Meredith G. Kline, “Anathema” Kerux 10: 3 (Dec. 1994): 3-30.
Introduction. Structural Issues: According to the pattern of the introductory formulae (cf. 1:7-8; 2:1; 2:5; 3:1; 4:1-2; 5:1; 6:1) there are seven visions in Zech. 1:7-6:8, not eight, for Zechariah 5 is not to be divided into two visions but regarded as a unit, the sixth vision. The two triads of visions bracketing the central hinge vision (Zechariah 3) all include the phrase, “I saw and behold,” but that is absent from Zech. 5:5, where many commentators would begin a separate vision. The phrase we find instead at v. 5 is like one which marks the middle, not beginning, of a vision at Zech. 2:7
The unity of the two parts of Zechariah 5 is also indicated by certain interdependencies of grammar and terminology. Thus, the suffix in “their appearance” (v. 6) has as its antecedent the thieves and perjurers of v. 3. And the phrase “in all the land” (v. 6) resumes “all the land” in v. 3. Most compelling, however, are the clear thematic interrelationships of the two parts of the chapter and the remarkable intermeshing of their symbolism. The sixth vision portrays the judgment curse of exile, distinguishing its two distinct stages: destruction of the victims’ holdings in their homeland (vv. 1-4) and deportation with relocation in a foreign land (vv. 5-11). Details of the interlocking imagery of the two parts will emerge in the exegesis below.
Within the chiastic arrangement of the two triads of visions the second (2:1-4 [Eng. 1:18-21]) and sixth (5:1-11) correspond. Each is composed of two parts. Also, as the range of the night visions moves from the world in the first and seventh visions towards Zion and the holy of holies in the central three (the third through the fifth), the focus comes to the theocratic land in the second and sixth. Moreover, each of these deals with the removal of unholy elements from the holy land through instruments of divine judgment.
When the parallelism is traced between the visions and the likewise concentrically structured burdens of Zech. 9:1-14:21, the sixth vision and Zech. 13:2-9 correspond. Their common message “is judgment within the covenant realm, referred to in both as ‘all the land’ (5:3, 6; 13:8). Apostates are cut off from their place in the holy land (5:4, 9-11; 13:8). Associated with this removal is the motif of uncleanness, the unclean stork (5:9) and the unclean spirit (13:2). Prominent in the indictment is swearing or speaking lies in the name of the Lord (5:4; 13:3).”2
I. Dispossession of the Apostates (Zech. 5:1-4)
A. The Flying Scroll. 1. Covenant Curse: By identifying the scroll Zechariah saw as a “curse” (Zech. 5:3), the angel tells us it is a covenant document, the Lord’s treaty given through Moses. Ratified by the vassal’s oath of submission, such suzerainty covenants threatened dire curses in case of perfidy. Hence the terms “oath” and “curse” became synonyms for “covenant.”3 A standard section of the treaties was the sanctions, which (in their classic form) included blessings but were heavily weighted on the curse side (see Deut. 8:1-68; 29:16-28; cf. 27:11-26; Lev. 26:3-39).4 It is the execution of this curse sanction of the old covenant that is portrayed in Zechariah 5.
The expression in Zech. 5:3, “on this side . . . on the other side,” is possibly a specific allusion to the covenant tablets of Sinai, since it is used in Exod. 32:15 to describe those stone tablets as inscribed on both sides.5 But the idea might also be that the curse strikes here and there, that is, everywhere throughout “the whole land” (cf. Deut. 28:16-19).
When calling upon Israel to swear their covenant loyalty Moses forewarned: “It shall come to pass, if you do not obey Yahweh your God, . . . that all these curses will come upon you . . . They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed” (Deut. 28:15, 45). Ultimate among the threatened curses would be the siege and destruction of their dwellings in the holy land and banishment to an alien land. “Yahweh will bring a nation against you from afar . . . swooping down like an eagle” (Deut. 28:49). “They will besiege you in all your cities until your high and fortified walls come down throughout all your land” (Deut. 28:52). “You will be plucked off the land . . . and Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples” (Deut. 28:63-4). By Zechariah’s day such an exile judgment had befallen Israel and Judah alike, and now those recently restored from that Babylonian captivity are warned by Zechariah that again in the future such a curse would descend on the covenant community. The houses of the covenant breakers in the promised land would be consumed (Zech. 5:1-4) and they would themselves be removed to the land of Shinar (Zech. 5:5-11).
“‘I will cause it [the curse scroll] to go forth,’ declares Yahweh of hosts” (Zech. 5:4). In international vassal-treaty relationships the gods invoked as witnesses had the role of visiting the curse sanctions on the offending vassal. But Yahweh, covenant Lord of Israel, is also the God of Israel’s oath. He would, therefore, himself be the one who would bring the fierce foreign nation against his disobedient people, as Moses warned (Deut. 28:49). When his anger was kindled against them for forsaking his covenant, it was he who would bring on them all the curses written in his treaty (Deut. 29:25-28).
2. Twenty by Ten Cubits: The dimensions of the curse-scroll were those of the forecourt of the temple (1 Kgs. 6:3), a precinct associated with judicial process (1 Kgs. 8:31-2). They were also the dimensions of a kindred holy space, the area spanned by the cherubim figures in the holy of holies, the golden setting of the brilliant gem of theophanic Glory. For each cherub was ten cubits high and each outstretched wing of the two cherubim was five cubits (their inside wings touching in the middle above the ark and their two outside wings extending to the walls on either side) for a total width of twenty cubits (1 Kgs. 6:23-7).6
The flying scroll’s dimensions thus direct us to the site from which it issued forth, to the ark in the holy of holies, where the Mosaic treaty texts were kept under the feet of their Author and Administrator, the Lord of the covenant. This documentary witness to the oath-ratified covenant, deposited in the ark, was the reality behind the visionary flying scroll. Judgment would be administered according to the standards stipulated in these covenant documents for life in holy fellowship with the Lord God in his kingdom of love and glory. The King of Glory, enthroned above the ark of the covenant scroll, would maintain the sanctity of his holy house and land according to the covenant’s stipulations, cleansing them of all that failed to satisfy its demands, punishing all such according to its sanctions. “According to it . . . according to it” (Zech. 5:3), they must be cut off.
To carry out this anathema mission of the flying scroll, the Lord sends forth the heavenly agents of judgment, the angels symbolized by the winged cherubim figures flanking the ark of the scroll in the holy of holies. These celestial beings, the guardians of God’s holy Presence and the tree of life from the beginning, wielders of the flaming sword at the entrance of Eden, would bring the curse-scroll winging over the land, cutting off with their fiery sword all that profaned God’s holy land and temple.
Adoption of the dimensions of the area occupied by the cherubim as the measurements of the flying scroll indicates that it represents the angelic executors of judgment as well as the covenant document, the standard of judgment. The fact that the scroll was flying recalls the exile curse of Deut. 28:49, which foretells the coming of the agents of Yahweh’s judgment “as the eagle flies. ” And, of course, the agents of the deportation of the woman in the ephah in the second part of Zechariah’s sixth vision also fly. Moreover, as seen by Zechariah the flying scroll was perhaps actually winged, like the women carrying the ephah (Zech. 5:9). Such wing appendages would suggest the figures of the cherubim more immediately and graphically than the scroll’s dimensions. Further, the impressionistic image conveyed by the scroll, a large sheet of parchment or leather sailing through the sky, would be that of a cloud.7 Here was a judgment cloud moving over the land, the winged cloud identified with the cherubim, the cloud-chariot on which the divine warrior-judge advances over the earth (Pss. 18:10-16 [Eng. 9-15]; 104:3).
