By Edward Dennett
The visions in this chapter are more obscure, though sufficiently plain in their general import. Their subject is the judgment of the wicked in Israel in the last days, and the revelation of the true character, God's estimate, of that which claimed to be Israel, but which had really become an apostate nation. The first vision concerns individuals, and the second the people as a whole — the people in its outward public character, as distinguished from the remnant, hidden from man's eyes, but known to God and having, in fact, before Him the place of the nation.
"Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll. And he said unto me What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits." (vv. 1, 2.) The roll is the ordinary form of the ancient Hebrew books; and we accordingly read in Ezekiel, "An hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; and he spread it before me; and it was written within and without [i.e., on both sides]: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe." (Ezek. 2:9-10, compare Rev. 5:1) But the roll in Zechariah was, as may be seen from its dimensions, of no ordinary kind, being purely symbolic there — beheld as it was in prophetic vision. There are things connected with it demanding distinct notice. The first is its size — a feature which immediately attracts the prophet's attention. It was twenty cubits long and ten broad; and this was the exact size of the tabernacle in the wilderness, as may be gathered from the number and the width of the boards which composed it (Exodus 26:15-25); and it was also the size of the porch of Solomon's temple. (1 Kings 6:3.) These correspondencies cannot be accidental; on the other hand, they must have been designed, and hence they teach, either that the judgment proceeding would be according to the holiness of Jehovah's habitation in the midst of Israel, that He was about to weigh the conduct of the wicked in Israel in the balances of the sanctuary, or that judgment would begin at the house of God. (See Ezekiel 9:6.) In either case the holiness of the house, that is, the holiness of Him who dwells therein, according to the revelation of His name to His people, would be the standard of judgment.
The second point is the contents of the roll. The angel explaining, says to Zechariah, "This is the curse that goeth forth over the lace of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it." (v. 3.) It has been a question whether "the whole earth" is universal, or whether it should be rendered, as it might be, the whole "land." The expression in the next verse "that sweareth falsely by my name" would point rather to the latter interpretation; and thus the curse which was written in the roll was one pronounced upon the thieves and the perjurers in the midst of God's professing people — an inexorable curse; for it is to be remembered that the time spoken of is subsequent to the day of grace, and connected with the acting of Jehovah in the land just previous and preparatory to the establishment of Messiah's throne in righteousness. Hence all thieves and false swearers were surely to be cut off, according to the curse on the roll. But what a contradiction — that such open sinners should be found amongst the professing people of God! This is Satan's most successful effort — to introduce his servants among the Lord's people (see Jude), knowing as he does that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The very fact, however, that God Himself is compelled to step in and vindicate His name, and the holiness of His house, reveals a sad state of general declension. When the consciences of the saints are in exercise, and they are walking humbly before God, they are necessarily, as being in the enjoyment of fellowship with Him, intolerant of evil, and zealous to maintain His honour.
When, on the other hand, they are careless, and the word of God is no longer looked to as the guide of their path and conduct, a spurious charity ensues, discipline is neglected, and iniquity vaunts itself in the open light of day. Such a state of things constrains God, as in the case before us, to interpose that He may cause His people to hear the rod and who hath appointed it. This is an unchangeable principle of His acting, as, for example, we read in Ezekiel, after the details of the evil conduct of Israel in their captivity, "And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them." (See Ezekiel 36:17-23.)
Lastly, we are told that He who pronounces the curse will cause it to be executed. "I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof." (v. 4.) Well might the prophet Jeremiah say, "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord." (Jer. 23:24.) Thus in the cases before us the thief and the perjurer might flatter themselves that their iniquity was unknown, that they had succeeded in covering up from it all human eyes; and they might even be mixing with their neighbours without a known stain on their character. They might have gone further and said, "The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it." But "he that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?" (Psalm 94:7, 9.) Sooner or later all such are here warned that their false security will surely be disturbed, and that God's swift curse will enter their houses for their destruction. It does not follow, we apprehend, that the judgment here spoken of will of necessity be public or sudden. The language is peculiar — the curse enters, remains in their houses, and the houses are consumed. It would seem to be in the way of God's governmental dealing. Whether in this or in any other way, the lesson is the same, that sinners cannot harden themselves against the Lord and prosper, that His strong arm will as surely overtake them in judgment as that His eyes behold the secrets of their hearts; and thus with the arrival of the day of the Lord He will destroy the sinners out of His land. (Isaiah 13:9.)
