God's All-Consuming Covenant Word: A Flying Scroll
Passage: Zechariah 5:1–5:4
Sermon from Zechariah 5:1-4 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Return & Restoration (Part 7)
Delivered on October 11, 2015
We come now to Zechariah’s sixth night vision—a vision of a flying scroll. Let’s read together in verse 1.
1Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! 2And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.” 3Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side. 4I will send it out, declares the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.”
Exposed before Justice
When I was in middle school, a friend of mine took me to one of the high school basketball games. His older sister was playing. But instead of watching the game, we thought we’d find something more exciting to do. So we went outside the gym, walked around the building, and noticed that the windows to the girls’ locker rooms were cracked open at the top. They were up high—providing some ventilation—but there was also a large tree beside them. My friend got the idea that we should gather up some pebbles, climb the tree, and see if we couldn’t scare somebody inside by tossing them through the window. And then we’d run.
We made it halfway up that tree, and suddenly found ourselves the subjects of a blinding spotlight—that wasn’t coming from the building but from behind us, and there was a voice too saying, “Get down!” The plan to run failed at this point. And upon climbing down, we met a police officer who had been following us since we left the building. And, as he suspected, he now had reason to correct us. He firmly instructed us to return to my friend’s parents, and mercifully let us go.
But I’ll never forget the feeling of being exposed before justice. It seemed all-consuming. And yet that little experience I had with the police officer pursuing me and exposing my law-breaking, is nothing compared to God’s word pursuing and exposing law-breakers. The passage before us paints a picture of God’s all-consuming covenant word. In particular, several symbols come together to paint a picture of God’s covenant curse hunting down the law-breakers and consuming them until they are no more. Even when they try to hide, his word finds them, exposes them, and destroys them.
Four Details of the Vision
I want to look at four details with you from this picture of a flying scroll. Pretend that, by reading the passage, we’ve looked at a painting titled, A Flying Scroll. And now, as your tour guide, I’m going to point out several details in Zechariah’s painting that will help you understand the overall message.
1. A Scroll with the Covenant Curse
So let’s zoom in now on detail number one: Zechariah sees a scroll. Scrolls like this appear three other places in the Old Testament. In Psalm 40:7, the scroll is a reference to the written Law of Moses. Then later on, Jeremiah writes out God’s words on a scroll, and the word is a word of judgment against Israel according to the Law of Moses (Jer 36:2-32). Ezekiel also gets a vision of a scroll, and in that scroll were written words of lamentation, mourning, and woe—again, judgment against Israel according to the Law of Moses (Ezek 2:9; 3:1).
So the scroll contains God’s written revelation that reaches back to the Law of Moses and applies that Law to the current situation. The same is happening here. In fact, notice that the scroll has writing on both sides of it—verse 3 says, “For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side.” This is just like the stone tablets that held the Ten Commandments. Exodus 32:15 says that the stone tablets had the commandments “written on both sides.”
So, we’re dealing with a covenant document—and in particular, the Law of Moses as its being reapplied to the law-breakers in Zechariah’s day. And when the Law of Moses is applied to law-breakers, it curses them. That’s why verse 3 identifies the scroll as “the curse that goes out.” The Law of Moses as covenant had both blessings and curses. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—if you obeyed the Law, you were blessed; if you disobeyed the Law, you were cursed. Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” So the scroll represents the Law of Moses. It’s God’s law-covenant that contains curses when it’s not obeyed.
2. Dimensions that Evoke God’s Presence
Detail number two: check out the dimensions of this scroll. Verse 2, “Its length is twenty cubits, and its width is ten cubits”—that’s thirty feet long and fifteen feet tall. We’re talking about a scroll just a bit bigger than most billboards—which is rather foreboding if you think about this thing containing the curse.
But there’s something peculiar about these dimensions. It takes me back to Solomon’s temple. Back in 1 Kings 6:3, it says that the vestibule—the porch-like area in front of the Holy Place—was twenty cubits long and ten cubits deep. But even more likely—since this scroll is also flying—are the dimensions of the two massive cherubim that stood on both sides of the arc of the covenant. You can see them on the screen.
There were these two golden cherubs that were ten cubits tall and each had a wingspan of ten cubits wide. They stood by each other like this—wing-tip to wing-tip—and there wings stretched from one end of the Most Holy place to the other, touching in the middle where the arc of the covenant sat. So they’re ten cubits tall; and two cherubs, times ten cubits a piece, equals twenty cubits wide. The dimensions seem to recall the Most Holy place where God manifested his presence, where God chose to reveal his holy presence above the arc of the covenant that contained the two tablets.
