The Sixth Vision: The Flying Scroll
1I looked again—and there before me was a flying scroll!
2He asked me, "What do you see?"
I answered, "I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide."
3And he said to me, "This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. 4The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones’"
The first five visions were primarily visions of encouragement to the remnant in Israel. But there are situations when encouragement is not called for. Primarily, continuance in sin must not be encouraged in any way. Sin is hateful to God. Sin will be judged by God. And though the remnant were carrying out a great work for God at the time, this great work would not and could not atone for any sin that was in the lives of God’s servants. "The central teaching point of this vision is that the pervasiveness of sin and crime is enough to cancel out the blessing that one would think might come from rebuilding the temple of God… [O]ne work of obedience does not offset the need for holiness in all aspects of living" [Kaiser, 335].
Zechariah relates his vision: "I looked again—and there before me was a flying scroll! He asked me, ‘What do you see?’ I answered, ‘I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide’" (vss. 1–2). The angel with Zechariah tells him what is on the flying scroll: "And he said to me, ‘This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished’" (vs. 3). The Lord Himself describes the action that the curse on the scroll will bring: "The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones’" (vs. 4).
So, in this vision, Zechariah sees a flying scroll that represents the curse that breaking the law brings. We can speculate about some of the symbolism in this vision. Why was the scroll flying? Quite possibly so it would be seen by all, sort of like a flying advertisement that we see nowadays at football games. The curse that sin brings is not meant to be a secret kept by God. He wants all to know that sin is destructive. Why is the scroll said to be "thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide"? Clearly, the scroll is opened, not rolled up. This may symbolize that what is written on the scroll is openly proclaimed and, again, not a secret. Also, thirty feet by fifteen feet long is the same dimensions as the porch of Solomon’s Temple (see I Kings 6:3). It is said that on the porch of Solomon’s Temple, the law was often read [Moore, 78]. The people in Israel at the time were rebuilding the Temple, so they would probably have recognized the significance of this dimension.
The scroll, which itself "is the curse", most likely had the Ten Commandments written on it. Note that "according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished", and "according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished." These two sins are representative in this vision of the whole law. To "swear falsely" is to misuse the name of God, which is a violation of the third commandment. The third commandment is the middle commandment of the first half of the Ten Commandments. The first five commandments concern man’s relationship with God. "Every thief", of course, breaks the eighth commandment, which says we are not to steal. The eighth commandment is the middle commandment of the second half of the Ten Commandments. These commandments concern man’s relationship with other men. The fact that the scroll was written on both sides further connects it with the law of God, which God Himself wrote on both sides of the tablets given to Moses (see Ex. 32:15). And so, the "flying scroll" represents the curse which results from breaking the law that is written on it.
When He gave the law to the children of Israel, God told them that obedience to the law would bring blessings (see Deut. 28:1–16), but He also told them that disobedience to the law would bring curses (see Deut. 27:15–26; Deut. 28:15–68). The curses that result from disobedience of the law come directly from God. He makes no secret about this. He Himself states in this vision: "I will send it out" (vs. 4). God hates sin, and will punish sin. For some reason, many preachers of the Word of God nowadays are shy to speak of this aspect of the character of God: that He hates sin, and will punish sin. Could the reason that we are shy to speak of these things be that we ourselves are overly tolerant of sin? Do we hate sin enough? "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." [Moore, 80].
To understand God, and the things of God, we must be aware of the curse of sin. "We need to realize in thought all the terrors of the curse, in order that we may the more intensely desire and seek deliverance from it. If sinners would think of the awful curse hanging over their heads and ready at any moment to descend with the rapidity of the lightning-flash, how gladly they would shelter themselves under the cross of Him who bore the curse for us, and so they would escape from the wrath to come." [JFB, 676]. God deals with sin in two ways: judgment of sin; or, forgiveness of sin, by His grace, through His Son Jesus Christ. The good news is that we ourselves can choose which way we would have God deal with our sin. Do we want to experience the curse of sin via the full measure of God’s wrath? Or do we want to have our sins forgiven through the loving gift of Jesus Christ His Son, who Himself experienced the curse of sin on our behalf?
The Seventh Vision: The Woman in the Basket
5Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, "Look up and see what this is that is appearing."
6I asked, "What is it?"
He replied, "It is a measuring basket." And he added, "This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land."
7Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! 8He said, "This is wickedness," and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth.
9Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth. 10"Where are they taking the basket?" I asked the angel who was speaking to me.
11He replied, "To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place."
Whereas the sixth vision dealt with the curse that sin brings upon individuals, this vision deals corporately with the sins of the nation of Israel, and what will eventually happen to sin in the nation of Israel: "Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, ‘Look up and see what this is that is appearing.’ I asked, ‘What is it?’ He replied, ‘It is a measuring basket.’ And he added, ‘This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.’ Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, ‘This is wickedness,’ and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth" (vss. 5–8). The "measuring basket", literally ephah, was used in Israel like we use a bushel basket: both to measure, and to carry things. In this case, it carried (possibly, the full measure of) the "iniquity" and "wickedness" of the people "throughout the land" of Israel. The woman in the basket, who personifies "wickedness", seems to have been trying to get out, but the angel "pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth."
Then, in the vision, iniquity and wickedness are miraculously removed from the land: "Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth. ‘Where are they taking the basket?’ I asked the angel who was speaking to me. He replied, ‘To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.’" (vss. 9–11). This vision looks toward the end times, when the people of Israel will turn to God, and the rebellion against God will be led by Babylon (see Rev. 17–18). Thus we see in this vision "wickedness" and "iniquity" transported from Israel to Babylon. Kaiser summarizes: "Given the part that Babylon plays in the eschatological drama of the closing days of this present age, the removal of wickedness to Babylon might have been in preparation for the final conflict between good and evil. Isaiah 13–14, and, especially, Jeremiah 50–51, place a revived Babylonian empire at the center of the final contest between God and ‘all the nations of the earth’ that have been gathered into the Near East for history’s finale" [Kaiser, 340]. Consistent with this vision, which speaks of the woman who "is wickedness" being transported to Babylon, in Revelation 17, a woman who is leading the rebellion against God has this title written on her forehead: "Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth" (Rev. 17:5). And so, though the exact meaning and interpretation of the visions in Zechariah and Revelation concerning the end-times are not fully understood by us, the visions are consistent with each other.