(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 10)
Chapter 5. 
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-third. 
Zechariah 5:1-4 
1 Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a 
flying roll. 
2 And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a 
flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth 
thereof ten cubits. 
3 Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the 
face of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut 
off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth 
shall be cut off as on that side according to it. 
4 I will bring it forth, saith the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter 
into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth 
falsely by my name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, 
and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof. 
    The angel shows in this chapter, that whatever evils the Jews 
had suffered, proceeded from the righteous judgement Of God; and 
then he adds a consolation - that the Lord would at length alleviate 
or put an end to their evils, when he had removed afar off their 
iniquity. Interpreters have touched neither heaven nor earth in 
their explanation of this prophecy, for they have not regarded the 
design of the Holy Spirit. Some think that by the volume are to be 
understood false and perverted glosses, by which the purity of 
doctrine had been vitiated; but this view can by no means be 
received. There is no doubt but that God intended to show to 
Zechariah, that the Jews were justly punished, because the whole 
land was full of thefts and perjuries. As then religion had been 
despised, as well as equity and justice, he shows that it was no 
wonder that a curse had prevailed through the whole land, the Jews 
leaving by their impiety and other sins extremely provoked the wrath 
of God. This is the import of the first part. And, then, as this 
vision was terrible, there is added some alleviation by representing 
iniquity in a measure, and the mouth of the measure closed, and 
afterwards carried to the land of Shinar, that is, into Chaldea, 
that it might not remain in Judea. Thus in the former part the 
Prophet's design was to humble the Jews, and to encourage them to 
repent, so that they might own God to have been justly angry; and 
then he gives them reason to entertain hope, and fully to expect an 
end to their evils, for the Lord would remove to a distance and 
transfer their iniquity to Chaldea, so that Judea might be pure and 
free from every wickedness, both from thefts and acts of injustice, 
by which it had been previously polluted. But every sentence must be 
in order explained, that the meaning of the Prophet may be more 
clearly seen. 
    He says, that he had returned; and by this word this vision is 
separated front the preceding visions, and those also of which we 
have hitherto spoken, were not at the same time exhibited to the 
Prophet, but he saw them at different times. We may hence learn that 
some time intervened before the Lord presented to him the vision 
narrated in this chapter. He adds, that he raised up his eyes and 
looked; and this is said that we may know that what he narrates was 
shown to him by the prophetic Spirit. Zechariah very often raised up 
his eyes though God did not immediately appear to him; but it 
behaved God's servants, whenever they girded themselves for the 
purpose of teaching, to withdraw themselves as it were from the 
society of men, and to rise up above the world. The raising up of 
the eyes then, mentioned by Zechariah, signified something special, 
as though he had said, that he was prepared, for the Lord had 
inwardly roused him. The Prophets also, no doubt, were in this 
manner by degrees prepared, when the Lord made himself known to 
them. There was then the raising up of the eyes as a preparation to 
receive the celestial oracle. 
    He afterwards adds, that he was asked by the angel what he saw. 
He might indeed have said, that a roll flying in the air appeared to 
him, but he did not as yet understand what it meant; hence the angel 
performed the office of an interpreter. But he says, that the roll 
was twenty cubits long, and ten broad. The Rabbis think that the 
figure of the court of the temple is here represented, for the 
length of the court was twenty cubits and its breadth was ten; and 
hence they suppose, that the roll had come forth from the temple, 
that there might be fuller reason to believe that God had sent forth 
the roll. And this allusion, though not sufficiently grounded, is 
yet more probable than the allegory of the puerile Jerome, who 
thinks that this ought to be applied to Christ, because he began to 
preach the gospel in his thirtieth year. Thus he meant to apply this 
number to the age of Christ, when he commenced his office as a 
teacher. But this is extreme trifling. I do not feel anxious to know 
why the length or the breadth is mentioned; for it seems not to be 
much connected with the main subject. But if it be proper to follow 
a probable conjecture, what I have already referred to is more 
admissible - that the length and breadth of the roll are stated, 
that the Jews might fully understand that nothing was set before 
them but what God himself sanctioned, as they clearly perceived a 
figure of the court of the temple. 
