The Vision
The Effect

When we come to chapter 5 of Zechariah, we are confronted with two visions of wickedness.

The first (5:1-4) directed specifically towards the transgressors who were presently resident within the land of Israel and the second (5:5-11) directed towards the root cause of all wickedness within the same.

The first dealing with the transgressor of the covenant, the second with the underlying compulsion that points people in the direction of sinning.

The first dealing with the house of the wicked while the second, the house of wickedness.

As such, they hold together well as one unit, the one complementing and being incomplete without the other.


Context is more tricky and there seems no real historical framework in which to set these two visions. The previous prophetic texts have demanded that we understand the background of the returned exiles and their efforts to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, but these pair could fit well into nearly any historical framework of the people of God and not seem out of place.

Each group of the Lord’s people, committed to Him and His ways, have been concerned to put sin out of their boundaries (5:1-4) and to deal once and for all time with both temptation and the tendency to sin (5:5-11) even though, in the NT, these twin aspects of God’s work are seen as being fulfilled and complete only through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (see my notes - but especially the chart - on Baptism part 2bii and 2biii here for a simple explanation of the work of Christ in these two areas).

Having said that, the prophetic words that have gone before do illuminate this passage and clarify a declaration that the Lord has made in both chapters 3 and 4. Here, God has already said that He will cause a healing spring to break forth and cleanse both the land and the earth of its guilt (3:9, 4:10b) but, for those who live opposed to the obligations of the covenant upon them, that stream will do little good and so, here, God shows that the people who stand opposed to the covenant must be removed from out of the land, along with the source of temptation and root cause of sin.

The Vision

Zechariah ‘again’ (RSV) lifts his eyes as he does in 1:18 and 2:1, which would be another indication that this series of visions was given at one and the same time rather than spread across many weeks or months as the Lord gave the prophet specific revelation. Had this vision been independent of the other two - or of the passages which preceded it - there would have been no reason to declare that he ‘again’ lifted his eyes to see another vision. However, the RSV appears to add the word with no particular justification so that the argument is largely unfounded!

The ‘flying scroll’, according to Smith

‘...suggests not only its speed but its source’

that is, that, because, it is moving, the judgment indicated by the vision is expected to fall swiftly and, being in the air, indicates that it must have proceeded from God Himself in Heaven. These points are purely subjective, though and there is little in these usages that demand such an interpretation.

This scroll which, in imperial measurements, bore the dimensions 20 feet by 30 is enormous like some sort of flag that is flown to flap in the wind. Smith notes that

‘The dimensions serve to show the vastness and the power of the curse. The scroll was gigantic, overwhelming and fearful’

which, although purposeful, belies the fact that scrolls upon which OT Scriptures would have been written would have been equally long (if not, longer) though certainly not as wide. He reckons that the scroll must have been open for its dimensions to be known but, as no measuring line is ever mentioned, this needn’t be so - the prophet could have estimated the size of what he saw in vision form from the thickness of the wound skin and the breadth would have been immediately obvious because it would have retained this dimension even when wound.

But Baldwin notes a better reason for seeing the scroll as open like a flag and covering the sky as one looks upwards. She writes (my italics)

‘The prophet now sees a scroll, not rolled up in its case and stacked in the archives for the use of the priests and scribes, but flying, open like a banner for all to read

It necessarily needs to be open for its contents to be read, even though what it actually says is immaterial as we have the summation of the message given to us from verse 3 - it represents

‘...the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land...’

The explanation of the vision (5:3-4) relies on a passage from Leviticus (14:33-53 esp v.45 in context) and it is to this that we must turn to understand what it is that Zechariah is being shown. I have dealt with this passage in my commentary on Leviticus which can be found on three different web pages here (which contains the majority of the discussion), here (which contains just some minor points) and here (which contains a summary of the text on the first mentioned web page).

When a house was found to contain a leprous growth, every effort had to first be made in order to try and save the house. It would have been easier simply to demolish the house and rebuild it but this would have placed the inhabitants in serious difficulty as it probably represented their one and only house in which they carried on community life. Therefore, the plaster and stones in which the growth was rooted were to be removed to a place outside the camp and were replaced by other stones and fresh plaster (Lev 14:33-42).

