Would you please explain Zechariah's vision of the "flying scroll," as recorded in Zechariah 5:1-4?


As we mentioned in our Q&A in Update #359, when discussing Zechariah’s vision of the woman in a basket (Zechariah 5:5-11), Zechariah’s visions must be viewed, foremost, as containing prophecies for us today.

In Zechariah 5:1-4, we read the following:

“(1) Then I turned and raised my eyes, and saw there a flying scroll. (2) And he (the angel talking to Zechariah, compare Zechariah 4:1), said to me, ‘What do you see?’ So I answered, ‘I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits.’ (3) Then he said to me, ‘This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth: “Every thief shall be expelled,” according to this side of the scroll; and, “Every perjurer shall be expelled,” according to that side of it.’ (4) “I will send out the curse,” says the LORD of hosts; ‘It shall enter the house of the thief And the house of the one who swears falsely by My name. It shall remain in the midst of his house And consume it, with timber and stones.”‘”

1) Many commentaries are in agreement about the general meaning of the “flying scroll.”

The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explains:

“It was inscribed with the words of the curse [compare Deuteronomy 27:14-26]. Being written implied that its contents were beyond all escape or repeal… Its ‘flying’ shows that its curses were ready swiftly to visit the transgressors. It was unrolled, or else its dimensions could not have been seen… Being open to all, none could say in excuse he knew not the law and the curses of disobedience… Being written on both sides, ‘on this and on that side’… connects it with the two tables [or tablets] of the law [Exodus 32:15] and implies its comprehensiveness. One side denounced ‘him that sweareth falsely… by God’s name,’ according to the third commandment of the first table, duty to God; the other side denounced theft, according to the eighth commandment, which is in the second table, duty to one’s neighbor.”

The Scofield Reference Notes elaborates:

“The two sins mentioned really transgress both tables of the law. To steal is to set aside our neighbor’s right; to swear is to set aside God’s claim to reverence…”

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible gives a similar explanation:

“… stealing and swearing are supposed to be two general heads of crimes; the former, comprising sins against men; the latter, sins against God.”

2) However, the condemnation of thieves can also be viewed in a broader context.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible points out:

“… two sorts of sinners are here specified as the objects of this curse: – (1.) Thieves; it is for every one that steals, that by fraud or force takes that which is not his own, especially that robs God and converts to his own use what was devoted to God and his honour… Sacrilege is, without doubt, the worst kind of thievery. He also that robs his father or mother, and saith, It is no transgression [Proverbs 28:24], let him know that against him this curse is directed, for it is against every one that steals. The letter of the eighth commandment has no penalty annexed to it; but the curse here is a sanction to that command. (2.) Swearers. Sinners of the former class offend against the second table, these against the first; for the curse meets those that break either table. He that swears rashly and profanely shall not be held guiltless, much less he that swears falsely…”

That the condemnation of the “thief” in Zechariah’s vision can be viewed as relating to both robbery of man AND of God is also expressed in the commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, where we read:

“The ‘theft’ immediately meant is similar sacrilege to that complained of in [Nehemiah 13:10; Malachi 3:8]. They robbed God by neglecting to give Him His due in building His house, while they built their own houses, forswearing their obligations to Him; therefore, the ‘houses’ they build shall be ‘consumed’ with God’s ‘curse.’ Probably literal theft and perjury accompanied their virtual theft and perjury as to the temple of God…”

3) Regarding the dimensions of the flying scroll (“Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits”), these are the same dimensions as those of the temple porch or “vestibule” in front of the sanctuary of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:3). The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explains that that was the place “where the law was usually read… Its large size implies the great number of the curses contained…”

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible contains the following additional comments regarding the meaning of the dimensions of the flying scroll:

“… it was a very large one, a volume of a very uncommon size… this being the length and breadth of the porch before the temple… it may design either the roll or book in which the sins of men are written; which is very large, and will quickly be brought into judgment, when it will be opened, and men will be judged according to it; which shows the notice God takes of the sins of men; the exact knowledge he has of them; his strict remembrance of them; and the certain account men must give of them another day… or rather the book of the law… which will be a swift witness against the breakers of it, as more fully appears from the explanation of it in the next verse [Zechariah 4:3].”

4) We should note that the curse of the flying scroll “goes out over the face of the whole earth” (verse 3).

