We come today to the sixth and seventh of the eight night visions which Zechariah received from the Lord. Do you remember? Zechariah was the Lord’s prophet and the Lord sent both Zechariah and Haggai to preach to his people in Jerusalem after they had returned from their exile in Babylon. The Lord wanted them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. And although, as soon as they had returned, they made a start on the temple, the work to rebuild the temple ground to a halt because of the opposition they faced from their enemies. Years went by and the house of the Lord remained in ruins, whereas the people had built houses for themselves to live in. And then, 16 or so years later, the Lord sent Haggai and Zechariah to preach his word to his people and through the preaching of his word, the Lord stirred his people into action and they began once again to rebuild the temple. And yet the task before them was still daunting, because they still faced many enemies and their resources were small and no doubt they still had a lingering memory of their own sinfulness. And so, by means of these night visions the Lord spoke to his people to reassure them and to encourage them and to lift them out of their despondency and to give them hope.
In the first night vision, the Lord spoke kind and comforting words about Jerusalem and he promised to return to Jerusalem with mercy and he promised that the temple would be rebuilt and he promised that the towns around Jerusalem would once again overflow with prosperity and he promised to choose Jerusalem once again to be his dwelling place. And just as the Lord promised to rebuild Jerusalem in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, so he will build his church throughout the world and dwell in it by his Spirit.
In the second night vision, Zechariah saw four horns which signified all the nations who had oppressed his people. And then he saw four craftsmen who were coming to cut the horns down. And so, the Lord was promising to cut down those nations who had oppressed his people in those days. And one day he will bring down all those people in the world which have opposed Christ and his church. They will come to nothing, whereas Christ’s kingdom will remain forever.
In the third night vision he saw a man with a measuring line who was going to measure the city to see how wide and long it was. But the Lord then promised that Jerusalem would be an ever-expanding city; and the Lord would be a wall of fire around it to protect it; and he will dwell in its midst; and nations would come to it. And the church of Jesus Christ will be ever-expanding, because through the preaching of the gospel men and women and boys and girls from every nation will be added to it. And God will shield us by his mighty power.
In the fourth night vision Zechariah saw the priest who was dressed in filthy clothes. But the Lord removed his filthy clothes and gave him new clothes to wear to signify how the Lord takes away our sin and guilt and pardons all our iniquity. And the Lord promised that he would remove the sin of the land in a single day and his people would live in peace and safety. And he was referring to that single day when the Lord Jesus gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins with his life so that we might have perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord.
In the fifth night vision Zechariah saw a gold lampstand with lights on it. And the lights on the lampstand never went out, because the lampstand was fed with olive oil from two olive trees which stood beside it. And the two olive trees, providing the lampstand with an endless supply of oil, is a picture of the fullness of God’s grace which is like an inexhaustible stream of kindness towards his people. And so, because of the Lord’s infinite kindness, the church will continue to shine brightly into a dark world and to bear witness to the truth about God.
And so, we’ve seen that these visions — which Zechariah received and which have been written down and kept for us in the Bible — were not only for the people in Zechariah’s day, but they’re for God’s people in every generation, because they speak to us of God’s kindness towards his people and his plan to build his church throughout the world, a church made up of people from every nation. And they speak to us of God’s willingness to pardon his people and to protect his people, and his promise to dwell with his people by his Spirit. And they speak to us of greater things and better days to come.
But the visions before us today are different because these two visions speak to us of God’s judgment on sinners. The first is about God’s curse on sinners. The second is about how he will take sinners away. However, even though these two visions speak to us of God’s judgment on sinners, they also speak to us of God’s mercy, because the reason God warns sinners about the coming judgment is so that they will turn from their sin in repentance and turn to Christ the Saviour for salvation.
