We have been considering in recent days the various strange visions that God gave to Zechariah as he ministered to God’s returning people after the Babylonian exile. Though they had returned, having paid the full penalty of their sin in Babylon, they dared not grow complacent. The God who had judged their ancestors would just as surely judge them for their sin, as he would come in judgement on the nations. This is the emphasis of the three visions in chapters 5–6.

In the first of these final three visions (5:1–4), God showed Zechariah a vision of a flying scroll. The scroll contained at least two of the Ten Commandments (specifically, the third and the eighth) and thereby represented God’s covenant law. In the vision, God declared his determination to punish his people if they continued to breach his law.

The second of the closing three visions (5:5–11) likewise concerned the land of Israel. In this vision, Isaiah saw a basket, closed with a lead lid. When the lid was removed, he saw a woman sitting inside the basket. She represented the wickedness of God’s people. Before she could escape, the basket was closed again and two winged women appeared. They lifted the basket and carried it back to the land of Shinar (Babylon), where it was placed in a place specially prepared for it.

The significance of this vision seemingly lay in the “base” prepared for the basket. The word translated “base” is used in the Old Testament consistently of a base on which a holy object rests. “House,” similarly, is used of a temple structure. The connection to false worship is unmistakable. But since the basket, and the woman it contained, were transported to Babylon, the vision appears to represent a warning to God’s people to leave their idolatry in Babylon. They must not bring their idols with them to Jerusalem.

The third vision (6:1–8) portrays God’s angels as his instruments of judgement heading out to carry their mission of judgement against the nations: north (Babylon and Assyria) and south (Egypt). Once again, the Lord offered a word of comfort to his people that he would punish the nations that oppressed them.

The final section (6:9–15) show how this mixture of grace and judgement would be realised. God instructed Zechariah to take a crown and place it, not on Zerubbabel, but on Joshua the high priest’s head. This was highly unusual, since priests were forbidden from being kings. But the symbolism pointed to Messiah, “the Man whose name is the Branch,” in whom the two offices would combine.

Taken together, these three strange visions, and Zechariah’s anointing of Joshua, highlight at least four important principles.

First, they show that God’s people should never grow complacent in their sin. Just because Judah had served the appointed time for its former sins did not mean that it was now free of sin. The people still needed to be on guard. It seemed that the people had gained victory over certain previous sins, for open idolatry never again plagued them, but victory over certain sins was no guarantee of victory over all sin. God wants to remind us that we must always be on our guard against sin, even in our moments of victory, for he will punish sin.

Second, we must beware of thinking that our seeming victories over sin are irreversible. Though the people had not again embraced the open idolatry for which their ancestors had been sent into exile, they needed to guard against it. They needed to ensure that idolatry remained in Babylon where it belonged. Sin has a tendency to follow us and, if we for a moment let our guard down, it will return with a ferocity we have not yet seen.

Third, these visions remind us that judgement begins at God’s own house. God would punish the nations that oppressed Judah, but Judah must first examine its own devotion. God’s determination to purify his people was as sure as his determination to judge the nations. The Jews must not think that they would escape while the nations were punished. Similarly, it will not do for us to point fingers at unbelievers and wait for God to judge them if we will not anticipate his purifying judgement against his church.

Fourth, every hope of change and forgiveness, and every hope of ultimate defeat for God’s enemies, rests firmly in Jesus Christ. He is both the priest who offers forgiveness and the king who brings judgement. We must look to him alone for these things.

As you reflect on Zechariah 5–6, today, let these visions speak to you. Examine your life. Be on guard against the power of returning sin. Trust God, in Jesus Christ, to forgive and judge as God had given him authority to do.