Now this cherub-winged chariot cloud is one and the same as the theophanic cloud of Glory, the divine Presence revealed in the holy of holies above the ark. In the configuration of symbols there in the holy of holies all the elements of the Zecharian scroll image come together: the ark of the covenant was the provenance of the flying scroll and the ark was the footstool of the enthroned King of Glory, guarded by the overshadowing wings of the cherubim. Scroll and cherubim betoken the presence of the Lord of hosts. Hence the flying scroll not merely symbolizes the standard of the covenant judgment and its angelic agents, it also represents a parousia of the covenant God and Judge himself. It images an anathema advent of the Lord of hosts riding through the heavens in the midst of his vehicular angel agents.
B. Thieves and Perjurers. From the nature of the flying scroll as an administrative instrument of Yahweh’s treaty with Israel it is evident that its sphere of judgment is the covenant nation rather than the kingdoms of the world. Other details confirm this. The term ha’arets, though it can mean “earth,” in Zech. 5:3 must mean “land” (i.e., Canaan), for in the sequel the guilty who are detected in all this “land” (v. 6) are removed to another land, “the land of Shinar” (v. 11). Also, one of the offenses mentioned, namely, swearing falsely by the name of Yahweh (vv. 3, 4), implies that the offenders have been avowed subjects of Yahweh within the sphere of his covenant domain.
The particular sins specified as the ground of the curse judgment, perjury and theft, comprise transgression of the first and great commandment and the second, like unto it. Dishonoring God’s name by perjury violates the requirement to love him supremely and stealing from one’s neighbor is failure to love him as oneself. The selection of theft to individualize sins against neighbors may be due to the connection of sins of embezzlement with swearing oaths of clearance in theocratic judicial process (cf. Lev. 5:20-26 [Eng. 6:1-7]). When the false swearing of an oath of innocence is added to robbery, trespass of the eighth commandment becomes a direct offense against Yahweh too (Lev. 5:21 [Eng. 6:2]).8 Haters of God and man, godless and lawless, breakers of the covenant, apostates—against such was the scroll curse aimed.
A distinctive feature of the Zechariah 5 portrayal of the offenses that come under judgment is their association with the market place. All the details of the vision, the standards of measurement and weight (cubits, ephah, talent), the theft perpetrated through false balances and aggravated by lying oaths, all this symbolism conducts us into the world of commerce, its business and its sins. What characterizes the apostates targeted by the covenant curse is a mercantile idolatry. They repudiate Yahweh, King of Glory, prostituting themselves to the love of the glory of the world, to the worship of Mammon. Tolerated within the covenant ranks they would change the holy community into something indistinguishable from the world. They would turn Jerusalem into Babylon. Therefore, the King of Zion sends the curse scroll over the whole face of the land to excise them.
C. Demolition of the Houses of Mammon. Zech. 5:3-4 describes the first stage of exile: siege and destruction. The verb naqah in v. 3 is rendered by some “acquit” rather than “cut off.” “Acquit” is the usual meaning of the Piel and if the Niphal form in v. 3 reflects that, the guilty are viewed as having resorted to the oath of clearance procedure (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:31), swearing falsely in God’s name to get themselves acquitted. The point would be that in the eyes of the heavenly Judge, who does not hold those guiltless who swear covenant oaths falsely (Exod. 20:7; 34:7), their false oaths have compounded not cleared their sins, and they will not escape his vengeance. However, the Niphal of naqah may mean “be made desolate, empty” (cf. Isa. 3:26). Also attested is a corresponding meaning of the Piel, “to clear away, purge” (cf. Joel 4:19, 21 [Eng. 3:9, 21]; Deut. 19:10, 13; 21:9; 32:43; Isa. 26:21). And it is more natural to understand v.3b as referring to the desolation effected by the curse God sends forth—specifically mentioned just before (v. 3a) and after (v. 4)—than to the clearance resulting from an oath of innocence that had only supposedly been sworn.9
This cutting off takes the form of the demolition of the apostates’ houses (Zech. 5:4). When threatening Israel with the exile curse, Moses mentioned the leveling of walls associated with siege (Deut. 28:52). Concerning the disobedient he also said they would build houses but not live in them (Deut. 28:30). The extra-biblical treaty-curse repertoire also included overturning of the victim’s house (cf. the eighth century Aramaic Sefire treaty I, C. 21-23). In Zechariah’s nearer background are the threats of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:5; 3:29) and Darius (Ezra 6:11) that the houses of any defying their edicts would be laid in ruins.
Entering the houses of the thieves and perjurers, the curse consumes (kalah; cf. Deut. 28:21) them. Destruction by fire is probably meant. In a similar context in Ezekiel, God declares: “I have poured out my indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath” (Ezek. 22:31). The covenant breakers will discover that the fiery doom of the curse can not be averted. The arrogant Jehoiakim tried. He took the scroll on which God’s prophet had transcribed the covenantal curses, cut it in pieces, and cast them into the fire until all the scroll was incinerated (Jer. 36:1-26). But he was not done with it. The curse-scroll rose from the ashes, rewritten, with many like curses added to it (Jer. 36:27-32). And, applying the lex talionis, it flew over the land, incinerating the houses of all who despised its warning, people and king alike (cf. Jer. 39:8).
This fire-curse has a supernatural intensity for it has been sent forth (Zech. 5:4a) by the One of whom Isaiah wrote: “And the Light of Israel will be for a fire and his Holy One for a flame; and it will burn and devour his [i.e., the Assyrian foe’s] thorns and his briers in one day” (Isa. 10:17). In the ordeal at Carmel this Holy Light demonstrated that he was God indeed by sending a fire that devoured not only the burnt offering and the wood but the stones of the altar as well—a miraculous melt-down (1 Kgs. 18:38). The miracle of judgment is repeated in Zech. 5:4; the fiery curse consumes the houses “with their timbers and stones.” The demolition is total. The apostates are completely despoiled of the heritage they forfeited as false sons of the covenant. “Surely you make them fall into ruin . . . they become a desolation in a moment” (Ps. 73:18-19).
While the combination of wood and stones in Zech. 5:4 underscores the completeness of the destruction, another nuance is suggested by its use in the treaty sanctions that inform the curse-scroll image. Twice Moses describes idols as wood and stone, the idols of the nations encountered by Israel at their national beginnings (Deut. 29:17) and the gods of the nation that would eventually take Israel into captivity, the gods of wood and stone that the accursed covenant breakers would themselves worship there in exile (Deut. 28:36). In Zechariah 5, where the idolizing of material wealth is the peculiar evil of the offenders, their houses sum up their idolized acquisitions, and the wood and stone represent those houses. Already in Yahweh’s land they were worshipping gods of wood and stone. Their houses were temples of Mammon. Continuing this theme, the second part of the sixth vision repeats the curse-threat of Deut. 28:36 as it pictures the apostates removed to Shinar and established as an idol-cultus there.