Verses 1 to 4
And so, let’s turn now to the sixth night vision which is in verses 1 to 4. Once again Zechariah looked up and this time, when he looked, he saw a flying scroll. I’m sure we all have a fair idea of what a scroll looks like and Zechariah recognised it immediately, because when the interpreting angel asked him what he saw, he answered that he saw a flying scroll which was thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide. The commentators tell us that scrolls were often thirty feet long, but you would never normally unroll all of it, but only part of it. And normal scrolls were never fifteen feet wide. They were always much smaller than that. So, this is an unusually large scroll. Think of a billboard at the side of the road. And it’s unusual as well, because, of course, it’s flying. Scrolls don’t normally fly.
So, that’s what Zechariah saw. In verses 3 and 4 the interpreting angels explains to him that the flying scroll is the curse that is going out over the whole land.
Are you familiar with the idea of a curse? At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord told the people that when they enter the Promised Land six of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and six of the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim. The tribes on Mount Gerizim were to shout blessings and the tribes on Mount Ebal were to shout curses. And the blessings and curses they were to shout are listed in Deuteronomy 28. And it was to be blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. If they remained faithful to the Lord in the Promised Land and if they obeyed his commands, then they could expect blessings or good things from the Lord. But if they were unfaithful and if they disobeyed his commands, then they could expect curses or bad things from the Lord. The curses included things like drought and famine and disease and, of course, exile.
So, when the angel explained that the flying scroll was the curse which was going out over the whole land, Zechariah would have known precisely what the angel was saying. The Lord was going to send curses once again on his disobedient people in the land of Israel. And the angel went on to refer to what was written on the scroll. So, words were written on both sides of the scroll and those words were the curses. And he refers to two specific sins which they were guilty of, but presumably these two sins represent all the ways the people were sinning against the Lord. He mentions thieves and he mentions those who swear falsely. Theft is forbidden by the eighth commandment. Swearing falsely relates to the third command which forbids the misuse of God’s name. Presumably they were misusing God’s name by breaking promises or oaths which they made in his name. Theft is a sin against our neighbour whereas swearing false is a sin against the Lord. As I said, these two sins probably represent all the ways the people were sinning and they were guilty of breaking both tables of the law: those concerning our love for the Lord and those concerning our love for our neighbour.
And the words on the flying scroll made clear the curse which the people could expect for their disobedience. The NIV refers to being banished. The Hebrew word means ‘cleaned out’ or ‘purged’. And so, the idea is that the land will be purged or cleansed from these disobedient people. And the Lord Almighty declares that he himself will send the curse out. The fact that the scroll containing the curses is flying suggests it will come quickly. It will not be delayed. And it will fly over the land and enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely. And it will remain in his house and will destroy it. When he refers to the timbers and stones of the house, he means it will be totally destroyed. Whenever the temple was destroyed before the exile, the stones of the temple may have been toppled, but they were not destroyed. But the curse the Lord is sending this time will be so severe that the stones of their homes will be obliterated.
And, of course, we normally feel safe in our homes; and when there’s trouble outside, we return to our homes for safety. However, those who have broken the law of the Lord will not be safe in their homes, because God’s curse will reach them there and his judgment will fall on them and their homes in Jerusalem will be destroyed.
In the fourth night vision — which was about Joshua the High Priest who received clean clothes from the Lord to replace his filthy clothes — the Lord spoke of his willingness to pardon his people and his willingness to cleanse them from their guilt. But would they remain faithful to him? Since he was prepared to pardon them, would they now walk in his ways and do his will? Or would they return to their wicked ways?
And by this sixth vision, the Lord was warning his people of what would happen if they did return to their wicked ways and if they sinned against him and if they continued in their sin without confessing it and without turning from it. If they were unfaithful and if they turned from the Lord and disobeyed his commands and if they did as they pleased, then they would not be allowed to remain in the holy city of Jerusalem, and he will do what he did before and he will come down on them with his curses to punish them for their sin and rebellion and to remove their wickedness from his holy place.
