“Return to me, . . . and I will return to you.”—ZECH. 1:3.
SONGS: 120, 117
1-3. (a) What was the situation of Jehovah’s people when Zechariah began prophesying? (b) Why did Jehovah ask his people to ‘return to him’?
A FLYING scroll, a woman sealed inside a container, and two women soaring in the wind with wings like those of storks—such dramatic images are found in the book of Zechariah. (Zech. 5:1, 7-9) Why did Jehovah give these striking visions to his prophet? What was the situation of the Israelites at that time? How does Zechariah’s record of those visions affect us today?
2 The year 537 B.C.E. was one of rejoicing for Jehovah’s dedicated people. After 70 long years of captivity, they were freed from Babylon. With an initial burst of enthusiasm, they got to work on restoring true worship in Jerusalem. In 536 B.C.E., the foundation of the temple was laid. At that time the people were “shouting so loudly that the sound was heard from a great distance.” (Ezra 3:10-13) However, opposition soon mounted against their construction project. Discouraged by the many challenges and difficulties, the people left off building the temple and began looking after their own homes and cultivating their fields. Sixteen years later, the building of Jehovah’s temple was at a standstill. God’s people needed to be reminded that they should return to Jehovah and stop putting their personal pursuits first. Jehovah wanted them to return to him, to resume their fearless, wholehearted worship of him.
3 To help his people recall why they were freed from Babylon in the first place, God sent his prophet Zechariah in 520 B.C.E. The very name Zechariah, which means “Jehovah Has Remembered,” may have brought to mind a vital truth. Though they had forgotten Jehovah’s saving acts, God still remembered his people. (Read Zechariah 1:3, 4.) He lovingly assured them that he would help them to reestablish pure worship, but he also firmly warned them that he would not tolerate halfhearted worship. Let us see how, by means of Zechariah’s sixth and seventh visions, Jehovah stirred them to action. Also, what lessons can we today learn from this?
DIVINE PUNISHMENT FOR STEALING
4. What did Zechariah see in his sixth vision, and what is significant about the scroll’s having writing on both sides? (See opening image 1.)
4 Chapter 5 of Zechariah begins with an unusual vision. (Read Zechariah 5:1, 2.) Zechariah sees flying through the air a scroll nearly 30 feet (9 m) long and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide! It is unrolled, ready to be read. It contains a judgment message, which fills both sides of the scroll. (Zech. 5:3) Usually, only one side of a scroll was used, so this scroll clearly contains a weighty and serious message.
5, 6. How does Jehovah view any kind of stealing?
5 Read Zechariah 5:3, 4. While all of mankind are accountable to Jehovah, his name people are even more so. Those who love God realize that any form of stealing would “dishonor the name of [their] God.” (Prov. 30:8, 9) No matter what the motive or how excusable the theft might seem under the circumstances, a thief puts greedy desire above God, placing too much value on material possessions. He minimizes God’s law, disregarding Jehovah and His name as being of no force or importance.
6 Did you notice at Zechariah 5:3, 4 that “the curse . . . [would] enter into the house of the thief . . . and it [would] remain inside that house and consume it”? Jehovah’s adverse judgment cannot be kept out by bars and locks. It can penetrate any hiding place to uncover wrongdoing among Jehovah’s people. Even if a person is able to conceal thievery from authorities, employers, elders, or parents, he cannot hide it from God, who guarantees that every theft will be exposed. (Heb. 4:13) How refreshing it is to associate with people who are ever conscious of being honest “in all things”!—Heb. 13:18.
7. How can we escape the curse of the flying scroll?
7 All forms of stealing are offensive to Jehovah. We view it as an honor to live up to Jehovah’s high moral standard, maintaining conduct that in no way brings reproach on his name. Thus, we may succeed in escaping Jehovah’s judgment against those who deliberately violate his law.
LIVING UP TO OUR WORD “DAY AFTER DAY”
8-10. (a) What is an oath? (b) What oath did King Zedekiah fail to keep?
8 The message written on the flying scroll next delivers a warning to those ‘who make a false oath in God’s name.’ (Zech. 5:4) An oath is a sworn statement to certify that something is true or a solemn promise that a person will or will not do a certain thing.
9 It is a very serious matter to swear an oath in the name of Jehovah. That is exactly what the last king to occupy the throne of Jerusalem did. Zedekiah swore by Jehovah that he would remain a loyal vassal to the king of Babylon. However, Zedekiah did not keep his sworn oath. As a result, Jehovah passed judgment on him in these words: “As surely as I am alive, . . . [Zedekiah] will die in Babylon, in the place where the king who made him king lives, the one whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke.”—Ezek. 17:16.
10 King Zedekiah owed it to Jehovah to live up to the oath that he had sworn in God’s name. (2 Chron. 36:13) Instead, Zedekiah turned to Egypt in a fruitless attempt to break free from Babylon’s yoke.—Ezek. 17:11-15, 17, 18.
