“Then the angel who was speaking with me came forward and told me, “Look up and see what this is that is approaching.” So I asked, “What is it?” He responded, “It’s a measuring basket that is approaching.” And he continued, “This is their iniquity in all the land.”” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Sometimes you read passages in the Bible that just don’t make any sense. It could be that the imagery is just too weird to understand. It could be that the story takes such an unexpected direction your head is spinning too much to make heads or tails of it. It could be several different things. What do we do when we encounter one of these passages? Let’s ask that together here.
This is Zechariah’s seventh and penultimate vision. It is the pair to vision number two, and as I said last week, it is the strangest of the bunch. The imagery here is bizarre and we don’t really get a lot of clues as to what is going on. So, what do we do with it?
Well, that’s a bit of a big question. What I am going to do with it is to take it in two parts. This first part is going to focus in on one tiny little textual detail that doesn’t seem like it matters at all. Keep reading, though, because I have a point to make that is really important. In the second part, coming tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll talk about what the whole thing means. This is just like God, by the way. What I thought was going to be the most tempting section to skip over when I first started reading through this book, is turning out to be the most fruitful in terms of things to discuss. In any event, let’s get started.
Zechariah looks up and sees something come his way. The prophet literally wrote that he saw an ephah. This was a wet or dry measurement about the same size as a bushel. What he probably meant was that he saw an actual bushel basket (or rather, ephah basket) coming toward them.
His angelic guide tells him the basket contains all the sins of the land. The most ancient and trusted Hebrew source we have puts the end of v. 6 like this: “This is their eye in all the land.” Most modern translations and many scholars today agree with the very slight emendation to the word in the other major ancient manuscripts we have that changes it to iniquity or sin. It fits the context better.
Let me give you a bit of a behind the scenes looks at how translations are made. Usually in a situation like this the version of the ancient text that is harder to understand is the one that gets the vote as most likely to be the original. The reason is that later copyists probably weren’t going to make a slight change to make the text harder to understand. In this case, the slight change to “sin” fits the rest of the context a whole lot better. The original “eye” can be made to fit, but you have to do some interpretive gymnastics in order to do so.
In-house debates like this matter because we want to have the best idea we possibly can as to what the original text says—as to what Zechariah originally wrote. But in terms of impacting our larger understanding and acceptance of the Scriptures as the word of God, they don’t make a bit of difference. These are the kinds of debates scholarly interpreters have because they have the time to have them. They are this committed to the integrity of the text. God gave them such passion so that we can have more trust in the text as we have it.
What I mean here is this: While the tendency of most folks upon hearing something like this is to roll their eyes and scoff at the silly things scholars like to get all caught up in worrying about, let us instead look on this with gratitude. Because of their work that the rest of us are not interested or even able to do, we can read our Bibles with confidence and without much of a thought as to how we came to have them in the first place.
This actually gets to something Paul talked about several times in his letters. In the kingdom of God there are many different roles. One role is designed for one person and another role is designed for another person. One may look totally different from another and we are tempted to look at some and declare they don’t matter. The truth is, though, that all of them are important. The deeper truth—and Paul made this point first—is that the ones we are most tempted to say are the least significant, are actually more significant than the ones we are tempted to say matter most.
Rather than rolling our eyes at any one role, let us have hearts filled with gratitude for the fact that God designed His kingdom with such variety such that each person in it, though totally unique from any other, has a vital part to play.
Let me personalize this more: You have a vital role to play in the kingdom of God. Your perfectly unique blend of gifts and talents and personality and life experiences makes you just right for the places God designed you to fill. You are essential. Never doubt that for a moment. Instead, seek out wise counselors who can help you identify what that role might be. Rest assured: It will be worth your time.