Verses 5 to 11
And the seventh of the eight night visions reinforces God’s warning to them. According to verse 5 the interpreting angel came forward once again to speak to Zechariah. And he asked Zechariah to look up to see what was about to appear in this vision. So, perhaps Zechariah was deep in thought, thinking about what he had seen. But the angel once again tells him to pay attention.
And Zechariah looks, but he’s not sure what it is that he’s looking at. And so, the angel has to explain to him what it is. And it’s a measuring basket. In other words, it was a container which was used in those days to measure out wheat or flour or whatever you wanted to buy at the market. But, of course, this is a vision and therefore the measuring basket is not just a measuring basket, because it symbolises something. And the angel explains that the basket symbolises the iniquity of the people throughout the land. If you’re using the NIV, you’ll see a footnote beside ‘iniquity’, because it’s possible the angel didn’t refer to their iniquity, but to their appearance. The two Hebrew words are very similar and it’s not clear which word he used. However, it doesn’t really change the meaning, because if he referred to their appearance, he means that they appear in the sight of God as sinners.
And so, this basket represents their sin and guilt before God. And it’s perhaps significant that a measuring basket is used to symbolise their sin, because dishonest traders would use what were known as ‘unjust measuring baskets’. So, you went to the market to buy a 1000g of flour. And the trader poured the flour into his 1000 gram measuring basket. But unknown to you, his measuring basket did not hold 1000g, but only 900g. You were paying for 1000g, but you were only getting 900g. And so, perhaps their sin and guilt before the Lord was symbolised in this vision by a measuring basket because that’s the kind of wicked thing they were doing.
And then, according to verse 7, there was a cover on the basket. And Zechariah saw the cover come off and he got to see inside the basket. And sitting inside was a woman. How a woman was able to fit in a small measuring basket is hard to explain, but this is a vision and anything is possible. And the interpreting angel explained to Zechariah that this woman in the basket represents the wickedness of the people. It’s not uncommon in the Bible for woman to appear as symbols. For instance, in the book of Proverbs, wisdom and folly are both depicted as women, calling us to follow them. The nation of Israel is depicted as a woman, and often an unfaithful woman, because the people were so often unfaithful to the Lord. And here, a woman is depicted as wickedness. She signifies the wickedness of the people.
And from what we read here, it seems she’s trying to get out of the basket, but the interpreting angel won’t let her and she’s pushed back inside and the cover is placed on firmly.
And then, in this vision, Zechariah saw two other women. But these are no ordinary women, because they have wings. And their wings are the wings of a stork. And these two women, with stork-like wings, pick up the measuring basket with the woman inside and they carry it up into the sky between heaven and earth. Storks are big birds with big wings; and so, these women with stork-like wings are strong enough to lift this basket up into the sky and to carry it away. And storks are migratory birds and these women with their stork-like wings carry the basket away to a far off country. The NIV refers to the land of Babylonia. The Hebrew text actually refers to Shinar, which is where the Tower of Babel was built. And therefore it’s associated with that time when the people of the world rebelled against God by trying to build a tower up to the heavens. They wanted to be like God. But Shinar became known as Babylon, which is the place where the people had been sent into exile, and from where they had recently been rescued.
And so, in this vision, the two women with stork-like wings are taking this measuring basket away from the Promised Land to the place of exile once again. And according to verse 11, they’ll build a house for the basket in Babylon. And when the house is ready, the basket will be set up there in its place. It’s likely that this house in Babylon is not an ordinary house, but a temple. And so, in Jerusalem, the Lord’s faithful and obedient people are building a temple dedicated to the Lord. But those who were unfaithful and disobedient fell under the curse of God; and their homes were destroyed; and they were take away to Babylon, where another kind of temple is being built, a kind of anti-temple, which is dedicated to wickedness. Though the Lord had brought them back to Jerusalem, they were living like those who belonged in Babylon. And so, if they persisted in their rebellion, he was going to remove them from Jerusalem and send them to where they really belonged.
