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Airborne Books and Baskets

Zechariah 5:1 - Then I lifted up my eyes again and looked, and behold, there was a flying scroll.

Zechariah 5:9 - Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and there two women were coming out with the wind in their wings; and they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heavens.

Read all of Zechariah 5.

Airborne Books and Baskets" sounds like a strange title for a devotional exposition of Scripture! It sounds more like a designation for a military airlift relief operation! However, if you read Zechariah 5, you will find that "Airborne Books and Baskets" is not an inappropriate title for this chapter of Scripture.

In Zechariah 5 we have the account of two visions that the prophet Zechariah received from God. In the first vision he observed something very unusual--a flying scroll, or an ancient airborne book! The flying scroll flew into certain homes and utterly destroyed them. In the second vision Zechariah saw something even more extraordinary--an airborne basket with human cargo! He observed a woman sitting inside an ephah with a lead cover. (An ephah was a large basket or barrel-like container used in those days for measuring grain or merchandise.) Two other women with large wings were also seen in the vision. They came and whisked the ephah away to a foreign land.

What is the interpretation of these strange visions? God didn't give visions to His Old Testament prophets for entertainment! There was always meaning associated with these visions, and therefore we should look for the teaching contained in them. The interpretation of the visions of Zechariah 5 isn't easy, but we're given some insight from the angel who spoke with Zechariah. Although the interpretation of parts of these visions is not given directly, this doesn't mean that we should seek no further teaching from this portion of Scripture. As growing Christians, we should study and seek the meaning of these visions just as we do with any other part of God's Word. As we study and seek the meaning of any part of God's Word, however, we must keep several important principles for interpretation in mind.

A quick reading of Zechariah 5 reveals that the focus or main themein both of these visions is the judgment and removal of sin and wickedness. In the first vision the thief and the false swearer (liar) are judged. In the second vision the woman called "Wickedness" is removed. In order to proceed further with the interpretation and application of these visions we must look at the overall context of Zechariah 5. We should try to determine the occasion of the writing of the book. What was the historical situation at that time? Why did God give Zechariah these visions? What was God's message to the people of that day? The answers to these questions will prepare the way for a valid present-day application of this Scripture.

Zechariah lived in a day when the people of God needed renewal. He wrote his book about 20 years after the Jewish people had returned to Jerusalem from their 70-year captivity in Babylon. At the time of their return there was great joy and enthusiasm. The rebuilding of the Temple began and everything was looking up. But after a few short years the initial joy and fervor of the return was lost. Enemy opposition from without and hindrances from within the ranks combined to turn the people off. Work on the House of the Lord stopped. Many of the people became complacent and materialistic. (See Ezra 4 and Haggai 1.)

God's people needed renewal! At this point God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai's message to the people was basically one of exhortation. The people were to put an end to their selfish and materialistic lifestyle and get on with the work of the Lord. Then the Lord would renew His blessings on them. Zechariah's message, on the other hand, was basically one of encouragement. God had not forgotten His chosen people, and His power was still available. He was still in control and He had a great future planned for His people, so they were not to be discouraged and give up hope.

God's people need renewal today! We need to experience once again the freshness of faith in Christ. We need to be exhilarated by the abundant joy of the Lord. We need to move once more with the enthusiasm and zeal of people who are sold out for God. Let's not be content with the status quo of complacency or the self-serving attitudes of materialism. Renewal comes about today in the same way it did in Haggai's and Zechariah's day. God raises up certain individuals to exhort and encourage His people by the word of the Lord. The exhortation brings conviction of sin. The encouragement brings comfort and hope. God's Word always has the ability to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted! When the people of God begin to respond to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, renewal will follow.

Chapters 1-6 of Zechariah contain eight visions which God gave to Zechariah. All eight were meant to bring encouragement and hope to God's people. These hopes would ultimately find their fulfillment in the coming Messiah. This is seen not only in the direct Messianic predictions within some of the visions (2:8-9; 3:8), but also in the word from the Lord at the end of the visions (6:9-15). Here Zechariah was told to crown Joshua the high priest as a symbolic foreshadowing of the coronation of the coming Messiah.

But what about the visions of the airborne book and basket? How were they meant to encourage God's people in Zechariah's day? The visions gave assurance of God's ultimate judgment of sin and His future complete removal of sin from the nation. Was that encouraging to God's people? It sure was! What a relief and comfort it must have been for God's people to know that the land would some day be completely cleansed. Then there would be no more stealing and lying or getting away with any form of evil! What an encouragement and hope to those believers who were being trodden down and treated unfairly. Just the knowledge that it would all "come out in the wash" in the end was a great source of strength and comfort.

The Bible makes clear that what was promised to Israel in the visions of Zechariah 5 can certainly be applied to God's people today. The promises made to the nation Israel would find their fulfillment in the coming Messiah, and Israel's Messiah is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is coming back to this earth and will bring justice with Him. The Lord will judge every kind of wickedness and eventually remove evil altogether--not only from Israel, but from the whole world. Knowing this about the future is certainly not comforting to the unbeliever, but what an encouragement this is to the growing Christian!

The details of the visions of Zechariah 5 serve to accentuate the main point: the judgment and removal of sin. The large flying scroll containing the Law of God which entered and destroyed the house of every sinner emphasizes the point that the judgment of God will be sweeping and complete. No secret sin or evil practiced "behind closed doors" will be left unjudged. Suppose the scroll were to fly through your neighborhood or college campus right now. How many houses or dorms would it enter? Do you know of any "hidden" sins that would come under judgment? How thankful believers can be that all our sins have already been judged and forgiven in Christ.

While all Christians do not agree on the precise meaning of thedetails of the second vision in Zechariah 5, the features that bear on the overall theme of judgment and removal of sin are quite clear. The fact that the woman called "Wickedness" is forcefully contained in the basket under the lead weight seems to imply that evil is limited and is under the control of God. It certainly is encouraging to know that God has a rein on evil even now, before it is finally and completely removed. Imagine living in this world if there were absolutely no controls over the spread and activity of iniquity! Aren't you glad that in this age of governmental greed and fraud, not to mention nuclear power, God has not given man complete control over the earth?

The removal of wickedness to a pre-planned place in the land of Shinar seems to emphasize that there is a designated time and place in the plans of God for the final removal and judgment of evil. As organized rebellion by man against God began at the Tower of Babel in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11), so man's wickedness will come full cycle back for judgment after it has run its destructive course through history.

The visions of airborne books and baskets are anything but encouraging to the unbeliever. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). But these visions are certainly comforting for the believer who is tired and sick of sin with all its bad fallout. The knowledge that all evil will ultimately be judged and removed should be a source of joy and encouragement for every growing Christian.

When we see all the various forms of evil running rampant in this world, how thankful we can be that it's only a matter of time before it is all eliminated. The philosophical evil of our classrooms and the social evil of our courts and every other form of evil that pervades our culture will be removed. We're looking forward to a "new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13).
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