D. Reversal of the Tenth Plague. The scroll judgment of Zechariah 5 bears a striking resemblance to the tenth plague on Egypt.10 In each episode God launches the attack (Exod. 11:1; Zech. 5:4a), an aerial assault in both cases. The curse-scroll flies over the whole land and enters houses to inflict destruction; the angel destroyer passed over all the land of Egypt (Exod. 11:6; 12:12) and entered the houses of the Egyptians to smite the households with death (cf. Exod. 12:23). The tenth plague took place during the night, and the description of the scroll-curse as “passing the night” (literally) in the doomed houses possibly echoes that. The Glory-Presence is the reality represented by the winged scroll, and God was present in that same theophanic form in the paschal event (cf. Exod. 13:21).
There was, however, one great difference between the two episodes and that difference constitutes the tragedy of Israel symbolized by the flying scroll. Whereas in the night of the tenth plague the Lord had protectively hovered over” the Israelite houses, guarding their blood-marked doorways against the entrance of the destroyer, it is precisely Israelite houses that he targets for the devastating penetration of the scroll-curse. He no longer affords them covert under the shadow of his wings. He regards the apostate Israelites and treats them as he did the hardened pharaoh and Egyptians of old.12
Zechariah 5 warns those restored from the Babylonian exile of a future recurrence of national cutting off. Israel would again forfeit, this time beyond recovery, their national election to the heritage of the typological kingdom offered in the blessing sanctions of the old covenant. In that respect, they would be disowned and suffer dispossession and dispersion as the vengeance of the covenant Lord, a coming of the wrath of God upon them to the uttermost (cf. 1 Thess. 2:16). This fate foretold in Zechariah 5 overtook the old order in 70 A. D., the doom Jesus announced in language recalling Zechariah 5: “Your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt. 23:38).
Clearly pointing to the fall of old covenant Israel as the (at least) initial fulfillment of the flying scroll judgment is the interpretive recasting of the sixth vision in Zech. 13:2-9, the parallel to Zechariah 5 in the matching chiastic structures of the two parts of the book. There again we read of a judgment affecting “all the land” (v. 8), and again of a cutting off: “two parts therein shall be cut off and perish” (v. 8). And connected with this judgment is the prophecy of the messianic shepherd’s rejection and the scattering of his followers (v. 7; cf. Matt. 26:31-2; Mark 14:27). The cutting off befalls the generation that knew not the hour of its messianic visitation. In its leadership and as a whole it was a generation of thieves and perjurers. They turned the house of God into a den of thieves (Jer. 7:11; Matt 21:13) and bore false witness against the Son of God. Refused and cast out by them, the vindicated, exalted Messiah-Prince sent the Roman legions as his army to destroy their temple-city, pouring out on their abominable apostasy the desolations foretold in covenant sanctions and prophetic visions (Deut. 9:26-7).
II. Deportation of the Apostates (Zech. 5:5-11)
Siege and its devastation are followed by the deportation of the conquered to the land of their captors. The Deuteronomic treaty sanctions foretold a day when it would be said of Israel that “because they forsook the covenant . . . the anger of Yahweh was kindled against this land to bring upon it all the curse that is written in this book; and Yahweh rooted them out of their land . . . and cast them into another land” (Deut. 29:25-28; cf. 28:63). Zech. 5:5-11 portrays a final carrying away of Israel into exile as the transporting of a woman, Wickedness, in an ephah-container borne by two stork-winged women to the land of Shinar. The first part of the sixth vision had pictured the destruction of the apostates’ idolized houses in Canaan; this second part concludes with the construction of an idol-house for them in Babylon. Like the curse-scroll in the first part, the ephah in the second is seen in flight and here too the passage through the air indicates that the judgment issues from heaven, from the throne of the Lord of heaven and earth. The wind was in the wings of the two women (v. 9), the propulsive power for their aerial journey, and the winds are ministers of God sent forth to do his bidding (cf. Ps. 104:4; Zech. 6:5).
A. The Flying Ephah. 1. Ephah and Talent: Continuing the motif of standard measures (cf. the cubits, v. 2), measures of volume and weight are now introduced into the vision. Zechariah sees a container, described only as to its capacity as an ephah (v. 6, estimated at about two-thirds of a bushel). It probably looked like a vessel customarily used for holding grain. Covering its round opening was a lid, which is denoted as a circular talent (v. 7, estimated at some 75 pounds). It is also referred to as a “stone” (v. 8), Hebrew ‘eben, which can mean “weight.” The material of this talent-weight was lead.
These standardized weights and measures represent God’s holy standards of covenant life, also symbolized by the twenty-by-ten-cubit flying scroll. A point of interest here, significant for the unity of Zechariah 5, is that the emblem of the flying scroll (or the related winged solar disk) has been found on the handles of jars (like the ephah container) stamped with the royal seal (apparently identifying the containers as royal standards). The two standards of Zech. 5:6-8, the ephah and the talent-weight, are mentioned together in laws concerning just weights and measures (Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:15) and in passages where false ephahs and balances are condemned as “an abomination to Yahweh” (Prov. 20:10; Mic. 6:10-11). Such abuse of ephah and talent, sins of market place traffic, is thievery and perjury (falsification of the standards and vain exploitation of the name of God). Evidenced again is the interrelation of the two parts of the sixth vision.
It was because of the sins associated with the ephah and talent that the apostates were under the curse of the covenant. That idea is conveyed in the symbolism of Zech. 5:5ff. by having the talent-covered ephah function as God’s instrument of judgment, carrying off the guilty into exile (cf. Prov. 13:6). The woman “Wickedness,” symbol of the accursed deportees, is confined within the ephah (visionary symbolism is not concerned with such incongruity of scale). The lead-talent is brought into the picture as part of a dramatic introduction of the woman. After identifying the ephah (Zech. 5:5, 6a), the angel prepares Zechariah for the emerging of the woman with the announcement: “This is their appearance in all the land” (v. 6b).13 To reveal the woman sitting within, the lead cover of the ephah had to be momentarily lifted, and afterwards it was slammed down again. The role of the lead-talent was to ensure that the captive within could not escape; it made the ephah a prison. The heaviness of lead would suit it to that function, but there may be more to it than that. A parallel to this imagery is found in Hittite incantations, in which demons and various evils are dealt with by putting them in bronze cauldrons with lead lids so that they cannot come out and by setting the cauldrons in the depths of the sea or netherworld.14 Such a background would add dark overtones to Zechariah’s symbolism, suggestive of the satanic character of the wickedness placed under the divine anathema.
2. The Winged Women: In the apparition of the two stork-winged women who lift the ephah into the air15 and fly it away to Shinar we have an unholy counterpart to the theophany of the Glory between the cherubim above the ark. This variation on the motif of the winged scroll (and solar disk) is another item in the remarkable symbolic linkage of the two parts of Zechariah 5.16 Specification of the wings as those of a stork might be due simply to the suitability of the strong wings of the stork for this assignment, but in this unholy configuration the stork’s unclean status must be relevant (cf. Lev. 11:19; Deut. 14:18). Unclean agents are used by the Judge of Israel to remove the defilement from his holy land to unclean Babylon, habitation of demons and a hold of every unclean spirit and unclean bird (Rev. 18:2). His use of these evil beings as instruments of his wrath against the apostates here is like his employing of the ungodly Assyrians and Babylonians to take rebellious Israel into exile.
