The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah/Chapter 07
THE SIXTH VISION
THE FLYING ROLL
(Chapter V. 1–4)
Then again I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, 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 ten cubits. Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole land: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off on the one side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off on the other side according to it. I will cause it to go forth, saith Jehovah 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 abide in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof.
THE first five visions are indeed prophecies " of Hope and of Glory." They abound, as we have seen, in most glorious promises of restoration and enlarge ment, of temporal and spiritual prosperity and blessing promises which, in their full and exhaustive sense, are yet to be fulfilled, when " Jehovah shall arise and have mercy upon Zion," and yet again " choose Israel."
But before that longed-for day of blessing can at last come; before the beautiful symbolism of the fifth vision shall at last be realised, and Israel's restored candlestick shall once again, and in greater splendour and purity than ever before, shed abroad the light of Jehovah throughout the millennial earth both the land and people must be cleansed from everything that defileth, or worketh abomina tion, or maketh a lie. This is the import of the dark episode unfolded in the two visions in the 5th chapter, which we are now to consider.
The God of Israel has two methods in dealing with sin and removing iniquity, both of which are in perfect accord with the absolute holiness of His character. One of these methods the one He delights in is the method of grace. This is beautifully unfolded in the 3rd chapter, where we are shown how that, on the ground of His sovereign immutable " choice " (ver. 2), and because of the full atone ment and perfect righteousness accomplished by His Righteous Servant, " The Branch," the iniquity of that land shall be removed " in one day," and repentant Israel (upon whom the Spirit of grace and supplication shall in that day be poured) shall be cleansed from all defilement (as signified by the removal of the " filthy garments ") and clothed in " rich apparel," and with the " fair," or " clean," mitre on his head, on which the words Qodesh la- Yehovah " Holy to Jehovah " are graven, shall be fitted to go forth among the nations as the priests of Jehovah and the ministers of our God.
But what about those who persist in their wickedness, and, in spite of the marvellous display of God's grace, " will not learn righteousness," but continue even " in the land of uprightness " (as Immanuel's land shall then be called) " to deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of Jehovah"
(Isa. xxxvi. 10)? With them God's method is that of judgment. Sin must be purged away, iniquity must be stamped out in the city of God; and when the sinner is so wedded to his sin that he is no longer separable from it, he becomes the object of God's curse, and must be " cleansed away " from the earth. In short, then, the two visions in chap. v. give us the reverse side of the truth unfolded in the first four chapters.
They show us that if there is grace and forgiveness with God, it is not in order to encourage men to think lightly of sin, but that " He might be feared " (Ps. cxxx. 4). They also take us, so to say, a step backward, and show us that, before the glorious things symbolically set forth in the first five visions will finally be fulfilled, a period of moral dark ness and corruption, and of almost universal apostasy, was yet to intervene.
The Flying Roll
But now for a brief exposition of the sixth vision.
The prophet having for a season been absorbed in meditation on the wonderful things which had been pre sented to him in the last vision, " turns " himself, his attention being very probably called anew by the inter preting angel and, lifting up his eyes, sees a roll twenty cubits in length and ten cubits in breadth flying in the air.
On addressing a silent look of inquiry to his angelic instructor as to the meaning of this strange sight he is told, " This is the curse that goeth forth over the whole land," etc.
The r&o, megillah, " roll " or " scroll," as the emblem of a message or pronouncement of solemn import from God to man, is used in other scriptures. Thus, in Ezek. ii. 9, 10 we find a strikingly parallel passage: " And I looked, and behold an hand was put forth unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book (megillath sepher] was therein; and he spread it before me, and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe"
The megillah which Zechariah beheld was also " spread " out, or open, else its dimensions could not have been seen; and it also was written " within and without," as may be gathered from the words " on this side and on the other side, according to it" which I take to be the most satisfactory rendering of the Hebrew mizzeh kamoah, which is twice repeated in ver. 3.
The same was true of the tables of the law, of which the same words are used to describe the fact that " they were written on both sides: on the one side and on the other ( "W21 nnp, mizzeh-u-mizzeK) were they written " (Ex. xxxii. I 5).
