.)
It shall remain in the midst of his house--
A curse in the family
As certain as the ordinances of nature, is the law that ill-gotten gain will bring a curse. The following is a startling illustration of the truth, gathered from the history of a rural town:--“In 1786, a youth, then residing in Maine, owned a jackknife, which he, being of a somewhat trading disposition, sold for a gallon of West India rum. This he retailed, and with the proceeds purchased two gallons, and eventually a barrel, which was followed in due time with a large stock. In a word, he got rich, and became the squire of the district, through the possession and sale of the jackknife, and an indomitable trading industry. He died, leaving property, in real estate and money value, worth eighty thousand dollars. This was divided by testament among four children, three boys and a girl. Luck, which seemed the guardian angel of the father, deserted the children; for every folly and extravagance they could engage in seemed to occupy their exclusive attention and cultivation. The daughter married unfortunately, and her patrimony was soon thrown away by her spendthrift of a husband. The sons were no more fortunate, and two died in dissipation and in poverty. The daughter also died. The last of the family, for many years past, has lived on the kindness of those who knew him in the days of prosperity, as pride would not allow him to go to the poor farm. A few days ago he died, suddenly and unattended, in a barn, where he had laid himself down to take a drunken sleep. On his pockets being examined, all that was found in them was a small piece of string and a jackknife! So the fortune that began with the implement of that kind left its simple duplicate. We leave the moral to be drawn in whatever fashion it may suggest itself to the reader; simply stating that the story is a true one, and all the facts well known to many whom this relation will doubtless reach.” (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
A plague in the house
How terribly those words have been fulfilled in the case of people and families we have known! It has seemed as though there were a plague in the house. The fortune which had been accumulated with such toil has crumbled; the children turned out sources of heartrending grief; the reputation of the father has become irretrievably tarnished. “There is a plague spread in the house; it is a fretting leprosy, it is unclean.” No man can stand against that curse. It confronts him everywhere. It touches his most substantial effects, and they pulverise, as furniture eaten through by white ants. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
And this is a woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah
The woman in the ephah
This vision, like the preceding, is of a warning character, and somewhat more obscure in its symbolical apparatus.
A dim outline rises to the eye of the prophet, to which the angel calls his attention, but which he cannot at first distinctly make out. The angel tells him that it is an ephah, a very common dry measure, containing about three pecks. He then sees a mass of lead, containing about a hundredweight, lifted up above the measure, and on looking more closely he sees a woman in the measure. This woman is then violently thrust down into the measure, and the mass of lead laid upon its mouth, after which two winged women carry it away into the land of Shinar, where it was to be permanently deposited in a house prepared for it there. The general meaning of this is to show that when the measure of the people’s wickedness became full, then their punishment should come, and they should again be carried into the land of their enemies in exile, not for seventy years, but for a long time. As the flying roll symbolised the certainty and completeness of their punishment, so this vision indicated its swiftness and mode. The ephah is selected simply as a common dry measure, to symbolise the thought that there is a certain measure of sin beyond which the people cannot go with impunity. The woman sitting in it represents the Jewish people, by a common figure. The phrase, “this is their appearance (Heb. eye) in all the land” (Zechariah 5:6), simply means, this represents that to which the people are looking, or tending, namely, to fill up the measure of their sin, and when they have done that, God will lay upon them their punishment. When the prophet perceives the woman in the measure, he is told that this is (represents) wickedness, even that of the Jewish people. Henderson thinks that the wickedness here represented was idolatry, and that the vision predicted the removal of idolatry from Palestine to Babylon. But there is no reason at all to limit it thus, but rather the contrary. Idolatry had not been a sin of the Jews for a century, and would hardly be represented as an existing thing, as this vision does. It did not exist in the land, and so could not be removed out of it. Moreover, it was not removed to Babylon, in any sense, literally or figuratively, and did not remain there as the vision declares (Zechariah 5:11), for the Mohammedan occupants of that region were not idolaters. Hence the explanation that refers it to the entire wickedness