The choice of female figures to depict the unclean agents might be by attraction to the symbolism of the woman “Wickedness.” Or, as with the lead weight, there is possibly an adaptation of a legendary concept. Quite similar are the harpies of Homeric epic, winged female beings, spirits of wind and storm who snatch people and carry them away.17 Here again the symbolic details would be conjuring up the demonic dimension of the drama.
B. The Woman Wickedness. “This is their appearance in all the land” (v. 6b). “This” in v. 6b does not refer back to the ephah (v. 6a) but forward to the woman (v.7b). “Behold” (hinneh) in v.7a begins the fulfillment of the expectation created by the special call to attention in v. 6b,18 and “this is a woman” (v. 7b) identifies what v.6b was pointing to. Then the final “this” in v. 8a introduces the interpretation of the figure of the woman referred to in vv. 6b, 7.
“Appearance” in v. 6b is Hebrew ‘ayin, “eye,”19 in the sense of what the eye sees, as when it is said God does not look on the outward appearance (‘ayin) but on the heart (l Sam. 16:7; cf. Exod. 10:5; Lev. 13:55; Num. 22:5). The antecedent of the plural suffix in “their appearance”—extremely puzzling to those who suppose a separate vision begins at v. 5—is the thieves and perjurers of vv. 3, 4.20 In the first part of the vision they are referred to as individuals and identified by their particular infractions of the covenant stipulations. Here the guilty are gathered into a collective symbol: “this is their appearance,” this woman Wickedness pictures what they are in the eyes of God as he judicially scans “all the land” (cf. Zech. 4:10).
The idolatrous, spiritually adulterous nature of the objects of God’s anathema is intimated by the symbolic figure of the woman. Israel, unfaithful to her marriage covenant with Yahweh, is often portrayed as a harlot, an unfaithful woman who forsakes the Lord God and commits whoredom with her idol-lovers (e.g. Hosea 1-3; Jer. 2; 3; Ezek. 16; 23). As taken up into the symbolic fabric of the Book of Revelation, the woman of Zechariah 5 is the great harlot, unfaithful to the Lamb and prostituting herself to the Beast and the world.
The woman’s name, “Wickedness” (Heb. rish’ah),21 also connotes harlotry, the harlotry of apostasy from the covenant Lord. In tracing the evidence for this we include the use of related terms like resha’, “wickedness;” the adjective rasha’, “wicked;” and the denominative verb rasha’, “be wicked, act wickedly.” The dominant use of the verb (especially in exilic and postexilic texts) is with reference to Israel’s breaking of the covenant in spite of God’s faithfulness in keeping it (1 Kgs. 8:47; 2 Chr. 6:37; Dan. 9:5, 15; 11:32; 12:10; Neh. 9:33), the wickedness of departing from God (2 Sam. 22:22; Ps. 18:22). The adjective is used as the antonym of “righteous” in statements about the contrasting conduct and the diametrically opposite final destinies of the covenant faithful and unfaithful, “him that serves God and him that serves him not” (Mal. 3:18; Ps. 1:5, 6; Prov. 3:33; 14:11). At times the imagery of harlotry is explicitly applied to the way of the wicked. Psalm 106, referring to the Israelite covenant breakers as “the wicked” (v.18), charges them with playing the harlot (v. 39). Similarly Psalm 73, wrestling with the perplexing prosperity of “the wicked” (vv. 3, 12), identifies their conduct as playing the harlot from God (v. 27b).
Noteworthy in the usage of these terms are points of contact with distinctive features in Zechariah 5. As in the case of the sins of the thieves and perjurers in Zech. 5:1-4, the reprobated behavior of “the wicked” is an idolatry of Mammon (Pss. 37:21; 73:12; Prov. 10:2), involving the use of lying ephah and false weights (Mic. 6:10, 11). The scroll’s curse on the houses is paralleled in Prov. 3:33, “The curse of Yahweh is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous,” and in Prov. 14:11, “The house of the wicked shall be overthrown, but the tent of the upright shall flourish” (cf. Prov. 10:2). In the same vein are Ps. 73:19, which says of the ultimate fate of the wealthy wicked, “How are they become desolate in a moment, utterly swept away by terrors,” and Mal. 3:19 [Eng. 4:1], which warns that “all who work wickedness (rish ‘ah) shall be stubble, and the day that is coming shall burn them up, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” And then there is the extraordinary parallel in 2 Chr. 24:7. Reporting how the sons of the notorious Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and (likely) of Jezebel, had (at her instigation, cf. 2 Chr. 22:3) taken what was dedicated to the Lord’s house and used it for the Baalim, it refers to the queen herself as “the wickedness” (hammirsha ‘at). Surely this embodiment of wickedness in the apostate Athaliah is the historical model behind Zechariah’s image of wickedness personified as the woman in the ephah.22
C. Construction of the Shinar Shrine. Shinar, the exile destination of the captive woman, Wickedness (Zech. 5:11), was the site of postdiluvian humanity’s ancient challenge against the Lord of Har-Magedon (Gen. 11:2; cf. 10:10; 14:1, 9),23 The Babel project stands in Scripture as the representative attempt of an idolatrous world in revolt to exalt itself to heaven by its own strength for its own glory. It was a repudiation of the redemptive grace of God that had been manifested in his ark-covenant with Noah (Gen. 6:18) and it serves in the Genesis record as a foil for the immediately following narrative of the covenant of promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12ff.) Babel in the land of Shinar is the great apostasy. In the final days of Judah and its monarchy Nebuchadnezzar revived the ancient apostate ideology there in Babylon, the world city. It was to the land of Shinar that he carried the captives of Judah, along with the vessels of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, which he placed in the house of his god there (Dan. 1:2). That is the pattern reproduced in the visionary deportation of the woman in the ephah to the land of Shinar. For the harlot Wickedness to be reestablished in this Shinar location is to be absorbed back into the apostate, idol-worshipping world (cf. Deut. 28:36) from which Israel had been separated by national election and redemption.
Construction of a house for the apostates in Shinar at the close of the vision (v. 11) balances the destruction of their houses in Canaan in the first part of the vision. The houses destroyed by the curse-scroll had been virtual temples of Mammon, and in the account of the house prepared for the ephah in Shinar the Hebrew bayit is evidently used in the sense of “house of a god, temple.” The god to be enshrined here is the same—Mammon, the idolized treasures of this world represented by the ephah with the talent cover. Indicative of the cultic character of this house is the setting of the ephah on its “base” (mekunah). Such bases were features of temples in the historical background of Zechariah’s visions. There were the bases from Solomon’s temple that Nebuchadnezzar carried off (2 Kgs. 25:13-16; Jer. 52:17-20; 27:19-22; cf. 1 Kgs. 7:27ff.) and the base on which the altar was set in the restored temple (Ezra 3:1-3). Possibly the word ephah contains a hint that the house where it gets installed on its base is a temple, for a pun may be intended on the names of ziggurats in which the first element was E (Sumerian, “house”), and one of which (at Lagash) was E.pa, “summit house.”24
Curiously, no mention is made of the woman apart from the ephah at the destination in Shinar. Zech. 5:11 answers a question about the ephah (v. 10) and, therefore, the ephah is to be taken as the direct antecedent of the feminine pronouns in v. 11. Yet the woman held captive in the ephah would be implicitly included in the question (v. 10) and the answer (v. 11). Since nothing is said about the woman being released from the ephah she must share in the disposition made of it. Now the enshrinement of the ephah-god is an act of enthronement.25 Agreeably, the verb used for depositing the ephah in Zech. 5:11 is nuach, from which derives menuchah, “resting place, rest,” a term that denotes Yahweh’s royal sabbatical session (1 Chr. 28:2; Ps. 132:7, 8, 13, 14; Isa. 66:1; cf. Exod. 20:11, where the verb nuach itself is used for God’s Sabbath enthronement).26 If then the woman shares in the treatment received by the ephah, she too would be enthroned at the prepared place. She would “sit a queen” (cf. Rev. 18:7) over the great city Babylon.
