Zechariah 5. God Purifies His People and their Land

The first five visions of Zechariah bring promises of blessing to Israel – the defeat of their enemies, the expansion of Jerusalem, its establishment as the city of the Messiah, the spiritual revival of the people of God, and the fulfilment of their divine calling as the leading people among the nations. But before the dawning of this time of blessing, God must protect His holiness by eradicating sin in Israel, thereby sanctifying them and making them worthy to inherit the promise of His coming and divine presence in Jerusalem. In the last three visions, blessing and judgement go hand in hand, as is often the case in biblical prophecies. The Messiah’s blessed reign of peace and righteousness is announced, but that can only be realised after a thorough cleansing of the remnant of Israel.

The flying scroll (5:1-4)

Zechariah said: “I see a flying scroll. Its length is 20 cubits and its width is 10 cubits. Then [the angel] said to me: This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth: every thief shall be expelled, according to what is on the side of the scroll; and, every perjurer shall be expelled, according to what is on the side of it. I will send out the curse, says the LORD of hosts; it shall enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by My Name. It shall remain in the midst of his house and consume it” (5:2-4).

The scroll was not rolled up but spread out so it could be read on both sides. It was the exact size of the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 26:15-25), thereby suggesting that the judgements contained on the scroll were in harmony with God’s holy presence in the midst of Israel. In their former theocratic government, God ruled over His people by way of the tabernacle service, and will therefore also judge and purify the disobedient nation. The suspended position of the scroll as flying, indicate rapid entrance into and judgement on the houses of thieves and perjurers.

That the scroll had writing on both sides is reminiscent of the two tablets of the law (Ex. 32:15). The curse of the scroll is directed towards violators of the middle command of each of the two tablets – the eighth command against stealing (Ex. 20:15) and the third command against swearing falsely by misusing the Name of the Lord (Ex. 20:7). Thus the specified objects of the curse represent all those who violate the Law of God. Judgement will begin among the people of God, in Israel (Dan. 9:11). The Lord says: “The land is full of adulterers; for because of a curse the land mourns… Both prophet and priest are profane, yes, in My house I have found their wickedness, says the LORD” (Jer. 23:10-11).

The statement that the curse goes out over the face of the whole earth indicates that, during the coming tribulation period, the wrath of God will be poured out over all the wicked people everywhere – not only in Israel. Isaiah says: “Behold, the LORD makes the earth empty and makes it waste, distorts its surface and scatters abroad its inhabitants… The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burnt, and few men are left… They are gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison; after many days they will be punished” (Isa. 24:1,5-6,22).

Awful days of judgement, testing and refining lie ahead for this nation: “Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7). Zechariah says that because of the severe wickedness of Israel only a third of them will survive the coming wrath of God, and the remnant will then be refined and saved (13:8-9). They will inherit the restored kingdom of Israel and the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem: “The LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously” (Isa. 24:23). John says: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

Israel and the nations are presently living in the dispensation of grace during which the saving grace of the Messiah is proclaimed to all people – also to Israel: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30-31). At the end of the dispensation of grace there will be a time of judgement for the unbelievers among all nations. Daniel prepared the Jews against the tribulation period by way of a message received from an angel: “There will be a time of anguish for the Jews greater than any previous suffering in Jewish history. And yet every one of your people whose names are written in the Book will endure it” (Dan. 12:1; Living Bible). The Messiah also warned against this time: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved” (Matt. 24:21-22).

The woman in the ephah (5:5-11)

While the previous vision was concerned with removing sinners from the community, this vision explains the removal of a wicked religious organisation to its place of origin. Zechariah saw a woman called Wickedness who was inside a basket, or ephah, which had a lead cover. An ephah was the largest dry measure used in Jewish households. Estimates of its volume range from 25 to 50 litres. Since this would be much too small a container to enclose a woman, the ephah was apparently greatly enlarged in the vision, as the scroll was in the previous vision.

The woman symbolises the corporate wickedness, or iniquity, in the land of Israel and in the world. She is a mother organisation, or ecumenical body, of all the false religions of the world that have their common origin in Babylon, in the land Shinar (the present Iraq). The Messianic Jewish prophet John described this woman in a vision that he had about the coming day of the Lord:

“Come, I will show you the judgement of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus… And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:1-6,18).

This woman, Mystery Babylon, will again take on a corporate identity in the end-time. She will emerge as a multireligious organisation which promotes all sorts of antichristian wickedness, being completely hostile towards the Triune God of the Bible – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Once she is representative of all the antichristian religions she will embody the full measure of wickedness and be relocated to her place of origin in Babylon.

Zechariah says: “Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were two women, coming with the wind in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. So I said to the angel who talked with me, Where are they carrying the basket? And he said to me, To build a house for it in the land Shinar; when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base” (5:9-11).

The two women with wings like a stork are clearly part of the wicked religious organisation, since the stork to which they are likened is an unclean bird. They represent demonic forces, and the wind in their wings indicate that they will be in a hurry to take Mystery Babylon back to where she belongs in Shinar – the land of Babylonia. This is the place of Israel’s exile in Old Testament times, and also the major site of ancient and end-time idolatry and rebellion against God (Gen. 11:2; Rev. 17:3-5). Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say: “This lends support to the view that the city of Babylon on the Euphrates River will be rebuilt.”

Scripture makes it clear that Jerusalem and Babylon will both play a major role in the end-time. Jerusalem will be fully restored as the political and religious centre of the saved Israeli nation. The Messiah, as Priest-King, will rule the world from the throne of David. Zechariah says that the inhabitants of Jerusalem will be cleansed from all their sin and iniquity, and the land will also be purified of all traces of idolatry (13:1-2). The unclean spirits that are vested in a great number of false religions will depart from the land. They will, in great hurry, return to Babylon where they will strongly identify with the Antichrist in his bid to dominate the entire world, to destroy Israel and to kill all people who believe in the Messiah, Jesus.

During the coming tribulation period, which is also described as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7), the Babylonian alliance of false religions (the woman called Wickedness) will be the bride of the Antichrist and enjoy great privileges during his reign. However, this marriage will be short-lived as the Antichrist and his co-rulers will execute the woman when her role is played out: “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the prostitute, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (Rev. 17:16).

Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say the following about the sudden end of this wicked woman: “Revelation 17 closes with the dramatic destruction of the woman. It would seem to occur at the midpoint of the seven years of tribulation when the Antichrist will assume the role of world dictator. When this ruler in the Middle East takes on worldwide political power, he will also assume the place of God and demand that everyone worship him (Dan. 11:36-38; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:8). The false religion which characterised the first half of the tribulation period is thus brought to an abrupt end. It will be replaced by the final form of world religion, which will be the worship of the Antichrist as God.” Paul also indicated that he will enter the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thess. 2:4). Those who refuse to worship him as God will be executed (Rev. 13:15).

A remnant of Israel will be among those who will refuse to worship the false messiah when he profanes the sanctuary, declares himself to be God, and places an abominable image of himself in the Holy of holies. Jesus warned them against this event: “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… for then there will be great tribulation” (Matt. 24:15-21).

At the end of the great tribulation when the true Messiah returns to Jerusalem, the false messiah and his powers all over the world will be destroyed. The judgements of God will proceed from Jerusalem to all the corners of the earth. Babylon, the stronghold of the false messiah and his alliance of false religions, will be permanently destroyed by the wrath of God. The woman who will be taken to Shinar will, according to the plan of God, be taken to her place of destruction. When the Messiah will rule from Jerusalem, all traces of her will have been removed.