of the Jewish people of all kinds, is more consistent with the preceding vision, and gives a better sense. The mass of lead symbolises the heavy judgments that God was holding over them, and which at the fulness of time He would allow to fall. Accordingly, the wicked woman is thrust down into the small measure, crushed and doubled together, and the heavy weight laid upon her to keep her thus prostrate. Then there appear two winged messengers, with outstretched pinions, as if the wind was raising them up, and their wings were strong for flight like those of the stork. There were two, because it required two persons to lift such a measure. They symbolised the messengers of God’s wrath that should desolate Judea, and banish the people. They were to carry it into Shinar, which is here the symbol for an enemy’s country, and not the exact country to which they were to be exiled. There it was to be put in a house, shut up, and this house to be built strongly and securely for a permanent habitation, to show that this exile would not be, like the first, a brief sojourn, but a long, weary, and enduring banishment from the land of their fathers; when their resting should not be on God, or on the rock Christ Jesus, but “on their own base”; they should be left to themselves, weighed down like lead with judicial blindness, stupidity, darkness, and hardness of heart. The vision predicted what happened four hundred years afterwards, when the measure of their iniquity being full by the rejection and murder of the Messiah, their hearts being gross, and their care heavy, the hour of vengeance came. Then appeared the Roman eagles, and after the most desperate struggle, the Jewish nation was crushed, and scattered to the four winds, wandering in enemies’ countries, not resting on the promise of God, but weighed down with leaden obstinacy, and resting on their own works and righteousness. Learn--
1. Every individual, and every nation, has a measure of sin; and until that measure is filled up, God’s longsuffering will wait for repentance and reformation.
2. There hangs above every sinner a crushing weight of wrath, poised and ready to descend with overwhelming destruction.
3. If the measure is filled up, the weight shall fall, and crush the sinner with its ponderous mass of punishment.
4. The finally impenitent shall be driven from God into loomy 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. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
Vision of the ephah
There are some portions of Old Testament prophecy which, at first, appear in meaning. But upon closer examination they are found to contain important lessons, profitable for all times. Such a prophecy is Zechariah’s vision of the ephah. Look--
1. At the symbol as seen by the prophet. The ephah was a well known Jewish measure, represented by our word “bushel.” The prophet saw’ such a measure moving forth as if it were a thing of life, and in the midst of it sat a woman with a talent of lead lifted up before her. The whole picture was a composite symbol, in which were prominent the measure, the woman, and the talent of lead.
2. The meaning of the symbol. In verse 8 the Hebrew emphatic ally declares--“This is the wickedness.” The most obvious suggestion is, that form of wickedness most likely to ensnare and ruin the people to whom Zechariah prophesied. The symbols point most naturally to the sin of unrighteous traffic, the root and essence of which is covetousness (1 Timothy 6:10; Colossians 3:5). Why a woman rather than a man appears in the symbol is somewhat difficult to say, but probably because of her power as a temptress. The ensnaring images which have been most prominent in the great systems of idolatry have borne the female form. This woman’s throne was an empty measure, and her sign an uplifted talent of lead, thus aptly representing the sin of those who would “swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail” (Amos 8:4-6). This iniquity of unrighteous traffic appears to have ever been a besetting sin of the Jewish people. The preceding oracle of this prophet (verses 1-4) was directed against thieves, and those who swore falsely by Jehovah’s name; and the obscure expression in verse 16 (lit., “this is their eye in all the land”) is perhaps best explained as alluding to the fact that in all the land the eyes of thieves, extortioners, and false swearers, turned longingly towards this tempting goddess of covetousness.
3. The removal of this ephah to the land of Shinar indicates some kind of retribution which will visit this form of wickedness. The woman was cast down into the empty measure, and the leaden weight was cast upon her mouth (or on the mouth of the ephah), and ephah, woman, and talent were lifted up, and carried off into a foreign land; and the removal was effected by two women, who had wings like the stork, and who were helped by the force of the wind. This part of the vision sets forth God’s penal judgment upon this sin and its devotees. Among the various elements of this judgment we note the following--
(1) Such wickedness as this composite symbol represented cannot abide in the holy land of Israel, or inherit the kingdom of God. There must be, and there will be, a renewal.