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible explains the all-encompassing nature of God’s judgment, as well as the required preceding worldwide announcement of God’s coming judgment:

“God’s prophets are not only his ambassadors, to treat of peace with the sons of peace, but heralds, to proclaim war against those that delight in war, and persist in their rebellion. In this chapter we have two visions [the vision of the flying scroll, and the vision of the woman in the basket, see Update #359], by which ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’…

“This flying roll [The New King James Bible says, “scroll”] is a curse; it contains a declaration of the righteous wrath of God against those sinners especially who by swearing affront God’s majesty or by stealing invade their neighbour’s property…

“It goes forth over the face of the whole earth, not only of the land of Israel, but the whole world… All mankind are liable to the judgment of God; and, wherever sinners are, any where upon the face of the whole earth, the curse of God can and will find them out and seize them. Oh that we could with an eye of faith see the flying roll of God’s curse hanging over the guilty world as a thick cloud… big with thunders, lightnings, and storms, ready to destroy them! … The world is full of sin in great variety…”

5) Regarding the worldwide and comprehensive execution of God’s judgment, notice the following comments by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown:

“[The curse will] enter … the house — In vain they guard and shut themselves up who incur the curse; it will inevitably enter even when they think themselves most secure. [It will] consume … timber [and] stones — not leaving a vestige of it. So the ‘stones’ and ‘timber’ of the house of a leper (type of the sinner) were to be utterly removed…”

Wesley’s Notes agrees with this explanation:

“This curse shall come with commission from [God]… It shall stick close to them and theirs like Gehazi’s leprosy… Nothing shall remain, as when both the timber and stones of a house are consumed.”

6) The execution of God’s judgment is certain. Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary explains:

“He that pronounces the sentence [i.e., the LORD of hosts] will take care to see it executed… It is a righteous curse, for he is a righteous God that warrants it… He brings it forth with power, and orders what execution it shall do; and who can put by or resist the curse which a God of almighty power brings forth?…”

7) Let us now address the meaning and relevance of Zechariah’s vision of the flying scroll for us today.

The Bible warns us not to become indifferent about the certain worldwide judgment of God. We are commissioned by God to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God and to feed the flock. This includes preaching repentance of breaking the law of GOD and the necessity to obey God and to keep His law (compare Luke 24:46-47; Romans 16:25-26; James 2:8-13).

Notice Paul’s encouragement and warning in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10:

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulation that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not OBEY THE GOSPEL of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because of OUR TESTIMONY AMONG YOU WAS BELIEVED.”

In the book of Revelation, we are told that Jesus Christ will come to reward His saints and to punish the disobedient. Notice Revelation 11:17-18: “…’We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged. And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Before Christ returns, this world will need to be warned. The Church of God has the duty to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God today in all the world as a witness, before the end comes (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10). God will use two witnesses, prior to Christ’s return, to prophecy and to testify for 3 1/2 years (Revelation 11:6-7). In addition, we read that John saw, in a vision, an “angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth–to every nation, tribe, tongue and people–saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Revelation 14:6–7).

When God pours out His plagues over this disobedient world, many will refuse to repent of their sins, including transgressions such as demon worship, sorceries, murders and thefts, but they will rather curse God who has the power over those plagues (Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21). Mankind will not be left without God’s warning. Before the curse of the flying scroll enters their houses, they will have been warned.

In fact, as a confirmation of the warning of God’s Church to rebellious man, God will “open” His third heaven to the eyes of physical man and manifest His spiritual temple and the ark of His covenant (Revelation 11:19). We read in that passage that the temple of God in heaven was opened and the ark of the covenant was seen or “could be seen,” as some translations have it. Since spirit beings could see the temple and the ark of the covenant before that time; and since this passage is not strictly a reference to John, because then he would have referred to himself as the one seeing it (compare Revelation 5:1, 6; 6:1; 7:1, etc.), this passage in Revelation 11:19 refers to the manifestation of the ark of the covenant to the eyes of human beings. The physical ark of the covenant contained the tablets of the law–the Ten Commandments. The manifestation of His spiritual ark of the covenant in heaven will show man that God expects of him to keep His law today and in the future, as He expected man to keep it in the past.

The good news is that some WILL repent and escape God’s punishment (Revelation 7:1-17). Others, however, will reap what they have sown. God’s curse over a disobedient world will be executed. The curse for disobeying God’s law will swiftly and without partiality enter the house of every thief and every liar (representing every unrepentant sinner).

God is fair. He will give everyone an opportunity to repent–in His due time. But those who refuse willfully to do so, will experience eternal destruction. Revelation 21:7-8 tells us: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

For more information on the fate of the unrepentant wicked, as well as those whom God does not call in this day and age for His salvation, please read our free booklets, “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God,” and “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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