11, 12. (a) What is the most important vow we will ever make? (b) In what ways should our dedication vow affect our daily lives?
11 Jehovah also listens to the promises that we make. He takes our vows seriously, and we must fulfill them in order to have his approval. (Ps. 76:11) Of all the promises we make, the most important is the one we make when we dedicate ourselves to Jehovah. Dedication is a solemn vow to serve Jehovah unconditionally.
12 How can we prove true to our dedication vow? Our stand during tests both large and small should show that we take seriously our pledge to praise Jehovah “day after day.” (Ps. 61:8) For example, when someone on the job or at school flirts with us, do we see this as an opportunity to “take pleasure in [Jehovah’s] ways” by rejecting such advances? (Prov. 23:26) If we live in a divided household, do we ask Jehovah for his help to maintain the Christian personality even when no one else around us is making such an effort? Do we daily approach our loving heavenly Father in prayer, thanking him for bringing us under his rulership and for loving us? Are we making time to read the Bible daily? Did we not, in effect, promise that we would do such things? It is a matter of obedience. Our full share in worship reveals that we love Jehovah and are truly dedicated to him. Our worship is a way of life, not a mere formality. Fulfilling our promise is for our own good; our faithfulness leads to a secure future.—Deut. 10:12, 13.
13. What can we learn from Zechariah’s sixth vision?
13 Zechariah’s sixth vision has helped us to see that lovers of Jehovah should not engage in any kind of stealing or make false oaths. We also see that despite their failures, Jehovah did not give up on the Israelites. He understood the pressures they faced as they were surrounded by enemies. He sets the example for us by living up to his promises, and he will help us live up to ours. One way he offers help is by giving us the hope that he will soon put an end to all wickedness throughout the whole earth. Zechariah’s next vision guarantees this bright hope.
WICKEDNESS IS ‘PUT IN HER PROPER PLACE’
14, 15. (a) In his seventh vision, what does Zechariah see? (See opening image 2.) (b) What does the woman inside the ephah container represent, and why is she confined and sealed away?
14 After seeing the flying scroll, Zechariah is told by an angel to “look up.” What will his seventh vision reveal? He now sees a container, called an “ephah,” going out. (Read Zechariah 5:5-8.) This medium-sized container has a “round lid of lead.” When the lid is removed, Zechariah sees “a woman sitting inside.” The angel explains that the woman in the container is “Wickedness.” Imagine Zechariah’s horror as he sees her attempt to crawl out of her confinement! The angel takes swift action, throwing her back into the container and sealing it shut with the heavy lid. What does this mean?
15 This part of the vision highlights that Jehovah will not tolerate wickedness of any kind among his people. He will see to it that it is contained and speedily removed. (1 Cor. 5:13) The angel assures us of this by thrusting the lead lid back over the container.
16. (a) What did Zechariah next see happen to the ephah container? (See opening image 3.) (b) Where do the women with wings take the ephah container?
16 Next on the scene appear two women who have strong wings like those of a stork. (Read Zechariah 5:9-11.) How different these women are from the woman in the container! These women use their powerful wings to swoop in and lift up the container containing “Wickedness.” Where are they taking her? Wickedness is deposited in “the land of Shinar,” or Babylon. Why, though, would they take the container to Babylon?
17, 18. (a) Why is Shinar the “proper place” for “Wickedness” to reside? (b) What should be our resolve regarding wickedness?
17 To the Israelites of Zechariah’s day, Shinar would be a fitting place for Wickedness to be confined. Zechariah and his fellow Jews could confirm that Babylon was a place of wickedness in their day. Having grown up amid the filthy and idolatrous ways of this city, they had to fight every day to resist the spirit of that pagan world. What a relief this vision must have brought them—a guarantee that Jehovah would keep pure worship clean!
18 However, the vision also reminded the Jews of their responsibility to maintain the purity of their worship. Wickedness cannot and will not be allowed to creep into and dwell among Jehovah’s people. After we have been brought into the protective and loving care of God’s clean organization, we have the responsibility to help maintain it. Are we moved to keep our “house” clean? Wickedness in any form does not belong in our spiritual paradise.
CLEAN PEOPLE HONOR JEHOVAH
19. What do the dramatic visions of Zechariah mean for us today?
19 Zechariah’s sixth and seventh visions are a sober warning to those who persist in dishonest ways, a reminder that Jehovah does not tolerate wrongdoing. On the part of his sincere worshippers, there must be a genuine hatred of wickedness. These accounts are also a loving reassurance from our heavenly Father. If we diligently work to be the sort of people who have God’s approval and protection, we will not have to face a death-dealing curse. Rather, Jehovah will gladly bless us. All our struggles to remain clean in a world full of wickedness will be worthwhile. We can be sure that we can succeed with Jehovah’s help! But how can we be sure that true worship will prevail in this world filled with ungodliness? What guarantee do we have that Jehovah will protect his organization as the great tribulation approaches? These questions will be discussed in the next article.