D. Reversal of the Exodus. Comparison with Israel’s experience under Moses once again proves instructive. What we found in comparing the flying scroll with the tenth plague episode, namely, formal similarity in the phenomena but with totally opposite effect on the Israelites, we find again in comparing the flying ephah with the exodus deliverance. The image of the soaring stork-winged women carrying the ephah recalls the eagles’ wings on which the Lord bore the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, through the sea and wilderness. Like the flying scroll, the flying women with the ephah bring to mind the cherubim-winged chariot-cloud of the Lord.27 But whereas the flying scroll represented the divine Presence, the flying escort of the apostate Israelites in Zechariah 5, though used by God as his agent of judgment, is a demonic impostor. It is an anti-Glory Spirit. It does not shepherd a flock to the promised inheritance in Canaan (cf. Ps. 78:52-55) but marches a captive band far off to unholy Babylon, away from the true sanctuary on Zion’s mount of assembly to a shrine belonging to the pseudo-Har-Magedon ziggurat tradition of Shinar.
Envisaged as the final objective of the exodus redemption was the preparing of a dwelling for the Glory-Presence enthroned between the cherubim above the ark containing the covenant revelation, the ark with golden “mercy-seat” cover bespeaking atonement. A satanic antithesis of this looms at the end of the Zechariah 5 deportation: the preparation of a house for the enshrinement of the idol-ephah, the ephah with lead cover bespeaking alienation and confining within the personified revolt against the covenant.
Exile-repudiation, a complete reversal of the exodus-redemption—that is the fate of the accursed apostates. How this plays out in history is not disclosed in Zechariah’s sixth vision. Zechariah 5:11 hints at a future for the woman Wickedness enthroned in the Shinar shrine. Another chapter in the story of the harlot Babylon is adumbrated here, something beyond the end of the old era in the 70 A.D. destruction of the temple, a mystery that unfolds in the apocalyptic visions of the new covenant.
III. Beyond the Fall of Israel
A. Mystery: The True Israel. Though sweeping through all the land, the curse of the flying scroll is a surgical strike that selectively targets the apostate thieves and perjurers for dispossession and deportation. A spared, surviving remnant is implied. This remnant becomes more explicit in the parallel prophecy of the judgment of Israel in Zech. 13:8, 9. In that passage, alongside two-thirds who are cut off and die there is one-third that is left alive, a remnant whom God acknowledges as his genuine people.
Other Old Testament prophecies of the fall of Israel also join to it the hope of the promised fullness of Israel. An outstanding instance is the second of Isaiah’s two vineyard songs. The first, Isa. 5:1-7, foretells only that God will lay waste his vineyard, Israel. In this respect it matches what is explicit in the message of Zechariah 5. But the second song, Isa. 27:2-13, while it speaks of a smiting, a breaking off and fiery consumption of branches, and a turning of the city into a forsaken wilderness, adds the idea of a purgative effect and the prospect of great fruitfulness, of an ingathering one by one from Egypt to Assyria. It promises an ultimate fullness in spite of the fall.
In the light of such passages we may detect in the implicit presence of a remnant in Zechariah 5 an intimation that purgation as well as punishment was at least an indirect purpose of the mission of the volant scroll. However, this purifying effect of the judgment that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was not intended as a reformation of the Mosaic covenant order, with a view to its continuation. On the contrary, this judicial purge was a removing of this old order off the stage of history to make room for the true fulfillment of the kingdom covenanted unto Abraham, fulfillment at the new covenant level. The national election of Israel as the people of the provisional Mosaic kingdom was cancelled in curse and the typological order terminated in desolation and diaspora. But for the individual election of sovereign grace there was no failure of the guaranteed blessings; the Torah Covenant of works with its typological kingdom had not annulled the earlier promise-faith covenant. That covenant of grace continued and underlay the typological-works level of the Law, finding expression in the ever present elect remnant (Rom. 11:1-6) and at last in that “one third” not cut off, who continued through the collapse of Israel to become the nucleus of the community of faith under the new covenant of grace.
Within the total compass of Zechariah’s night visions the message of the covenant curse in the sixth vision is more than balanced by assurances of the covenant’s eschatological blessings. Indeed, the curse was to contribute to the realization of the blessings for all the seed of promise, the true Israel. Vision six and vision two, which form a pair in the concentric structure of the seven visions, describe a centrifugal movement of unclean elements out of the holy kingdom. Vision two deals with the removal of oppressive aliens from the holy land; vision six, with the expunging of the apostates. This is complemented by a counter-movement in visions three and five, a centripetal, conversion dynamic by which those afar off come to Zion to help build God’s house; more than that, to become part of God’s Spirit-temple (cf. Zech. 10:8ff.). Towards this glorious development, the termination of the old typological order and the destruction of its temple made a negative contribution by clearing the way.
The anathema mission of the flying scroll was thus a prelude to the completing of the true temple through Messiah’s menorah mission of blessing to the nations (cf. Zech. 4). This is an aspect of the mystery of the hardening in part that befalls Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (Rom. 11:25). That the fall of Israel should lead to the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11) and the realization of the fullness of both the Jews (Rom. 11:12) and Gentiles (Rom. 11:25) excites praise for God’s unsearchable wisdom in the apostle who, in dependence on Isaiah’s second vineyard song, provides us with a profound biblical-theological exposition of this wonderful counsel of salvation (Rom. 11:33-36).
Zechariah’s night visions point beyond the passing away of the old Israel under Moses to the mystery of the true new Israel in Christ. What Zechariah and other Old Testament prophets foresaw dimly, new covenant revelation brilliantly illuminates: A realization in the fullness of time of the mystery of God’s will, whereby he sums up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:9,10), gathering Gentiles as fellow-members of the body and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph. 3:2-4). The remnant that was not cut off in the collapse of the typological Israelite kingdom was an earnest of the glory of Christ’s church, “which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23).
In the New Testament Apocalypse, the true Israel, the election, is represented by the figure of a women, who is first seen (Rev. 12:1ff.) adorned with heavenly glory and giving birth to the messianic male child, and at the close of the book (Rev. 21:9ff.) appears as a bride, the wife of the Lamb, shining with the glory of God. The Book of Revelation is concerned primarily with the woman as the mystery church of the messianic age, but her role in bringing forth Christ as to the flesh also implies her previous presence in the premessianic era. Spanning the old and new covenants, she evidences the underlying unity and continuity of the ongoing covenant of grace.
