Vision #7: The Woman In The Measuring Basket (Ephah) – Zechariah 5:5-11

Zechariah

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.

BIG IDEA:
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

I.(:5-8)WICKEDNESS WILL ULTIMATELY BE CONFINED (SEPARATED)
(ISOLATED) – stuffed into the ephah basket

  1. 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
      1. used for holding dry goods as a measurement
      2. significance of measuring throughout these visions
      3. unusual size of this ephah – large enough to hold a woman
      4. 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
      1. Very public spectacle; seen by all – just like the flying scroll
  2. (: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.

  1. (:7a)Significance of the Lead Cover = Stopper or Lid on the basket: "(and behold, a lead cover was lifted up)"
    1. Prevents the woman from escaping
  2. (: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.

    1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. Significance of the Elevation of the Ephah – Power Over Wickedness: "and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heavens."
    1. Wickedness did not want to get lifted up and removed against her will

III.(:10-11)WICKEDNESS WILL TEMPORARILY BE ENSHRINED IN BABYLON

  1. (:10)The Question of Destiny: "I said to the angel who was speaking with me, ‘Where are they taking the ephah?’"
    1. Where is Wickedness ultimately headed?
    2. How about those who practice evil?
  2. (: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’"
    1. 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
    2. 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).

  1. (: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.


DEVOTIONAL QUESTIONS:

  1. What benefit would the people of Zechariah’s day have derived from this difficult to understand passage?
  2. How has God promised to defeat wickedness in the last days as recorded in the Book of Revelation?
  3. How does this view of separation compare to God’s command to the church to exercise discipline in removing wickedness from the assembly?
  4. How does the world worship wickedness today?What idols have we had to cast out of our lives?

QUOTES FOR REFLECTION:

Dr. Richard Bacon: (Notes from his audio message on SermonAudio.com) – Most commentators get this passage wrong.They find too many things in the passage that just are not there.This is the most difficult passage I have preached in my 15 years as pastor here.Rabbinic view: historical approach: all the wickedness was carried away in the captivity and purged there.Matthew Henry says this is talking about fraudulent commerce.An ephah is a measurement of dry goods (somewhere between 5 and 9 gallons).Lead stopper weighs 90 pounds.The exact size is not that important.It is a standard measure.The Jews had 3: an omar (a little less than a peck – a couple of pounds); ten of those make up an ephah; ten of those make up a homar.Warning against diverse measures = having a large and small ephah depending on whether you are buying or selling.Others: it is talking about materialism in general.They thought too much about this world’s goods and not enough about God.That would preach … but it is not what Zechariah is talking about.The fundamental teaching in this passage: when God prospers the church spiritually he also purges the church of sin

God is there purging wickedness from the land.Review of verses 1-4: a reassertion of the curse of the law.Here we have a vindication of the righteousness of God in banishing wickedness from His church.3 Signs of a true church: 1)It must preach the true gospel; 2) The ordinances of God must be rightly administered; 3)Church discipline – look to join a church that is willing to kick you out; will put your feet on a righteous track and will let you know when your feet get off that righteous track.

The idea of measuring occurs over and over in the book of Zechariah.The ephah refers to the full measure of sin; sin is replete; the cup is full.The bucket is going to be full of wickedness – he takes the heavy lead lid and pushes the woman into a space where normally she would not fit.(cf. Matt. 23:32 – talks about the measure of the Pharisees’ wickedness had become full; then God destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.Also 1 Thess. 2:16)Once it is measured it is removed.We have the Word of God, particularly the law, to measure what is sin.It is measured and then taken out of the land by the 2 women –Eccles. 5 – two are better than one = the certainty of it happening??(Amos 3:3).Not called angels here.There were two angels at Christ’s resurrection (John 20:12).

He casts the lead on her mouth – whose mouth ("the mouth thereof")?It looks like a stopper; regardless, the wickedness is being contained.1) Wickedness Measured;

2) Wickedness Removed;3) That removal made permanent – But outside of the church, wickedness is enthroned and virtually worshipped (even though they don’t call it wickedness) — Set up in an idol house and actually worshipped.

Application: We need to protect our children from the influences of wickedness.Get out of Babylon and get back to Jerusalem where we are building the temple of God.(2 Cor. 6:14ff – pretty strong antithesis).There is a cumulative effect of sin; it builds up in our system.The barrel does not get full on the first day.We become more tolerant as sin builds up.Those in a position of sin have a responsibility to limit or restrict sin and to punish evil doers (not reform them). When the bucket of sin gets full, God will remove it.Repent before I come and take the candlestick away.The final outcome of sin is banishment.

Laetsch: A woman is chosen as the symbol of wickedness because of the alluring, captivating, deceptive power of sin.(cp. Judg. 14:15 ff.; 16:5-20; Prov. 2:16-19; 7:7 ff.; 9:13 ff.)Wickedness by its very nature is not willing to be caged, confined to narrow limits.It longs for liberty to roam about at will.Yet in spite of her violent effort to gain her liberty, the woman is hurled back into her prison, and the "weight," literally, the stone, such as were used to cover large openings (cp. Gen. 29:2 f.; John 11:38, 41) "of lead" was replaced over the opening end of the ephah. . .

