Zechariah 5 Commentary: We’re going to be studying the second vision recorded in the fifth chapter of the book of Zechariah. So, let’s turn our attention to Zechariah 5.
You may recall that in verses 1-4 last time we saw a vision about a flying scroll. And the message that we discovered from that vision was that sins will be dealt with swiftly some day when God’s Messiah is on the throne in Jerusalem.
So, that section was about God dealing with sins in the land of Israel. But now in the rest of chapter five we’re going to see sin just altogether sent out of the land of Israel completely. We’re going to see in particular, the sin of Idolatry Becoming a Foreign Thing to the land of Israel.
So, let’s read Zechariah 5:5-11 first and then study it in detail.
[Read Zec 5:5-11…]
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Angel Tells Zechariah to See What’s Leaving
So, to begin this new vision we see an angel telling Zechariah to look at something that’s “going forth” or leaving. Just like we had a scroll that was “going forth” in Zechariah 5:1-4, now in the rest of this chapter we have something else that is also “going forth.”
5 ¶ [Then/After this/And] the [angel/angelic messenger] [that/who] [talked/was speaking/had been speaking] [with/to] me [went forth/went out/came forward], and [said unto me/said],
[Lift up now thine eyes,/Look,] [and see/see] what [is this that/is] [goeth forth/leaving/is appearing].
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Goeth Forth
So, the action of this thing that the angel draws Zechariah’s attention to is one that describes going out or going forth. Leaving is another way to translate this.
So, the angel that has been leading Zechariah through all of these visions – who himself is described as one who “went forth” – now this angel turns his attention to something that is leaving. Leaving where?
Probably leaving the land of Israel.
Just like the scroll in the last vision was – I believe – local to the land of Israel. So now, this thing that’s leaving is leaving the land of Israel. It’s not leaving the whole world – we’ll see as this passage unfolds that it’s being sent out of Israel.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Zechariah Asks What It Is
Well, don’t you wonder what this thing is? Zechariah does too in verse 6.
6 [And I/I] [said/asked],
What is it?
And I think it’s amazing that even as Zechariah is looking at this thing, he can’t figure out what it is.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Angel Explains What It Is
And we’ve seen Zechariah express this kind of confusion before. But often, he’s been expressing that he wants to know the meaning behind what he’s seeing.
Yet, here in this passage, I think the prophet actually cannot identify what he’s seeing right in front of his face.
And so, the angel needs to explain it.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: A Basket
And so, as part of the explanation, the angel begins by noting the presence of a basket.
[And he/He] [said/replied],
[This is/It is] [an ephah/the ephah/a basket for measuring grain/a measuring basket/the measure (LXX)] [that goeth forth/going forth/that is moving away from here].
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Ephah
An ephah (that’s a transliterated Hebrew word) was a basket used for measuring something – usually grain. Now, it’s my understanding that an ephah would contain about 5 gallons.
In Ezekiel 45 the Lord mentions that an ephah ought to be 1/10th of something called a chomer. And a chomer is apparently about 55 gallons. One tenth of that is about 5 gallons.
[Pull out 5-gallon bucket…]
So, I believe that a container about the size of a 5-gallon bucket is what is in view here in this passage. For some reason, I always thought that this container was larger as I would read through these verses. But apparently this is about as small as this ephah is.
And the angel has something more to say about this measuring basket.
[He said moreover,/Again he said,/Moreover, he said,/And he added,/And he said,]
This is [their/the] [resemblance/appearance/‘eye’/iniquity of the people/iniquity] [through/in/throughout] [all the/the] [earth/land].
Now this is the part of the passage that I puzzled over most while studying for this message. What does this mean that the basket is “their” … “resemblance” … “through all the earth?” Those are the three key parts of this verse and – I believe – of the whole vision. If you get this, I think the rest of the vision unlocks for you.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Resemblance
So, the word translated by the KJV as “resemblance” is literally the Hebrew word that usually means “eye.” But in the KJV 11 times this word is translated as “fountain.” In fact, elementary Hebrew flashcards give two meaning for this word – the first is “eye” and the second is “fountain.”
Now, I’ll just mention it because I think it’s interesting and it explains why certain translatios might say something different than resemblance or appearance or eye – but the Septuagint and some other English version have translated this word in the KJV “resemblance” as “iniquity.” That’s because the Hebrew word behind this word looks fairly similar to the word “eye” in Hebrew. But the Hebrew itself is “eye” or “fountain.”
And the only way I could make sense of this passage is by translating this word not as “eye” or “resemblance” or “appearance” – but as “fountain.” As in the source of something and that sends forth something from itself.
