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Sixth Vision: The Flying Scroll


Again I looked up and saw a flying scroll. 2And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.” 3Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for everyone who steals shall be cut off according to the writing on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off according to the writing on the other side. 4I have sent it out, says the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name; and it shall abide in that house and consume it, both timber and stones.”

Seventh Vision: The Woman in a Basket

5 Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is coming out.” 6I said, “What is it?” He said, “This is a basket coming out.” And he said, “This is their iniquity in all the land.” 7Then a leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! 8And he said, “This is Wickedness.” So he thrust her back into the basket, and pressed the leaden weight down on its mouth. 9Then I looked up and saw two women coming forward. The wind was in their wings; they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and sky. 10Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they taking the basket?” 11He said to me, “To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it; and when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.”

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The angel shows in this chapter, that whatever evils the Jews had suffered, proceeded from the righteous judgment Of God; and then he adds a consolation — that the Lord would at length alleviate or put an end to their evils, when he had removed afar off their iniquity. Interpreters have touched neither heaven nor earth in their explanation of this prophecy, for they have not regarded the design of the Holy Spirit. Some think that by the volume are to be understood false and perverted glosses, by which the purity of doctrine had been vitiated; but this view can by no means be received. There is no doubt but that God intended to show to Zechariah, that the Jews were justly punished, because the whole land was full of thefts and perjuries. As then religion had been despised, as well as equity and justice, he shows that it was no wonder that a curse had prevailed through the whole land, the Jews leaving by their impiety and other sins extremely provoked the wrath of God. This is the import of the first part. And, then, as this vision was terrible, there is added some alleviation by representing iniquity in a measure, and the mouth of the measure closed, and afterwards carried to the land of Shinar, that is, into Chaldea, that it might not remain in Judea. Thus in the former part the Prophet’s design was to humble the Jews, and to encourage them to repent, so that they might own God to have been justly angry; and then he gives them reason to entertain hope, and fully to expect an end to their evils, for the Lord would remove to a distance and transfer their iniquity to Chaldea, so that Judea might be pure and free from every wickedness, both from thefts and acts of injustice, by which it had been previously polluted. But every sentence must be in order explained, that the meaning of the Prophet may be more clearly seen.

He says, that he had returned; 5454     Some, such as Piscator, Drusius, Dathius, Newcome, and Henderson, think that the verb [שוב] is used here adverbally, which is sometimes the case, and render the sentence, “And I lifted up mine eyes again.” The Septuagint, Jerome, and our version, have rendered it, “I turned,” that is, from one vision to another, or from one direction to another. “Returned” seems not so suitable.—Ed. and by this word this vision is separated front the preceding visions, and those also of which we have hitherto spoken, were not at the same time exhibited to the Prophet, but he saw them at different times. We may hence learn that some time intervened before the Lord presented to him the vision narrated in this chapter. He adds, that he raised up his eyes and looked; and this is said that we may know that what he narrates was shown to him by the prophetic Spirit. Zechariah very often raised up his eyes though God did not immediately appear to him; but it behaved God’s servants, whenever they girded themselves for the purpose of teaching, to withdraw themselves as it were from the society of men, and to rise up above the world. The raising up of the eyes then, mentioned by Zechariah, signified something special, as though he had said, that he was prepared, for the Lord had inwardly roused him. The Prophets also, no doubt, were in this manner by degrees prepared, when the Lord made himself known to them. There was then the raising up of the eyes as a preparation to receive the celestial oracle.

He afterwards adds, that he was asked by the angel what he saw. He might indeed have said, that a roll flying in the air appeared to him, but he did not as yet understand what it meant; hence the angel performed the office of an interpreter. But he says, that the roll was twenty cubits long, and ten broad. The Rabbis think that the figure of the court of the temple is here represented, for the length of the court was twenty cubits and its breadth was ten; and hence they suppose, that the roll had come forth from the temple, that there might be fuller reason to believe that God had sent forth the roll. And this allusion, though not sufficiently grounded, is yet more probable than the allegory of the puerile Jerome, who thinks that this ought to be applied to Christ, because he began to preach the gospel in his thirtieth year. Thus he meant to apply this number to the age of Christ, when he commenced his office as a teacher. But this is extreme trifling. I do not feel anxious to know why the length or the breadth is mentioned; for it seems not to be much connected with the main subject. But if it be proper to follow a probable conjecture, what I have already referred to is more admissible — that the length and breadth of the roll are stated, that the Jews might fully understand that nothing was set before them but what God himself sanctioned, as they clearly perceived a figure of the court of the temple.