What’s the point? The point is that the scroll which contains the curse is coming from God’s presence in the temple. The whole message to this point in Zechariah has been about God coming to rebuild his temple and to fill his temple with his presence. But now what we’re getting is this: wherever God dwells, sin isn’t welcome. Sin only invites his curse. And so his curse is now going out from his presence to seek out the evildoer. Verse 4 even says explicitly that God is the one sending it out.
3. A Flight Characterizing the Curse’s Pursuit
Detail number three: the scroll is flying. A few things lead me to believe that this doesn’t mean it’s just open—like it’s just unrolled and flittering open in the wind. To begin, I just mentioned its association with the golden cherubim.
Also, verse 4 says that the Lord sends out the curse; and the curse seems to pursue the lawbreakers until destroying them. Something else to note is that within the curses of the Law of Moses, we find this kind of imagery—this is Deuteronomy 28:45 and 49: “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed.” That’s hunting vocabulary; the curse will track them down—we saw it already in 1:6. And then we get this in Deuteronomy 28:49, “The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle.”
It’s borrowing language from the curse of the Law to describe the curse itself. It doesn’t leave God’s presence in a passive manner. It doesn’t go out and fall flat, without any effect. It leaves God’s presence like a hawk swooping down for the kill.
4. God’s Purpose to Destroy the Law-breakers
And that leads us right in to detail number four, which is the purpose for which God sends out the curse. He sends out the curse to destroy the law-breakers.
Read verse 3 again: “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land.” Everyone in Israel is accountable in other words. God isn’t arbitrarily picking and choosing; he curses everyone who deserves it, in the whole land. It goes on, “For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side.”
So two big offenses are in view—stealing and swearing falsely. And when you read verse 4, you find that it’s not merely swearing falsely to your neighbor that’s in view. The curse, it says, enters “the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name”—that is, by God’s name. They’re taking the name of the Lord in vain. So what are the offenses? Stealing and swearing falsely by God’s name—two offenses that represent both sides of the Ten Commandments.
Swearing falsely by God’s name pulls from the first half of the Ten Commandments, dealing with our vertical relationship with God. Stealing pulls from the second half of the Ten Commandments, dealing with our horizontal relationships with other people. The point isn’t to suggest that these two offenses were the most frequent in Israel, or even to suggest that these two deserve the most punishment. The point is that these two offenses represent what the whole Law stands for, namely, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
The problem here is that people have been wrongly acquitted for living contrary to those two things. They’re not loving their neighbor and they’re lying to God, and they’ve been wrongly acquitted. But God will see to it that their sins will not go unpunished. Our passage reflects the very character of God revealed in Exodus 34:7—he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…but [he] will by no means clear the guilty.”
Which is what we find happening in verse 4: “I will send it out, declares the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.” So there’s no hiding from his curse, no getting away with your evil deeds. God’s curse doesn’t miss a single law-breaker, when he sends it out.
But, why use this imagery of a house? A few reasons perhaps. If the people are stealing from others—or, more accurately, not giving what they do have to help those in need, and thus stealing from them—what are they doing with their money and possessions? They’re building themselves some pretty fancy houses. They’re wealth only serves themselves at the expense of others.
On top of that comes the imagery of God’s curse entering their house to consume them. Where else have we seen God’s curse doing that in Scripture? The exodus, right? If you didn’t have the blood on your door posts, God’s curse of death entered your house and destroyed your firstborn child. His curse in Zechariah goes out in the same way, but now it’s to destroy everybody in the house along with their belongings.
And one more thing, up to this point in Zechariah, the focus of chapters 1-4 has been God building his house—the temple in Jerusalem. And what he’s saying here is that his house cannot coexist with the house lawbreakers. When his house goes up, the house that lawbreakers want to build must come crumbling down. And he will bring them and their houses down one by one with his curse. The only house that will be left standing on the Last Day is God’s house.
A Curse for Lawbreakers Everywhere
That’s the vision: God sends out his covenant curse from his presence, to seek out and expose and then destroy the lawbreakers till nothing is left of them. And you might be saying, “Goodnight, that’s a terrifying message to Israel. After all these chapters on God returning and blessing his people, who could possibly stand when his curse finally goes out? None of them have loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; and none of them have always loved their neighbor as they’re required.”
And then that same terror you feel for Israel begins to expose you, too: “I am just as much a law-breaker. I have stolen from others and I have defamed the name of my God, and that means the curse will find me out too.” That’s how this message affects us. Zechariah’s message is for the world, not just for Israel. That’s what Isaiah 24 says. Isaiah 24:5-6 is quite similar to Zechariah 5, but it applies the curse to the whole world:
The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.
The threat of the curse in vision six isn’t just for Israel; it’s for the whole world. God will send out his curse, and his curse will consume all the law-breakers—eventually the book of Revelation calls this all-consuming curse the Lake of Fire. God’s New Jerusalem will finally stand, and all the unclean lawbreakers will be consumed forever under his curse outside his city.
