Book of Zechariah Chapter 5 Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Scroll and the Ephah
This sixth vision shown to Zechariah reveals something about God that all of us need to understand. We have seen in the preceding chapters that He loves and restores His people, and now we see that He is also full of justice and holiness...He will punish wickedness in all its forms. He is both utterly in love with us and He will judge our sinful ways. This vision and the next one both warn us and encourage us that God will deal with the problem of sin in the world, especially as it affects His loved ones...both in them and in relation to them. As the Apostle John would later point out, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8), and the next two verses of 1 John give us the remedy, which is—confession. If we honestly confess to Him the sins He reveals, He will 1) forgive us, and 2) make us clean. Note the progression: We are sinners who place our trust in Christ...He redeems us and we are made right with God. He fills us with His Holy Spirit, who gradually reveals our base nature. A process occurs in which we confess and are delivered, one sin at a time, finding the joy of becoming what we were meant to be, as intended by our King.
Verses 1-2: "Then I lifted up my eyes again and looked, and behold, there was a flying scroll. And he said to me, 'What do you see?' And I answered, 'I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits.'" Have you ever seen a papyrus or leather scroll and perhaps held it in your hand? Using current U.S. measurements, they typically can be about a foot wide and three or four feet in length. The dimensions vary, but it's important to compare a typical one with the "flying scroll" of this vision. A "cubit" was usually about a foot and one-half in length (18 inches), so this scroll was gigantic, abnormally large at 30 feet by 15 feet. It was precisely the same size as the porch of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 6:3). God wanted Zechariah's attention and He wants ours, as well. And so we are shown this "flying scroll" which speaks to our lives right now, just as surely as it addressed the people of Zechariah's time.
We often don't see the relationship between the troubles we experience in life and the sins we have committed. Deuteronomy 28 speaks of "blessings" in the first 14 verses, to those who "obey" the Lord and keep His commandments. Starting in Verse 15, the chapter then lists "curses" that come to those who "do not obey the voice of the Lord your God." Those "curses" form a scary list that all should see, and two forms of behavior which displease God are listed in Verses 3-4 of this chapter in Zechariah: "Then he said to me, 'This is the curse that is going forth over the face of the whole land; surely everyone who steals will be purged away according to the writing on one side, and everyone who swears will be purged away according to the writing on the other side. 'I will make it go forth,' declares the Lord of hosts, 'and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name; and it will spend the night within that house and consume it with its timber and stones.'" Are we forgiven? Through trusting in Christ, yes we are! Will He judge the sin in our lives? Yes, He will.
Don't steal...don't even think about it, for the Lord sees your heart, just as surely as He sees your actions. And let your words become pure and honest in all that you say. Follow God in what you do and in the words you speak. If you are about to act, pause for an instant and pray, or if you have the time, pray extensively before you do whatever it is. As revealed in Deuteronomy 28, there is a direct cause and effect relationship between what you do today and what happens tomorrow. Paul said, "Let him who stole steal no longer" (Ephesians 4:28). Jesus said, "Do not swear...but let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:33-37). Let the Lord lead you in everything. Life will be better, more satisfying, as you find the delight of trusting in God.
Zechariah, as he tended to do, was thoughtfully pondering the flying scroll, looking downward...and then the connection with the angelic being resumed in Verse 5: "The angel who was speaking with me went out and said to me, 'Lift up now your eyes and see what this is going forth.'" The angel blended into the background, allowing Zechariah time to think about what he had seen and heard. He now had Zechariah's full attention as he pointed out yet another object for the man to consider. Zechariah asked the angel in Verse 6, "'What is it?' And he said, “This is the ephah going forth.' Again he said, 'This is their appearance in all the land."
An "ephah" was a specific type of basket, a container designed to determine the dry measure of such substances as grain (Judges 6:19, Ruth 2:17). An ephah was the equivalent of approximately twenty-one quarts of whatever granular material was being measured, and was the largest device possessed by the Hebrews to measure dry goods...yet it was insufficient in size to contain what is seen in Verse 7: "(and behold, a lead cover was lifted up); and this is a woman sitting inside the ephah." It was not known in those days that lead can produce dangerous toxicity...it was simply thought of as a malleable substance that could easily be molded into objects like the cover on the basket in this vision. To Zechariah's amazement, "a woman (was) sitting inside the ephah."
It's interesting how God tends to use parables in communicating with us. Dreams are often parables that help us understand, and it was God who created our capacity to dream, and He gives understanding through them, like He did with Joseph in the Book of Genesis. In our dealings with one another, we tend to prefer logic, but God often appeals to the other side of the brain. What this "woman" was intended to convey is shown in Verse 8: "Then he said, 'This is Wickedness!' And he threw her down into the middle of the ephah and cast the lead weight on its opening."
God is not in any way intimating that women are inherently wicked. Looking back to Chapter 3, we find wickness presented in the MALE figure of Satan himself. Evil takes many forms, as does good, and this woman is just a parable revealing a danger to Zechariah and his people. Their tendency was to fall into what is called "idolatry," and when you think about it, our tendency is much the same. Our churches often fall out of joyful faith, into the presentation and maintenance of grim programs...that's human effort, which is—idolatry. If there are times when we can do whatever we want, many will fill those moments with something like television, video games, sporting events, the reading of novels, or texting with friends. Idolatry is subtle and can be found in distractions, costing us many opportunities to spend time with the Lord and His Word.
Zechariah stared at the image of this woman for a long moment, then reported in Verse 9: "I lifted up my eyes and looked, and there two women were coming out with the wind in their wings; and they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heavens." In Verses 3-4 of this chapter, we saw wickedness in the form of a huge flying scroll, with curses common to mankind written on both sides of that scroll. Verses 7-8 present wickedness personified, in this instance in the form of a woman confined in a measuring basket, with a heavy lid on top. The woman and the scroll are one, presenting to Zechariah's people, and to us, God's awareness of our thoughts and ways.
God has every intention of separating us from our sins, as seen in these "two women...with the wind in their wings, like the wings of a stork," a bird common to the land of Israel at that time—and to this day, thousands of those graceful birds can be seen in the land. These women symbolize our Holy God, who takes sin away from His people. The "wind in their wings" is a reminder of God's Holy Spirit, who is ever with us to remove that sin from our lives. A glimpse of this is seen in Romans 8:27, where we find that "the Spirit intercedes (prays) for the saints according to the will of God." You can be sure that 100% of His prayers are answered, and He is praying for you—right now.
Zechariah never saw a movie or a TV show, and he was stunned by the spectacles that were being portrayed in his vision, in his hearing and in his mind. He had no precedent for anything like what he was seeing, though now he was able to talk once more, as seen in Verse 10: "I said to the angel who was speaking with me, 'Where are they taking the ephah?'" The angel answered him in Verse 11—"Then he said to me, 'To build a temple for her in the land of Shinar; and when it is prepared, she will be set there on her own pedestal.'"
"Shinar" was the "Sumer" of ancient Assyrian monuments, denoting Lower or Southern Babylon, which contained the area that is now called "Iraq." This vision, when it was made public by Zechariah, would have been a warning to those Jews who still lived in Babylon, that they were residing in a land cursed by God. And it's a warning to us all, that we must give our hearts and lives to the Lord and come out of sin, out of the ways of this world. Jesus Christ has taken away our sin, and our part is to believe in Him and what He has done. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). So—come out of "Babylon"—and trust in the Lord!
Lord, this world—and my life—is filled with sin, but You died to save me. I acknowledge my sin and trust in You. I am Yours. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.