Zechariah 5 Commentary: We’re going to study Zechariah’s 6th vision today. So, turn your attention to the 5th chapter of the book of Zechariah.
We’ll be studying the first four verses of Zechariah 5. And the point of this passage is to tell the Jews of Zechariah’s day that at some point in the future God will totally cleanse sin from their land. And he’ll do that by immediately and directly punishing sinners.
So, let’s read the entire 5th chapter of Zechariah and then we’ll go on to study the details of verses 1-4.
[Read Zec 5…]
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Verse 1
So, to begin, we just read about what Zechariah saw. Let’s read that once more.
KJV Zechariah 5:1 ¶ Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and [behold/there before me was] a flying [roll/scroll/LXX: sickle].
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Direction
So, this new vision begins with the prophet Zechariah coming to the realization that something new is in front of him. Well, actually, he makes it sound like it was behind him. He had to turn to see this new reality.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: A Roll?
And what did he see but a flying roll!
Now, I wouldn’t doubt that there would be some who would read this in the KJV and think that Zechariah is seeing a flying piece of bread. But it’s not that kind of roll!
Zechariah 5 Commentary: A Scroll
The word “roll” is the word used by the KJV to speak of a scroll. After all, you roll-up a scroll and you unroll scroll.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: A Sickle?
And I’ll just mention this because it’s interesting to me – the Septuagint – the Greek version of the Old Testament – translates the word “roll” to rather be “sickle.” And I wasn’t able to figure out why that is, quite honestly. But I think that as we go along in this vision, we’re going to see that this thing – whatever it is – has two sides and writing on both sides. Does that sound more like a scroll or a sickle? Sickles don’t have writing on them – at least in Zechariah’s day they wouldn’t have. So, I’m not sure why the Septuagint has what it has, but it seems to be the wrong translation of that word. Thankfully we’re using the Hebrew text and not the Septuagint.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Megillah
And one last thing about this scroll – you might actually know the Hebrew word that’s behind our English translation “roll.” It’s megillah. As in the phrase, “the whole megillah” which means the entirety of something. Maybe you’ve heard that expression before. Well, that comes from this word that means scroll.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Flying
Now, this scroll is not set neatly on a table. It’s not rolled-up in a cabinet somewhere. It’s flying. Flying like a bird or like a locust. It’s on the move and in the air.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Summary of Verse 1
So, this is what Zechariah sees. A scroll that is flying.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Verse 2
Alright, now all of a sudden someone talks to Zechariah about what he just saw.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: The Question
2 [And he said unto/Someone asked/He asked] me,
What [seest thou/do you see]?
Now, we’ve heard this question before asked by the angel who’s been leading Zechariah through these visions. And even though he’s not identified by name in this vision, I think it’s most likely that he’s the one who is asking this question to Zechariah right now.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: The Answer
So, the angel who speaks with Zechariah asks him what he sees. And Zechariah responds. He says…
And I answered,
I see a flying [roll/scroll/LXX: sickle];
And of course, we already heard about that. But now Zechariah gives more detail about this flying scroll…
the length thereof is [twenty cubits/thirty feet], and the [breadth/width] thereof [ten cubits/fifteen feet].
[Demonstrate 10 cubits/15 feet and 20 cubits/30 feet]
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Twenty Cubits/Thirty Feet
Now, twenty cubits was the width of Solomon’s temple (1Ki 6:2). And of course, then the foundation of the temple was also 20 cubits wide to support that structure (2Ch 3:3). 20 cubits is also all three dimensions of the inner sanctuary – the Holy of Holies – it was 20 cubits x 20 cubits x 20 cubits (1Ki 6:20; 2Ch 3:8). And within that inner sanctuary there were those two carved cherubs whose total wingspan was 20 cubits – 10 cubits per cherub (2Ch 3:11). And finally, with Solomon’s temple there was a bronze altar that was 20 cubits long and 20 cubits wide (2Ch 4:1).
All of those items are 20 cubits in some dimension – which is equal to the length of this flying scroll that Zechariah sees.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Ten Cubits/Fifteen Feet
Now, those cherubs in the Holy of Holies that I just mentioned were also 10 cubits high (1Ki 6:23). And of course, I mentioned that the two cherubs were a total of 20 cubits wide. And that means that each one was individually 10 cubits wide from the tip of one outstretched wing to the tip of the other (1Ki 6:24). Some of the foundation stones of Solomon’s temple were 10 cubits – the text doesn’t say, but I assume this is either their width or length (1Ki 7:10). Solomon’s temple also featured a large bronze basin for washing and that basin was 10 cubits wide (1Ki 7:23; 2Ch 4:2). That bronze altar that we heard about already was 10 cubits high (2Ch 4:1).
