Purging Iniquity

He said to me, ‘This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side’” (v. 3).

- Zechariah 5

Visions came frequently to the prophet Zechariah as he encouraged Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the exile (Zech. 3–4). Today’s passage records two more visions of the prophet—the vision of the flying scroll and the vision of the woman in the basket.

Since the Hebrew term translated with the English word curse is the same one used of the curses in the Mosaic law upon all those who impenitently break the covenant (Deut. 28:15–68), we are to see the flying scroll in Zechariah 5:1–4 as the curses of the Torah revealed to Moses after the exodus. In destroying the houses of sinners, this image is one of destruction—but not of the people themselves, for the vision of the woman in the basket in the same context shows the Lord banishing iniquity from the covenant community (vv. 5–11). After all, if our Creator takes sin away from the people, how then could He justly condemn them? What the curses of the law destroy in Zechariah’s vision of the flying scroll is sin itself. Ultimately, we must see this vision as foreseeing the work of Christ, who exhausts the curse of the law on sinners and also curses and destroys the power of sin itself by taking it into the grave and leaving it there when He dies and rises again, being vindicated by His Father as the perfectly righteous Son of God (Rom. 6:1–14; Gal. 3:10–14).

Expiation—the removal of sin and its guilt from a people—is depicted in the vision of the woman in the basket in Zechariah 5:5–11. As noted, the appearance of this basket in the same context as the appearance of the scroll of curses communicates the final purification and not annihilation of God’s people. The woman in the basket, who is a symbol of wickedness and evil in this text, is carried off‰ to Shinar by two other winged women, namely, angels. In Scripture, Shinar is another name for Babylon (Dan. 1:2), but given the symbolic nature of Zechariah’s vision, the woman in the basket is not taken to a mere geographical area but to that place where wickedness abides. The angels carry evil outside the camp, placing it upon the enemies of God.

Therefore, Zechariah depicts the final destination of sin. Other passages tell us that in the new heavens and the new earth, sin and wickedness will be outside of the gates of God’s Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Isa. 66:24; Rev. 22:14–15). In that place, those who love sin and not the Lord will receive what they wanted, an unending bondage to their evil.œ

Coram Deo

Ultimately, the impenitent are confirmed in sin forever—they continue to experience its degrading and destructive effects in hell and feel the fury of God’s wrath. We should not think that the sinners in hell want to be anywhere else. They love their sin and continue to sin in that place, and given the choice between wrath and life in the presence of the Lord’s holiness, they make the perverse choice to experience God’s wrath rather than His love, so deep is their hatred of Him.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 20
Numbers 15:27–31
Ezekiel 14:1–11
Revelation 21:1–8

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