WICKEDNESS CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO EXIST IN THE HOLY ASSEMBLY —
WICKEDNESS WILL ULTIMATELY BE CONFINED (SEPARATED), REMOVED FROM THE MIDST OF GOD’S PEOPLE AND TEMPORARILY ENSHRINED IN BABYLON
A Jack-in-the-Box scene – a genie-in-the-bottle scene – here we have a woman who personifies wickedness being confined in an ephah and carried off to be worshiped in her own temple in Babylon. This passage is a nice corrollary to the teaching in 1 Cor. 5 on the necessity for church discipline – sexual immorality (in that context) cannot be tolerated in the church. Here the wickedness in question is more probably the idolatry that had so characterized the children of Israel and led to their former captivity. In the end times in preparation for the millennial kingdom, after God restores His people to their land, He will purge the land of wickedness and idolatry. This is a very difficult section, but we will try to explain the significance of each portion of the imagery without going overboard and engaging in a lot of speculation.
I. (:5-8) WICKEDNESS WILL ULTIMATELY BE CONFINED (SEPARATED)
(ISOLATED) – stuffed into the ephah basket
A. (:5-6a) Dominant Imagery of the Vision – The Ephah Going Forth
“Then the angel who was speaking with me went out and said to me, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see what this is going forth.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ And he said, ‘This is the ephah going forth.’”
1. Significance of an ephah – The Measuring of Wickedness – the fullness of sin
– used for holding dry goods as a measurement
– significance of measuring throughout these visions
– unusual size of this ephah – large enough to hold a woman
– maybe no more significant than it was a common basket used as a container for holding things
2. Traveling ephah – “going forth” – The Banishment of Wickedness
Very public spectacle; seen by all – just like the flying scroll
B. (:6b) Significance of the Imagery of an Eye – The Dominion of Evil
“Again he said, ‘This is their appearance in all the land’”
Word literally means “eye” like a physical eye; some versions translate it “iniquity” here; I like the explanation of Merrill:
Merrill: First, it is necessary to deal with the very much debated “their eye” in v. 6b. Many versions translate “their appearance. . . That may, indeed, be the preferred translation, but that does not solve the difficulties. The LXX and Syriac read “their iniquity,” . . . This would solve the problem of meaning nicely, especially in light of “wickedness” in v. 8, but the text-critical principle of lectio difficilior would tend to rule that out.
The answer lies, we submit, in letting Zechariah supply his own fund of language and imagery. He has used the phrase (bekol haares), “in (or through) all the earth,” three times previously in the book (1:10, 11; 4:10) and does so once again later (6:7). Without exception it occurs in contexts having to do with dominion, especially YHWH’s universal rule. In one of those instances “eyes” is part of the formula, namely, in 4:10. There YHWH identifies the “seven” of v. 10a as “the eyes of YHWH which run to and from through the whole earth.” As argued at that passage, this refers to YHWH’s omniscience by which He knows the end from the beginning.
This is likely the import of “their eye” in 5:6. Without repeating the whole cliche, “their eye which runs to and fro through the whole earth,” the interpreting messenger compresses it to simply “their eye … through the whole earth.” What he has in mind, if this view be correct, is that the forces of evil, like YHWH himself, assert dominion over all the earth, though in their case it is woefully nonomniscient and pitifully inadequate. Yet, like Satan in the prologue of Job (Job 1:7; 2:2), they make the effort oblivious to the sovereignty of YHWH, who will someday call their hand and hold them to account. The ephah and its contents, then, represent the antitheocratic powers of this world with their pseudo-dominion of all the earth. This interpretation has in its favor an inner-hermeneutical method without resort to textual emendation.
C. (:7a) Significance of the Lead Cover = Stopper or Lid on the basket
“(and behold, a lead cover was lifted up)”
Prevents the woman from escaping
D. (:7b-8) Significance of the Imprisoned Woman
1. Why a Woman – personifying Wickedness – the identification expressly Made; cf. Rev. 17:3-5
“and this is a woman sitting inside the ephah.
Then he said, ‘This is Wickedness!’”
Dolphin: To make the image of the personified wickedness even more vivid, wickedness is depicted as “a woman sitting inside [a] basket” (v. 7). The picture is reminiscent of a kind of genie in a jar. This woman’s influence would be capped by the “lead disc” (v. 7). Surely that would be God’s concluding act of placing wickedness under wraps.
2. Imprisoned Against Her Will
“And he threw her down into the middle of the ephah and cast the lead weight on its opening.”
Merrill: That a woman could be contained in a five-gallon vessel is, in actual life, impossible. But in a vision such things are not only possible but frequently insisted upon in order to draw attention to the surreality of the experience and its divine origination.
II. (:9) WICKEDNESS WILL ULTIMATELY BE REMOVED FROM THE MIDST OF GOD’S PEOPLE
A. Significance of the Winged Women – Divine Agents to Facilitate Sanctification
“Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and there two women were coming out with the wind in their wings; and they had wings like the wings of a stork,”
Guzik: Some regard these women as agents of evil because storks were unclean animals, but here they seem to do the work of God in sending the wicked woman back to Babylon.
Probably symbolic of the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification; on the other hand if these women were actually involved in building the temple in Shinar, it could be argued that they were evil agents. Since they were transporting wickedness against her will, it seems like they should be viewed as divine agents.
B. Significance of the Elevation of the Ephah – Power Over Wickedness
“and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heavens.”
Wickedness did not want to get lifted up and removed against her will
III. (:10-11) WICKEDNESS WILL TEMPORARILY BE ENSHRINED IN BABYLON
A. (:10) The Question of Destiny
“I said to the angel who was speaking with me, ‘Where are they taking the ephah?’”
Where is Wickedness ultimately headed? How about those who practice evil?
B. (:11a) The Ultimate Futility = Building a Temple in Babylon
“Then he said to me, ‘To build a temple for her in the land of Shinar’”
The Pride of man from the beginning of history has sought to establish his own temple and exalt his own accomplishments – cf. the Tower of Babel
This is a shameful temple in a shameful land.
MacArthur: The destination of the women bearing the basket was Shinar, an older word designating Babylon (cf. Ge 10:10). The older word is used possibly to recall the Tower of Babel as a symbol of opposition against God (cf. Ge 11:2). There it will be placed in a “temple” and set on a base or pedestal as an idol. Again the vision is unmistakably looking forward to the final Babylon of Rev 17, 18 at the second coming of Christ (cf. Mal 4:1-3).
C. (:11b) The Ultimate Idolatry = The Worship of Wickedness
“and when it is prepared, she will be set there on her own pedestal.”
Merrill: Reference to Shinar is tantamount to reference to Babylon, for that city becomes the very epitome of humanistic independence of and resistance to God and His sovereignty. It was at Babylon, in the land of Shinar, that the rebel human race erected a great ziggurat, the purpose of which was to frustrate God’s mandate to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1). The men of Babylon had said, “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the surface of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). From that time Babylon became synonymous with arrogant human independence, the very fountainhead of antitheocratic social, political, and religious ideology.