Saturday, April 28, 2018

Wickedness in a 6-gallon bucket

I was reading through Zechariah the other day and I found an interesting visionary incident. It is puzzling, and there is no large view interpretation for it in the scriptures, so it invites the faithful to ponder and extract important principles.
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 earth.
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.
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. (Zechariah 5:5-11)

First, some clarifications of terms.
An ephah is a dry measurement for grain, with a size of about 6-7 gallons.
A talent of lead would be a round disk of metal weighing about 113-125 pounds.
Shinar is another name for Babylon.

Now, let’s get straight what Zechariah saw. He saw an ephah container with a talent weight used as a cover. The angel lifted the weighty cover to show Zechariah there was a woman (symbolizing wickedness) in the ephah, then pushed her back down in and put the cover back on. After that, two other winged women picked up the ephah container, and the wind blew them to Shinar (Babylon), where, the angel said, they would build the ephah a house and a special spot, like a shrine.

Some interesting things I notice as I think about this imagery are the following:
1)    The ephah is like a 6-gallon bucket, and to fit a woman in there would be really confining. Like squished.
2)    The weight of the talent of lead on the mouth of the ephah container makes it so the woman can’t get out. She’s trapped.
3)    The woman has no control over where she is carried.
4)    The woman in the ephah container is taken to Babylon, where she is given a place and established in what looks like pleasant conditions, but she’s still confined in the ephah container.

There are a lot of commentators that say this talks about the wicked Jews being exiled to Babylon, but I think there is more to learn from it that can warn us today.  I think it is meant to convey the long-term spiritual consequences of wickedness.

Just like a woman squished in an ephah container (or a 6-gallon bucket), God is trying to show that wickedness is confining, rather than liberating. Just like the talent of lead on the mouth of the ephah prevented the woman from escaping, to those steeped in wickedness it often seems as if it is too hard to repent and escape their sins. It seems like they’ve gone too far or the costs of escape seem too great to pay. (Satan loves to use this lie, by the way.)

Then, these two women with wings come and carry off the ephah container to Shinar (Babylon) with the woman still in it, and the woman has no choice in the matter. The wings often symbolize powers, and winds can represent societal forces or worldly doctrines that blow here or there. It shows us that if someone doesn’t repent, they will be carried about by the world’s doctrines concerning the particular sins they indulge in. They’ve already given away their choice in the matter, so they don’t have control at this point.

Where does it all lead? Where is the ephah container carried to? Babylon. All sins lead to Babylon, no matter what they are. It’s like a one-way road to a dead end.

Then it looks like things get better for the woman in the ephah. A house is built for her, and there’s a nice secure base for the ephah to be placed. Some people interpret “house” as meaning a temple is made for the ephah where it is worshipped. And in Babylon all kinds of sins are glorified and given places. That makes me think that all the sins Israel must get rid of are the very things Babylon and the world loves, worships, and establishes. It’s as though Babylon is a junk yard dressing up as an amusement park, or a cesspit trying to masquerade as a temple.  But ultimately, don’t let the appearance fool you—the woman is still stuck in the ephah.

Also, I think this vision shows how instead of liberating, sin takes away freedom and options until one is so confined they lose their agency. Satan tries to make us think the wicked are strong individuals who forge their own path in life, but here we are shown that the wicked are carried away from the church and apostatize, then swept along by outside forces no matter how they try to fight it. Even if outside the church they are hailed as great heroes, accepted, respected, and given a place, they are still confined by their sins. They are not really free, and the respect of Babylon is not worth having, since they love all the wrong things.

All if this is so we know the long-term consequences of sin and what it leads to without having to actually experience it ourselves. No doubt Zechariah (and the Lord who gave the vision) hoped that people would see the truth and choose to repent and be free.