The most cursory reader will not fail to notice the difference, in the ways of God in government, between the present time and that spoken of by the prophet. Now in this day of grace, wherein the gospel is proclaimed, God, while He does not give up any of His rights, does not always interpose in judgment, for He is not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should come to repentance. As soon, however, as this day closes, and when once again He begins to act in the earth in righteousness, He will then deal with sinners in the way unfolded to the prophet in this vision. It is necessary to understand these dispensational distinctions in order to read intelligently the Scriptures. It should, however, be added, to prevent misconception, that God does not pass by sin even in this day of grace. He waits upon and pleads with the sinner, to see if he will bow in repentance before Him, and receive, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, salvation; but should the sinner refuse to listen to the voice of God's love and mercy in the gospel, he will but aggravate his doom when judgment is finally executed. (See Romans 2:4-11.)
The next vision is more mysterious in its form and symbols, although its main significance is clearly seen. "Then the angel that talked with me went forth, and said unto me, Lift up now thine eyes, and see what is this that goeth forth. And I said, What is it? And he said, This is an ephah that goeth forth. He said, moreover, This is their resemblance through all the earth [or their look or aspect in all the land]. And, behold, there was lifted up a talent of lead: and this is a woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah. And he said, This is wickedness. And he cast it into the midst of the ephah; and he cast the weight of the lead upon the mouth thereof." (vv. 5-8.) This is the first part of the vision, the remaining verses comprising a distinct development, revealing the final consummation of the wickedness first seen among the Jews. And this may explain perhaps the term found so frequently in this chapter — "goeth forth" — a term indicating not only movement, but also, in relation to the subject of the visions, progress in or the development of evil. The beginnings, the germs, were visible in the days of Zechariah; and just as the apostle John speaks of many antichrists having already appeared and looks upon these as the certain precursors of the antichrist, so these germs are taken up in the vision as the foreshadowings of the complete manifestation of the evil which they go on to depict. The exact meaning of the ephah, beyond the fact that it was a measure in use among the Jews,1 is not revealed; but, in accordance with what has been said as to progress, its "going forth" would seem to point to the spread of evil throughout the land (Judea); and the fact that it was a known measure may signify that whatever its virulence and power the evil would be, in the government of God, confined within certain limits; or that there were determined bounds, beyond which the long-suffering of God would not pass. Our Lord speaks for example to the Jews, "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. "
The evil itself was personified by a woman sitting in the midst of the ephah. This is explained in verse 8: "This," said the angel, speaking of the woman, "is wickedness. And he cast it [i.e. the woman] into the midst of the ephah." So that the end of verse 7 gives the result of the action at the beginning of verse 8; that is, it is the angel who casts the woman (wickedness) into the midst of the ephah, and the prophet beholds her, as a consequence, sitting there. There is yet another action — the angel also "cast the weight of lead [probably the talent of lead named in verse 7] upon the mouth thereof" (of the ephah). A woman is a well-known symbol in Scripture for the expression of a system, sometimes personifying a nation — as, for example, the daughter of Zion and the daughter of Babylon — and sometimes, as in the Apocalypse, setting forth a religious organization. As an illustration of the latter meaning, we have the woman sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast, arrayed in every kind of human glory and grandeur. with her. name written upon her forehead, "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." (Rev. 17:5.) And we know from verse 18 of that same chapter that Rome — the Romish system, what we understand by the Papal religion — is presented under the form of this woman. This enables us at once to perceive, and the more certainly from the fact that she is sitting in the midst of a Jewish measure, that the woman of our chapter is the expression of organized wickedness among the Jews of the last days. Having rejected Christ, and, as He foretold, having received another who will have come in his own name, they will become the sport and prey, as well as the dwelling-place, of the seven wicked spirits of idolatry, and thus their last state will be worse than the first. (See Matt. 12:43-45.) This then is wickedness — an organized system of idolatry. She sits in the midst of an ephah, as indicating the Jewish character of her outward form and habitation; and her "sitting" (compare Rev. 17:3, 9, 15) sets forth the fact of her supremacy over the Jewish nation, that Judaism is the seat of her throne and government.