    The angel then says, that it was the curse which went forth 
over the face of the whole land. We must remember what I have just 
said, that God's judgement is here set forth before the Jews, that 
they might know how justly both their fathers and themselves have 
been with so much severity chastised by God, inasmuch as they had 
procured for themselves such punishments by their sins. From the 
saying of the angel, that the roll went through the whole land, we 
learn, that not only a few were guilty, or that some corner of the 
land only had been polluted, but that the wrath of God raged 
everywhere, as no part of the land was pure or free from wickedness. 
As then Judea was full of pollutions, it was no wonder that the Lord 
poured forth his wrath and overwhelmed, as it were with a deluge, 
the whole land. 
    It afterwards follows, for every thief, or every one that 
steals, shall on this as on that side, be punished, or receive his 
own reward; and every one who swears, shall on this as on that side 
be punished. As to the words, interpreters differ with regard to the 
particles, "mizeh kamoha"; some take the meaning to be, "by this 
roll, as it is written;" others, "on this side of the roll, as on 
the other;" for they think that the roll was written on both sides, 
and that God denounced punishment on thieves as well as on 
perjurers. But I rather apply the words to the land, and doubt not 
but that this is the real meaning of the Prophet. As then there is 
no respect of persons with God, the Prophet, after having spoken of 
the whole land, says, that no one who had sinned could anywhere 
escape unpunished, for God would from one part to the other summon 
all to judgement without any exception. 
    Now the Prophet says, that all perjurers, as well as thieves, 
shall be punished; and there is nothing strange in this, for God, 
who has forbidden to steal, has also forbidden to forswear. He is 
therefore the punisher of all transgressions. Those who think that 
this roll was disapproved, as though it contained false and 
degenerate doctrine, bring this reason to prove its injustice, that 
the thief is as grievously punished as the perjurer: but this is 
extremely frivolous. For, as I have said already, God shows here 
that he will be the defender of his law in whatever respect men may 
have transgressed it. We must therefore remember that saying of 
James, "he who forbids to commit adultery, forbids also to steal: 
whosoever then offends in one thing is a transgressor of the whole 
law:" (James 2: 11:) for we ought not simply to regard what God 
either commands or forbids, but we ought ever to fix our eyes on his 
majesty, as there is nothing so minute in the law which all ought 
not reverently to receive; for the laws themselves are not only to 
be regarded, but especially the lawgiver. As then the majesty of God 
is dishonoured, when any one steals, and when any one transgresses 
in the least point, he clearly shows that the word of God is not 
much regarded by him. It is hence right that thieves and perjurers 
should be alike punished: yet the Scripture while it thus speaks, 
does not teach that sins are equal in enormity, as the Stoics in 
former times foolishly and falsely taught. But the equality of 
punishment is not what is here referred to; the angel means only, 
that neither thieves nor perjurers shall go unpunished, as they have 
transgressed the law of God. 
    We must also observe, that the mode of speaking adopted here is 
that of stating a part for the whole; for under the word theft is 
comprehended whatever is opposed to the duties of love; so that it 
is to be referred to the second table at the law. And the Prophet 
calls all those perjurers who profane the worship of God; and so 
perjury includes whatever is contrary to the first table of the law, 
and tends to pollute the service due to God. The meaning is, - that 
God, as I have said, will be the punisher of all kinds of 
wickedness, for he has not in vain given his law. Much deceived then 
are those who flatter themselves, as though by evasions they can 
elude the judgement of God, for both thieves and perjurers shall be 
brought before God's tribunal, so that no one can escape, that is, 
no wickedness shall remain unpunished; for not in vain has he once 
declared by his own mouth, that cursed are all who fulfil not 
whatever has been written. (Deut. 27: 26.) 
