Zechariah 5:1-11

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2014-03-01 10:28.

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Zechariah’s attention appears to have been drawn to another vision. He “turned” and, upon raising his eyes, saw a “flying scroll.” According to the Septuagint, he saw a “flying sickle.” Possibly the Septuagint translator read the Hebrew word megilláh (“scroll” [a roll anciently made from papyrus or leather, the surface of which was used for writing a document]) as maggál (“sickle”). (5:1)

The angel who had been Zechariah’s guide and interpreter said to him, “What are you seeing?” He replied, “I see a flying scroll [sickle [LXX]). Its length [is] 20 cubits and its breadth 10 cubits.” Zechariah must have had a mental picture of a 20-cubit length, for that was the width of the temple that had been destroyed but was then to be rebuilt. (1 Kings 6:2) It is likely that Zechariah had often been at the site of the temple, and so it would have been comparatively easy for him to determine that the scroll was 20 cubits (c. 30 feet; over 9 meters) long and 10 cubits (c. 15 feet; over 4.5 meters) wide. (5:2)

The angel probably anticipated Zechariah’s wanting to know the significance of what he saw and said to him, “This [is] the curse that goes out over the face of all the earth.” In flight, the scroll could pass over the whole land and bring a curse of punishment upon those who merited it. With apparent reference to one side of the scroll, the angel revealed that, “according to it” or according to the words written thereon, everyone who steals is “cleared” (naqáh). Then apparently regarding the other side of the scroll, he indicated that, “according to it,” everyone who swears falsely is “cleared” (naqáh). (5:3)

The Hebrew verb naqáh usually means to be innocent, exempt from punishment, or free from guilt. In the context of the curse, the sense could be that the curse would catch up with anyone who had escaped punishment for theft or swearing falsely. The lawless one would not remain free from punishment, for a person’s disobedience to God’s commands led to being cursed. (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68) According to the Septuagint rendering, the thief and the perjurer “will be punished unto death.” (5:3; see the Notes section.)

It appears that the two transgressions — stealing and swearing falsely — are representative of serious sins. The two sides of the scroll seemingly parallel the two tablets of stone on which the “Ten Commandments” were written and which contained both commands. Not taking up God’s name in vain included not misusing it as when swearing falsely in his name. (Exodus 20:7) This command would have appeared on one tablet, and the command not to steal (Exodus 20:15) would have appeared on the other tablet. (5:3)

“YHWH of hosts” (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels in his service, is represented as declaring that he would send forth the scroll or the curse. It would then enter the house of the thief and the house of the one swearing falsely in his name. As the curse would stay in the house, it would consume it entirely — both “its timbers and its stones.” (5:4)

To prepare Zechariah for another vision, the angel who had been speaking to him “came forth” or approached and told him to raise (“look up with” [LXX]) his eyes. He would then see the thing that “is going forth.” (5:5)

At this point, the prophet appears to have seen an object coming into view, and he asked the angel, “What [is] it?” The angel explained that it was the “ephah” (a container holding a quantity equal to an ephah [about 20 dry quarts or 22 liters]; a “measure” [LXX] or a container for measuring a quantity). Regarding this object, the angel continued, “This [is] their eye in all the earth” or land. The Septuagint rendering is, “This [is] their injustice [adikía] in all the earth.” (5:6)

In Hebrew, the letters yod (Y) and waw (W) are very similar. If the consonant yod in the Hebrew designation for “eye” (‘áyin) is replaced with a waw, the word is changed to ‘avón, meaning “iniquity” or “guilt.” This would explain the Septuagint rendering adikía, which may be translated “injustice,” “wrongdoing,” “unrighteousness,” or “iniquity.” The Vulgate, however, agrees with the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It contains the word oculus (“eye”). The Hebrew word ‘áyin can also mean “appearance,” as in Numbers 11:7. If ‘áyin is the original reading, possibly the meaning is that the container, including its contents, had a certain look or appearance identifying it as to what it was. The Septuagint rendering indicates that the container used for measuring represents the injustice, guilt, or iniquity of the people in “all the earth” or, in a more restrictive sense, of the people in Jerusalem and the land of Judah. (5:6)

