The Pulpit Commentary

Zechariah 5:1-4 (Zechariah 5:1-4)

§ 8. The sixth vision: the flying roll.

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Zechariah 5:4 (Zechariah 5:4)

I will bring it forth. God will not keep the curse confined and inoperative ( Deuteronomy 32:34 , etc.), but it shall enter into the house of the thief. The curse shall not fall lightly and pass quickly by, but shall fix its abode with the sinner till it has worked out its fell purpose. It shall remain ; it shall pass the night— take up its lodging; LXX ; καταλύσει . With the timber thereof, etc. A hyperbolical expression of the terrible effects of Divine vengeance, which consumes utterly like a devouring fire—an adumbration of the destruction at the day of judgment (comp. Deuteronomy 4:24 ; Malachi 3:2 ; Matthew 3:12 ).

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Zechariah 5:1-4 (Zechariah 5:1-4)

The reassertion of the Law.

"Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll," etc. Most of the distinguishing privileges first given to Israel after leaving Egypt for Canaan were gradually restored to Israel on its partial restoration to Palestine after the captivity of Babylon. This illustrated, as noted before, as to the altar ( Ezra 3:3 ); the daily sacrifice ( Ezra 3:5 ); the Feast of Tabernacles ( Ezra 3:4 ); the tabernacle or the temple itself ( Ezra 3:10 ; Ezra 6:15 ). This also illustrated, as we have just seen, as to the revival of the Levitical priesthood ( Zechariah 3:1-5 ); and also as to the rekindling of that temple "candlestick" which typified the restoration and maintenance of the Jewish Church as a witness for God amongst men ( Zechariah 4:1-3 , Zechariah 4:11-14 ). In the present passage we think we perceive a similar reassertion and, as it were, restoration of that written statement of man's duty and God's will which was given originally on Mount Sinai, on the two tables of stone; this second proclamation differing from that, however, according to the differences of the exigency and time. This we hope to show by considering the vision before us

I. ITS GENERAL NATURE . As with the original Decalogue, so we are shown here in vision:

1 . A message in writing from God; a message, therefore, like the other, peculiarly deliberate and explicit in its character, and peculiarly permanent in its form ( Exodus 34:1 ; 2 Corinthians 3:7 ; see also Isaiah 8:1 ; Jeremiah 36:18 ; Jeremiah 30:2 ; Luke 1:8 , Luke 1:4 ; Acts 15:23 , etc.).

2 . A message of judgment; in other words, containing a "curse," or solemn declaration of anger against sin and wrong doing ( Deuteronomy 27:26 ; Jeremiah 11:3 , Jeremiah 11:4 ; Galatians 3:10 ).

3 . A message of great breadth and extent , being written on a roll of the same dimensions (so it has been noted) as the sanctuary, or temple, and applying, therefore, to the whole duty of man (see again Galatians 3:10 ); or else, possibly, showing that this proclamation of God's will, like the former one, had to do especially with his "house" ( 1 Peter 4:17 ; Amos 3:1 , Amos 3:2 ).

4 . A message, however, of universal applicability, as shown by its "flying" "over the whole earth," or land (comp. Romans 2:9 , Romans 2:12-16 ).

5 . A message of a twofold purport or form—the words written on one side of the "roll" referring to a commandment contained in the first table of the Decalogue, and those written on the other to a commandment in the second. On all these points we see there is a more or less marked similarity between those tables of stone and this flying roll.

II. ITS SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS . These to be seen, if we mistake not, somewhat remarkably:

1 . In the special transgressions here denounced; being just those to which we have reason to believe, from other sources, that the post-Captivity Israelites were especially prone. Note, e.g; in the first table of the Law, with regard to the sin of "false swearing," what evidences we find (as in Romans 2:17 , Romans 2:23 , Romans 2:24 , and elsewhere) of their falsely professing supreme reverence for the very Name of Jehovah, even using a periphrasis instead of it, as in Mark 14:61 ; but how few evidences, if any—so different from pre-Captivity times—of open violations of the first and second commandments; and what an extreme solicitude, if to some extent a blind one, as to the outward observance of the fourth ( Luke 13:14 ; John 5:16 ; John 9:16 , etc.). Note also, in the second table of the Law, with regard to the sin of "stealing," how many evidences we have, after the return from Babylon, of the special prevalence of that cruel spirit of covetousness which lies at the root of all theft (see Nehemiah 5:1-13 ; Malachi 3:5 , Malachi 3:8-10 ; Luke 12:15 ; Luke 16:14 ; Luke 20:46 , Luke 20:47 ; to say nothing of the modern history of the Jews since the destruction of Jerusalem).

2 . In the special punishment here threatened, viz. just that which persons prone to such transgressions would be afraid of the most. The great objects aimed at by such in their lip worship and fraud (observe connection of thought in beginning of Luke 20:47 ) would be the establishment and enrichment of themselves and their "houses." Instead of this, the very opposite, viz. the total destruction thereof, is described figuratively, but most graphically, as being the result. God himself should "bring forth" the appointed evil or "curse," which should reach its appointed place; and stay there its appointed time; and thoroughly perform there its appointed work, destroying not the house only but its very materials ( Mark 14:4 ). How strikingly suitable, how emphatic a method of re-enacting his Law!

