Zechariah 5 - Unidentified Flying Objects (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Unidentified Flying Objects
We’re back to Zechariah this morning. Chapter 5. This is the sixth vision. Some would say the sixth and the seventh vision here in chapter 5, but it’s likely 1 vision with 2 parts.
Zechariah 5 is found on page 945 in the church Bibles.
Reading of Zechariah 5
Just last week, the US Pentagon declassified over 1500 pages of documents. The topic of these documents – UFOs. Unidentified Flying Objects. The reports included sightings, medical reports, pictures, and videos. According to space.com, “The reported effects of UFO encounters include ‘unaccounted for pregnancy,’ ‘apparent abduction,’ paralysis, and experiences of perceived telepathy, teleportation and levitation.” Hmm, interesting list. One of the videos had already been leaked a few years ago. It showed an object about 40 feet long hovering 50 feet above the water. Maybe it was a flying scroll?
What would people say if they saw Zechariah’s 6th vision? “We first saw this flying sheet of paper. It was huge. And then it started to smash through walls and roofs of houses. Then the houses would burn up. no one survived. One house after another. And there was nothing left! It’s the aliens. They must have come to terrorize us. We’re doomed.”
We’ve read of visions with walls of fire; visions with multi-colored horses; visions of trees and lampstands. But this is probably the strangest of them all. A flying scroll and then a flying basket carried off to a distant land by these women with stork-like-wings.
One of the reasons that this vision is different is that the visions up to this point have been positive. Joshua’s filthy cloths replaced with pure vestments. God’s craftsman defeating the four horns of the enemy. A protective wall of fire. Endless golden oil. But here, we see destruction and evil.
What does it all mean?
Well, I think there are two things that help us understand vision six. First, remembering what happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and second, where this vision fits in the visions as a whole.
So first, it had been 68 years since the exile. The exile was when God used the Babylonians to discipline the Israelites. They had forgotten God, rejected his commands, and worshiped false gods. As a result, God’s presence left the temple and then the city and temple were utterly destroyed.
The people that weren’t killed, were carried off to Babylon. Now, it wasn’t Zechariah’s generation that rebelled. No, it was their parents’ generation. But the risk was the same if they rejected God and his commands. So in this vision, God’s was warning his people that he would not tolerate sin or the worship of false Gods. That’s the backdrop.
But second, this sixth vision fits well with the other visions. There’s a pattern in the visions. Overall, there are seven visions, if we consider this chapter as one vision. The visions forms a pyramid like pattern. Vision 1 relates to vision 7, vision 2 relates to vision 6, vision 3 relates to vision 5 and vision 4 is the top.
•Remember vision 4? Satan was accusing Joshua, but God vindicated Joshua and gave him clean clothes. That center vision is about the Gospel. God’s grace in justifying us through Christ.
•Taking one step back down the pyramid. Vision 3 was about the wall of fire and God’s presence. That was about God’s people – God’s protection of them and presence with them. Well, the parallel vision is vision 5 about the lampstands. That vision was also about God’s people - their purpose and mission. Do you see that parallel?
•Vision 2 was about God’s four craftsmen defeating the four horns. It was about God defeating the external threats to his people. Well, this vision, vision six is about God defeating the internal threats – sin and idolatry.
•And then, next week, we’ll see how vision 1 and 7 connect.
So this vision, vision 6 fits within the redemptive history of what happened to God’s people and it fits within the message of the visions.
And if I could summarize this vision in one sentence, it would be this: God will cleanse his people of sin and idolatry.
My goal this morning is that we’ll each grasp the disgracefulness of sin in God’s eyes and why sin needs cleansing… and through that, my hope is that our understanding of the cleansing work of Christ will be enriched.
I’ve been using that word cleansing because if you look at verse 3, you’ll see that word twice: “everyone who steals shall be cleaned out… everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out.”
Similarly in the part of the vision with the basket of wickedness, it is taken away. The word cleaned is not used, but the idea is similar - evil and wickedness being removed.
Hopefully that gives you the background and a sense of where we are headed.
So, let’s take these 2 parts of the vision one at a time. First, the flying scroll. Second, the woman in the basket. Then we’ll talk about God and his nature, and we’ll end with the cleansing work of Christ.
The Flying Scroll
So, the flying scroll. What’s interesting about it is how large it is. We’re told it’s 20 cubits long and 10 cubits wide. That translates to about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. If you want to try and get a sense of that, it’s about 1/3 the size of this room! Now, they didn’t have books the way we have books today with bindings and multiple pages. Rather, they had scrolls with writing on them which could be rolled up.
This scroll had words on it. In fact, words on both sides. In verse 3 and 4, the words on one side cursed or condemned the person who steals. And then the words on the other side condemned the person who swore falsely by God’s name.
In other words, this scroll represents God’s commands. Those two examples, stealing and swearing falsely in God’s name are representative of the 10 commandments. And the 10 commandments can be summarized this way – (1) love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. That’s a good summary of the law because that’s how Jesus summarized it.
