Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Zechariah 5:5-11, Does God Sanctify His People by Transferring Their Sin to the Reprobate?

"Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, 'Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out.' And I said, 'What is it?' He said, 'This is the basket that is going out.' And he said, 'This is their iniquity in all the land.' And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, 'This is Wickedness.' And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening.

"Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, 'Where are they taking the basket?' He said to me, 'To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.'"

On first reading, this passage is certainly obscure. However, we can pick up several things scanning through it. In the Hebrew, what is called here a basket is the word "ephah," a jar and unit of measure used for flour. See, for example, Leviticus 5:11 and Numbers 15:4. However, when this ephah is opened, it contains, not flour, but a woman! And to compound the oddness, the angel gives the woman's name as Wickedness. And curiously, the lid of the ephah is made of lead. Is Wickedness radioactive? In a manner of speaking, I think one could say so.

This ephah is sealed with the lead cover, and lifted up by two woman with wings. To the best of my recollection, this is the only case where angels are described as female, perhaps to match the anthropomorphizing of wickedness as female. The angels lift the ephah, and carry it away to Shinar, that is, Babylon, where a house is to be built for it. A temple, perhaps? Perhaps using a pagan temple as a symbol of the adoration of sin?

What served to trip my understanding of this passage was a marginal note in the Geneva Bible. Referring to verse 11, the note reads, "To remove the iniquity and affliction that came for the same from Judah, to place it forever in Babylon." In other words, the Geneva editors here are suggesting that God is removing wickedness from His covenant people, and placing it instead in the land, and presumably the hearts, of Babylon.

This isn't about the eternal penalty of sin. Since each sinner has sin of his own for which to atone, then no sinner can atone for another. Rather, some portion of the sinful nature of Israel is being transferred to the Babylonians. Gracious, certainly, but normative? Is the sinfulness of Christians redistributed to reprobate unbelievers? I don't know. I'm intrigued by the thought, and will pursue it the commentaries. However, I know of nowhere else in Scripture that would seem to indicate such a thing.

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