We shall be considering the relation of this woman to the harlot Babylon figure in the Book of Revelation, and as we do so we will be commenting on the influence of Zechariah 5 on the Apocalyptic treatment of the career of the harlot. At the moment, we want to note allusions to Zechariah 5 in the Revelation 12 account of the woman who represents the true Israel.28 Her deliverance from the dragon is pictured in exodus imagery. She is threatened by a river poured out of the dragon’s mouth, but the waters are swallowed by the earth, an event akin to Israel’s crossing of the sea (Rev. 12:15, 16). Her flight from the dragon takes her into the wilderness, as did Israel’s from pharaoh (Rev. 12:6, 13, 14), and as God carried Israel on eagles’ wings (Exod. 19:4), so the woman is given the two wings of a great eagle to fly to safety (Rev. 12:6, 13, 14). It is at this point that the influence of Zechariah 5, specifically its depiction of the deportation of the woman Wickedness, is evident, not just in the motif of flying but in the description of the destination as “the place prepared for her” (Zech. 5:11; Rev. 12:6, 14). These allusions to Zechariah 5, by calling attention to the exodus-like event in the career of each of the two women, actually brings into focus the difference between the two. For the exodus in the case of the woman Wickedness of Zechariah 5 is in fact a reversal of the exodus, an abandonment to the world, while the exodus experienced by the Revelation 12 woman is the true, antitypical exodus, a deliverance from the satanic world power accomplished by the man-child this woman brings forth, the mighty mediator of the new covenant.
B. Mystery: The Harlot Babylon. A second mystery is revealed in the symbolism of the New Testament Apocalypse, the mystery of another woman over against the woman who represents the mystery of Christ’s church. Carried away in the Spirit into a wilderness, John the Seer was shown a woman on whose forehead was written a name: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” (Rev. 17:5). In this harlot Babylon we see again the Zecharian figure of the woman Wickedness, who, exiled from Canaan, becomes identified with Babylon in Shinar, set there as its enshrined queen (Zech. 5:7-11). The equation of the Zecharian and Johannine images, highlighted by their sharing of the striking symbolic combination of a wicked woman and the city Babylon, is supported by many other links to the Zechariah 5 context found in the Apocalyptic treatment of the great harlot city. The connection proves mutually interpretive. The identity of the woman Wickedness in Zechariah 5 as the apostate covenant community confirms the indications within the Book of Revelation itself that her equivalent there, the harlot Babylon, is an image of the false church. And the elaboration of the career of that harlot church in the visions of the Apocalypse opens up for us the history of the woman in the ephah that is latent in Zech. 5:11.
We shall present first the data within the Apocalypse pointing to the identity of the harlot Babylon as the apostate church, then the evidence for her identification with the woman Wickedness of Zechariah 5.
1. The False Church: Babylon is called “the great city” in the Book of Revelation (16:19; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21), or simply “Babylon the Great” (14:8; 16:19; 18:2). This city-name identifies the mystery woman, the harlot. She is called “Babylon the Great” (17:5), “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18). References to harlot Babylon in these terms in Rev. 14:8 and 16:19 before her formal introduction and the full account of her career in Revelation 17 are not altogether abrupt; highly important preparation is provided in Rev. 11:8. Indeed, the proper interpretation of the harlot Babylon, the great city, is established by the identification of the great city in Revelation 11 with the erstwhile “holy city” of Jerusalem (11:2), where the two witnesses are slain and “where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8). The great city is then the covenant institution in a state of apostasy.
The apostate, anathematized character of the great city is expressed in Rev. 11:1, 2 in the act of separating between the true people of God (symbolized by the temple and altar) and the false members of the covenant (symbolized by the outer court and the city of Jerusalem). The former are owned by the Lord as his peculiar possession for his acceptance and ministry (symbolized by measuring them). The latter are repudiated as not genuinely consecrated to the Lord (symbolized by excluding them [cf. Matt. 8:12] from the measured area); they are cut off from the true temple community and abandoned to be trampled by the world (cf. Luke 21:24), whose vain idols they have preferred. The old Jerusalem thus becomes a symbol for the apostate deformation of the “the holy city” it originally and properly was.29 It becomes “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8) and (elsewhere in Revelation) “Babylon the Great.”
Clearly identifying the harlot city Babylon as an apostate form of the covenant community is the elaborate contrastive parallelism observable between the two central female figures, between the harlot Babylon and the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The latter, like the harlot, is identified as a city, not, however, the old, unfaithful Jerusalem but the holy city, New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 9, 10), city of the great King (cf. Ps. 48:2; Matt. 5:35). Each woman has a spectacular portraiture: the true and pure one adorned with the radiance of heavenly glory (Rev. 12:1; 21:11ff.) and bright linen, the righteousness of saints (Rev. 19:8), an image of Christ (cf. Rev. 1:13ff.);30 the other draped with the glittering trappings of a whore, a likeness of the beast (Rev. 17:3, 4), itself a likeness of draconic Satan (Rev. 12:3). Each woman is a mother: the one is delivered of the messianic son (Rev. 12:5), with reference also being made to the rest of her offspring, those who hold to the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17), a virgin company not defiled with women (Rev. 14:4); the other is “the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5). The holy woman and her offspring are persecuted unto martyrdom (Rev. 12:11, 17). The harlot is their persecutor, drunk with their blood (Rev. 17:6); in Babylon is found the blood of prophets and saints (Rev. 18:24; cf. 18:20; 19:2), a mark of its continuity with the old Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 21:35-39; 23:31-35; Acts 7:52; Rev. 11:8). Of other such antithetical pairings that might be cited we note just one more, the association of the two women with the wilderness. The mother of the son who is caught up to God’s throne flees into the wilderness for refuge from the dragon and his beast-agent (Rev. 12:13, 14; 13:1-7). Then—strange sequel—there in the wilderness John sees a woman, the harlot Babylon, sitting on the satanic beast (Rev. 17:3). The impression given is that the harlot is a corrupted derivative from the holy woman who had fled into the wilderness, a devolution out of the true covenant community, a false church.
2. The Harlot Babylon and the Woman Wickedness: The conclusion that the harlot Babylon is the covenant institution in an apostate condition (not just some political-economic dimension of pagan society) is corroborated by the data demonstrating that this Apocalyptic figure is a continuation of the woman Wickedness in Zechariah 5.
Zecharian influence is strong in Revelation 11; indeed, the Zechariah 4 symbolism of the menorah is central in the delineation of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3, 4). In the opening verses of that chapter the influence of Zechariah 5 is clear. The sixth vision’s scenario of the cutting off and separation of the apostates from the holy sphere provides the model for the anathematizing of the great city (Rev. 11:2). In each case the false is distinguished from the true, and this judicial discrimination is again in Revelation 11 a matter of applying the holy standards of God’s temple, expressed here in the measuring rod that recalls the (twenty-by-ten cubits) measurements of the flying scroll. References to various temple courts also link the two passages. One referent of the twenty-by-ten cubit dimensions of the scroll was the inner court of judgment, and that court falls within the measured area holy to God in Rev. 11:1. Left outside the measured area is the outer court (Rev. 11:2), which, along with the great city, symbolizes the rejected apostates. Both outer court and city are given over to trampling by the nations, that is, there is a merging of the excluded group with the invasive Gentile world, and this corresponds to the coalescence of the woman in the ephah with the Babylonian world in Zech. 5:11.