Applying that to the scroll, “stealing” is representative of not loving your neighbor, and “swearing falsely in God’s name,” is representative of not loving the Lord God.
So this is a scroll of judgment. God’s law is going out and seeking out those who are violating his commands. The scroll is like a killer drone. It’s going around and rather than just having one target, it’s going door to door. It has the ability to read minds and hearts, and to see the past and know whether someone has violated God’s law. That’s scary. When it finds a lawbreaker, the scroll obliterates not just the people, but it destroys their house. The whole thing is gone – wood and stone gone.
The Woman in a Basket
Now, before we talk about what that means for God’s people in Jerusalem and for us, let’s consider the second flying object – the woman in a basket.
The first thing to note is that the angel describes the basket as the “iniquity of the land.” Iniquity is another word for immorality or evil. And when Zechariah was shown the contents of the basket – there was a woman sitting in the basket. And she had a name - “wickedness” (that’s in verse 8). Some have suggested that this woman represented one of the false deities – Ashtoreth – the seductive goddess. Besides the pagan cultures that worshipped her, she was also idolized among some of the Israelites. That’s a possible interpretation, or she may represent another false god. Either way, she represented evil and idolatry.
The picture we’re given is that this wickedness is captured. She is contained in this basket. And the cover is pure lead. Lead is one of the heaviest metals. We used to have this lead brick in our basement. It was unbelievably heavy. A regular red brick weighs between 4-5 pounds. Well, a lead brick of the same size weighs about 5 times that, or about 20-25 pounds. So a lead cover would be really heavy. In other words, this woman of wickedness is not getting out of this basket. She’s trapped.
And furthermore, she is not just contained. These 2 other women with wings appeared. They carried the basket far away. And Zechariah asked the angel, “where are they taking the basket” (verse 10). And the angel responded, “to the land of Shinar.”
Shinar is mentioned back in the book of Genesis chapters 10 and 11. It’s where the tower of Babel was built. It’s the same region where the Babylonian or Chaldeans empires were centered - between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. So the imagery is that this basket of iniquity is being taken away. Far away. All the way back to Babylon. Away from Jerusalem and God’s people.
And not only that, the basket is placed on the base of a house in Shinar. Verse 11. That same language is used for the base of the temple. In other words, this basket representing wicked idols and idolatry will be part of a false temple of false worship. Next week, we’ll find out just what happens to this far away land.
Overall, the vision of the basket being removed is similar to the vision of the scroll. The scroll represented the cleansing of sin from the land. The basket being removed meant the removal of evil from the land. The word “land” is used in verses 3 and 6. So God was giving Zechariah a picture that the land to which his people returned was to be clean and pure. There was to be no sin or idolatry. All sin and evil would be judged and removed. I like the way pastor Richard Philips summarized this vision. He wrote, “…the message of Zechariah 5… shows sin discovered because of God’s omniscience, sin judged because of God’s holiness, and sin removed by God’s almighty power.”
God’s Nature and Judgment on Sin
And something we should take note of in the vision is its very personal nature. Describing the flying scroll’s target, the angel said “everyone who steals” and “everyone who swears falsely by [God’s] name.” The judgment is on people who sin. And with the woman in the basket, there’s a personification of evil.
Sometimes we abstract sin from the sinner, or the idol from the idolator. But in this vision, God is cleansing the land of people. Of sinners and idolators – of those who pollute God’s people with their sin and evil. Why? Because God wants a people righteous and pure who follow his commands and worship him alone.
In Zechariah’s parents’ generation, God’s people had been infiltrated by those who worshiped false gods and who rejected his commands. Because of their collective sin and idolatry, God ultimately exiled them. So, God was telling Zechariah and the people that sinners and idolators would be judged and removed.
But we need to ask the question – if this killer drone like scroll is seeking out all sinners, and if idolators will be banished, then aren’t we all doomed? Because if we search our hearts, we know that we sin in thought and word, in what we do and don’t do. And we worship things that aren’t to be worshipped – prestige and comfort, money, pleasure, other people, and ourselves. We’re not worthy. As we think of this vision, we have to realize that we, ourselves, are the targets. The scroll is targeting us. We’re the ones worshiping the banished goddess in the basket. Romans 3 is right – “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; No one seeks God. All have turned aside.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We’re guilty. We deserve hell and the full punishment for our sin and rebellion against God. The reality of God’s judgment and justice needs to weigh upon our souls.
Now, hang in here with me. In order to see the wonder and love and depth and grace of God in the cleansing work of Christ, we first need to understand and deeply realize God’s righteous justice and hatred of sin and the sinner.