So, “this is their fountain” is what the angel is saying.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Their
And the angel says that this basket is “their” “fountain.” Whose fountain is this?
Well, I think the nearest referent we have is from our last vision at the start of chapter 5 – the thief and the one who swears falsely by the Lord’s name. Remember them? The ones whose houses that giant scroll is going to enter and destroy when Jesus Christ reigns on earth? This group of individuals – sinners – have a fountain. They have – at least in this vision – a source from which their wickedness is derived and informed and encouraged and acted upon.
So, the source of these sinners’ actions and lifestyles is – in this vision – pictured as a basket.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Through all the earth
And this source of the sinners’ sins is found “through all the earth.” Or it could be translated as “in all the land” referring to the land of Israel. And I prefer that way of translating this because this basket is going to be taken – not out of the earth and into outer space somewhere – but it’s going to be taken out of the land of Israel.
So, this is the key to the whole vision. The angel explains to Zechariah that this basket is the source of the sin that’s committed by sinners in Israel.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Compared to the Last Vision
So, let’s compare what we’re seeing so far in this vision to what we saw in the last vision.
In the last vision we saw the promise of God to deal swiftly with the sins of sinners when Jesus Christ comes to reign on the earth in Jerusalem. That flying scroll will destroy those people immediately and completely. And so, that vision deals with striking the fruit of the tree of sin – the external manifestations of sin will be dealt with swiftly.
But what about the source of sin? What about – not the fruit of sin – but sin’s root? That’s what this vision is talking about now. The Lord is going to deal with the source of sin as well.
This basket is pictured in this vision as if it were the single source of sin in Israel. As if it were what is motivating sinners to commit their sins in the land of Israel.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: The Cover Lifted
Well, we go on in verse 7 to discover that this basket has a cover.
7 [And, behold,/Then] [there was lifted up a talent of lead/a lead cover was lifted up/a round lead cover was raised up/the cover of lead was raised/a talent of lead lifted up]:
So, there’s a talent – or a cover – that’s made of lead on top of this basket. Apparently, this is to keep in whatever is inside of this basket – this source of sin.
So, something very dangerous is inside of this basket. Even today when you go to the dentist and get an x-ray of your teeth, they will put a heavy apron on you to protect you from the dangerous x-rays that they’re shooting at your mouth. Do you know what’s inside of that apron that makes it so heavy? You guessed it – lead!
And so, apparently in this vision before mankind probably knew anything about radiation, here is God portraying the awful contaminating effects of sin as if it were radiation – and he’s containing those affects by means of lead.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: A Woman
Well, you wonder, what’s so dangerous in this basket that it needs to be held in with a lead cover as if it were toxic radiation? Continue in verse 7.
[and this is/revealing/and/and behold] a woman [that sitteth/sitting/sat] [in the midst of/inside/there in/in the midst of] the [ephah/basket/measure].
Now, I’ve already argued for the size of this ephah or basket. From my best understanding this is basically a five-gallon bucket. Question – how many full-grown women do you know that could fit inside of a five-gallon bucket? Answer – Full-grown women don’t fit inside of five-gallon buckets. Even if they’re sitting like this woman is.
So, that clues you into the fact that this woman is not a typical normal woman. It is a woman – and not a girl – and she’s intentionally small in this vision. I’m of the opinion that this is actually an idol because of her size and because of what we’re going to hear about her later on this in this passage.
So, a female idol is now revealed to be what’s so dangerous inside of this basket because it’s basically the source of sin in Israel.
And this makes some sense historically. What was it that Israel was tempted to do while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law? They were tempted to commit idolatry and they ended up doing just that. What was it that provoked God to anger to such a degree that he needed to send them out of the land of Israel? It was idolatry – among other things.
Idolatry played a huge role in every bad thing and every major calamity in Israel. It was the source of Israel’s sin.
And when we think about it, you commit idolatry any time to take the true God and move him out of the main focus of your life and replace him with something else. Most often I think we tend to replace him with ourselves – our thoughts, our goals, our desires. You go from serving the Lord to serving money or immorality or the easy life or the American Dream or even good things like your kids or your spouse. But all of that is idolatry because the Lord is not the one you’re serving.
Idolatry is deadly and dangerous. In this vision it needs to be contained within a basket with a protective lead cover.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Wickedness
So, if this basket and the miniature idol woman inside it is the fountain and source of the sins of all sinners in the land of Israel, then what does this woman symbolize? Answer – verse 8.
8 [And he/Then he/He then/He] said,
This [is/woman represents] [wickedness/iniquity].