(2) The instruments of this woman’s sin are made to contribute to her punishment. Her being cast into the ephah, with the leaden stone upon her mouth, suggests the image of a covetous soul, cramped and crushed into the narrow world of self, with nothing else to know or talk about than weights and measures. Thus sold to covetousness one makes his own place, and goes to it; his heaven is made his hell. He is made to live inside his own little half bushel, and talk of nothing else than talents, stocks, bonds, corner lots, etc.
(3) By an irreversible law such natures are taken out of the fellowship of the pure and good, and removed far from them, by others of their own kind. The world will love his own, and when selfish interests are at stake, men and women of an adulterous and sinful generation aim to help those who have helped them. So this one woman was taken up and carried away by her like--aiders and abettors in unrighteous traffic. When the angel had cast her into the ephah and put the stone upon her mouth, these other women came to her rescue, and, for a season at least, remove her to a more congenial place. The stork is mentioned probably for no other reason than for being a well-known bird of passage, having notably large wings, and abounding in the land of Shinar, in the Euphrates valley. The money lovers of this world move rapidly in each other’s selfish interest, as if borne upon the wings of the wind.
4. The land of Shinar is to be understood as the opposite of the land of Israel, which in Zechariah 2:12 is called “the holy land.” It was the Babylonian plain, where the descendants of Noah settled after the flood, and builded the city and tower, which was the occasion of their being confused and scattered by the curse of Jehovah (Genesis 11:2). It was a land of idolatry, whither the Jewish people had, according to Zechariah 2:6, been scattered as by the four winds of heaven. So this vision symbolised the penal scattering abroad into an unclean land of all whose eye admired the goddess of weights and measures more than Jehovah. The great moral lesson of the vision is therefore a warning against covetousness and unrighteous traffic. Where the love of money is so strong as to employ “balances of deceit,” and make “the ephah small and the shekel great,” there will come curse and exile. The covetous man will suffer in ways he little dreams of, and the very instruments of his sin may be turned into modes of punishment. He who will serve Mammon must leave the house and land of the Lord, and so all those Jews who loved the wages of unrighteousness might expect sooner or later to be again scattered as by the winds of heaven. Their aiders and abettors might come to their help, and even build for them a house in the foreign land; but, like the tower of Babel, built by selfish ambition in the plain of Shinar, even that house will be likely to prove a curse. This process of separating and removing the lovers of this world from truth and holiness is ever going on in the development of the kingdom of God. Judas loved silver, and was cut off and went to his own place. Demas forsook the Apostle Paul from love of the world. John, the apostle, speaks of those who went out from the godly because they were not of them (1 John 2:19), and Jude significantly mentions the sensual, having not the Spirit, as they who separate themselves, or make separations. So, by the necessary antagonism of opposite natures, the covetous must remove from the holy; for the narrow-minded, self-centred worldling cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (Milton S. Terry, D. D.)
The woman in the ephah
The question of the angel, and the answer of the prophet, suggest--
1. That the medium of Divine thought may be obscure to human understanding.
2. That which we are to communicate to others must be seen clearly by ourselves.
3. That what is difficult to one servant of God may be clear to another. The vision probably refers to the general sin of the nation, which reached its height in the rejection of Messiah, after which the nation was entirely removed from the land. It suggests--
I. That time is needed for a nation to complete its destruction, as well as for its construction. The ephah is a measure of considerable size; the idea conveyed is that, when it is full, it is lifted up and carried away. The filling takes time, and the nation to which the vision pointed did not all at once fill up the measure of its iniquity. Wickedness is allowed to go on unchecked for a certain period, but only to give space for repentance.
