The Word Made Fresh
1I looked up again and saw a flying scroll, 2and the angel asked me, “What do you see?”
“I see a flying scroll,” I said, “twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.”
3He said, “This is the curse going out over the land. The writing on one side says that everyone who steals will be banished. The writing on the other side says that everyone who deals falsely will be banished. 4The LORD Almighty has sent the scroll, and it will enter the homes of thieves and anyone who uses my name to spread lies. It will stay in those houses and destroy the timber and the stones.”
5Then the angel who spoke with me came forward and said to me, “Look up. See what is coming out.”
6“What is it?” I asked.
He replied, “It’s a bushel basket.” Then he added, “It holds everything they see in the whole land.”
7Then a leaden cover was raised up, and there was a woman sitting in the basket. 8The angel said, “This is sin,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pressed the leaden weight down on it.
9I looked up, and saw two women approaching. They had wings like the wings of a stork. The wind was behind them, and they raised the basket into the sky above the earth. 10I asked the angel, “Where are they taking it?”
11He said, “To the land of Shinar, where they will build a house for it, and when it is ready they will put the basket down on its floor.”
1-4: The sixth vision: a huge flying scroll, about 15×30 feet. Zechariah hears God (or perhaps the angel) telling him the scroll has been sent out to condemn two particular crimes; stealing and swearing falsely. The choice of these two and only these two is surprising, but upon further examination we realize they are connected with each other in that they have to do with criminal justice. The gist of the vision seems to be that thieves are not being convicted and justly punished because of false testimony. But human courts are not the final courts; God’s verdict is that both the thieves and those who give false testimony will be consumed by God’s justice. In the context of returning exiles trying to rebuild Jerusalem, the temple, and their lost society, maintaining justice is of paramount concern.
5-11: The angel is specifically identified as the speaker in vision #7. What Zechariah sees “coming out” is a unit of measure roughly equivalent to a bushel. When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek a couple of generations before Jesus the translators apparently were not satisfied with having an amorphous unit of measure carrying a woman and so guessed that it must have been an ephah-sized basket, and modern English versions tend to follow that lead. While it may have been a basket, the vision’s primary message is that wickedness is being measured here. Indeed, wickedness is depicted as a woman, and that is not surprising when you realize that this vision is a condemnation of Babylon (called Shinar here — see Genesis 11:1-9). The Babylonians worshiped the fertility goddess Ishtar, an abomination to the Jews. The two women with wings, who carry “Wickedness” off to Shinar (Babylon), are not identified but perhaps have something to do with the fact that the worship of Ishtar involved women who served as temple prostitutes to allow worshipers to act out the fertility promised by their goddess.
This chapter is a sweeping condemnation of the worship of other “gods.” Whenever we begin to believe that life can best be invested in anything other than faith in God, we are heading down a path that cannot lead to fulfillment.