The angel then says, that it was the curse which went forth 5555     “From the temple,” says Jerome; “from God,” says Drusius.
   On the previous words, “this is the curse,” Henderson makes the remark, that it is a similar phrase to “this is my body,” that is, signifies my body; which is a mode of speaking quite common in Scripture, and it is very strange that any should attach to the phrase any other meaning.—Ed.
over the face of the whole land. We must remember what I have just said, that God’s judgment is here set forth before the Jews, that they might know how justly both their fathers and themselves have been with so much severity chastised by God, inasmuch as they had procured for themselves such punishments by their sins. From the saying of the angel, that the roll went through the whole land, we learn, that not only a few were guilty, or that some corner of the land only had been polluted, but that the wrath of God raged everywhere, as no part of the land was pure or free from wickedness. As then Judea was full of pollutions, it was no wonder that the Lord poured forth his wrath and overwhelmed, as it were with a deluge, the whole land.

It afterwards follows, for every thief, or every one that steals, shall on this as on that side, be punished, or receive his own reward; and every one who swears, shall on this as on that side be punished. As to the words, interpreters differ with regard to the particles, מזה כמוה, mese camue; some take the meaning to be, “by this roll, as it is written;” others, “on this side of the roll, as on the other;” for they think that the roll was written on both sides, and that God denounced punishment on thieves as well as on perjurers. But I rather apply the words to the land, and doubt not but that this is the real meaning of the Prophet. As then there is no respect of persons with God, the Prophet, after having spoken of the whole land, says, that no one who had sinned could anywhere escape unpunished, for God would from one part to the other summon all to judgment without any exception. 5656     This is no doubt the best construction. Newcome retains our version instead of “on this side;” so does Marckius; but Henderson follows it in both instances. To render [נקה] “punished,” is not quite correct, though the general meaning is given. It means to be cleared or swept away, and so Henderson correctly renders it, “shall be cleared away.” See Isaiah 3:26; Jeremiah 30:11; 46:28. There is no necessity whatever for the emendation of Houbigant, who thinks that it ought to be [נקם]; nor for the conjecture of others, that it is put here for [נכה], “to be cut off.” Nor is Blayney’s version to be admitted, “because, on the one hand, every one that stealeth is as he that is guiltless,” for it is wholly inconsistent with the context. He regards it as a description of the state of things which the curse was to rectify.—Ed.

Now the Prophet says, that all perjurers, as well as thieves, shall be punished; and there is nothing strange in this, for God, who has forbidden to steal, has also forbidden to forswear. He is therefore the punisher of all transgressions. Those who think that this roll was disapproved, as though it contained false and degenerate doctrine, bring this reason to prove its injustice, that the thief is as grievously punished as the perjurer: but this is extremely frivolous. For, as I have said already, God shows here that he will be the defender of his law in whatever respect men may have transgressed it. We must therefore remember that saying of James,

“he who forbids to commit adultery, forbids also to steal: whosoever then offends in one thing is a transgressor of the whole law:” (James 2:11)

for we ought not simply to regard what God either commands or forbids, but we ought ever to fix our eyes on his majesty, as there is nothing so minute in the law which all ought not reverently to receive; for the laws themselves are not only to be regarded, but especially the lawgiver. As then the majesty of God is dishonored, when any one steals, and when any one transgresses in the least point, he clearly shows that the word of God is not much regarded by him. It is hence right that thieves and perjurers should be alike punished: yet the Scripture while it thus speaks, does not teach that sins are equal in enormity, as the Stoics in former times foolishly and falsely taught. But the equality of punishment is not what is here referred to; the angel means only, that neither thieves nor perjurers shall go unpunished, as they have transgressed the law of God.

We must also observe, that the mode of speaking adopted here is that of stating a part for the whole; for under the word theft is comprehended whatever is opposed to the duties of love; so that it is to be referred to the second table at the law. And the Prophet calls all those perjurers who profane the worship of God; and so perjury includes whatever is contrary to the first table of the law, and tends to pollute the service due to God. The meaning is, — that God, as I have said, will be the punisher of all kinds of wickedness, for he has not in vain given his law. Much deceived then are those who flatter themselves, as though by evasions they can elude the judgment of God, for both thieves and perjurers shall be brought before God’s tribunal, so that no one can escape, that is, no wickedness shall remain unpunished; for not in vain has he once declared by his own mouth, that cursed are all who fulfill not whatever has been written. (Deuteronomy 27:26.)

