Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
If we were honest, some days as Christians we just want to throw in the towel. Fighting sin is hard. It takes so much effort to say no to temptation. In times of difficulty in frustration we often let our guard down and let sin have its way. Have you had any days like that?
This was a major temptation for the people of Israel as they returned home to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. They had seen the judgment of God for sin, and they had also seen God’s grace and restoration. In fact, God had proven that he is gracious by their very return to the land.
Unfortunately, some misunderstood how to apply God’s grace. They believed it warranted giving up on fighting sin. After all, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, right? Not so much.
In the prophet Zechariah’s 6th vision he sees some crazy stuff- a flying scroll and a woman in a basket being flown off. What’s all this about? What does it have to do with the fight against sin? Let’s find out.
Zech. 5:1 I looked up again and saw a flying scroll. 2 “What do you see?” he asked me. “I see a flying scroll,” I replied, “thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.”
Picture this: a huge flying scroll soaring through the air. Usually in visions a scroll represents the Word of God. Here, that message is a message of confrontation.
Zech. 5:3 Then he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land, for everyone who is a thief, contrary to what is written on one side, has gone unpunished, and everyone who swears falsely, contrary to what is written on the other side, has gone unpunished. 4 I will send it out,”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Armies—“and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by my name. It will stay inside his house and destroy it along with its timbers and stones.”
This scroll written on both sides refer to the 3rd and 8th commandments, and together they represent the breaking of the law in its entirety. Stealing and hypocritical speech/lying were alive and well in God’s people, even after their return from exile. This flying scroll will enter the house of the guilty and destroy it, reducing it to a pile of rubble. What a picture!
This vision is a warning: God will deal with sin. There is no hiding, regardless of your ethnicity, circumstances, or excuses. While most of Zechariah’s visions have focused on the sin of the nations against God’s people, now the Lord puts the focus on Israel’s sin.
The reality of sin in the midst of God’s people brings up the question of sin’s ultimate fate.
Zech. 5:5 Then the angel who was speaking with me came forward and told me, “Look up and see what this is that is approaching.”
Zech. 5:6 So I asked, “What is it?” He responded, “It’s a measuring basket that is approaching.” And he continued, “This is their iniquity in all the land.”
In this second part of the vision, Zechariah sees a basket filled with the sin of Israel.
7 Then a lead cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting inside the basket. 8 “This is Wickedness,” he said. He shoved her down into the basket and pushed the lead weight over its opening. 9 Then I looked up and saw two women approaching with the wind in their wings. Their wings were like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and sky.
In this basket is a woman who represents sin and wickedness. Two different women with stork-like wings carried off the basket. The presence of stork-like wings is due to the fact that the stork was an unclean animal (Lev. 11:19, Deut. 14:18). Those who would carry sin away would be unclean. You can’t remove sin without getting dirty.
Zech. 5:10 So I asked the angel who was speaking with me, “Where are they taking the basket?”
Zech. 5:11 “To build a shrine for it in the land of Shinar,” he told me. “When that is ready, the basket will be placed there on its pedestal.”
Shinar is a throwback title for Babylon. Bayblon represents the place where idolatry, oppression, and sin already have a home. There is no mistake that this is a reference to where the exiles have returned from.
The house and pedestal language here is a reference to a temple and pedestal for an idol. The point is simple: let sin be worshipped far from God’s people. Just like in the vision of Joshua the high priest, this vision pictures the removal of sin by God.
The Big Picture
When we consider this vision in light of the story of the Bible, we realize that the removal of sin is, in one sense, the main problem of the universe. Sin entered our world in Genesis 3, and the rest of the Scriptures are the revelation of God and his plan to redeem sinners by removing their sin.
One way or another, sin has no place in God’s people. To say sin belongs in Babylon is like saying it belongs in Las Vegas. To remove sin from his people, God the Son took on flesh and got his hands very dirty. He took on our curse, and died to remove the penalty for our wickedness.
Although Jesus removed the penalty for our sin, we await the removal of the presence of our sin. In the meantime, we often choose to go back to our old ways. Paul anticipated a similar response in the church. In Romans 6:1 he writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
The short answer is, we can’t. In fact, in Revelation 18 Jesus judges “Babylon,”—the representative title for all sinful human culture. He will purify his earth, renew it, and make it a suitable home for himself and his bride the church.
Taking It Home
What can we learn from this bizarre picture? First, no one gets away with sin… especially among the people of God. The temptation for Zechariah’s readers was to think that the exile was over, God had been gracious, so there was no fear of judgement. That led to hypocrisy, and God was having none of it.
Second, we learn that sin has no place in the people of God. Let this be a warning to us, Jesus died to remove our sin. The cross shows that God is on a search and destroy mission regarding sin. Are you? In what areas of your life are you hiding secret sin? When was the last time you went to war with sin in your soul?
God would not tolerate the sin of Israel, but he would send sin back to Babylon where sin belonged. God is not only committed to judging sin, but also to removing guilt for the sin of his people.
When we consider the immense blessing of God removing sin from us through Jesus the Messiah, we realize how crazy it is for us to then flirt with, tolerate, or embrace sin. While we should take comfort in the gospel—that Jesus died to remove our sin, we must also strive to live in step with the Holy Spirit. That means actively fighting against our sinful desires and habits.
How’s your relationship with sin? Are you stuffing it in the basket, or do want to hold on to her for a while?
- Praise God for the sin-removing mission of Jesus. Thank him for dying in our place to remove the penalty for our sin. Thank him for conquering sin and death through his resurrection.
- Ask God to increase your intolerance for sin in your life. Pray for discernment in seeing areas where you might be struggling. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin.
- Pray that God would grant you wisdom in knowing how to put your sin to death. Thank him for the help of other Christians in the church who can hold you accountable and encourage you in your daily battle with sin. Praise God that our acceptance in his sight isn’t based on our efforts, but on Jesus’.