See, in conclusion, from this view of the passage:

1 . The immutability of God's Law. In every successive dispensation alike, obedience to it is demanded. In the patriarchal, under Noah. In the legal, under Moses. Here, also after the Captivity; and that in closest connection, as just seen, with prophecies about the priesthood of Christ, and the work of his Spirit. And not less so, finally, in the gospel itself, with its blaze of mercy and love ( Matthew 5:17-20 , etc.; Romans 3:31 ; Romans 8:4 ; Titus 2:12 , Titus 2:13 ; Titus 3:8 ).

2 . The elasticity of its application. In each several case God causes those parts of it which are most needed to be most emphasized too. So in the instance before us, as we think we have shown. So also, under Noah, as shown by comparing Genesis 6:13 ; Genesis 9:5 ,

6 . Compare, again, as to Moses, the length and emphasis of the second commandment with Exodus 32:1-6 , and the subsequent history of the nation. And see, finally, under the gospel, how specially suited such language as that in Matthew 22:36-40 was to the mere formalism of those times.

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Zechariah 5:1-4 (Zechariah 5:1-4)


I. PROVOKED . Sin is the transgression of the Law. Here two kinds singled out.

1 . Sins against the second table. "Stealeth." Fraud, injustice of all kinds. False to man.

2 . Sins against the first table. "Sweareth." Profanity. Self-will. False to God. These are samples of sins infinite in number and variety. Bold and flagrant offences, opposed to all law and order, defiant of God.

II. PROCLAIMED . Symbolically set forth. Sin will be judged, not according to custom or public sentiment, but by the measure of the sanctuary, the eternal Law of God. "Flying roll."

1 . Broad enough to cover all offences.

2 . Swift to seize all transgressors in its fatal embrace. The warning comes in mercy. "Flee from the wrath to come." See refuge under the shadow of the cross. Justice pursues the sinner, but it stops satisfied at Calvary.

III. INFLICTED . Sooner or later judgment will come. Inevitable and sure, just because God is God. Society must be purified. The bad will have to give place to the good. The earth will end with Eden, as it began.

"My own hope is, a sun will pierce

The thickest cloud earth ever stretched;

That, after last, returns the first,

Though a wide compass round be fetched;

That what began best can't end worst,

Nor what God blessed once prove accurst."



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Zechariah 5:1-4 (Zechariah 5:1-4)

The flying roll: Divine retribution

"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," etc. This is the sixth vision of the series of visions which the prophet had during the night. He now saw a "flying roll." We have mention made of such rolls by Ezra, by Isaiah, by Jeremiah, and by Ezekiel. Ezra speaks of search being made in "the book of rolls," the depository of the public archives or records, and of a "roll" being found there in which was recorded the decree of King Darius respecting the Jews; and Jeremiah speaks of "a roll of a book." The book might be considered as consisting of several "rolls," over each other, and forming one volume. This is illustrated by the book which John saw "in the right hand of him that sat on the throne," which was "sealed with seven seals," and of which the contents were brought to view as each of the seals was unfolded. "The ancients wrote on a variety of materials—the papyrus, or paper reed, the inner bark of particular trees, and the dressed skins of animals, forming a kind of parchment. These, when written, were rolled up, for convenience and for preservation of the writing, either singly or in a number over each other. The roll seen by the prophet was a 'flying roll,' but not flying through the air in its rolled up state. It was expanded, and was of extraordinary size. Reckoning the cubit at a foot and a half, it was ten yards in length by five in width, the measurement being guessed by the prophet's eye" (Wardlaw). "This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth." This is the explanation given by the interpreting angel. Without presuming to give an accurate interpretation of all the particulars of the symbolic representation, I think it may be fairly and usefully employed to exhibit the sublimely awful subject of Divine retribution. And this subject it serves to illustrate in two aspects.


1 . The particular sins which retribution pursues. They are:

2 . The way in which just retribution pursues them.

II. AS ABIDING WITH SIN . "It shall remain in the midst of his house." Not only does it rule the house of the sinner, "it remains in the midst of it," like a leprosy, infecting, wasting, consuming, destroying. It is a curse that embitters every sweet, and gives more than twofold intensity to every bitter. It dooms to destruction the man and all his. possessions. And from this world it must accompany and follow him to another, and settle with him there forever. "The special reference made to their houses, with the 'stones thereof and the timber thereof,' forcibly points to the care which they had been taking of their own accommodation, in comfort and elegance, while Jehovah's was neglected" (Wardlaw). It abides in the house to curse everything, even the timber and the stones. Guilt, not only, like a ravenous beast, crouches at the door of the sinner, but rather, like a blasting mildew, spreads its baneful influence over the whole dwelling. The sin of one member of a family brings its curse on the others. The sins of the parents bring a curse upon the children. "Between parents and children," says Jeremy Taylor, "there is so great a society of nature and of manners, of blessing and of cursing, that an evil parent cannot perish in a single death; and holy parents never eat their meal of blessing alone; but they make the room shine like the fire of a holy sacrifice; and a father's or a mother's piety makes all the house festival, and full of joy from generation to generation."

CONCLUSION . Sinner, wouldst thou escape the tremendous curses which Heaven has written on this "flying roll," this book of Divine retribution? Then abandon a sinful life, exorcise the sinful temper, inhale the spirit of him who came to put away sin from humanity and to destroy the works of the devil.—D.T.

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