And the same thing the Prophet more clearly expresses in the following verse, where God himself declares what he would do, that he would cause the curse to go forth over the whole land; as though he had said, “I will really show, that I have not given the law that it may be despised; for what the law teaches shall be so efficacious, that every one who violates it shall find that he has to do, not with a mortal man, nor with sounds of words, but with the heavenly judge; I will bring forth the curse over the whole land.”

I have said, that the Prophet was instructed in the import of this vision, that all the Jews might know that it was nothing strange that they had been so severely chastised, inasmuch as they had polluted the whole land by their sins, so that no part of the law was observed by them; for on the one hand they had corrupted the worship of God and departed from true religion; and on the other, they distressed one another by many wrongs, and oppressed them by frauds. As then no equity prevailed among the people, nor any true religion, God shows that he would punish them all, as none were guiltless.

He afterwards adds, It shall come into the house of the thief, and into the house of him who swears in my name falsely; and there will it reside, and it shall consume the hoarse, both the wood and the stones. Here the Prophet further stimulates the Jews to repentance, by showing that the curse would so fly as to enter into all their houses; as though he had said, “In vain shall they, who deserve punishment, fortify or shut up themselves; for this curse, which I send forth, shall come to each individual, and with him it shall remain.” We know that hypocrites so flatter themselves, as though they could escape for the moment while God is angry and displeased; but the Prophet shows here that vain is such a hope, for the curse would overtake all the ungodly, and wholly overthrow them; yea, it would consume their houses, both the wood and the stones. In short, he intimates, that punishment ends not until men are reconciled to God. And by these words he reminds us how terrible it is to fall into the hands of God, for he will punish the ungodly and the wicked until he reduces them to nothing. We now then comprehend the design of the Prophet and the meaning of the words. It now follows —

Here I stop; I intended to add all the verses, but I can hardly finish the whole today. It will be enough for us to understand that this is the second part of the vision, in which the Prophet, in order to relieve or in some measure to mitigate the sorrow of the Jews, shows, that God would not treat them with extreme rigor, so as to punish them as they deserved, but would chastise them with paternal moderation. Hence he says, that a measure appeared to him and a woman in the measure. The woman was wickedness; 5757     Impietas; [הרשעה], rendered “wickedness” in our version, and by Newcome and Henderson; “the wicked one,” by Blayney; and [ανομια]—lawlessness, by the Septuagint. It is a general term, which means what is unjust, wrong, wicked or sinful, everything contrary to the will and command of God. Leigh renders the adjective “Ungodly, lewd, turbelent, wavering, irreligious towards God, debauched in morals, turbelent in the commonwealth, unsettled in all things.” So the noun here may be regarded as including sin universally, as committed against God and man. But Henderson thinks, and perhaps not without reason, that idolatry is what is especially intended, as the article [ה] is prefixed; and this had been the chief sin or wickedness of the people, the mother of many other sins: and this was certainly removed from the people after the Babylonian captivity, as they had never been since guilty of idolatry, though of many other sins.—Ed. there was also a covering of lead, a wide or an extended piece. The plate of lead was borne upwards when the woman was seen in the measure. He then says, that the measure was closed up, and that there impiety was kept hid as a captive in prison. He afterwards adds, that it was driven away into the land of Shinar, very far from Judea, and that wickedness was thus turned over to the enemies of the chosen people.

We see that God, as I have already noticed, gives here a token of favor; for he says that wickedness was shut up in a measure. Though then he had spoken hitherto severely, that he might shake the Jews with dread, it was yet his purpose soon to add some alleviation: for it was enough that they were proved guilty of their sins, that they might humble themselves and suppliantly flee to God’s mercy, and also that repentance might really touch them, lest they should murmur, as we know they had done, but submit themselves to God and confess that they had suffered justly. Since then the angel had already shown that the curse had deservedly gone over the face of the whole land, because no corner was free from wickedness, the angel now adds, that he came to show a new vision, Raise, he says, now thine eyes, and see what this is which goes forth. The Prophet was no doubt cast down with fear, so that he hardly dared to look any longer. As then the curse was flying and passing freely here and there, the Prophet was struck with horror, and not without reason, since he beheld the wrath of God spreading everywhere indiscriminately. This is the reason why the angel now animates him and bids him to see what was going forth. And he tells what was exhibited to him, for he saw a measure; which in Hebrew is איפה, aiphe: 5858     It is translated “[μετρόν]—measure,” by the Septuagint, and “modius—a bushel,” by Grotius; and he says that an ephah was a measure nearly the size of a bushel.—Ed. and some render it measure or bushel; others, firkin or cask; but in this there is no difference. When the Prophet saw this measure, he asked the angel what it was: for the vision would have been useless, had he not been informed what the measure and the woman sitting in it signified, and also the lead covering. He therefore asked what they were.