According to the announcement at the outset (Rev. 17:1), the harlot Babylon, especially her judgment, is the main theme of Rev. 17:1-19:10. For present purposes a sampling of the connections of this section with Zechariah 5 must suffice. Elaborated in considerable detail is the mercantile activity of the great city, described in imagery reflecting Ezekiel’s prophecy of the doom of the great commercial city of Tyre (Ezekiel 27). This is not inconsistent with the ecclesiastical nature of the harlot city for it is precisely the nature of the false church that it despises its calling to be distinct from the world and proceeds to make itself indistinguishable from the world. Moreover, it is sin in this very sphere of merchandising, the sphere of the ephah and talent, that characterizes the apostates from God’s covenant who are portrayed as the Babylon-bound harlot of Zechariah 5.
Other points of connection: Babylon the Great is decried as a hold of every unclean bird and a habitation of demons (Rev. 18:2), recalling the stork-winged demonic vehicle that transports the ephah to Shinar in Zechariah 5. The harlot of Rev. 18:7 boasts that she “sits as a queen” in the world city, making the kings of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornication (Rev. 17:1, 2), a status that is anticipated in Zechariah’s vision of the woman Wickedness enthroned like the fertility goddess in the temple in Babylon (Zech. 5:11). “The punishment of the great harlot who sits on many waters” (Rev. 17:1) reminds us of the curse inflicted by the flying scroll of Zechariah 5 on the thieves and perjurers and their houses. She is left desolate (Rev. 17:16; 18:19). All her luxuries are consumed by fire (Rev. 18:8, 14). Dramatizing Babylon’s fall, a strong angel takes up a stone like a great millstone and casts it into the sea (Rev. 18:21), a symbolic variation on the scene in Zechariah 5 where the angel lifts up the stone talent (circular in shape like the millstone) and casts it on the ephah, which was to be deposited in the depths of the sea of the nations (vv. 7, 11; cf. Rev. 17; 15).31
One further point of linkage: The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 introduce in more recognizable form the various parties that appear in less apparent symbolic guise elsewhere in Revelation. Particularly relevant is the woman Jezebel. There is no mistaking the relationship of this woman and her adulterous idolatry within the church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:20-23) to the harlot Babylon. Infamous queen of Israel, inciter of Ahab to idolatry (1 Kgs. 21:25, 26), worshipper of Tyrian Baal, a woman of whoredoms and sorceries (2 Kgs. 9:22), Jezebel was (it would seem) the mother of Ahab’s daughter Athaliah—quite literally, a mother of harlots and abominations (Rev. 17:5). And Athaliah in turn was (as we have seen) the historical model behind the woman Wickedness of Zechariah 5 (cf. 2 Chr. 24:7). The symbolic individualizing of the two harlot-Babylon figures of Zechariah and Revelation by these two intimately related evil queens, Athaliah and Jezebel respectively, attests to their equivalency.
As evidenced by this set of correspondences, the great city of Revelation is to be identified with the woman Wickedness of Zechariah 5 and, therefore, is to be understood as a perversion, a deformation, of the covenant institution like its Zecharian equivalent.
3. Fallen is Babylon the Great: Just as the Revelation 12 woman symbolizes the true people of God before and after Christ, so the harlot Babylon represents apostasy in the old Israel as well as the false church of the present age. The remnant of Israel became the nucleus of the ongoing community of faith of the new covenant and similarly unbelieving Israel, infiltrating the church of Christ with its Judaizing perversion of the gospel of grace, had a continuing existence there as synagogues of Satan, as the apostate harlot church.
The Apocalypse traces the careers of the two women, and in so doing unfolds the chapter on the future of the woman Wickedness that was left tantalizingly incomplete at the close of Zechariah’s sixth vision (5:11), a chapter on developments beyond the fall of Israel in 70 A. D. This history of the harlot Babylon is set within the framework of an eschatological pattern consisting of an extended period in which the church carries out the great commission, followed by a short final crisis of satanic opposition, which is countered by the parousia and its consummating judgment.32
In Revelation 11 this pattern emerges as the shape of the historical course of the true church, and also of the false church (the great city) as its career is interwoven with that of the two witnesses. Throughout the relatively long period (symbolized in Revelation as three and a half years, or its equivalents, forty-two months and 1,260 days) the two witnesses are so empowered of God that they overcome all opposition and finish their menorah mission (11:3-7a). During this time the great city is allied with the imperial world power in opposition to that testimony, and it is the site of the martyrdom of the two witnesses in the relatively short (three and a half days) crisis marked by the rising of the beast from the Abyss, the final stage of the beast-power (11:7b-10). God’s judicial response to this, while vindicating the two witnesses by resurrection and welcome to heaven, brings earthquake devastation and death to the great city (11:11-13).
The themes introduced in Revelation 11 are developed in the major treatment of the harlot Babylon in Rev. 17:1ff. Again there is the sharp antithesis to the true church, the loss of holy identity, and mutation into an institution indistinguishable from the world and its idolized culture. Again there is the persecution of those who proclaim the testimony of Jesus. And fully developed here is the alliance with the bestial imperial power, symbolized by the woman sitting on the beast (17:3). The course of this relationship is traced within a survey of the history of the beast in the form of an explanation of its seven heads (17:7-11). The pattern noted in Revelation 11 reappears here, prefaced by an earlier age. The first five heads belong to an age in which the beast “was” (the premessianic age). The sixth head, the beast that “now is not” stands for the era of three and a half years (cf. Rev. 13:5); he “is not” during this period in that he cannot prevent the church from carrying out its mission of universal witness. The seventh head that continues only a little while, coming up out of the Abyss but quickly going into perdition, represents the final crisis. This crisis issues in the last battle, which finds the beast (itself an eighth head) with his ten horns (cf. Rev. 16:14; 20:8) arrayed against the Lamb-Lord. In this Har-Magedon conflict (cf. Rev. 16:16) the beast is vanquished and descends into perdition (17:11-14; cf. 19:19-21; 20:7-10).33
It is during the time of the sixth head, when there are restraints on the beast so that he “is not” (cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-7; Rev. 20:2, 3), that the alliance obtains between the harlot and the beast, a relationship in which the harlot “rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18)—or, in terms of Zechariah 5, the woman Wickedness sits on her shrine-throne in Babylon. In church history to date the papal system is the most obvious instance of this political ideology. It is also an outstanding example of both the coalescence of the institutional church with the paganized culture of the world (cf. Revelation 18) and the ecclesiastical persecution of the true followers of the Lamb (Rev. 18:24; 19:2).34
A surprising development occurs in connection with the rising of the beast from the Abyss at the end of the age and his gathering of worldwide forces to make war against the Lamb. He not only besieges the true community of the saints (Rev. 20:9), silencing the true witnesses (Rev. 11:7), but in the process of exalting himself above all other religious claimants he shatters his alliance with Babylon, the false church. Turning on the harlot with hatred, the beast and the ten horns make her desolate and burn her with fire (Rev. 17:16).35 Babylon’s fall is described at great length (Rev. 18:1-24; cf. 14:8) and celebrated with doxology in heaven (Rev. 19:1ff ).36
Such then is the destiny awaiting the woman Wickedness of Zechariah 5 at the end of this age, a desolating judgment like the one that terminated her old covenant career. The harlot’s ruin, loss of earthly treasure, and fiery consumption as recounted in Rev. 17:16-18:24 recall the effects of the flying curse in Zech. 5:1-4. Another point of correspondence is that the accounts of both these occasions of destruction at the hands of the world power stress that they are an infliction of God’s own verdict against the apostates (Zech. 5:4; Rev. 17:17).