And so, what does this vision mean? It’s related to the previous one, because those whose homes were destroyed because of God’s curse will now be removed from the Promised Land and sent away once again into exile. It’s as if God will gather up all those who refuse to give up their sins and who refuse to walk in his ways and he’ll send them out of the land once again. And so, it’s a message of judgement to come. Their place in Jerusalem will be taken from them, because if they continue in their rebellion, without confessing it and without turning from it, God will come down on them in judgment and he will scatter them far away from the Promised Land. In his mercy, he brought them back from exile. But if they take his mercy for granted, and if they do not turn from their sin, then he will remove them from the land, because his land was to be a holy land, and Jerusalem was to be holy city, and his people were to be holy and obedient to the Lord.
But by warning the people before it happened, the Lord was giving them time to repent. He was giving them time to confess their sins. He was giving them time to offer sacrifices to him for their forgiveness. And he was giving them time to renew their obedience. In fact, a few of the commentators think this vision anticipates the dispersion of the Jews throughout the nations after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, which was many, many years after Zechariah received this vision. In that case, the Lord was very patient with them and he gave them plenty of time to repent.
And between the time when Zechariah received this vision and the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, the Lord Jesus came to Israel. And what was his message? His message was repent. Turn from your sin. Turn from your wickedness. And turn to the Lord. When he went to the temple, the Lord Jesus was angry because the people had turned the house of prayer into a den of robbers, where they cheated one another with their unjust measuring baskets. When he was on the earth, the Lord summoned his disobedient people to repent. And while some did, most refused. And so, in due course, after giving them plenty of time to repent, the Lord did what he said he would do and in AD70 he gathered his wicked people together and he sent them out of the land once again.
Both of these visions are warnings to sinners everywhere to repent, because those who do not repent will not get away with their sin, because although his judgment fell on the Jews in AD70, there is another, greater, more terrible day of judgment which is still to come. And when that day comes, the Lord will come down on unrepentant sinners with his curses and he will remove them from his holy presence and send them away to where they really belong, which is the place of everlasting punishment. And so, these visions speak to us ultimately of the day of judgment when every one who has ever lived will stand before the Lord to be judged for what we have done. And all those who remained in their sin and rebellion will be sent out of the presence of our holy God to be punished for ever and for ever.
But since the visions are a warning, then they’re also a sign of God’s mercy, because he’s giving us time to turn from our sins in repentance and to turn to him for mercy. And God is able to show us mercy, because of Christ the Saviour, who came into the world as one of us and who took the blame for what we have done wrong. And so, the curse which we deserve for a lifetime of sin and rebellion fell on him. The curse we deserve for our sins fell on him and he was cut off from his Heavenly Father and he died and was buried for us and for our salvation. And through faith in him, we’re pardoned for all that we have done wrong and we’re accepted as righteous in God’s sight, and we can look forward to coming into the presence of God to be with him for ever and for ever. Though we deserve to be sent away from his presence, we are promised everlasting life in his presence, because of Christ who bore our sins in his body on the tree and who died to bring us to God.
And having believed in Christ, we also receive the Holy Spirit who works in us to will and to do his good pleasure. He reminds us of God’s laws and commandments and he enables us more and more to do them. He helps us to say ‘no’ to sin and ungodliness and he makes us more and more willing to do God’s will here on earth. He gives us the strength we need to fight against sin and temptation and to live holy lives. He helps us to live a life which reflects the glory and the holiness of heaven. And so, all those who love the Lord and are grateful for his forgiveness, should seek the help of God’s Spirit to keep us from doing anything wrong and to help us to do all that is right.
And the Spirit’s presence in our lives is also the guarantee that one day we’ll enter the glory of the life to come, where we will be glorified, so that we’ll never sin again or be tempted to sin and where doing the will of the Lord will come naturally to us. And so, even as we fight against sin in this life, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can look forward to that new and better world to come, where there will be no more sin, and where we will not sin, and where we’ll love and serve the Lord always.