Then the angel answered, This is the measure that goes forth, and this is their eye in all the earth. By saying that the measure is their eye, he no doubt means that the ungodly could not thus be carried away at their own pleasure, but that God restrained them whenever it seemed good to him; for they could not escape his sight. For by their eyes he understands passively the power of seeing in God, by which he notices all the sins of the ungodly, that he may check them when he pleases, when they hurry on without restraint. 5959     Respecting this “eye” there are various opinions. Newcome and Blayney follow the Septuagint and the Syriac, and render it, “their iniquity,” [עונם]; the difference being only of a vau instead of a iod; and there is one MS. in which it is so found. Then the sentence would be “This is their iniquity in all the land.” But Castalio, Grotius, Dathius, and Henderson follow the received text, only they give to [עיז] a similar meaning to that of our version, — form, appearance, resemblance, or emblem, that is, what is seen, what the eye observes; and this sense it evidently has in Leviticus 13:55; Numbers 11:7; Proverbs 23:31; Ezekiel 1:4,7,16. “The meaning is,” says Grotius, “that which thou seest symbolizes those things which the Jews have done and which they have suffered.”—Ed.

But that the meaning of the Prophet may be made more clear, let us first see what wickedness means, — whether it is to be taken for those sins which provoked God’s wrath against the Jews, — or whether for those wrongs which heathen enemies had done. The last is the view I prefer, though if we take it for the wickedness which had previously reigned in Judea, the meaning would not be unsuitable. For as wickedness is hateful to God, his vengeance against the Jews could not have ceased except by cleansing them from their sins, and by renewing them by his Spirit. For they had carried on war with him in such a way, that there was no means of pacifying him but by departing from their sins. And whenever God reconciles himself to melt, he at the same time renews them by his Spirit; he not only blots out their sins, as to the guilt, but also regenerates those who were before devoted to sin and the devil, so that he may treat them kindly and paternally.

With regard then to the subject in hand, both views may be suitably adopted. We may consider the meaning to be, — that God would take away iniquity from Judea by cleansing his Church from all defilements, since the Jews could not partake of his blessing except iniquity were driven afar off and banished. As God then designed to be propitious to his people, he justly says, that he would cause wickedness to disappear from the midst of them. Yet the other view, as I have said, is more agreeable to the context, — that wickedness would not be allowed freely to prevail as before; for we know that loose reins had been given to the cruelty of their enemies, inasmuch as the Jews had been exposed to the wrongs of all. As then they had been so immoderately oppressed, God promises that all unjust violence should be driven afar off and made to depart into the land of Shinar, that is, that the Lord would in turn chastise the Babylonians and reward them as they had deserved. The import of the whole is, that God, who had chosen the seed of Abraham, would be propitious to the Jews, so as to put an slid at length to their calamities.

Now the Prophet says that wickedness, when first seen, was in mid air, and in a measure; but at the same time he calls the measure the eye of the ungodly, for though wickedness extends itself to all parts, yet God confines it within a hidden measure; and this he designates by eyes, whereby he seems to allude to a former prophecy, which we have explained. For he had said that there were seven eyes in the stone of the high priest, because God would carry on by his providence the building of the temple. So also he says, that God’s eyes are upon all the ungodly, according to what is said in the book of Psalms —

“The eyes of the Lord are over the wicked, to destroy their memory from the earth.”
(Psalm 34:17.)

And this mode of speaking often occurs in Scripture. The meaning then is, that though wickedness spreads and extends through the whole earth, it is yet in a measure; but this measure is not always closed up. However this may be, still God knows how to regulate all things, so that impiety shall not exceed its limits. And this is most true, whatever view may be taken; for when enemies harass the church, though they may be carried along in the air, that is, though God may not immediately restrain their wrongs, they yet sit in a measure, and are ruled by the eyes of God, so that they cannot move a finger, except so far as they are permitted. Let us in a word know, that in a state of things wholly disordered, God watches, and his eyes are vigilant, in order to put an end to injuries. The same also may be said when God gives up to a reprobate mind those who deserve such a punishment; for though he cast them away, and Satan takes possession of them, yet this remains true — that they sit in a measure. They are not indeed shut in; but we ought not, as I have said, to suppose that God is indifferent in heaven, or that sins prevail in the world, as though he did not see them; for his connivance is not blindness. The eyes of God then mark and observe whatever sins are done in the world.

