Then the angel that talked with me went forth, and said to me, Lift up now your eyes, and see what is this that goes forth.…
There are some portions of Old Testament prophecy which, at first, appear in meaning. But upon closer examination they are found to contain important lessons, profitable for all times. Such a prophecy is Zechariah's vision of the ephah. Look —
1. At the symbol as seen by the prophet. The ephah was a well known Jewish measure, represented by our word "bushel." The prophet saw' such a measure moving forth as if it were a thing of life, and in the midst of it sat a woman with a talent of lead lifted up before her. The whole picture was a composite symbol, in which were prominent the measure, the woman, and the talent of lead.
2. The meaning of the symbol. In ver. 8 the Hebrew emphatic ally declares — "This is the wickedness." The most obvious suggestion is, that form of wickedness most likely to ensnare and ruin the people to whom Zechariah prophesied. The symbols point most naturally to the sin of unrighteous traffic, the root and essence of which is covetousness (1 Timothy 6:10; Colossians 3:5). Why a woman rather than a man appears in the symbol is somewhat difficult to say, but probably because of her power as a temptress. The ensnaring images which have been most prominent in the great systems of idolatry have borne the female form. This woman's throne was an empty measure, and her sign an uplifted talent of lead, thus aptly representing the sin of those who would "swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail" (Amos 8:4-6). This iniquity of unrighteous traffic appears to have ever been a besetting sin of the Jewish people. The preceding oracle of this prophet (vers. 1-4) was directed against thieves, and those who swore falsely by Jehovah's name; and the obscure expression in ver. 16 (lit., "this is their eye in all the land") is perhaps best explained as alluding to the fact that in all the land the eyes of thieves, extortioners, and false swearers, turned longingly towards this tempting goddess of covetousness.
3. The removal of this ephah to the land of Shinar indicates some kind of retribution which will visit this form of wickedness. The woman was cast down into the empty measure, and the leaden weight was cast upon her mouth (or on the mouth of the ephah), and ephah, woman, and talent were lifted up, and carried off into a foreign land; and the removal was effected by two women, who had wings like the stork, and who were helped by the force of the wind. This part of the vision sets forth God's penal judgment upon this sin and its devotees. Among the various elements of this judgment we note the following —
(1) Such wickedness as this composite symbol represented cannot abide in the holy land of Israel, or inherit the kingdom of God. There must be, and there will be, a renewal.
(2) The instruments of this woman's sin are made to contribute to her punishment. Her being cast into the ephah, with the leaden stone upon her mouth, suggests the image of a covetous soul, cramped and crushed into the narrow world of self, with nothing else to know or talk about than weights and measures. Thus sold to covetousness one makes his own place, and goes to it; his heaven is made his hell. He is made to live inside his own little half bushel, and talk of nothing else than talents, stocks, bonds, corner lots, etc.
(3) By an irreversible law such natures are taken out of the fellowship of the pure and good, and removed far from them, by others of their own kind. The world will love his own, and when selfish interests are at stake, men and women of an adulterous and sinful generation aim to help those who have helped them. So this one woman was taken up and carried away by her like — aiders and abettors in unrighteous traffic. When the angel had cast her into the ephah and put the stone upon her mouth, these other women came to her rescue, and, for a season at least, remove her to a more congenial place. The stork is mentioned probably for no other reason than for being a well-known bird of passage, having notably large wings, and abounding in the land of Shinar, in the Euphrates valley. The money lovers of this world move rapidly in each other's selfish interest, as if borne upon the wings of the wind.
4. The land of Shinar is to be understood as the opposite of the land of Israel, which in Zechariah 2:12 is called "the holy land." It was the Babylonian plain, where the descendants of Noah settled after the flood, and builded the city and tower, which was the occasion of their being confused and scattered by the curse of Jehovah (Genesis 11:2). It was a land of idolatry, whither the Jewish people had, according to Zechariah 2:6, been scattered as by the four winds of heaven. So this vision symbolised the penal scattering abroad into an unclean land of all whose eye admired the goddess of weights and measures more than Jehovah. The great moral lesson of the vision is therefore a warning against covetousness and unrighteous traffic. Where the love of money is so strong as to employ "balances of deceit," and make "the ephah small and the shekel great," there will come curse and exile. The covetous man will suffer in ways he little dreams of, and the very instruments of his sin may be turned into modes of punishment. He who will serve Mammon must leave the house and land of the Lord, and so all those Jews who loved the wages of unrighteousness might expect sooner or later to be again scattered as by the winds of heaven. Their aiders and abettors might come to their help, and even build for them a house in the foreign land; but, like the tower of Babel, built by selfish ambition in the plain of Shinar, even that house will be likely to prove a curse. This process of separating and removing the lovers of this world from truth and holiness is ever going on in the development of the kingdom of God. Judas loved silver, and was cut off and went to his own place. Demas forsook the Apostle Paul from love of the world. John, the apostle, speaks of those who went out from the godly because they were not of them (1 John 2:19), and Jude significantly mentions the sensual, having not the Spirit, as they who separate themselves, or make separations. So, by the necessary antagonism of opposite natures, the covetous must remove from the holy; for the narrow-minded, self-centred worldling cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
(Milton S. Terry, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then the angel that talked with me went forth, and said unto me, Lift up now thine eyes, and see what is this that goeth forth.