And all of those dimensions are the same as the width of this flying scroll.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Significance of the Measurements
So, those are some references to these two measurements in the Scripture – 20 cubits and 10 cubits. And I think it’s pretty interesting that most of the references have to do with the temple. Did you catch that?
Well, why is that interesting? Again, as we’ve said before in this study, consider the context of Zechariah. Why is Zechariah receiving these visions? Why has he been sent to give these messages?
The big reason that Zechariah is even there in Jerusalem is to encourage the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua along with all the people to build…what? To build the temple!
And so, God creates this vision for Zechariah with a flying scroll. And the scroll has dimensions that are found in various aspects of this temple that they’re all supposed to be rebuilding.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Verse 3
But what we’re going to see is that actually the scroll itself – and the message that its presence is supposed to convey – seems to have less to do with the temple, and more to do with dealing with the people’s sins.
3 Then said he unto me,
This is [the/a] curse [that goeth forth over the face of/traveling across/that is going out over] the whole [earth/land]:
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Curse
So, this gigantic scroll – 15 feet wide by 30 feet long, and probably totally unrolled – that is flying around – represents a curse – or probably itself contains writing that curses ungodly behavior.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: The Whole Earth
And where is it going? It says, “the whole earth” in the KJV. The word “earth” (eretz) can also be translated as “land.” So, to translate it as “earth” gives you the idea that this is going everywhere in the world, just like God’s seven eyes that we’ve been reading about in this book.
But if that word is translated as “land” then the scroll that contains the curse is flying just in Israel – or even more narrowly, Judah and Jerusalem.
So, which one is it? Where is this thing flying around? I have a hunch that it’s flying around Israel only. And hopefully the rest of what’s said bears that out.
So, the angel that speaks with Zechariah declares that this flying scroll that Zechariah sees in his vision is a curse that is flying around the land of Israel at some point.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Stealing
Well, what is the content of this curse? What kind of behavior is this flying scroll calling-out and punishing?
There are two such behaviors mentioned. The first is stealing.
[for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it;/ surely everyone who steals will be purged away according to the writing on one side,/ For example, according to the curse whoever steals will be removed from the community;/ for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished,/for every thief shall be punished with death on this side,]
So, apparently on one side of the flying scroll there are curses concerning stealing.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Cut Off
And what does this scroll make happen to these thieves? The KJV says that they will be “cut off.” Another translation says that they’ll be “purged away.” Another says they’ll be “removed from the community.” And the Septuagint says that these thieves will be “punished with death.”
The Hebrew word behind these English phrases is actually a little counter-intuitive. It’s a word that typically means something like “unpunished” – which is the exact opposite of how the Lord is using it here.
The KJV translates this word as… unpunished 11x, guiltless 5x, innocent 5x, clear 4x, cleanse 3x, free 2x.
So, what makes the translators of these various translations give this word a more negative connotation here in Zechariah 5? CONTEXT!
This passage in its entire context is not talking about a scroll going around and declaring thieves guiltless or unpunished. After all, this scroll is said to be a curse – that’s a bad thing! We’re going to see what the result of this curse is when it enters the home of these people in the next verse and it’s not pretty.
The way this is translated here is a lot like how the word “bless” is used – especially in the southern United States. When someone declares, “bless his heart” sometimes that person is meaning exactly the opposite – he wants that person’s heart to be cursed, not blessed. And you would know what that person uttering this “blessing” really means by the context of the rest of what he says.
Consider this statement. “Bless his heart, that man annoys the biscuits and gravy out of me!” Obviously in that statement “bless” means something quite different than its normal meaning in that context.
So, this dynamic is why the translations of Zechariah 5 are all translating this word that usually means unpunished or guiltless in a way that’s rather unusual for how it’s normally translated – CONTEXT is the key.
So, this enormous scroll is flying through the land of Israel and it’s resulting in a curse for those who steal – for thieves.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Liars
It will also do that same thing for another group of individuals.
[and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it./and everyone who swears will be purged away according to the writing on the other side./or on the other hand (according to the curse) whoever swears falsely will suffer the same fate."/and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished./and every false swearer shall be punished on that side.]
So, apparently on the other side of this scroll are curses concerning those who swear. And these curses for people who swear have the same effect as on those who steal.
And when God speaks of swearing here, he’s not using that term in the way that some might today – to mean using foul language. That’s not what’s in view here.
It’s actually speaking of those who swear an oath – as in the phrase, “I do solemnly swear” to do this or that – like you see used in the swearing-in of a number of offices in our country.
And you might wonder, “What’s wrong with swearing oaths – with making solemn promises?” Is it wrong for people to swear oaths? Why is God saying that he’s going to curse these people who swear oaths?
Well, in the Old Testament oaths were permitted – and even encouraged – sometimes mandatory. In the New Testament, I think it’s fair to say that oaths are generally discouraged in favor of speaking the simple truth.
