THE FLYING SCROLL THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (ZECHARIAH 5:1-4)

Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.” Then 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. I will send it out, declares the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones (Zechariah 5:1-4)

Zechariah reported seeing a gigantic flying scroll corresponding to a modern book, hovering above the Jerusalem skyline. The date was February 15, 520 BC. The scroll measured 30′ in length and 15′ wide and was the same dimensions as the inner sanctuary in the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. The scroll traversed the sky like a jet-propelled billboard, allowing its large-print message to be seen by all (5:1-2).

The flying scroll of Zechariah broadcast far and wide “the curse that goes out over the whole face of the land” (5:3). The terrifying image of a large flying scroll entering a house to “remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones” (5:4) would be unsettling to the community of faith who had survived the Babylonian captivity and returned to Jerusalem.

Why did God give the vision of the flying scroll that flew over Jerusalem? What did it mean to those returning from the Babylonian Captivity in 520 BC and what might it be mean to us today in 2018 AD?

opened-torah-scrolls

THE MESSAGE ON THE SCROLL

On the one side of the scroll was written in large letters, “For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out (evicted).” On the other side, “Everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out (evicted)” (5:3). The “curse (judgment) that goes out” signaled the destruction of the house of the perpetrator. The house was completely demolished “both timber and stones” and the guilty persons “cleaned out” (banished) from the property (5:4).

With the temple rebuild-project nearing completion (516 BC) the time had come to resume observance of the Mosaic rituals and practices. In a previous vision given to Zechariah on the same night as the flying scroll vision, the high priest and his clan were given charge of the temple complex and authorized to lead the people in observing the commands and rituals of the Mosaic System (3:1-10).

Now that the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity had expired and the Jews were returning to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, it was necessary to reestablish the relationship of the Mosaic Law to the people of Israel. The message of the flying scroll affirmed the role of the Mosaic Law in the postexilic community in Israel for the ensuing four centuries leading up to the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

 

THE HIGH PRIEST AND HIS CLAN

The vision of the flying scroll had a particular application to the religious leadership centered in the Jerusalem temple worship system. The Lord in the vision of 3:1-10 had commissioned the high priest and his “friends” (3:8) to lead the nation in observing the Mosaic laws and rituals subsequent to the Babylonian Captivity. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here” (3:7). The message of the scroll was a warning to the high priestly clan to that in the exercise of their responsibilities to oversee the spiritual and religious life of the nation, they were to be men of integrity and faithfulness.

The failure of the nation under the auspices of the high priestly clan to observe the Mosaic ethics resulted in the 70 AD destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the removal of the High Priestly family from the place of authority and influence in Israel.

To this day there is no Jewish temple (house) in Jerusalem and no High Priest serving in the temple. The restoration of the nation of Israel and the reinstitution of the temple worship system awaits the implementation of the New Covenant at the return of Christ.

 

WHEN THE FLYING SCROLL CAME HOME TO ROOST

The corrupt moneychanger system in the temple complex, endorsed by the religious leadership, violated the first of the flying scroll injunctions, “everyone who steals…house of the thief” (5:3, 4). Jesus began his messianic campaign with the symbolic cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem (Jn 2:13-22). He ended his ministry with a similar cleansing (Mt 21:12-13). In the later cleansing Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’ and he went on to say, “but you make it a den of robbers” (Mt 21:13).

The second of the flying scroll prohibitions, “him who swears falsely by my name” (5:4), was also desecrated by the religious leadership. The attitude of Jesus toward the religious teachers in Jerusalem was revealed in his scathing rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:15-22). The religious teachers had designed an elaborate oath confirmation scheme whereby the gold, altar, and other aspects of the temple were used to swear an oath to God. Jesus condemned them for perpetrating this oath confirmation system: “Woe to you, blind guides… whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it” (Mt 23:15, 21-22).

Jesus further denounced the scribes and Pharisees as “full of greed and self-indulgence…full of hypocrisy and lawlessness…. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell.” (Ma 25, 28, 33) Jesus concluded his condemnation of the Jerusalem leadership with this remarkable revelation of the house of Israel left desolate until the return of Christ:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ [1]

The curse of the flying scroll was intended to warn those who oversaw the Mosaic worship system of the temple that God would bring judgment upon that house and banish them from that land if they failed to walk in the ways of the Lord as given in the Mosaic Law.

THE DOUBLE FAVE FIVE

The Ten Commandments were engraved initially on two tablets of stone and presented to the people of Israel in the contractual arrangement between the people of Israel and the Lord. The first group of five commandments (1-5) etched into the stone of the first tablet represented the directives intended to govern the relationship to the Person of God. The focus of the second group of five commandments (6-10) carved into the stone of the second tablet was for maintaining the proper relationship to the people of God.

Similarly, the message of the flying scroll reaffirmed the Mosaic contract to the post-exilic people of Israel. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex 20:7), was placed on one the one side of the flying scroll. As the middle commandment in the first group of five commandments, it was representative of the entire list of five commandments on the first tablet. It required the priests and people to live in proper relationship to the Lord as prescribed in the Mosaic Law.

On the reverse side of the page was printed the eighth commandment. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex 20:16). As the middle commandment in the second group of five commandments, it represented all five of the commandments on the second tablet. It showed the need for the priests and people to live in community as decreed by God in the Mosaic Contract.

Kenneth Barker suggested that this is “a form of synecdoche in which the species is put for the genus…. In other words, these two representative sins…stand for all kinds of sin. The point is that Israel was guilty of breaking the whole law.” [2]

 

ALL WE NEED IS LOVE

Jesus acknowledged the vertical (relationship to God) and horizontal (relationship to the people of God) import of the Ten Commandments when he responded to a question by one of the scribes. The scribe inquired, “Which is the most important of all” the commandments. Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30). The first five of the Ten Commandments are about the relationship of the people to the Person of God, as is the “greatest” commandment given by Jesus.

Jesus further added, “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as your yourself. There is no greater commandment than these” (Mk 12:31). This statement by Jesus is reminiscent of the second group of five commandments and their emphasis on the relationship of the people of God to each other.

The people in Jesus’s day had missed the point of the Ten Commandments and had failed to love God and neighbor as prescribed. Ritual observance and rote principle required little in the way of authentic love and left the nation barren in the works of God.

 

THE MESSAGE TO THE CHURCH

Although the passage is directed primarily to Israel, it also has a message to the church, especially to those in the church who hold positions of influence. Like the religious leadership in Israel of old, we too have our problems with avariciousness and corruption at the highest levels. And, like the scribes and Pharisees, we will be held accountable for refusing to walk in the ways of God.

Peter set forth the integrity and faith challenge for church leadership:

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. [3]

Paul posted similar integrity and faith injunctions in his moral qualifications for church leadership to Titus as he established local churches on the Island of Crete:

Appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. [4]

Simply put, do not steal or take material advantage of the flock. And, do not swear falsely, misrepresenting the Lord by teaching things that are not true to the Scriptures. James spoke well when he counseled the church, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1). The church should heed well the warning issued by the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Co 3:17).

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 23:37–24:1.

[2] Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 633.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 5:2–4.

[4](Tt 1:5–9)

 

Digging Deeper!