What was written on this roll may be gathered from the words, " This is the curse" ha-alah (answering to the " lamentations and mourning and woe " of Ezekiel's megillali} which might refer to the awful catalogue of curses which Moses foretold would come upon Israel in case of their disobedience, recorded in Deut. xxviii. 15-68, and which in chap. xxx. I of the same book are spoken of in the singular as " the curse"
But it seems to me more satisfactory to regard the word as describing in a more general way the curse which the law as a whole contains within itself the sequel, so to say, to the breaking its commands expressed in a solemn sentence:
"Cursed be Jie tJiat confirmeth not the words of this law to do them."
It is true that only two transgressions are here specified for which their perpetrators are to be pursued and over taken by the curse namely, perjury and theft; but these two are most probably mentioned as samples and sum maries of the whole. For the expression " everyone that sweareth " must be understood as explained in the 4th verse, as " swearing falsely by the Name of Jehovah" and is thus a violation of the Third Command, which is found in the first table of the law which summarises man's duty to God; and " everyone that stealeth " breaks the Eighth Commandment, which is found on the second table, which summarises man's duty to his neighbour. So that Baumgarten and Hengstenberg are not far wrong when they write that one side of the roll contained the judgments of God against the transgressors of the Command, " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might"; and on the other the judgments against the transgressors of the Command, " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
Against all such the megillah, with its awful contents, " gpeth forth" being set in motion (as we see from the 4th verse) by " Jehovah of hosts "; and is therefore seen " fly ing " that is, travelling rapidly over the whole land, and signifying the swiftness with which the judgments of God shall finally overtake the wicked.
The special dimensions of the roll, which the prophet so carefully notes, are also not without significance. It was twenty cubits long and ten cubits broad, which corresponds both with the porch of Solomon's Temple (i Kings vi. 3) and with the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. This is certainly not accidental. Hengstenberg, who, together with Kimchi and other Jewish commentators, considers the reference to be to the Temple, says: " The porch, the uttermost portion of the actual Temple, was the spot from which God was supposed to hold intercourse with His people " (i Kings vii. 7). Hence the altar of burnt-offering stood before the porch in the forecourt of the priests, and when any great calamity fell upon the land the priests approached still nearer to the porch to offer their prayers, that they might, as it were, embrace the feet of their angry Father (Joel ii. 1 7).
By giving to the flying roll (the symbol of the Divine judgments upon the covenant nation) the same dimensions as those of the porch, the prophet appears to intimate that these judgments were a direct result of the theocracy, and originate in the very fact of Israel's relationship to God, in accordance with His Word through the prophet Amos:
"You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I visit on you all your iniquities " (iii. 2), for which reason also judgment begins first at the house of God. But there is a greater probability in the suggestion of Keil, Kliefoth, and others, that the dimensions are taken, not from the porch of the Temple, but from the Holy Place of the Tabernacle, just as the symbolic candlestick in the preceding vision is also the Mosaic candlestick of the Tabernacle, and not of the Temple. And the true reason why the dimensions of the roll containing God's curse against the breakers of His law are taken from the sanctuary is probably that suggested by Kliefoth, who says:
"The fact that the writing which brings the curse upon sinners has the same dimensions as the Tabernacle signifies that the measure will be meted out according to the Holy Place "; or, in the words of an English theologian: " Men are not to be judged as to sin by their own measures, or weighed in their own false balances the measure of the sanctuary is that by which man's actions are to be weighed"
(i Sam. ii. 3). And the judgment which is to fall on the unrepentant, unpardoned transgressor will not only be " according to the measure of the sanctuary," but in strict correspondence with the majesty and holiness of the law which has been broken: " For every one that stealeth shall be purged out " (literally, cleansed away, " as something defiled and defiling which has to be cleared away as offensive ") " on (or from ) this side according to it"
(namely, as already explained, according- to the writing on the one side of it); " and every one that sweareth shall be cleansed away according to " (the writing) " on the other side of it."