    And the same thing the Prophet more clearly expresses in the 
following verse, where God himself declares what he would do, that 
he would cause the curse to go forth over the whole land; as though 
he had said, "I will really show, that I have not given the law that 
it may be despised; for what the law teaches shall be so 
efficacious, that every one who violates it shall find that he has 
to do, not with a mortal man, nor with sounds of words, but with the 
heavenly judge; I will bring forth the curse over the whole land." 
    I have said, that the Prophet was instructed in the import of 
this vision, that all the Jews might know that it was nothing 
strange that they had been so severely chastised, inasmuch as they 
had polluted the whole land by their sins, so that no part of the 
law was observed by them; for on the one hand they had corrupted the 
worship of God and departed from true religion; and on the other, 
they distressed one another by many wrongs, and oppressed them by 
frauds. As then no equity prevailed among the people, nor any true 
religion, God shows that he would punish them all, as none were 
    He afterwards adds, It shall come into the house of the thief, 
and into the house of him who swears in my name falsely; and there 
will it reside, and it shall consume the hoarse, both the wood and 
the stones. Here the Prophet further stimulates the Jews to 
repentance, by showing that the curse would so fly as to enter into 
all their houses; as though he had said, "In vain shall they, who 
deserve punishment, fortify or shut up themselves; for this curse, 
which I send forth, shall come to each individual, and with him it 
shall remain." We know that hypocrites so flatter themselves, as 
though they could escape for the moment while God is angry and 
displeased; but the Prophet shows here that vain is such a hope, for 
the curse would overtake all the ungodly, and wholly overthrow them; 
yea, it would consume their houses, both the wood and the stones. In 
short, he intimates, that punishment ends not until men are 
reconciled to God. And by these words he reminds us how terrible it 
is to fall into the hands of God, for he will punish the ungodly and 
the wicked until he reduces them to nothing. We now then comprehend 
the design of the Prophet and the meaning of the words. It now 
follows - 
Zechariah 5:5-8 
5 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. 
6 And I said, What is it? And he said, This is an ephah that goeth 
forth. He said moreover, This is their resemblance through all the 
7 And, behold, there was lifted up a talent of lead: and this is a 
woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah. 
8 And he said, This is wickedness. And he cast it into the midst of 
the ephah; and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof. 
    Here I stop; I intended to add all the verses, but I can hardly 
finish the whole to-day. It will be enough for us to understand that 
this is the second part of the vision, in which the Prophet, in 
order to relieve or in some measure to mitigate the sorrow of the 
Jews, shows, that God would not treat them with extreme rigour, so 
as to punish them as they deserved, but would chastise them with 
paternal moderation. Hence he says, that a measure appeared to him 
and a woman in the measure. The woman was wickedness; there was also 
a covering of lead, a wide or an extended piece. The plate of lead 
was borne upwards when the woman was seen in the measure. He then 
says, that the measure was closed up, and that there impiety was 
kept hid as a captive in prison. He afterwards adds, that it was 
driven away into the land of Shinar, very far from Judea, and that 
wickedness was thus turned over to the enemies of the chosen people. 
    We see that God, as I have already noticed, gives here a token 
of favour; for he says that wickedness was shut up in a measure. 
Though then he had spoken hitherto severely, that he might shake the 
Jews with dread, it was yet his purpose soon to add some 
alleviation: for it was enough that they were proved guilty of their 
sins, that they might humble themselves and suppliantly flee to 
God's mercy, and also that repentance might really touch them, lest 
they should murmur, as we know they had done, but submit themselves 
to God and confess that they had suffered justly. Since then the 
angel had already shown that the curse had deservedly gone over the 
face of the whole land, because no corner was free from wickedness, 
the angel now adds, that he came to show a new vision, Raise, he 
says, now thine eyes, and see what this is which goes forth. The 
Prophet was no doubt cast down with fear, so that he hardly dared to 
look any longer. As then the curse was flying and passing freely 
here and there, the Prophet was struck with horror, and not without 
reason, since he beheld the wrath of God spreading everywhere 
indiscriminately. This is the reason why the angel now animates him 
and bids him to see what was going forth. And he tells what was 
exhibited to him, for he saw a measure; which in Hebrew is "'efah"; 
and some render it measure or bushel; others, firkin or cask; but in 
this there is no difference. When the Prophet saw this measure, he 
asked the angel what it was: for the vision would have been useless, 
had he not been informed what the measure and the woman sitting in 
it signified, and also the lead covering. He therefore asked what 
they were. 