[Application to the necessity of Church Discipline]

The Holy Land is for holy people.While even the justified and sanctified believers have need of daily forgiveness, wickedness, manifest rebellion against God, cannot be tolerated in God’s holy Church, the communion of saints.It must be removed by removing the wicked man or men (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Lindsey: Israel’s corporate sin, associated with idolatry, will be removed from her land. . . Returning the wickedness of idolatry to its place of origin in Babylon apparently will set the stage for final judgment on Babylon (Rev. 17-18).Its removal from Israel will prepare the way for Christ’s second coming and millennial kingdom (Rev. 19-20).

Feinberg: In Babylon culminates all that defies God and his righteousness on earth.Godlessness of every sort, including that of Israel, will find its place there.

Dolphin: Given the part that Babylon plays in the eschatological drama of the closing days of this present age, the removal of wickedness to Babylon might have been in preparation for the final conflict between good and evil. Isaiah 13-14, and, especially, Jeremiah 50-51, place a revived Babylonian empire at the center of the final contest between God and "all the nations of the earth" that have been gathered into the Near East for history’s finale. But God will triumph, for He has full control over evil. That can be seen in His ability to pack up evil and literally ship it to the center of wickedness where He is able to deal with it conclusively at the end of the age.

Constable: The angel explained that the woman represented wickedness. He picked her up, threw her down into the middle of the basket, and shut the lead cover over her (cf. 2 Thess. 2:6-8). Obviously some conflict was involved; "Wickedness" did not want to be restricted. Perhaps Zechariah saw a woman, instead of a man, because the word "wickedness" in Hebrew is feminine. Here the woman represents the sum total of Israel’s sins, wickedness being the opposite of righteousness (cf. Prov. 13:6; Ezek. 33:12).

Matthew Henry: He sees the woman thrust down into the ephah, and a talent, or large weight, of lead, cast upon the mouth of it, by which she is secured, and made a close prisoner in the ephah, and utterly disabled to get out of it. This is designed to show that the wrath of God against impenitent sinners is, 1. Unavoidable, and what they cannot escape; they are bound over to it, concluded under sin, and shut up under the curse, as this woman in the ephah; he would fain flee out of his hand (Job 27:22), but he cannot. 2. It is insupportable, and what they cannot bear up under. Guilt is upon the sinner as a talent of lead, to sink him to the lowest hell. When Christ said of the things of Jerusalem’s peace, Now they are hidden from thy eyes, that threw a talent of lead upon them.

Roper: Do you see what all this is? Zechariah is given, in this series of visions, a number of truths related to what the New Testament calls our "sanctification"–how we are set apart for God. And I see here a series of levels of truth, almost like a layer cake, or a sandwich–four principles which carry all the way through the Scriptures, from beginning to end. The first is the principle of law. God says, "You shall be holy, for I am holy," and he has never rescinded that command. It is true that we are not under the specific statements given to Israel; we need to be clear about that. We do not have to keep the sabbath literally, although we do keep it in its spiritual sense now-the sabbath rest. We do not need to abstain from eating an ossifrage any longer. You can eat one if you can find out what it is! We are not under that specific law; but we are under law to God, in the sense that his character is still there. He has not removed that. We are to be holy because he is holy, and this principle runs right through the Scriptures.

Right under that is the next layer, the repeated statements of the resources of God, the power that is available In Christ. How do you respond to the law? You lay hold of Christ. This is shown in the symbol of the lamp stand. Grace is extended to us at any time. Whatever the requirement, there is always an adequacy in Christ.

Then, underneath that, there is this picture of the principle of sin itself having been dealt with. This too is found all through the Scriptures. "Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ You have been set free from the dominion of the flesh–the habits and the old way of doing things which have dominated your life for so long.

And underneath that, going back to the picture of Joshua the high priest, is the astounding forgiveness of God. Even when you have failed in everything–when you look at the law and turn your back on it, or look at the law and try to keep it in your own flesh and you fail-beneath everything else is this wonderful forgiveness of God. He picks you up, brushes you off, says, "Let’s have another go at it, but let’s do it the right way this time." All these truths are evident repeatedly throughout Scripture.

Where does all this originate? This is made clear in the final scene, toward the end of chapter 6. Let’s begin reading with verse 9 . . .

This is saying that for the first time in history, there will be a King and a Priest on the throne at the same time. For the first time in history it has been sanctioned by God that a Priest/King will rule. And the crown, which is taken from the exiles, is to be placed on his head. He is to be the King among God’s people, and he is called the Branch. If you go back to the other prophets in the Old Testament-Isaiah, Jeremiah-you find that the Branch is Messiah, the Lord Jesus himself. He is the One who makes it possible. He does it all, when we are willing to crown him as King, and to keep that crown in the temple. You notice that the crown is to remain in the temple as a memorial to the exiles. And it is to remain in our lives as a memorial of the time when we crowned Jesus Christ as Lord in our lives. If we have never done that, then these truths are not available to us. But if we have, if we have genuinely made him King and Lord of our life, then all of the resources portrayed for us in this visual way are ours.