8. A Cleansed People

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 8. The Divine Goal – A Cleansed People

Zech 5:1 I looked again, and there before me was a flying scroll.

Recap: So far we have seen that the Lord purposes good for Israel, good for Jerusalem, has re-established the leadership and has declared the principle that although the Lord declares that the temple building will be completed, they need to understand it will be by the work of the Holy Spirit. But there is always a danger when we sense we are being blessed of God and that danger is that we will be careless about how we live and forget that we are called to be a holy people. It was true of Israel (Ex 19:6) and us (1 Pet 2:9). The two visions that now come address this problem.

Vision 1: A Flying Scroll: “I looked again, and there before me was a flying scroll.” (5:1) He is challenged to say what he sees: “He asked me, “What do you see?” (5:2a) He responds: “I answered, “I see a flying scroll, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.” (5:2b) Now a footnote in your Bible will tell you that this is a massive scroll, the size of an advertising poster you see at roadsides or on the sides of large buildings. Perhaps its size is saying, ‘take note of this, it is important!’

Explanation: Then the angel speaks out what in on this scroll: “And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.’” (5:3,4) Note there are two messages, one on one side, one on the other – thieving is banished from this land, lying is banished from this land. What is strange is that this is described as a curse. Now a curse is God’s decree for bad! It is a judgment. So the judgment that is coming here is upon anyone who fails to heed this warning for they will be removed from the Land.

Application: That is very simple isn’t it. Two things, one of them an action, the other the use of words and God is, in a very simple and straight forward way, saying wrong behaviour and wrong speaking has no place in the life of the people of God, no place in the kingdom of God. That is a general principle that is to be applied to the life of the Church as much as it was to Israel. We are not to be just a spiritual people for true spirituality has a very practical outworkings that should be producing a people who are morally and ethically ‘good’ and that word excludes bad or wrong things, whether things we do or say. Can we say that is true of our church?

Vision 2: The Woman in a Basket: But this isn’t the only way that God wants to communicate this truth to them for the angel tells Zechariah to look up for something more is coming: “Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what is appearing.” (5:5) That provokes Zechariah to ask about what is coming: “I asked, “What is it?” (5:6a) The angel immediately replies: “He replied, “It is a basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.” (5:6b) Did you see that?  He describes the object and then what it portrays – a basket which apparently carries all the wrong within the land. But there is more to follow:

“Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed its lead cover down on it.” (5:7,8) Wow! The basket has a lead cover, indicating a heavy cover that cannot easily be removed. But within the basket that was previously described as wickedness, there is a woman who is described as wickedness. Evil or wrong is being personified here to make it more real. But this is the thing, ‘evil’ or ‘wrong’ isn’t just a theory it is something that is expressed through human beings, it has its origins in human free-will that chooses to reject the design and purpose of God. Why a woman? Perhaps because it is the woman who has the privilege of bearing life, of continuing it in the next generation. Evil never stays in one generation, it flows on in sinful humanity from generation to generation throughout history, and it needs dealing with, it needs removing, if mankind is to be saved and not destroyed.

God’s Activity: But then something strange happens. Observe. “Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.” (5:9) two women to deal with the one woman, angelic women with wings. This raises a question in the prophet: “Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.” (5:10) He is given the answer: “He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When the house is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.” (5:11) This people in the Land have come from Babylon and it is as if the Lord is saying, any residue of your past wickedness is to be left or taken back to Babylon where it belongs, in the midst of the godless people of the world. They are wicked in their rebellion against God, which is seen again and again in the Bible, that’s where wickedness belongs, in the godless world, not the people of God.

Application: So we have two pictures conveying the same thing. The first one, the flying scroll, reveals two sins that summarize all sins – wrong behaviour and wrong words – and they will be banned from the people of God. God will remove them. The second one, the woman called wickedness, in the basket being carried back to Babylon, reveals even more clearly the activity of God to purify this people. Again, they were called to be a holy people and there is no room in the holy for wrongdoing or wrong speaking.

And Us? Of course when Jesus came and died to redeem us, and when the Spirit fell to empower us, God brought about something that had previously been humanly impossible, holy people, people cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, a people who were to be freed from having to do wrong things, freed from having to speak wrong things. This is what it means to be godly, to be holy, this is what we are called to be, and therefore any church community that tolerates these things is failing in its calling. Two things to be considered: how does this work in us individually and how does the life of the Church contribute to ensuring this is how it is?

First, us: We have emphasized above “freed from having to do… having to say”. The power of sin over us has been broken, the New Testament teaches. However, although our heart and mind goal is to stick close to Jesus in our intentions and directions, it is still possible for us to be waylaid by the enemy and give way to temptation. This is why the pastoral apostle John writes, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) He clearly recognizes that we can still stumble and get it wrong.  But our starting place is Jesus doesn’t want me to sin and I don’t have to sin.

Second, the church: The role of the church is to teach, equip, enable and empower by word and Spirit. Our teaching must as we have here: God calls for a holy people, a people who do not sin in deed or word, and He is working all the time to restore us when we fall and deliver us from a life of wrong. Teaching is our first role, to present a vision of the individuals and the community we can be ‘in Christ’. But that is closely followed by releasing of faith to achieve that vision, to show it is possible and to teach on the resources we have – His Spirit, His word, the gifts and ministries He has given to the Church, and each other. Everything in the initial activity of the Church is to envision, enable and empower the Church to live as the children of God and as the body of Christ.

And so? This is the picture that is conveyed to Zechariah by these two visions, of a new people who will not tolerate wrong behaviour or wrong speaking in their quest to live out their lives as the holy people of God. They were not taken into exile and then delivered from exile to be the same old unbelieving, rebellious and sinful people.  As it was for them, so it is to be for us. We have not been called out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) to be the same old self-centred and godless people. No, we are a holy, envisioned, empowered people of God.  May it be so.

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