Jesus Became a Curse for Us
This is why we love and sing and wonder and treasure and preach and announce the cross of Jesus Christ at Redeemer Church. Let me ask you to turn in your Bibles to Galatians 3, because what we find here is a lawbreaker’s only escape from the curse of God’s law. Vision six will eventually be fulfilled; and God’s covenant curse will fall on all humanity. But the unspeakable beauty of God’s grace is that for countless multitudes God took that curse and with it consumed his own Son, Jesus, in our place.
Read with me Galatians 3:10-14,
10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Here is our escape, friends. We are lawbreakers. And we are under a curse because of our lawbreaking, because of sin. And rather than sending his curse to consume us, God sent Jesus be consumed for us. When Jesus suffered under God’s curse, he didn’t suffer for his own lawbreaking. He was without sin. He loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and he loved his neighbor as himself—even when that obedience to God and that love for his neighbor meant that he would suffer under the wrath of God in the place of lawbreakers. The one who didn’t deserve the curse suffered under the curse, that those who did deserve the curse might be freed from the curse.
God still plans to consume lawbreakers with his curse at the end of history. But the good news is this: for everybody who trusts in Jesus in history, their curse is no more. There will be no curse sent out to consume them at the end of history, only gracious love sent to glorify them. Let’s be clear—God’s didn’t clear the guilty. He punished the guilty in his Son. If you trust in Jesus, your guilt, your sin, your curse is over. And that means you no longer belong to the community of lawbreakers still under God’s curse. You belong to the community of law-fulfillers under God’s grace.
Not only did Jesus meet all of the law’s demands for you, but now risen from the dead, he gives you the Holy Spirit—and by walking in the Spirit, we fulfill the law of love. Galatians 5:18 says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Rather, you fulfill the law of Christ as the Spirit moves you to love.
You don’t steal anymore, because your God is love; and when you have him you have everything. You don’t steal because you see in the cross that your heavenly Father really does love you and care for you and will meet all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. And so instead of stealing, now you give and give and give, as your God has so graciously given to you.
And you don’t lie anymore, because your God is true. You don’t swear falsely by his name, because you have seen in the cross that he loves justice and righteousness and truth. So, rather you speak the truth to one another in love, Paul says. Your words go out not to defame God’s name, but to bring glory to the God who saved you from the curse. That’s life in the new community.
Living as a Community Freed from the Curse
So, as the new community, who celebrates our deliverance from the curse of God’s law, what does this sixth vision leave us with? I’ll mention just four things today.
We must not tolerate sin in ourselves or in the church
First of all, we must not tolerate sin in ourselves or in the church. As mentioned earlier, wherever God dwells sin must go. And you know what? The Bible tells us that God dwells in the church at an individual level and a corporate level. First Corinthians 6:19 says that God dwells in individual believers, and that has implications for what you do with your body parts—all of your body parts, even the most intimate of your body parts. Our body parts—whether eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, feet, brain, stomach, whatever—are not to be used for sin but to bring God glory. Why? God dwells here—God dwells here, and therefore sin isn’t welcome.
And then 1 Corinthians 3:16 says that God also dwells in the corporate church, the whole body of believers. And sin must not be tolerated here either. This is why we affirm the New Testament’s teaching on the mutual accountability of believers and discipleship and the pursuit of holiness and the necessity of church discipline when out of step with those things.
This vision of life is very different from today’s society. In today’s society sin—because the world doesn’t have a biblical mindset—regularly goes undetected; and even when it’s detected, sin is then tolerated; and even when it’s not tolerated, the punishment is often skewed and shallow and has nothing to do with God’s glory. The church of Jesus Christ must stand in stark contrast to the world when it comes to how we view and deal with sin.
All sin is a horrific affront to God’s glory, it cost the Son of God his life, and it will take an eternity for sinners to pay for it if they do not trust in Christ. It’s not a small thing, and we know it’s not a small thing, because one sin sent this world spiraling into all of its corruption. When you read the news headlines, you shouldn’t just think of how terrible and destructive sin is out there, but also how terrible and destructive sin is in here and in here. The difference for the church is that we can identify sin—God’s word convicts us—we have the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation—Christ died for us—and we have the power to overcome sin—the Holy Spirit lives in us.
But that’s the point, where God dwells, he won’t let his people grow indifferent to sin. Being intolerant of sin doesn’t mean we act harshly toward others, or pretend like we have no sin of our own. But it at least means that we see sin for what it really is, and we work together to get it out, so that we can look more and more like our Savior.