If the disease broke out again, there was nothing more that could be done, and the house had to be destroyed, ‘...its stones and timber and all the plaster...’ and removed outside the city boundary (Lev 14:43-45)

In my summation (here), I noted that

‘...the passage deals with a time when the Israelites will be resident in the land and does not refer to the rest of the two chapters discussed [Leviticus 13 and 14] which are primarily concerned with life throughout the wilderness wanderings.
‘The point here, again, is ceremonial uncleanness and what is acceptable to be found within God’s territory - though the spread of disease may have also been God’s intention (the presence of transmittable microbiological organisms may have been largely unknown in the Israelite culture).
‘If the tent of the previous points [in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14] represented the journeyings, the house represented the settlement within Canaan - symbolically, this shows us to be careful to remove from the Church everything that does not belong within our territory and to be a pure house.
‘That the house that could not be cleansed was destroyed after opportunity was given it to be clean, should wake us up to the possibility that an established church or church organisation is of no use to God and does not deserve to remain in His Kingdom if it fails to conform to the standard that is required of it’

God’s words through Zechariah about a man’s house being destroyed ‘...both timber and stones’ (5:4) show us that there has already been an attempt at cleansing the leprous condition of the nation, but that it has been unsuccessful (corresponding, perhaps, to God’s judgment of the nation through its captivity and exile, and the healing of their idolatry).

What is now needed is not remedial action but the annihilation and removal of the uncleanness to prevent further contamination within the land.

The two areas of uncleanness mentioned here are part of the ten commandments, ‘every one who steals’ (Zech 5:3 Cp Ex 20:15) is indicative of the human side of the covenant (loving man) while ‘everyone who swears falsely’ (Zech 5:3 Cp Ex 20:7 - that is, proclaiming that one is innocent and calling God to witness the fact even though one is ‘guilty as charged’) speaks of the Godward aspect (loving God). It is better to take the flying scroll as representative of both sides of the covenant and not proclaiming that there is no judgment upon the transgressions of the other eight commandments. In addition, both theft (Judges 17:2) and false swearing (I Kings 8:31-32) are associated with the curse and therefore seem indicative of the entire Old Testament covenant.

Mal 3:5 also talks about the Lord fighting against His enemies and enforcing justice throughout the land and that He will only do this when His people have first been cleansed so that they present right offerings to Him (Mal 3:1-4). The healing stream that God will cause/has caused to flow through the land (Zech 3:9) will do little to those who consistently refuse to follow after the ways of God and to be careful to fulfil the requirements of the covenant in their own lives, so God will take it upon Himself to sort out the problem which the exile and return from Babylon has failed to solve.

God does not desire to destroy the godly along with the wicked, so He cleanses His people in order that He may cleanse the society around them (I Peter 4:17-18). In Zech 1:3, God has already required the exiles to repent and 1:16 indicates that their response to His word is indicated by the statement that affirms God returning to the nation.

The ‘house’ of the transgressor (Zech 5:4) is not meant to be seen as a literal, physical dwelling but is used as is often in the OT to denote the descendants, lineage and possessions, the sum total of a man’s sphere of influence. Therefore, Isaiah says to Hezekiah (II Kings 20:1) that he should

‘...Set your house in order...’

(God was not concerned that Hezekiah’s bedroom was a tip - parents take note!!!) and the nation of Israel says to Judah (I Kings 12:16 Cp II Sam 2:4)

‘...Look now to your own house, David...’

certainly not saying that the entire southern kingdom would have been able to build a structure that could house them all. God’s house, the Temple (and now the Church in the NT - ‘Church’ with the meaning of ‘people’ and not ‘buildings’), is, similarly, the place where God causes His Presence to be known and His will to be done.

What Zechariah sees is that the propagators of evil will be hindered through the removal of entire households and families which will be undertaken, not by the people, but by the Lord Himself (Hosea 9:10-14).

This word must have been a great comfort to all of God’s people but if we wanted to single out one tier of society to whom this message would have been greeted with particular approval, we should turn to Israel’s judges. Although they dispensed justice in the cases that were brought before them, they did not have the power to either change people’s hearts or to eradicate the problem of the further propagation of sin (dealt with in the next vision, 5:5-11). Indeed, Law is powerless to effect change and simply knowing what is both right and wrong does not transform even willing covenated people to obey the requirements of the Law.

All the judges could do, then, was to pronounce a verdict with a relevant appeal to the just requirements of the Law.

Concluding, the house of the wicked stands condemned to annihilation (Prov 3:33) having already been given opportunity to repent through the exile, return and a direct word from God through Zechariah in 1:3. This condemnation means their removal from the remnant of Israel by a direct work of God (Zech 5:4, Lev 14:45).

In the next vision, God will go on to deal with the root cause of sin but, for the time being, He has declared Himself to be actively set against those who refuse to obey the covenant.

The Effect

Though the children of Israel continued to prosper as they built the Temple, it could not have escaped their notice that some amongst them still lived as enemies of God even though they came from the same lineage of Abraham and were true Jews according to natural descent.

Instead of thinking that their evil would bring about condemnation from the Lord and reap judgment once more, God shows here that the time has now come when He will begin to sift out those who live in opposition to His will and come against them to remove them from God’s people (whether through the removal from the land, through direct judgment in some miraculous and visibly demonstrable act of God or by marking them as not being a part of the nation even though they reside within its boundaries - or any other method chosen by God).

This direct action of God is vitally important if the returned exiles are to stay pure before God and committed to the ways and will of YHWH.