The remaining three night visions are of an altogether different character to those that have gone before. So far, they have depicted God’s grace – His presence, power, protection and pardon operating on behalf of His people. But now God acts in judgment. Before the blessing of millennial day can dawn, He must deal with unrepentant sinners in Israel. The sixth vision, therefore, exposes the sins of individuals, followed by an unveiling of the root cause of Israel’s iniquity in the seventh vision. Again, the visions have a present and future application. God is warning the returning remnant that He will not tolerate sin amongst His people. This foreshadows the purging of all sin and iniquity from the nation (and indeed the world) before the glorious day of the Millennium (Mat 13:41). God has two ways of dealing with sin, both of which are in perfect accord with the holiness of His character. He delights in the method of grace, but for those who persist in wickedness and despise His grace, the method is that of judgment.
Vision Six – Divine Precepts: The Flying Scroll (5:1-4)
Zechariah lifts up his eyes to see a “flying” (airborne) scroll (v1). The scroll, either papyrus or leather, is unrolled, as it could be measured and contained writing on both sides. It was unusually large, like a long banner, measuring 20 cubits (9m) in length and 10 cubits (4.5m) in width (v2). Curiously, these dimensions are the same as both the holy place in the tabernacle and the porch of Solomon’s temple (Exo 26:15-25; 1Ki 6:3). This suggests that the curse of the scroll is exactly according to the holy standard of the One who dwells therein. What is this curse? The Law promised blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience (cf. Deu 28); it is the judgment due every lawbreaker because of a broken Law. The curse is seen going forth over the “face of the whole earth” – none would escape. The whole world was under the curse of divine retribution, not just Israel under the law, but Gentiles which shew the work of the law written in their hearts (Rom 2:14-15).
Two specific sins are identified in verse 3: “stealing” and “swearing” (i.e., lying under oath or giving false testimony). These sins represent the whole Law, for stealing is the central command of the second table and swearing falsely by God’s name breaks the central command of the first table (Exo 20:7,15). The employment of the definite article suggests these are not occasional offences but individuals who are habitually characterised by these actions. These two sins were particularly significant in Zechariah’s day. Individuals would have pledged donations to the LORD, by formal oath, to support the building of the temple. Any who reneged on their pledge would be guilty of swearing falsely and, technically, stealing from deity! It was a serious matter to rob God. Such individuals would be “cut off” (or “cleansed away”) as something defiled and defiling.
The divine judgment of the curse entered and “remained” in the houses of the guilty, even its “timber” and “stones” being destroyed (v4). It is almost as if their sins had penetrated the very fabric of their dwelling, contaminating even the house in which they lived. The message is clear and solemn: God’s people cannot expect divine blessing if sin is tolerated by those associated with the house of God. True worship must be accompanied by a righteous walk. Prophetically, we are reminded of another scroll which will unseal its judgments upon a rebellious world (Rev 5:1-9; 10:1-11). These judgments will purge the world in preparation for the millennial dawn.
Vision Seven – Divine Prophecy: The Woman in a Basket (5:5-11)
Again, Zechariah is told by the interpreting angel to lift up his eyes and see another closely connected vision which unveils the root cause of Israel’s iniquity (v5).
On this occasion Zechariah saw an “ephah” (v6), a large unit of dry measure (about 22 litres) for grain or flour and, by extension, the measuring vessel (basket) itself. The ephah was used in temple worship to measure out the grain offering (Lev 5:11), but primarily at the marketplace in connection with buying and selling grain. The ephah therefore stands as a symbol of trade and commercialism. The remnant had recently returned from Babylon, a captivity which had cured them of idolatry. Sadly, they had been long enough in exile to become infected with the spirit of materialism and greed (cf. Neh 5; Mal 3:8-9). They had been an agricultural (pastoral) people, but many Jews born in Babylon became merchants and successful businessmen, characterised by theft and lies (cf. Amo 8:4-6).
A woman is revealed sitting in the basket, made visible by the lifting of a lead cover one talent (30kg) in weight (v7). She is said to be the personification of “wickedness” (v8). In Scripture, a woman is often used as a symbol of corrupting influence (cf. Mat 13:33; Rev 2:20). She likely represents the worldwide commercial empire of the end times, centred in Babylon and described in Revelation 18. Israel had imbibed her spirit! She is pictured sitting “in the midst” of the ephah, suggesting rest and contentment, apparently enjoying the luxury and wealth her position affords her. The lid upon the ephah suggests the woman is being contained and perhaps represents the restraining hand of God, which will be removed during the tribulation, allowing full expression of her iniquity (cp. 2Th 2:7).
The closing verses (vv9-11) appear to show the full end-time development of this wicked system of idolatrous commercialism. The two women with “wings like the wings of a stork” possibly represent corrupt ecclesiastical (cf. Rev 17) and civil authority (cf. Rev 18) – the exact antithesis of Joshua and Zerubbabel. Both religion and politics will encourage and support the rule of commercialism. They have “wind in their wings,” picturing demonic forces (the “stork” was an unclean bird) carrying her to the land of Shinar that she might be revealed in her true character (cf. Rev 18:2). “Shinar” is the ancient name for the Mesopotamian plain, which included the city of Babel (Gen 10:10; 11:2). There she was built a “house,” a word which signifies a place of worship – a temple. The woman was set “upon her own base,” or pedestal, as an object of worship. This commercial empire centred in Babylon will ultimately be destroyed by God (cf. Rev 18:8). Prophetically, the picture sees the removal of the great sins of materialism, greed and self-worship from God’s land and God’s people that Palestine might become the “holy land” indeed (cf. Zec 2:12; 13:2).
May God help believers today to separate from the snare of materialism, which is the spirit of Babylon. Society seems to be obsessed with the relentless pursuit of bigger, better and more – living for time and self and thus forgetting God. The divine injunction is clear, “Come out of her, my people” (Rev 18:4). May God help us to be marked by godly contentment and seek all satisfaction in Christ.