So, this miniature woman represents wickedness. So, I think that she doesn’t represent only idolatry to the exclusion of other sins – but more broadly, she represents all wickedness. The heart of the source of every sin that sinners commit is wickedness.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Woman and Cover Thrown Back Into Place
And the angel is rightly disgusted by this display of wickedness personified and so he takes action in the rest of verse 8.
And he [cast/threw/pushed] [it/her] [into the midst of/into the middle of/into/back into] the [ephah/basket/measure];
and [he cast/cast/placed/pushed] the [weight of lead/lead weight/lead cover] [upon the mouth thereof/on its opening/on top/down over its mouth/on the mouth of it].
So, he throws wickedness back into the source of sin in the land of Israel and puts the cover back on.
I imagine that the angel is doing what I sometimes tend to do on garbage day. I come home and see that the garbage men have taken our garbage and oftentimes the cover to my garbage can is left open. And invariably as I approach the can and reach to close the lid, my nose is assaulted by an awful stench. And I am compelled almost involuntarily to slam that lid shut on that garbage can.
That’s the reaction of a holy angel to sin. Humans might want to sniff around as it were. We might even want to climb into that disgusting basket! But the holier we are, like this angel here, the less wickedness will appeal to us and the more it will offend our senses.
And yet even as believers we have this sin nature with us still that still loves to go dumpster diving. How sick. Wretched men that we are! But we can thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ who will one day deliver us totally from this body of death.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Two Women
Well, we have this kind of garbage can – the source of sinners’ sins in Israel. We have wickedness at the heart of this source.
I’ve compared this basket to a garbage can.
And so, now – if you’ll allow me to extend the metaphor – here come the garbage men in verse 9! Though, they’re not men at all…
9 [Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked,/Then I lifted up my eyes and looked/Then I looked again/Then I looked up/And I lifted up mine eyes] [and, behold,/and/and saw/and before me] there [came out two women/two women were coming out/two women going forth/two women/two women coming forth],
Now, these women are doing exactly what the curse-scroll earlier in this chapter was doing. It’s just what this basket in this vision was doing as well. They are “going out.”
Zechariah 5 Commentary: They’re Flying
Now, garbage men in our day have garbage trucks. But these women fly with birds’ wings!
[and/with] the wind [was in/in] their wings;
[for they/and they/they] had [wings like the wings of a stork/wings like those of a stork/stork’s wings]:
So, Zechariah is seeing two women that are coming out to “take out the trash” of sin from the land of Israel. And they’re being conveyed by two storks’ wings each.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: They Pick Up the Basket
And now finally these two women are – as it were – going to “take out the trash.”
and they lifted up the [ephah/basket/measure] between [the earth and the heaven/the earth and the sky/heaven and earth].
So, they lift up the source of sin in Israel and you would expect that they’re going to take it somewhere else.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Zechariah Asks Angel Where They’re Going
And that’s what Zechariah wonders about out loud to the angel that’s been leading him through these visions in verse 10.
10 [Then said I to/I said to/I asked/And I said to] the [angel/messenger] [that/who was] [talked/was speaking/spoke] [with/to] me,
[Whither/Where] [do/are] [these/they] [bear/taking/carry away] the [ephah/basket/measure]?
So, “Where are they taking the trash?” Zechariah asks.
Zechariah 5 Commentary: Angel Answers
And here’s the answer in verse 11 to end this vision.
11 [And he/Then he/He] [said unto me/said to me/replied],
To build [it an house/a temple for her/a house for it] in the land of [Shinar/Babylonia/Babylon]:
[and/when/and to] [it shall be established/it is prepared/it is finished/it is ready/prepare a place for it], [it = the house…]
[and/she will be/the basket will be] [she = the idol…] set there [upon/in] [her/its] own [base/pedestal/residence/place].
So, this is what compels me to think of that miniature woman in that five-gallon bucket as an idol. The two women are taking this source of sin for Israel and transporting her to Babylon – around modern-day Iraq.
And when they get her there, they’ll make an idol temple for her – a house for her. At this point in Israel’s history, the Lord’s temple was being constructed in Jerusalem. And so, this bucket of trash – idolatry, the source of sin in Israel – had to go.
But it would be gladly welcomed in Babylon where idolatry was rampant and accepted and, really, there was no alternative.
So, what do we have with this vision?
Well, the vision about the flying scroll last time informed Israel that in the future the Lord was going to deal with sin immediately and without delay.
And so, now this vision is something of a continuation of that one. But now the source of the sin that needs to be dealt with immediately is being deported from Israel. God is coming to dwell in their midst in the temple and he’s going to kick out all competition.
I think that’s what’s going on in this vision.
And next time we’ll see what I think is the last vision in this section.