A VERSE BY VERSE COMMENTARY OF THE PROPHET ZECHARIAH
Zechariah Chapter Five
National Besetting Sins Sent Back to Babylon
The Flying Roll and The Woman in the Ephah
These two visions in this chapter are related and have the same purpose. That is, rooting out dishonesty and reviving basic decency in the remnant of disorganized, returned exiles. Because of the context of the imminent rebuilding of the Temple to which all this first series of visions is related, these two visions speak of a purge of evil from the nation which will result from the revival of the Temple worship and the Law of Moses.
There are two sins that are singled out in this chapter: They are false swearing (lying) and theft. Not that there are only two sins of the nation but these two must have been endemic among those who returned and needed to be expunged from the settled-returnees (Hebrew: "yishuv.") The first vision of the flying roll is especially designed to clearly cut out this sin from the "yishuv," and under the symbol of the roll enters into the houses of those practicing these sins and consumes the houses--timbers, stones and all.
The second symbol shows an ephah, which is a container of dry measure, like a bushel, and a lead stone which was used as a measure of weight, and a woman. The woman is personified evil which has been expunged by the first vision of the flying roll, as we shall see. The angel throws the woman into the ephah and covers the opening of the ephah with the lead stone, whereupon two women with wings bear it to Babylon. Dishonesty in daily business conditions in Judea is implied by this vision. The ephah is the most common dry measure in trade and the lead stone is the standard of weights. The symbol of the ephah and the lead with the woman cast into the ephah therefore imply dishonest conditions in trade. The symbols show dishonesty in weights and measures. It would seem as if you could not do business with anybody without being cheated! [It would be much like Britain, but more magnified, where non-violent crime--burglary and petty theft, con schemes and deception are endemic among some classes.] This general and poor condition of the social life of the "yishuv" is to be cut out and exported back where it came from. Whether it is fair or not to say that these practices were learned in Babylon, that is what is implied in the vision.
Zec. 5:1 Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll.
"Roll." Hebrew "megillah" , is a noun form of the verb which means to roll as rolling stones. Gilgal, which is derived from the same root, is so named because they rolled stones into a heap to memorialize the dry-land crossing of Jordan. (Joshua 4:19-21) Megillah, then, is the name given in Hebrew to a scroll which is rolled together when it is stored and unrolled to be read. The flying roll is unrolled, as is seen in the next verse.
Zec. 5:2 And he said to me, What do you see? And I answered, I see a flying roll; the length of it is twenty cubits, and the breadth of it ten cubits.
The cubit is a little more than a foot and a half. Thus the scroll is more than 30 feet long and 15 feet wide--a large book. It would be the equivalent of 3,000 pages if written on both sides, which is what the next verse implies.
Zec. 5:3 Then said he to me, This is the curse that goes forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that steals shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that swears shall be cut off as on that side according to it.
"Curse." Hebrew "'alah," . Gesinius says, "a covenant made by an oath." This is an epitome of what is written on the scroll.
"According to it." Hebrew "kamoha," , a preposition and feminine suffix which means "like her" and here means in comparison to her; "her" is the scroll.
"Cut off." Hebrew "niqqah," , is a passive verb which means to be cleansed or purified. Most translations (ASV, KJV and NIV) and commentaries consistently follow the idea of removing of the guilty parties through punishment. However the literal meaning in the words is that the content of the roll will cleanse and purify the sinner. This is the direct meaning of the passage while the context speaks of removing the houses, timber and all. The context may have led the commentators to use the secondary meaning of the word, that is, the sinners are to be cleaned out, removed, or as they say "cut off" from the land. The more natural meaning of the passage which is consistent with the grammar and vocabulary used is: "The words on one side of the scroll will cleanse the liar when he compares himself to it and the words on the other side of the scroll will cleanse the thief when he compares himself to it."
Zec. 5:4 I will bring it forth, says the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that swears falsely by my name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber of it and the stones of it.
Again, the house is to be removed as the container of the wickedness. In the next vision, when the evil is personified and purged, it is the evil that is cast out and deported, not the people. They will have been cleansed by the revival of the written law when the social condition, or house of lies and dishonesty, is destroyed by the same written law. This is a glimpse of the important place that the Scriptures were to play in the life of the "yishuv" from then on.
The Vision Changes: The Ephah
Zec. 5:5 Then the angel that talked with me went forth, and said unto me, Lift up now your eyes, and see what is this that goes forth. 5:6 And I said, What is it? And he said, This is an ephah that goes forth. He said moreover, This is their resemblance through all the earth.
"Their resemblance:" Hebrew "'eynam" , that is "their eye." This figure is not satisfactorily explained by commentators although Exell and Spence give verses where the word "eye" is used idiomatically to mean that which is seen. (Num. 11:7) The Septuagint has "unrighteousness" for resemblance which may be implied in the text.
Zec. 5:7 And, behold, there was lifted up a talent of lead: and this is a woman that sits in the midst of the ephah.
"There was lifted." Hebrew "nise'th" , or lifted, is a passive participle used to describe the talent. Literally it is "And behold, a having been lifted talent..." Thus the ephah is presented as having a lead stone as a cover which was lifted or opened to allow Zechariah to see inside.
"A talent of lead," Hebrew "kikar" , is a frequent idiom used to refer to a weight or talent. The word itself means a circuit or round shape, like a flat round loaf of bread. It is used here because of its round shape to fit the mouth of the ephah and because it represents a standard weight.
"This is a woman." The "is" is misplaced. The text says "This woman."
"That sits." Hebrew "yosheveth," , is a feminine participle modifying woman. Since there is no "present tense" in Hebrew, both modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew use this grammatical form to show current action in progress. It means "is sitting" or more commonly "is dwelling."
A correct and meaningful translation of this verse: "And behold, an opened lead talent [cover] and this woman is sitting in the midst of the ephah."
Zec. 5:8 And he said, This is wickedness. And he cast it into the midst of the ephah; and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth of it.
"This is wickedness." Hebrew "zoth ha-rish'ah." . Zoth is a feminine demonstrative and rish'ah has an added feminine noun-ending to more plainly refer to the woman in the ephah. Thus: "She is wickedness." Thus the woman represents the wickedness that has been ferreted out by the Scriptures of the flying scroll.
"Wickedness." Hebrew "rish'ah" , means criminal. Gesinius gives also "wickedness in ethical relations."
"Cast it." Hebrew for "it" is "othah" , which is feminine, not "it" but "her."
"Weight." The KJV translators here used the implied "weight" for the Hebrew "'eben" . or stone.
Thus the woman as personified dishonesty is cast into and sealed in the symbols of her dishonesty in weights and measures where she has been residing or dwelling for some time. She has now been prepared and made ready for deportation.
Zec. 5:9 Then lifted I up my eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork; and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven.
It is not necessary to identify the two women (but see the next verse) who are part of a beautiful and poetic description of their appearance and service. They lift up the ephah but the wind assists them and bears them swiftly away.
Zec. 5:10 Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Where do these bear the ephah? 5:11 And he said to me, To build it a house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base.
"Where do these bear." This phrase meaning the two winged women do the bearing, links them also with the building of the house for personified evil and fixing her on a firm base of her own in Babylon. They therefore must be Babylonian systems of some sort which can be represented by the symbol of these winged women.
Babylon is the source of these dishonest practices so back to Babylon they ("she") will go where she belongs and where she can have a house and be set on a lasting foundation. They ("she") will not be expunged by the law of God in that place as she has been in Israel but rather will dwell securely there for a long time. This of course does not speak well for Babylon nor the Jews who chose to stay there.
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