But though the two judgments of the woman Wickedness are similar, their significance for their respective covenant orders, old and new, are quite different. The fall of Israel in 70 A. D. put an end to the typological kingdom-blessings of the old covenant; it terminated the old covenant order itself. The fall of Babylon in the still future final crisis does not terminate the new covenant order but is one of the more immediate precursors of the consummation of the blessings of the new covenant in the coming of the kingdom of glory. Accordingly, cries of “Woe” at the catastrophic end of the harlot church (Revelation 18) are followed by shouts of “Hallelujah” in heaven, shouts of praise to God because he has avenged the blood of the true church on the great whore and shouts of joy because now the wedding of the Lamb and his holy bride has come (Rev. 19:1-9).
Beyond the fall of Israel in 70 A. D. (Zech. 5:1-4) lies the era of the woman Wickedness in the land of Shinar (Zech. 5:5-11), moving towards another, final fall of this harlot-corrupter of the earth. Execution of this final anathema on the mother of harlots signals the hour of fulfillment for the “Marana tha” prayer of mother Zion.37
Westminster Theological Seminary
* This study of Zechariah 5 continues the series on Zechariah’s night visions begun in Kerux 5:2 (September, 1990).
1 For further details see my “The Structure of the Book of Zechariah,” JETS 34:2 (1991), p. 186.
2 Op. cit., p. 192.
3 Cf., e.g., Deut. 29:11 (Eng. 12); 2 Chr. 34:24, 30; Ezek. 16:8; 17:13; Dan. 9:4, 11.
4 In connection with the covenant of Suppiluliuma and Kurtiwaza there is a separate tablet devoted to sanctions, with a listing of the gods who are to enforce them. See ANET, p. 205.
5 For writing on both sides of a scroll, see Ezek. 2:10.
6 It has been observed that the two to one proportion of the scroll’s dimensions match the ratio between the width of a column and the height of biblical scrolls at Qumran. Even if this was regular practice centuries earlier, it would probably be due to practical considerations and would have only coincidental relevance for Zechariah’s scroll.
7 In Isa. 60:8 clouds are spoken of as flying.
8 The oath of innocence procedure took place in the temple forecourt area (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:31), which, as noted above, had the twenty by ten cubits dimensions of the flying scroll—a further interlocking of the details of the sixth vision.
9 Conceivably the choice of naqah involves a play on its two meanings, which we might paraphrase in English: “Though they cleared themselves, God cleared them out.”
10 Evils threatened in the Deuteronomic sanctions are identified as the afflictions of Egypt (Deut. 28:27, 60).
11 For the translation of pasach in Exodus 12 as “hover over,” not “pass over,” see my “The Feast of Cover-Over.” JETS 37:4 (1994) 497-510.
12 We shall find that the exodus history continues to provide a counterpoint to the sixth vision in Zech. 5:5-11.
13 For further analysis of this, see below.
14 See Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Hittite Tarpis and Hebrew Teraphim,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 27:1 (1968) 61-68.
15 The phrase “between the earth and the heaven” possibly contains an allusion to the role of heaven and earth as witnesses to the covenant oath-curse (Deut. 30:19; 31:28; Isa. 1:2).
16 The circular shape of the lead cover adds to the similarity to the round solar disk symbol.
17 Also from classic mythological sources, Pandora’s box has been compared with the ephah. Cf. note 14 above.
18 For a similar “this is (zo’t) . . . behold (hinneh)” sequence, cf. Amos 4:12-13.
19 Following LXX and Syriac, many read ‘awon, “iniquity.”
20 The extent of their appearance, “in all the land” (v. 6b), corresponds to the range of the flying curse against the thieves and perjurers, “over all the land” (v. 3).
21 Note the assonance of ‘ishshak (woman) and rish’ah (wickedness).
22 In Zech. 5:11 the ephah containing the woman is treated like an idol (see below). This might suggest that Zechariah’s woman symbol was influenced by the fertility goddess Astarte, the Babylonian Ishtar. Queen of Heaven, whose worship in Judah and Jerusalem prompted God’s fiery wrath (Jer. 7:16-20).
23 On this, see my “Messianic Avenger,” Kerux 7:1 (1992) 24-27.
24 The ziggurat motif is found in the parallel second vision, on which see note 23.
25 In the Babylon setting, the preparation of a house for deity recalls the account in Enuma Elish of the construction at that site of Esagila for royal Marduk.
26 Isa. 66:1 is an especially close parallel to Zech. 5:11, for it too combines with the resting-place terminology the idea of building a house as a place of enthronement.
27 One thinks too of the similar yet dissimilar experience of Elijah. The ephah’s aerial escort with the wind in their wings mimics the prophet’s rapture by whirlwind in the chariot of fire (2 Kgs. 2:1, 11). But the destinations are polar opposites: Elijah translated to heaven and the ephah transported to a station on the way to hell.
28 On the close relation of Revelation 12 to Zechariah 3, cf. my “The Servant and the Serpent,” Kerux 8:1 (1993) pp. 22, 23
29 For the use of Jerusalem in its Judaistic apostasy as an antithesis to the true covenant community, cf. Gal. 4:25, 26.
30 On the bride in priestly array as a likeness of Christ’s appearance in Revelation 1, cf. “The Servant and the Serpent.” Kerux 8:2 (1993), p. 19
31 The influence of passages besides Zechariah 5 is, of course, also seen in the delineation of the great city Babylon and its judgment. The prophecy of Babylon’s fall in Jeremiah 51 is a notable example. Thus, on Rev. 18:4, see Jer. 51:45 (cf. Zech. 2:10 [Eng. 2:6]); on Rev. 18:21, see Jer. 51:63; and on Rev. 19:1-5, see Jer. 51:48, 49.
32 Cf. my “By My Spirit,” Kerux 9:1 (1994), p. 10; 9:2 (1994), p. 7. Obviously, only the barest sketch of this Apocalyptic material can be given in the present study of Zechariah 5.
33 Preterist views of the harlot Babylon and her judgment are contradicted by the synchronizing of her career with the eschatological pattern covering the entire church age to the final judgment.
34 Other significant affinities of ecclesiastical Rome with the prostitute Babylon are its Mariolatry and its neo-Judaizing distortion of the gospel of grace.
35 Jer. 4:30 and context contain a close parallel, which, significantly, concerns the apostate covenant community. The prophet indicts Judah as a whore, dressed in crimson and gold, courting the nations and their gods (cf. Jer. 2:17, 18). In the day of God’s judgment her lovers despise her and seek her life.
36 The “man of sin,” whose parousia with satanic deception provokes the parousia of Christ in final judgment, the “Antichrist” in popular usage, represents the imperial reality symbolized by beast and horn imagery in Daniel and Revelation (compare Dan. 11:36 and 2 Thess. 2:4). Antichrist is thus the destroyer of the false church (the harlot Babylon) and therefore is not to be identified with the papacy, an embodiment of the false church (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 25, 6).
37 Cf. 1 Cor. 16:22. On Zion as mother, cf. e.g., Isa. 66:7, 8, and see the extended context of this passage for Isaiah’s recurring depiction of the city Jerusalem as a woman.