5 Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what is appearing.”
6 I asked, “What is it?”
He replied, “It is a basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”
7 Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! 8 He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed its lead cover down on it.
9 Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.
10 “Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.
11 He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When the house is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”
(Zechariah 5:5-11 NIV)
As we noted last time, chapter 5 consists of two visions that the Lord gave to Zechariah the prophet. Vision #5 (vv. 1-4) is about dealing with sin in the nation of Israel that would lead it away from God again. Vision #5 is the internal expansion and equivalent to vision #2 which addresses divine retribution (punishment) on those external influences that would do evil to God’s people or land.
Today’s text (vv. 5-11) is the internal equivalent of vision #3. In vision #3, God calls His people out of an evil land (Babylon), brings them back to Jerusalem, and protects them with a wall of fire (2:5).
In today’s vision #6, the Lord contains and removes the iniquity of the Jewish people (v. 6) from Judah and sends it to its “home” in the land of Babylonia (v. 11).
This vision opens by the angel of the Lord telling Zechariah to look up and describe what he sees. Zechariah looks up and sees a basket. The generic English word “basket” is a very specific term in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word used is that of an ancient Biblical dry volume unit of measure called an ephah.
An ephah was often used to measure grain and other agricultural commodities. In today’s measures, an ephah is about 3/5 (62%) of a U.S. bushel. If you can picture a five-gallon bucket in your mind’s eye, you’ll understand the approximate size of an ephah.
When Zechariah looked at the basket / container, it had a heavy weight as a lid. When the angel lifted the lid so Zechariah could look inside, he saw a woman sitting in the basket (v. 7). The angel declared the woman “wickedness” and quickly slammed the lid down on the container, implying that the woman (wickedness) was trying to escape (v. 8).
Putting on our informed Biblical imaginations for a moment, we first remember that this is a vision that the Lord gave Zechariah. This was not a real woman, as a full-grown woman cannot fit inside a five-gallon bucket. But we do see evil and wickedness personified as a woman, corresponding to many of the evil female deities associated with the pagan cultures and religious practices of the nations surrounding Judah.
Notice that the angel has power over this wickedness. This shows God’s power and sovereignty over evil; He can put evil and wickedness in a “container” and as we say in modern times, “keep a lid on it”.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how often we pray and ask the Lord to contain evil and wickedness, and how many times we either complain to the Lord about the existence and influence of evil around us, or just ask the Lord to remove evil from us because it interrupts our comfort or convenience.
In verse 9, Zechariah sees two winged women come and fly away with the lidded container and the woman inside. This containment and removal of wickedness was akin to the removal of Joshua the high priest’s filthy garments (3:4). This is not something that Zechariah could do, nor is the removal of wickedness and sin out of our lives something that we can do. This is an act of and by God’s power and grace alone.
Verse 9 also describes these two winged women as having “the wind in their wings”, meaning that God’s Holy Spirit was responsible for this removal of wickedness. God did not oppose this removal of wickedness; in fact, He made it happen.
Zechariah then asked the angel where the two women were taking the basket. The angel replied that the two women were carrying the basket and its contents back to Babylonia (also called Shinar), the ancient name for the region that included the city of Babylon. There a house (temple) would be built for this woman and her container, and she would reside there.
Notice that God had the opportunity to destroy this evil and wickedness, but does not do so at this point in time. God does remove the wickedness of the people of Judah, just as He removes our wickedness (also called sin) from us when we confess His son Jesus as our Savior and ask Him to be our Lord.
The good news (as we read ahead in Revelation) is that God does have a final showdown between good and evil and claims the victory. Just as this final showdown did not happen in Zechariah’s day, it has not happened so far in our day.
When will this showdown happen? Only God knows. In the mean time, our calling is to follow God, to confront evil and wickedness in our lives and in our communities through our prayers and how we live, and to share the love of Christ with everyone we meet.
Finally, remember to pray, not for the removal of evil, but for the glory of God. Only He can contain and remove evil from us, our communities, our countries, and our world.
To God be the glory! Amen.