    Then the angel answered, This is the measure that goes forth, 
and this is their eye in all the earth. By saying that the measure 
is their eye, he no doubt means that the ungodly could not thus be 
carried away at their own pleasure, but that God restrained them 
whenever it seemed good to him; for they could not escape his sight. 
For by their eyes he understands passively the power of seeing in 
God, by which he notices all the sins of the ungodly, that he may 
check them when he pleases, when they hurry on without restraint. 
    But that the meaning of the Prophet may be made more clear, let 
us first see what wickedness means, - whether it is to be taken for 
those sins which provoked God's wrath against the Jews, - or whether 
for those wrongs which heathen enemies had done. The last is the 
view I prefer, though if we take it for the wickedness which had 
previously reigned in Judea, the meaning would not be unsuitable. 
For as wickedness is hateful to God, his vengeance against the Jews 
could not have ceased except by cleansing them from their sins, and 
by renewing them by his Spirit. For they had carried on war with him 
in such a way, that there was no means of pacifying him but by 
departing from their sins. And whenever God reconciles himself to 
melt, he at the same time renews them by his Spirit; he not only 
blots out their sins, as to the guilt, but also regenerates those 
who were before devoted to sin and the devil, so that he may treat 
them kindly and paternally. 
    With regard then to the subject in hand, both views may be 
suitably adopted. We may consider the meaning to be, - that God 
would take away iniquity from Judea by cleansing his Church from all 
defilements, since the Jews could not partake of his blessing except 
iniquity were driven afar off and banished. As God then designed to 
be propitious to his people, he justly says, that he would cause 
wickedness to disappear from the midst of them. Yet the other view, 
as I have said, is more agreeable to the context, - that wickedness 
would not be allowed freely to prevail as before; for we know that 
loose reins had been given to the cruelty of their enemies, inasmuch 
as the Jews had been exposed to the wrongs of all. As then they had 
been so immoderately oppressed, God promises that all unjust 
violence should be driven afar off and made to depart into the land 
of Shinar, that is, that the Lord would in turn chastise the 
Babylonians and reward them as they had deserved. The import of the 
whole is, that God, who had chosen the seed of Abraham, would be 
propitious to the Jews, so as to put an slid at length to their 
    Now the Prophet says that wickedness, when first seen, was in 
mid air, and in a measure; but at the same time he calls the measure 
the eye of the ungodly, for though wickedness extends itself to all 
parts, yet God confines it within a hidden measure; and this he 
designates by eyes, whereby he seems to allude to a former prophecy, 
which we have explained. For he had said that there were seven eyes 
in the stone of the high priest, because God would carry on by his 
providence the building of the temple. So also he says, that God's 
eyes are upon all the ungodly, according to what is said in the book 
of Psalms - "The eyes of the Lord are over the wicked, to destroy 
their memory from the earth." (Ps. 34: 17.) And this mode of 
speaking often occurs in Scripture. The meaning then is, that though 
wickedness spreads and extends through the whole earth, it is yet in 
a measure; but this measure is not always closed up. However this 
may be, still God knows how to regulate all things, so that impiety 
shall not exceed its limits. And this is most true, whatever view 
may be taken; for when enemies harass the church, though they may be 
carried along in the air, that is, though God may not immediately 
restrain their wrongs, they yet sit in a measure, and are ruled by 
the eyes of God, so that they cannot move a finger, except so far as 
they are permitted. Let us in a word know, that in a state of things 
wholly disordered, God watches, and his eyes are vigilant, in order 
to put an end to injuries. The same also may be said when God gives 
up to a reprobate mind those who deserve such a punishment; for 
though he cast them away, and Satan takes possession of them, yet 
this remains true - that they sit in a measure. They are not indeed 
shut in; but we ought not, as I have said, to suppose that God is 
indifferent in heaven, or that sins prevail in the world, as though 
he did not see them; for his connivance is not blindness. The eyes 
of God then mark and observe whatever sins are done in the world. 