II. Sin first imprisons the sinner, and then separates him from the Divine presence. A talent of lead shuts the woman into the ephah, which is then borne into the land of Shinar. This foretells the constant dwelling of the Jews among the Gentile nations. The man who finds himself in a condemned cell is really shut in and banished from his own choice. So it was with the Jewish nation, and so it is with every man who rejects God’s plan of regenerating him. He is self-imprisoned and self-banished.
III. Those who reject God’s plan of restoration will be left to their own. God offered to the Jewish nation a sure foundation upon which to rebuild their national greatness (see Isaiah 28:16). This they would not accept. Therefore they were banished from their land, and, in the words of this prophecy, “set there upon their own base.” They were left to be their own national architects and defenders, and the history of their bitter sufferings for many centuries, and their present inability to gather themselves into a national whole, shows how ill they succeed who prefer their own way to that which God offers to them. This truth applies equally to every man who rejects the only foundation upon which his character can be rebuilt into its original greatness. (Outlines by London Minister.)
A materialistic community
Utter mercenariness is an abhorrent object to an angel’s eye. The prophet still looks, and what does he see? The meaning of the new scene may be easily 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 lay hold of it on both sides. 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 in these features, which only serve to give distinctness to the picture.”--Thiel and Delitzsch.
I. Such a community is encased by the material. This woman, the emblem of the worldly Jews, was not only “in the midst of the ephah,” but was closely confined there. “He cast the weight of the lead upon the mouth thereof.” To an utterly worldly man matter is everything. He is utterly shut out from the spiritual; there is no glimpse of it, no interest in it. Like the woman in the ephah, he is encompassed by that which shuts him in. The bright heavens and the green fields of the spiritual world are over and around him, but they are nothing to him. He is in the ephah.
(1) Your secular scientist is in the ephah. He sees nothing but matter, believes in nothing but matter.
(2) Your sensuous religionist is in this ephah. He judges after the flesh.
(3) Your man of the world is in this ephah. All his ideas of wealth, dignity, pleasure are material.
II. Such a community is being disinherited by the material. This woman in the ephah, emblem of the worldly Hebrew, is borne away from Palestine, her own land, into a foreign region. Materialism disinherits man. His true inheritance as a spiritual existent is “incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away.” But materialism carries him away from it, away to the distant and the gross.
(1) The process was rapid. No bird so fleet with wing and foot as the stork, and with this fleetness this woman in the ephah was borne. How rapidly do animalism and worldliness bear away the spirit of man from the realm of spiritual realities, from a love of the true and the beautiful!
(2) The process was final. “And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established and set there upon her own base.” “To be carnally minded is death. He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” What ruined Simon Magus? The world. What ruined Demas? The world. And, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Homilist.)
And he said, This is wickedness
This is the ruin of thousands and tens of thousands.
It is not at all necessary to insure a man’s perdition that he either “steal” or “swear falsely.” A man may be a thorough worldling, without the practice of these or any gross iniquities. Whatever shuts God out from His place in the heart as the object of fear and love, and from His place in the conscience as the authoritative regulator of the life, that, be it what it may, is the ruin of the man. In the parable of the marriage feast, the men who declined the invitation, and went away to their farms and to their merchandise, are not charged with any selfish and fraudulent dealings in the management of their farms or the prosecution of their merchandise. What was their sin? Worldliness. They preferred the world to God. They declined the blessings of the Gospel for something more to their taste. They chose the world and the things of the world--no matter in how innocent a form--even the sweets of domestic life itself--to God and the things of God. And in the enjoyment of these, as their chosen portion, they “had their reward.” Thus it was of old; thus it is still. Let no man deceive himself by fancying it necessary to his forfeiture of the blessings of God’s salvation, that he give himself up to the practice of dishonesty and of open vice. If his heart is in the world, with the world he must have his portion. Let Christians be on their guard against “the love of this present world.” It is as insinuating and perilous principle. In proportion as it gains upon the heart, it tends to enfeeble the energies, and deaden the sensibilities, of the Divine life in the soul. God will not have a divided heart. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Ralph Wardlaw, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26