But here in the Old Testament, swearing oaths is an acceptable activity. It’s not something that would earn a person punishment by itself when done correctly.
So, the question remains – why is God cursing these people for apparently doing something that was allowed in the Old Testament?
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Verse 4
And, this is one of those instances where the Lord intends us to read the next verse. Many questions are answered by doing that very simple exercise – just read the next verse.
Because in the next verse, we’re going to learn more about the kind of swearing that God will target with these curses on this enormous flying scroll. The core of the issue that we’ll discover in verse 4 is that these people swearing oaths were doing so in a false manner. They were lying.
4 I will [bring it forth/make it go forth/send it out], [saith/declares/says] the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all/Almighty],
and it [shall/will] [enter into/enter] the house of the thief,
and [into the house of/the house of/of] [him/the one/the person] [that/who] [sweareth/swears] [how is he swearing…?] falsely [by/in] my name:
[and it/It] [shall/will] [remain/spend the night/land/rest] [in the midst of/within/in the middle of/in] [his/that] house,
and [shall consume/destroy] [it with the/both] [timber thereof/timber] and [the stones thereof/stones].
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Falsely By My Name
OK, so first we see that the Lord is going to curse those who swear – not correctly by his name – but rather those who do so falsely.
And so, God declares that he is going to basically kill everyone who steals and everyone who uses his name in vain to make promises.
If you think of the way that the 10 Commandments were transmitted onto two stone tablets – then you can imagine that the first tablet was commands concerning duties toward God and the second tablet contained commands concerning duties toward your fellow-man.
So, stealing is a sin committed against your fellow-man. The thief steals what belongs to someone else. We can think of that as the second stone tablet of the law.
The one who swears falsely in God’s name is indeed sinning against his fellow-man in the sense that he is providing inaccurate information to him – usually to take advantage of that person.
And yet, the sin of swearing falsely in God’s name makes God look bad. In essence, when you promise to do something and call on God to be your witness – and then you don’t do that thing, you make it look like God is in agreement with your lie. So, the sin of swearing falsely could be placed on that first stone tablet. It’s against God.
And yet, we’re not talking about stone tablets. We’re talking here in the book of Zechariah about a humongous flying scroll. And instead of two tablets, we have two sides of this scroll. The one side perhaps has wording on it condemning the action of stealing and other sins that affect mankind. And the second side might have wording that condemns swearing falsely and perhaps other sins that abuse God directly.
And we’ve already heard of the ultimate fate of these two groups of people. They will be cut off or killed.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Entering Houses
But now in this verse we’re told of a further repercussion that will come to these people. This over-sized scroll will enter into their house and destroy it.
Imagine a 15x30 foot scroll flying into the house of some notorious liar and remaining there over night and the result is that the whole house just collapses. That’s what God is picturing here.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: The Meaning
But what does this really mean? Why is God showing Zechariah this vision? What is it meant to communicate to the prophet?
Let’s ask ourselves – has this ever literally happened? Has a giant scroll flown around Israel and destroyed liars and their houses? No.
OK, do we have reason to believe that this will literally happen where a flying scroll enters houses and kills thieves? I don’t think so.
But, here’s what I do think the Lord is communicating through this vision.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: A Book of Hope
Think of all the hopeful things that God has communicated to Israel so far in this book. The people heed God’s call to repent in the first chapter and God then promises to return to them with blessings. They’ve had assurance that the Lord is concerned for them and angry at their oppressors. They’ve been assured that in the future there will be so many Jews in Jerusalem that it will be impossible for a wall to hold them all in. They have been assured that their religious system and political system have been cleansed and that God is with them. This has been a book of hope so far for this nation.
So, what’s the hope that this passage is encouraging in God’s people?
It’s this: that God is going to totally cleanse the land of sin. Israel was filled with sin before they were exiled to Babylon – and their sin is why they were exiled to Babylon in the first place. God would no longer stand their sin.
But now here in Zechariah 5 we have assurance that God will deal with sin swiftly. And not just on a national level. But when an individual sins he will be dealt with immediately and definitively.
It’s like the passage in the book of Leviticus that speaks of leprosy. If leprosy was found in a house eventually that house needed to be torn down – both its timber and its stones. And that’s how that leprous house would be cleaned. (Lev 14:43-45)
Just like that, God is saying here in Zechariah 5:1-4 that he is going to totally cleanse the land of sinners. Just like he dealt with leprosy. Total destruction of the contaminating agent.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Timing
Alright, so when is this going to happen? Has God done this yet? No.
I expect that this will happen during Jesus Christ’s Millennial reign in Jerusalem. He will cleanse the land of sinners. Those who enter that kingdom will be righteous. And as Christ rules on his throne, there will be perfect justice executed on those who end up doing wrong.
That will be a glorious day – when the Lord purges all sin from the land. May the Lord bring that day soon.