We must live to fulfill the law of love as individuals and as a church
Secondly, we must live to fulfill the law of love as individuals and as a church. I’m getting this from the implied warning in verse 3, that God’s curse will seek out the one who steals from his neighbor. That’s meant to drive the community of faith to repentance in this area, so that we love instead of steal.
Paul picks up this same theme in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” The gospel changes thieves into hard-working, honest, sacrificial givers. How are we doing in this area? Are we fighting to worship God rightly by loving our neighbors fervently, and thus fulfilling the law of Christ?
We should seriously evaluate ways in which we might be stealing from others and then perverting justice, in order to ease our conscience. We can’t think of stealing merely in terms of what we’re not taking from others; the Bible mostly teaches us to think in terms of how we are giving to others.
So, yes, there is active exploitation of others—like when we avoid taxes using deception and bending the rules; or like when we abuse the welfare system; or when we take advantage of pirated software or download music and movies without making sure to support the artists behind them; or like when slack off at work instead of working hard to benefit our employer and serve others; or maybe, if you happen to own a business, like when we underpay our employees.
But there’s also passive forms of theft, like when God blesses you with a healthy crop and you hoard it all for yourself instead of leaving margin to help the poor eat. That’s a real example from Scripture. It wasn’t that you actively took anything away; you just didn’t care to even think of them. So, ignoring the poor might be a passive form of theft, since you’re keeping for yourself what God gave you to give to others. Or maybe there are ways we’ve simply disregarded the broken, we’ve failed to be a voice for the most vulnerable among us like orphans and widows.
The elders and the finance team will be taking some initial steps to address some of these deficits in our own corporate life together; and you can hear more about that at the members meeting when we discuss the budget. My point is that we’ve been brought into a community that lives to fulfill the law of Christ, as the Spirit works among his people (Gal 6:2). How does James say it?
5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well (Jas 2:5-8).
Many of you are doing well in this regard. But in our affluent American culture, I imagine there’s room for serious evaluation and prayer.
We must warn other lawbreakers and tell them about Christ
Third, as we go about fulfilling this law of love, we must also warn other lawbreakers and tell them about Christ. God’s covenant curse will seek out all the lawbreakers, in order to destroy them; and their only hope is in Jesus Christ. You see, there is another scroll mentioned in the Bible—we see it in Revelation 5:1. And like the scroll in Zechariah, it too is written on the front and on the back. The only difference is that Zechariah’s is opened. The scroll in Revelation is still rolled up with seven seals on it—and one by one, as God’s purposes in history continue, Jesus Christ is breaking the seals to bring about the end, part of which goes like this:
…the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:15-17).
What God’s word says, it will bring into effect. If he promises to send out his curse on the lawbreakers, then we must see ourselves as the apostle Paul also saw himself: “I’m under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Rom 1:14). That doesn’t mean you should pound yourself with guilt for every day that passes without sharing the gospel, or for every time you share the gospel and somebody doesn’t believe—salvation belongs to the Lord. But it does mean that we must be faithful to share with every opportunity the Lord gives us, and we must take initiatives to rescue the perishing, as Christ rescued us.
If you’re here today and don’t know the forgiveness of your sins—if you feel that God’s word has exposed you as one who still sits under God’s curse—know that there is freedom from that curse in Jesus Christ. Believe on him today and be saved. Better to be exposed now and repent, than to be exposed later without chance of repentance. Trust in Jesus now, and then act on it first by being baptized. If you want to know more about that, we’d be more than happy to talk with you after the service.
We must remain hopeful that injustice won’t last forever
Finally, we must remain hopeful that injustice won’t last forever. We too are lawbreakers in need of incredible mercy from God. And God has had mercy on us, by sending Christ to redeem us from his curse. But never should we understand the cross to mean that God overlooks sin. He doesn’t overlook sin; he punishes sin. For all those who believe, he punishes their sin in the cross of Christ. But for all of those who do not believe—and who continue to make themselves enemies of God and enemies of God’s people—God will punish their sin in the Lake of Fire. Enemies of the cross may be wrongly acquitted by our modern society, but they will not be wrongly acquitted before God.
So, when you see the world leaders scheming against Christ and his kingdom. When you read the stories from The Voice of the Martyrs or Open Doors or you hear the reports—like I did from some of our own missionaries this week that two Christian workers were intentionally sought out and murdered…or, when you see a Planned Parenthood demonizing a Christian ethic of the unborn—we who are sinned against can take some measure of comfort in the fact that nobody will get away with sin. God isn’t overlooking their evil.
That comfort ought to come with brokenness and tears on our part, while always holding out the hope of eternal life for our enemies. But their sins against us cannot lead us to despair, or to take justice into our own hands. If they do not turn to Christ, God will do justice far better than we ever could. And on that day, sin will be no more; lawbreaking will be no more; and the earth will finally know the glory and peace for which it cries.