Now the angel adds, that a thin piece of lead was cast over the mouth of the measure, and that wickedness was cast into the measure. The expression, that wickedness was thrown into the measure, may be explained in two ways — either that God would not permit so much liberty to the devil to lead the Jews to sin as before; for how comes it that men abandon themselves to every evil, except that God forsakes them, and at the same time delivers them up to Satan, that he may exercise his tyranny over them? or, that a bridle would be used to restrain foreign enemies, that they might not in their wantonness oppress the miserable people, and exercise extreme violence. God, then, intending to deliver them from their sins, or to check wrongs, shuts up wickedness, as it were, in a measure; and then he adds a cover; and it is said to have been a thin piece, or a weight of lead, because it was heavy; as though the Prophet had said, that whenever it pleased God iniquity would be taken captive, so that it could not go forth from its confinement or its prison. It afterwards follows —

The Prophet says here that such would be the change of things, that God would in turn afflict the Chaldeans, who had so cruelly treated the chosen people. And this is the reason why I think that iniquity is to be taken for the violent injustice and plunder which heathen enemies had exercised towards the Jews. For when he says that a house would be for iniquity in the land of Shinar, it is as though he had said, “as Judea has been for a long time plundered by enemies, and has been exposed to their outrages, so the Chaldeans in their turn shall be punished, not once, nor for a short time, but perpetually; for God will fix a habitation for wickedness in their land.” We hence see the design of the vision, that is, that when God had mercy on his Church its enemies would have to render an account, and that they would not escape God’s hand, though he had employed them to chastise his people.

He says then, that wickedness was taken away, that a house might be made for it, that is, that it might have a fixed and permanent dwelling in the land of Shinar, which means among the Chaldeans, who had been inveterate enemies to the Jews; and as Babylon was the metropolis of that empire, he includes under it all the ungodly who opposed or persecuted the children of God. Why God represents the measure as carried away by women rather than by men does not appear to me, except it was that the Jews might know that there was no need of any warlike preparations, but that their strongest enemies could be laid prostrate by weak and feeble instruments; and thus under the form of weakness his own power would be made evident. The Prophet saw women with wings, because sudden would be the change, so that in one day, as we shall presently see, wickedness was taken away. By the wings of a stork either celerity or strength is indicated. This is the sum of the whole. 6060     Henry, Marckius, and Scott, and also Newcome, take a different view of this vision, and consider it as symbolizing the final destruction of the Jews by the Romans. The woman, according to them, represents the apostate people, the two women who carried the measure the Roman armies, the land of Shinar the land of their dispersion, so called on account of their first captivity. Henderson regards the vision as symbolic of the banishment of the sin of idolatry from the land of Israel. “In this striking hieroglyphic,” he says, “we are taught how idolatry, with all its accompanying atrocities, was removed from the land of the Hebrews, which it had desecrated, to a country devoted to it, and where it was to commingle with its native elements, never to be reimported into Canaan. How exactly has the prediction been fulfilled! From the time of the captivity to the present, a period of more than 2000 years, the Hebrewpeople have never once lapsed into idolatry!”
   This seems to be the most satisfactory view; and I would adopt the reading of the Septuagint and the Syriac, taking [עונם] to be [עונם], not “their eye,” or, “their appearance,” but “their iniquity,” and I would render verse 8 somewhat different from others, as having been spoken by the angel while he was casting the woman into the ephah. I give the following version of the sixth, seventh, and eighth verses,—


   6. And I said, “What is it?” And he said, “This is an ephah that is going forth:” he said also, “That (pointing to a woman)

   7. is their iniquity through the whole land. And, behold, a talent of lead was lifted up, and a woman was sitting in the midst of the ephah: and he said, “This is the wicked one,” when he cast her into the midst of the ephah, and cast the leaden weight on its mouth.

   “What is it?” signifies here, What does it mean? for the Prophet of course knew it to be an ephah. [זאת] repeated is to be rendered “this” and “that.” See 1 Kings 3:23. The “two women” who carried away the ephah were probably, as Newcome observes, “mere agents in the symbolic vision,” not designed to set forth anything in particular; but Grotius and Henderson think that they designated the Assyrian and the Babylonian powers, through whom idolatry had been removed from the land of Canaan.—Ed.