The Book of Zechariah-Part 8
|By: Dr. Michael Stallard; ©2002|
|In particular, this article will deal with the Vision of the Flying Scroll given in Zechariah 5:1-4. This vision focuses on individuals within the nation of Israel more than on the nation as a whole. The primary focus is on the judging acts of God.|
The Book of Zechariah—Part 8
This article is the eighth in a series of articles designed to give a brief commentary on the prophetic portion of the Old Testament known as the book of Zechariah. In particular, this article will deal with the Vision of the Flying Scroll given in Zechariah 5:1-4. This vision is the sixth of eight night visions, which Zechariah receives (1:7-6:15). This particular vision can be distinguished from the other visions because of its focus on individuals within the nation of Israel more than on the nation as a whole. It is also true that this vision marks a change in tone from all of the prior visions. The first five night visions give consolation and hope to the nation of Israel although judgment elements, especially for the nations, are scattered throughout. However, in the final three visions, starting with this one, the primary focus is on the judging acts of God. The general gist of this particular vision is that individuals within the nation who sin against God will not escape God’s ultimate judgment.
Depending upon one’s interpretation of the vision, there are either two or three personages in the passage. Zechariah himself is of course cited as the one who lifts up his eyes and sees the vision (5:1). The introductory language (“I lifted up my eyes again and looked”) has already occurred twice before in Zechariah (1:18, 2:1) and will occur two more times (5:9, 6:1), all within the section of Zechariah giving the night visions. It highlights the visionary nature of Zechariah’s experience and is standard language for a prophet or prophetic passages (cp. Dan. 9:2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 21). Zechariah is also the one who gives the general description of what he sees rather than waiting for an interpreting angel to describe it for him (5:2).
In Zechariah 5:2 an unidentified man asks Zechariah what he sees? In keeping with prior visions, this man is the interpreting angel sent by God to assist Zechariah in understanding the divine meaning and significance of what he sees. However, to be consistent we must not see him as the angel of the LORD who has also occurred in earlier visions. This would be tempting in this passage, since there is an abrupt change to the “LORD of hosts” as speaker within the explanation given to Zechariah in verse four. However, nothing is changed in interpretation of the passage if the angel of the LORD or the LORD Himself is the interpreting angel throughout the vision. The expression LORD of hosts is used frequently throughout the entire prophecy of Zechariah including, but not limited to the night visions. This highlights God’s power in bringing to pass what He has promised.
The vision itself is simple on the face of it. Zechariah sees a flying scroll (5:1). When asked by the interpreting angel what he sees, he gives the dimensions of the flying scroll: twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide (5:2). This means that the flying scroll is not small in nature. It is roughly thirty by fifteen feet. To visualize the flying scroll imagine a three-story building whose face is fifteen feet across. The sheer size of the scroll in the vision means that it dominates all that Zechariah sees and the fact that it is flying implies action is at the center of its meaning.
However, several commentators have noted that these dimensions seem to match those of the porch in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:3) and the length of various curtains in the Tabernacle. However, it is not clear that the measurements of the Tabernacle coincide exactly. Nonetheless, the comparison to the porch in Solomon’s temple yields an exact match. In light of Zechariah’s post-exilic audience and the contemporary issue of rebuilding the Jewish temple, there can be little doubt that the measurements would help Zechariah’s hearers and readers know that this vision has significance for the nation’s relationship to the LORD since the LORD invokes the image of His house in the matter of judgment given in the passage.
The interpretation of the vision is given in Zechariah 5:3-4. The interpreting angel gives a general interpretation in verse three while the text says that the LORD of hosts gives the specific interpretation in verse four. The general statement begins with an assertion that the flying scroll represents a curse that goes forth over the entire earth or land (v. 3). The word earth or land, in context, probably refers to the nation of Israel in her land (i.e., Palestine from a modern perspective). Several reasons suggest this conclusion. First, the reference to a curse on those who are thieves and those who swear falsely points one to the Decalogue which in turn forces one to think of the nation of Israel. Second, the perjury that is mentioned references swearing falsely in the name of Israel’s God, thereby implicating the nation in a special way. Third, the reference to Shinar (Babylon) in 5:11 may be contrasted to the land mentioned in this passage. If so, then Israel is the likely referent. Fourth, the dimensions, which bring to mind the Jewish temple (alluded to above), reinforce the idea that the Jewish land is in view. Consequently, the judgment of the passage relates to the nation of Israel itself.
It is likely that the curse in the passage is applied for all kinds of sinful acts or omissions. The mention of thievery and perjury are meant as parts for the whole. God will judge those individuals who do not follow His commandments. The idea of a curse would be one that is familiar to Zechariah’s audience based upon Deuteronomy 28 with its blessings and curses based upon the obedience or disobedience of the people. In that piece of Mosaic legislation there are certain judgments of an individualistic nature that fit the tenor of this prophecy of Zechariah.
The specific description of the curse given by the LORD of hosts Himself (v. 4) heightens the individualistic focus on the passage. The curse will go into the very homes of these individuals. The personal nature of the curse is thus evident. Furthermore, the judgment is utter destruction. Such a conclusion is necessary based upon the assertion that the houses of these individual lawbreakers will be consumed, both timber and stones. Nothing will be left. This comprehensive nature of the curse is reinforced by the fact that the curse “will spend the night in that house.” In other words, it will stay until it does its thorough and complete job of judgment. Of special importance for the reader is that this judgment is the LORD’s doing since He is the One who will cause the curse to go forth.
When is the prophecy of this judgment on individuals within Israel to be fulfilled? The only two logical choices are Zechariah’s post-exilic time and the last days. That immediate judgments could be in view cannot be doubted in light of the recent wicked past of the nation and God’s careful watch over them at this time in history. However, in light of the comparison to the next vision and the appeal to end time fulfillment found in many of the night visions, Zechariah’s prophecy here may find fulfillment when God purges the nation of individual sinners and establishes His kingdom once and for all (cp. Zech. 12-14).
Some commentators treat this vision and the next vision of the Woman in the Ephah (5:5-11) as actually one vision. It is true that there are similarities in that judgment is pronounced upon individuals in Israel in 5:1-4 and sin is removed from the land and sent to Shinar in 5:5-11. It is also true that there is similar language. In this prophecy a curse goes forth while in the next prophecy an ephah goes forth. In both cases, the land is in view. However, verse five is a definite transition in which Zechariah is asked by the interpreting angel to lift up his eyes to see. As we have seen before, such language can often indicate a change in vision, especially if the symbolism itself is different as it is in this case. Thus, it is probably best to see these two visions as separate. Yet they are related as indeed all the eight night visions are as they view the future of the nation of Israel, individuals within the nation, and the enemies of the nation. The closeness of relationship between the two is no different than that of the vision of the Cleansing of Joshua in 3:1-10 and the vision of the Golden Lampstand and Two Olive Trees in 4:1-14.
While Christian believers in the present Church dispensation are not part of the nation of Israel and are not directly subject to the specific judgments upon individuals mentioned in this passage, Christians must still realize that they too have their own individual judgments to come in the last days when they stand at the judgment seat of Christ and receive rewards or suffer loss based upon how they followed the Lord in this life (Luke 19:11ff; 2 Cor. 5:10).