The 4th verse is one of the most solemn in the whole Bible, as showing what an awful thing it is to come under God's curse against sin. "And I will cause it to go forth " that is, the curse, with its doom of judgment, which God keeps, so to say, in His storehouse, against the day of vengeance " and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by My Name"
(a) " I will bring it forth, and it shall enter T
Here we see the certainty with which God's judgments shall finally overtake the wicked. Man may avoid detec tion of his sins and punishment at the hands of his fellowman, but he cannot escape God. " Be sure your sin will find you out "; and so will its inevitable punishment.
"It shall enter into the house" the place where the transgressor may think that he can hide himself, where he may think himself most secure; but he shall find that God's avenging justice cannot be kept out, even by strong walls or iron gates.
() " And it shall abide in the midst of his house." Here we see the continuance, or permanency of God's judg ment against the wicked. The word for " abide," or " remain," as in the A.V., is na^ laneh, from f^, lun, " to lodge," " to spend the night in "; the idea being that the curse will not only pay him a passing visit, but shall " lodge " there that is, abide by night as well as by day, until it accomplish that for which it was sent, its utter destruction. And the punishment which these transgressions often bring down upon man, even in this life, must be regarded as " mere premonitory droppings of the tempest of wrath which will one day overwhelm the ungodly."
(c) But there is yet a climax in the train of calamities which the curse will bring to the house of the wicked. It shall not only " dwell " there, but it " shall consume it with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof" Here we see the terribleness of the punishment which sin brings down upon itself. It shall be utterly " cleansed away," or " consumed " from the midst of God's congregation, together with those sinners who are no longer separable from it.
The terms in the last sentence are almost identical with those used of the house stricken with leprosy in Lev. xiv. 45, which, too, had to be destroyed, "both the stones thereof and the timber thereof"; and this undoubted allusion supplies another hint of the fact that already in the Old Testament leprosy was regarded as a type of sin, and that what that terrible and loathsome disease did for men's bodies and their earthly habitations, sin does for men's souls, not only in relation to the life that now is, but also in relation to that which is to come. There is only one way by which we can escape the curse of a broken law, and that is, instead of being " cleansed away " with our sins by God's wrath into perdition, to be cleansed from our sins in that fountain which God has opened in the pierced side of Messiah for sin and uncleanness, and which makes the vilest " whiter than snow." Yes, blessed be God! for as many as can say with the Apostle, " Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is he that hangeth on a tree"
(Gal. Hi. 13).
Yet one word more in conclusion in reference to the yet unfulfilled prophetic element in this vision.
The more immediate application may have been to the remnant which returned from Babylon, to whom Zechariah spoke; and there may be some truth in the suggestion of Dr. Fausset that the " theft " and " false swearing " specially referred to in this vision has a reference to the sacrilege of which the Jews then were guilty in withholding the portions due from them for the Levites (Neh. xiii. 10), and in holding back the due tithes and offerings from the Lord (Mai. iii. 8).
Thus " they robbed God by neglecting to give Him His due in building His house, whilst they built their own houses foreswearing their obligations to Him."
There is also, as we have seen, a general application of the solemn truth contained in this vision to all who make any profession of the name of God at all times; yet the full and manifest fulfilment of this symbolic prophecy will not take place till the time of the end, when, in the final stage of both Jewish and anti-Christian apostasy, iniquity shall reach its climax, and the majority of those who profess to be the Lord's people shall join in " transgressing and lying against Jehovah, and in departing away from their God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood" (Isa. lix. 13). Then the final separation shall take place, and the wicked be " cut off" from the congregation of the Lord, and all sin and iniquity be finally cleansed away from the " holy land"
(Zech. ii. 12), and from "off the face of the whole earth."
- Baumgarten points out that the prophet selects the middle Command from each of the tables.