Zechariah next saw a lead “round,” “oval,” or cover (a “talent of lead” [c. 75.5 pounds avdp., c. 91.75 pounds troy; over 34 kilograms], LXX) being raised from the container or ephah measure. A woman was sitting inside thereof. Based on what the angel did afterward (verse 8), he may have been the one who lifted the lid, making it possible for the prophet to see the woman who appears to have begun raising her head above the container. (5:7)

After identifying the woman as “Wickedness” or “Lawlessness” (LXX), the angel tossed her back into the ephah container. He then tossed the lead weight upon its “mouth” or its opening. According to the wording of the Septuagint, the angel threw the “stone of lead into” the woman’s “mouth.” (5:8)

Zechariah raised his eyes and saw “two women coming forth.” Their approach seems to have been swift, for they are described as having “wind in their wings.” Their wings were like those of “the stork, and they lifted up the ephah [container] between the earth and the heaven,” or between the land and the sky. That two women were the agencies that transported “Wickedness” (represented as a woman) may serve to indicate that wickedness or lawlessness should not to be regarded as an attribute linked particularly to women. There was no place for wickedness or lawlessness in the land of God’s people, and it needed to be taken away as quickly as possible as by the rapid flight of storks. With the aid of the rising air in thermals, storks will soar high enough to be able to leave a thermal and then to glide. With a minimum of wing flapping, they can then glide at speeds of over 40 miles per hour (nearly 70 kilometers per hour). (5:9; see the Notes section.)

Zechariah asked the angel where the women were taking the ephah [container]. Possibly as did storks when returning to their breeding grounds on their migratory flight over the land of Judah, the prophet saw the two women flying northward. The initial northerly direction would have been the usual route merchants and armies followed to the “land of Shinar” or Babylon mentioned in the next verse, for they avoided traveling eastward through many miles of inhospitable desert. (5:10)

Answering Zechariah’s question, the angel told him that a “house” would be built for the “ephah” container (“measure” [LXX]; a container for measuring a quantity) in the “land of Shinar” (“land of Babylon” [LXX]). When this house would be ready, the container would be deposited there on its fixed place. (5:11)

From very early times, the land of Shinar, with Babylon as the principal city, was known as a place of rebellion against God. (Genesis 10:8-10; 11:1-9) Through his prophets, YHWH revealed that Babylon would become a desolate location without any human inhabitant. Babylon would be transformed into a haunt for wild animals. (Isaiah 13:19-22; Jeremiah 50:1-3) So it would be fitting for “Wickedness” or “Lawlessness” to be permanently confined in a desolate area, far away from the “holy” or clean land where those whom YHWH recognized as his people resided. (5:11)


Modern translations commonly do not render the Hebrew word naqáh (in verse 3) according to its literal meaning “be emptied,” “leave unpunished,” “be exempt from punishment,” or “be held innocent.” “This is the curse that is gong out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished [naqáh], and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished [naqáh].” (NIV) “This is the curse which goes out over the whole land; for according to the writing on one side every thief will be swept away [naqáh], and according to the writing on the other every perjurer will be swept away [naqáh].” (REB) “The writing on one side tells about the destruction [naqáh] of those who steal, while the writing on the other side tells about the destruction [naqáh] of those who lie.” (CEV)

In verse 9, the Hebrew word for “stork” is chasidháh, which designation is related to the noun chésed, meaning “graciousness,” “enduring loyalty,” “steadfast love,” and “mercy.” The kind of compassionate care and enduring loyalty associated with chésed can apply to the stork. Breeding pairs of white storks have commonly been thought to mate for life and do exceptionally well in caring for their young. According to more recent observations, however, white storks may change mates after returning from migration and do not migrate with their mates. The male storks arrive first at the breeding sites and generally return to the same nest.

The Septuagint rendering is épops, the “hoopoe.” In the Vulgate, the reference is to the kite (miluus). Neither one of these birds fits the context as well as does the stork.