It is more difficult to seize the precise meaning of the casting the weight of lead upon the mouth of the ephah, but we judge that it points to the immense energy of the wickedness as contained in the ephah. The great weight of lead was cast upon its mouth; some severe repression exercised, it may be, in the way of government, rather than directly, to hinder further expansion and development; and yet, as the remaining part of the vision shows, the wickedness was irrepressible, and flowed out in its true form and character. In a similar way evil is restrained at the present moment, according to that word in 2 Thess. 2: "And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth, will let, until he be taken out of the way, And then shall that Wicked be revealed," etc. (vv. 6-8) In like manner the weight of lead may represent the restraint for a time of the power of the wickedness, symbolized by the woman, through human government, or by other means, confining it to the Jewish ephah until God permits it to overflow and reveal its true origin and habitation. If this be so, verses 9-11 may not follow as to time immediately upon verse 8, but may refer, as before suggested, to the full development of the wickedness which in an organized form had found a home in Judaism. This is the more probable, as there is a distinct break in the vision, if it be not indeed the commencement of a new, though intimately connected, one in verse 9, as shown by the words, "Then lifted I up mine eyes" — words which so frequently are used as introductory to a new subject. (See Zech. 2:1; 5 Zech.: 1, 5)
When the prophet had again lifted up his eyes, he says, I "looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah? And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base." (vv. 9-11) The primary feature of this vision is, that two women come out of the ephah where there had been but one; and, holding to the Scripture symbolism of the woman, the meaning will be, that two systems, united but distinct, are developed out of that which had been contained in the Jewish measure. Then it had a Jewish form as well as a Jewish home, but now its component parts are resolved into two, both of which are represented by a woman. And what are these? An examination of the state of the Jews, as unfolded in the Scriptures, leaves little doubt that they are the twin sisters, SUPERSTITION and INIFIDELITY. It was these our Lord Himself had to contend with in the form of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they are conjoined in their baleful work at this moment in the professing church, and nowhere more apparently than in Romanism, and they will be seen exercising all their frightful influence over the souls of men under the sway of the antichrist, who calls in superstition to his aid when he is permitted to make fire to come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men; and he avails himself of her sister infidelity when he opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or is worshipped.
Such are the two women that came out of the ephah; and then we are told that "the wind was in their wings, for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven." (v. 9.) The wings, we conceive, are merely a detail of the symbol, signifying perhaps rapidity of movement, — the wings of a stork being a figure derived from what often met the eye of the Jew in the annual departure of the storks from their country. The only point of importance to be noted is, that the wind was in their wings. When the disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee by night to go to Bethsaida, we are expressly told that "the wind was contrary unto them" (Mark 6), a figure doubtless of the fact that all the influences of this world, governed as it is by Satan, are against the Lord's people in their passage across the stormy sea of this life. On the other hand, that same wind always swells the sails of Satan's vessels, and we find accordingly in this prophetic vision that the wind was in the wings of these two symbolic women, teaching that all the influence and energy of this world were aiding them in their design. They were doing the work of Satan, and all his forces were therefore at their service. It is ever so, and this accounts for the fact that wicked men are often seen to succeed beyond all expectation in their enterprises. The wind is in their wings, bearing them aloft and onward to their goal.
Zechariah enquires, "Whither do these bear the ephah? And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it" (the house) "shall be established, and set there upon her own base."2 (vv. 10, 11) This answer of the angel reveals the whole truth of the vision and of the ephah. The ephah, as we have seen, represents a Jewish form of wickedness, an organized system of evil, but retaining the outward forms of Judaism. This produces, develops, the twin sisters of evil, superstition and infidelity; and these now lead on to full apostasy, and hence they are seen bearing the ephah to the land of Shinar, the place and the home of avowed opposition to God (see Genesis 11:2), where this incarnation of wickedness should have a house established, and be set upon her own base. The Jewish nation — that is to say, that which is publicly owned as such, although there will be a true remnant which will have this place before God — will become openly apostate, and will then be seen in its real Babylonish character. The fulfilment of all this will take place during the sway of the anti-christ, who will be an apostate Jew (Daniel 11:37) as well as the. denier of the Father and the Son. (1 John 2)
The reader will not fail to perceive the similarity in this to the course of Christianity. At the end of Rev. 3 Laodicea retains the name and the form of the church, but even then she corresponds with the woman sitting in the ephah; for Christ is outside. Rejected by Christ because she is lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, she progresses in evil with frightful rapidity until, in Rev. 17, she is seen to be Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. She has thus been borne, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and has had a house built for her in the land of Shinar. This is the final goal of Christendom, no less than that of Judaism. and there in the land of Shinar the two will probably coalesce. Mat solemn reflections rise up within our hearts as we behold the future both of Judaism. and Christendom, both alike having possessed the Scriptures; but, turning aside from the light of this sure and infallible guide, both alike fall under the terrible power of Satan, who, transforming himself into an angel of light in man's estimation, and appealing to man's pride and vanity, succeeds in leading both into the denial of all that they had once learned from the word of God. And it were easy, if this were the time and place, to point the reader to existing things which are the sure precursors of this open apostasy; for already the fundamental doctrines of Christianity are being ignored or denied, and man's wisdom and man's power are being vaunted above the wisdom and power of God. There was never more need therefore than at the present moment for the exhortation of the apostle — "Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning." (1 John 2:24). For the only safety of the believer in these perilous times lies in adhering in every particular to, in testing all things by, and in treasuring up in his heart, the word of the living God.
1) Its size even cannot be now ascertained. It is said, on the authority of Josephus, to have contained something over a bushel.
2) The last clause, "set there upon her own base," refers to "wickedness," as the previous one does to the house. This is shown by the difference in the genders of the words.