- pN, eretz, means earth as well as land, and several commentators have defended the rendering in the A.V., " over the face of the whole earth." But the translation adopted in the R.V. is doubtless the correct one first, because, as Pusey points out, those upon whom the curse was to fall were those who swore falsely by the Name of Jehovah, which was true of Judah only; secondly, as Keil observes, in the vision of the Ephah, which is closely connected with that of the Flying Roll, " the land " is contrasted with "the land of Shinar." The reference to the two tables of the law also confines the vision primarily to those who were under the law. Yet it is true also that " since the moral law abides under the gospel there is an ultimate application in these two visions in the 5th chapter also to Christendom, which was to spread over the whole earth." Remember, dear reader, whatever the primary application of this vision, that God's curse will finally overtake all workers of iniquity, and that He will " render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life; but to them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honour and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek: for there is no respect of persons with God " (Rom. ii. 6-1 1 ).
- Dr. C. H. H. Wright.
- The verb n^ (niqqah) is here the Niphal. The Piel is alike in form. The probable meaning of the root is to carve out, to hollow, then to be empty, to be pure, free from fault. Hence the Niphal is used in the sense of to be pure, free from fault, followed by jD (mitt, "from," "out of"). Luther has taken it here in this meaning, translating " for all thieves shall according to this letter be pronounced pious " (denn alle Diebe werden nach diesem Briefe fromm gesprochen). That is, it is a curse upon the land that theft and perjury are regarded no more as crying evils, nor as deserving of punishment. Similarly the Syriac. But this is evidently not the meaning. Modern scholars rightly render it shall be cleared, or cleansed away. " The verb is used of a city being emptied of inhabitants, i.e., laid waste and ruined (Isa. iii. 26). Here the verb may be employed in the sense of being rendered solitary, emptied of society, driven out of communion (Fiirst), or as signifying extirpated (Gesenius). It has probably the signification of cleaning away, as the Greek /caflaptfw in Mark vii. 19, as Pusey suggests, or as tKKa.Oa.ipu in I Cor. v. 7, as Pressel has given." The late Rev. D. Edwards, for many years an honoured missionary to the Jews in connection with the Free Church of Scotland, wrote some thirty-five years ago a striking pamphlet, which is not now in my possession, on the two visions of this 6th chapter of Zechariah, in which he gave expression to the view that the Flying Roll symbolised the false, counterfeit law, namely, the Talmud, and doctrines of modern Judaism, which (in contrast to the holy law of God) justified, or "declared innocent," all manner of transgressors. Among Jewish commentators Rashi interprets npj (niqqah) in the sense of being freed, or justified the same as adopted by Luther and Mr. Edwards; but Kimchi says the meaning of npJ is "shall be cut off" And this, or rather " shall be cleansed away " i.e., extirpated, is here doubtless the true meaning of the verb, as shown above.
- The same verb is found in Ps. xci. I, but there it is used to describe the blessed privilege of the righteous, who, " dwelling in the secret place of the Most High" (by day), shall also "abide," literally "lodge" (i.e., at night), under the shadow of the Almighty.
- Pusey. Dr. Wright, in a note, quotes by way of illustration the classical instance recorded by Herodotus (Book vi. 86), which shows that the moral law of God was not only revealed to Israel and graven on the tables of stone, but was originally also written by His finger on the conscience of man, who still retains a shadowy tracing of it, so to say, in his consciousness. It is the story about Glaucus. The name of this man was held in high repute for integrity, and hence a Milesian came to him to deposit a sum of money on trust. The deposit was accepted by Glaucus. But when the money was required by the sons of the depositor, who presented the tallies in support of their claim, Glaucus hesitated to restore it. lie consulted the oracle of Delphi whether he might perjure him self and appropriate the money. The priestess told him that it was best for the present to do as he desired, because death was the common lot of the honest and the dishonest. "Yet oath has a son, nameless, handless, footless, but swift; he pursues until he seize and destroy the whole race and house." On hearing this, Glaucus begged to be pardoned for his question; but the priestess replied that it was as bad to have tempted the god as to have done the deed. Glaucus ulti mately restored the money to its owners. Yet it was noted that his whole family became extinct, which was considered as a punishment for consulting the oracle whether he might perjure himself.