    Now the angel adds, that a thin piece of lead was cast over the 
mouth of the measure, and that wickedness was cast into the measure. 
The expression, that wickedness was thrown into the measure, may be 
explained in two ways - either that God would not permit so much 
liberty to the devil to lead the Jews to sin as before; for how 
comes it that men abandon themselves to every evil, except that God 
forsakes them, and at the same time delivers them up to Satan, that 
he may exercise his tyranny over them? or, that a bridle would be 
used to restrain foreign enemies, that they might not in their 
wantonness oppress the miserable people, and exercise extreme 
violence. God, then, intending to deliver them from their sins, or 
to check wrongs, shuts up wickedness, as it were, in a measure; and 
then he adds a cover; and it is said to have been a thin piece, or a 
weight of lead, because it was heavy; as though the Prophet had 
said, that whenever it pleased God iniquity would be taken captive, 
so that it could not go forth from its confinement or its prison. It 
afterwards follows - 
Zecharia 5:9-11 
9 Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came 
out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings 
like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the 
earth and the heaven. 
10 Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these 
bear the ephah? 
11 And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: 
and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base. 
    The Prophet says here that such would be the change of things, 
that God would in turn afflict the Chaldeans, who had so cruelly 
treated the chosen people. And this is the reason why I think that 
iniquity is to be taken for the violent injustice and plunder which 
heathen enemies had exercised towards the Jews. For when he says 
that a house would be for iniquity in the land of Shinar, it is as 
though he had said, "as Judea has been for a long time plundered by 
enemies, and has been exposed to their outrages, so the Chaldeans in 
their turn shall be punished, not once, nor for a short time, but 
perpetually; for God will fix a habitation for wickedness in their 
land." We hence see the design of the vision, that is, that when God 
had mercy on his Church its enemies would have to render an account, 
and that they would not escape God's hand, though he had employed 
them to chastise his people. 
    He says then, that wickedness was taken away, that a house 
might be made for it, that is, that it might have a fixed and 
permanent dwelling in the land of Shinar, which means among the 
Chaldeans, who had been inveterate enemies to the Jews; and as 
Babylon was the metropolis of that empire, he includes under it all 
the ungodly who opposed or persecuted the children of God. Why God 
represents the measure as carried away by women rather than by men 
does not appear to me, except it was that the Jews might know that 
there was no need of any warlike preparations, but that their 
strongest enemies could be laid prostrate by weak and feeble 
instruments; and thus under the form of weakness his own power would 
be made evident. The Prophet saw women with wings, because sudden 
would be the change, so that in one day, as we shall presently see, 
wickedness was taken away. By the wings of a stork either celerity 
or strength is indicated. This is the sum of the whole. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou threatens us with severe 
punishment to restrain us from sin, we may regard thy judgement, and 
not abuse thy long-suffering in sparing us for a time; and also 
that, whenever thou chastises us, we may seriously consider that we 
deserve thy displeasure, as we have in various ways provoked thy 
wrath: and may we not at the same time despair or be broken down, 
but learn so to recomb on thy mercy as not to doubt but that there 
will be a seasonable end to our evils, and that thou wilt not only 
mitigate the rigour of punishment as far as necessary for our 
comfort, but wilt also punish our enemies, so that we may know that 
nothing is better for us, or more desirable, than to be chastised by 
thy hand, not that thou mayest destroy us, but recall us to the way 
of salvation, until we be at length made capable of receiving that 
favour which has been laid up for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ 
our Lord. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 11...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-10.txt