There is no place for sin nor the sinners in God’s holy presence. We have a hard time as fallen creatures grasping the utter holiness of God. It’s beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Yet, the Scriptures teach us of God’s pure and undefiled righteousness. It is who he is. God is infinite in his holiness. That word holy means set apart. And God is set apart to the n-th degree. Nothing compares to his glory in his goodness and justice and righteousness. And anything in his presence that goes against that very character and nature is anathema to him. God demands righteousness. Sin or idolatry in God’s sight cannot be tolerated because of his very nature.
As a family, we’ve been watching the classic teaching series by RC Sproul – The Holiness of God. It’s a great one, it’s on YouTube. Or you can read his book by the same title.
Sproul says this: “Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.” Sproul goes on to ask, “Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, ‘God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.’”
Sproul is saying our sin, no matter how small, condemns us. God’s Word – the Scriptures, which the scroll is referring to condemns us. God’s law, which is reflected in his Word and in creation all around us condemns us. We are stained and wretched, fallen, convicted, and sentenced. Every thought is impure and every action is polluted with selfish motivates that betray God and his Word.
God hates sin and evil and will bring judgment on the sinner and idolator.
When I was studying this chapter, someone brought up the phrase, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” Is that what this vision teaches? Have you said or thought that before? Has someone said that to you? Well, it’s both true and false. Yes, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” if the sinner believes by faith in Christ for his or her salvation. We still sin, God hates our sin, but through Christ’s righteousness, God loves us.
But can we say “God hates sin but loves the sinner” about someone who does not know or believe in Christ? The scriptures are clear that those not in Christ are condemned. They need the cleansing and atoning work of Christ.
Romans 9, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Psalm 5:4-6, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
Yes, John 3:16 is true “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That speaks of the saving work of Christ offered to the world. But one verse later, verse 18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” That’s pretty clear. Or at the end of the same chapter, John 3:36. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
To be sure, for us, we can and should, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” We’re not God and we don’t know who he will call unto himself. And the way we love the sinner is we speak to them of the Gospel hope of Christ which includes the warning of God’s judgment.
The scroll in the vision teaches us that, we need to be cleansed or we will face the consequences of God’s holiness and his holy law. We need the idols and wickedness in our lives carried away like the basket carried away far from us.
But here’s the good news. When we think of the condemnation we deserve because of our sin, and when we think of the holiness of God and the utter repulsiveness of sin, it’s then that we can begin to grasp just how amazing the cleansing work of Christ is.
1 John 1:9 say “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We’re called to confess them. It is the blood of Christ, that has satisfied God’s righteous judgment and wrath on those who come to Jesus in confession and faith. The eternal punishment of condemnation has been met by an eternal God who bore that condemnation for you if you come to him. And in him, you are cleansed.
Back to RC Sproul for a minute. He said, “when we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and hopelessness. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace.” He then said, “We may dislike giving our attention to God's wrath and justice, but until we incline ourselves to these aspects of God's nature, we will never appreciate what has been wrought for us by grace.”
Let me put it this way - the good news that is the Gospel, is good news precisely because of the bad news of God’s judgment on our sin.
As we come to a close, Zechariah 5 should weigh on our hearts in many ways.
•For one, as we’ve just worked through, sin is incompatible with God’s nature. He will deal with it, one way or another. For those of you who know and love God, who have turned their lives to him in faith, Jesus has dealt with it. He’s cleansed you from your sin. But if you don’t yet believe in Jesus as your Savior, see this chapter as a wake-up call of God’s justice and holiness. Your sin needs to be dealt with, and that will happen either through Christ or through God’s justice on you. Come to him and see and know what he has done and what he offers you and believe.
•A second implication for us, God’s people, should be a desire to pursue God and his righteousness. Even though our sin has been dealt with on the cross, we still sin. You know that. May this chapter also be a call to pursue a life of holiness. To be sure, we’re justified before God. We are holy because Christ has made us holy. That is our standing in Christ before our holy God (remember, that was vision 4 – the cleansed robes of righteousness.). What I’m saying here is that in Christ, we can pursue what is good and right. Through the Holy Spirit, we can say no to sin and yes to righteousness. We can seek to obey his commands. And by doing that, we’re being sanctified more and more each day as we pursue God’s in Christ. In other words, may this chapter renew in us a desire to pursue Godliness and holiness in our lives.
•And finally, there’s one last implication here I want to highlight. And it’s for the church. Remember, this vision is God cleaning the land. Meaning, God desires that his people be pure and holy. There’s a broader emphasis here on the body of Christ – the church. God wants his church to be pure. That means we should be calling one another to holiness. It means we should not tolerate unbelief, sin, and idolatry in the church. That doesn’t mean we get our boxing gloves out. No, that means we are reminding each other of the Gospel and reminding each other of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and coming alongside of each other in times of sin and unbelief to build up the body of Christ. It may mean times when ongoing unrepentant sin needs to be dealt with – but with the hope and prayer that repentance results.
And all of it… all of these implications… so that the body of Christ may reflect his holiness and his righteousness. So that we may be prepared as the bride of Christ for that day when he returns in Glory.