I The Eight Symbolic Visions, B The Communication of the Visions, 7 The vision of the Harlot, Text: 5:5-11, Title: The Final Captivity


As in the first 4 verses of this chapter God is still dealing with the sins of the people because they have resumed the wayward path that led them to the Babylonian captivity in the first place. In the first part God is reminding them that he sees what is going on and the inexorable and inescapable punishment will come if they do not repent and alter their ways. The scroll has flown and now He employs a different image, that of a basket being carried away. It would be good to remind ourselves at this juncture that the fate of Israel was tied forever to the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, the promised land. The promises of God in the Old Testament were that if they were obedient they would dwell safely in the land. If they were disobedient God threatened to remove them from the land, and He did. God made three promises to Abraham which were: seed like the stars of heaven, the blessings of all nations through his seed, and the land of Canaan. The Jews consistently misinterpreted these promises as material and physical in nature rather than spiritual. The multiplication of the seed was not describing the physical descendants of Abraham but the calling of the Gentiles. The blessing of all nations was not to have Israel at the head, but Messiah. The land was not the literal soil of Palestine, but a city whose builder and maker was God, the new Jerusalem. They were meant to bless all nations and bring them into the glorious presence of Jahweh. It was their misinterpretation of these promises that led to their expulsion from the land, made them antagonistic to Jesus, and to this day in their apostate religion they cherish that physical tract of land in the middle east and defend it to the death. Blind to God’s promises they do not want a city that is above, but Jerusalem which is below. As I said, they were antagonistic to Jesus and killed their Messiah with the assistance of the pagan Romans. Their punishment for that is what this passage is about. It is the final captivity. In the 400 years from Zechariah to Christ the Jews had not changed, and consequently following the death of Messiah their nation was destroyed, their temple leveled, and they were dispersed. So we see here iniquity exposed, iniquity enslaved, iniquity expelled, iniquity estranged.

I Iniquity Exposed

The woman is clearly identified as wickedness, and in this case, the wickedness of the people of the land, God’s people. So we read in verses 5 and 6, Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.” I asked, “What is it?” He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.” You would think that the people would know they were wicked, but they had a very low view of the law which issued in perfunctory obedience and certainly, as Jesus later pointed out, omitted the weightier matters of the law such as justice, faithfulness and mercy. Some preachers go out of their way to avoid calling their congregation sinful and thus play into the Devil’s hand because only lost people need to be rescued. I am reminded of a preacher who wanted to change the words of Isaac Watts Hymn, “Alas! and did my Savior bleed! And did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head For such a worm as I.” He said it was demeaning to call us worms. Of course we realize we are not worms and so did Watts, but he is writing about men who, although they are made in the image of God, have so defaced that image as to  make it bestial. That includes you and me. So I think these people needed to be reminded of heir wickedness.Their traitorous behavior and covenant breaking needed to be exposed, because at least in Jesus time they thought they were righteous and clean and the Gentiles were sinful and dirty.

II Iniquity Enslaved

The Bible is clear that he who commits sin is the servant of sin. Thus it is an appropriate thing that woman is pictured as enslaved. in verses 7 and 8, Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth. The basket is an ephah which is the largest of Hebrew measures but not nearly big enough for a human body. Thus this basket like the scroll in the previous vision is of larger proportions. The inhabitant of the basket is a woman because Israel is the wife of Jahweh and therefore the unfaithfulness and idolatry of a backsliding Israel is most often portrayed by a faithless and adulterous woman in the Old Testament. The harlot is struggling to get out of the basket but the angel attending pushes her forcibly back into the basket where she is contained by a lid of lead, the heaviest of metals. She will not be freed until she has departed for other parts. Even today when we want something to be stopped we say in the vernacular, “Put a lid on it.” God has done that with their wickedness. He has restrained it to be unleashed later when the iniquity is full. The ephah was a unit of measure and the iniquity is being measured until it is full. What will happen when the iniquity is filled up is the subject of the next verses.

III Iniquity Expelled

It is quite fitting that the future punishment of the iniquity should be framed in terms of what has already taken place and is familiar to the recipients of the prophecy. We read in verse 9, Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth. Purging the Holy Land of wickedness has been the reason that foreign nations such as Assyria and Babylonia have invaded and carried off the people and the wealth of the land. The “women” lifting the basket have wings like the stork, a common bird in Palestine and large, powerful, and rapid in flight. Most of us are familiar with the myth that babies are brought by storks. In former days it was considered an easy answer to children’s curiosity about new arrivals because of the size and strength of the birds. Also in Roman times a stork’s nest on your roof was an omen of good luck and that was also true in more modern times in northern European countries. In these more outspoken days it is passe’. Here in this passage, however, the thing about the storks that should catch our attention is the statement that the had the “wind in their wings.” In Hebrew the exact same word means both wind and spirit. So this could just as easily have been translated that they had the “spirit in their wings.” It also implies that they seemed to be carried by the wind so their departure was swift. The implication is obvious that God is doing the removing. And where is he taking them? For the destination we turn to the next verses.

IV Iniquity Estranged

For the people of the land there could be no worse news than being shuttled back to Babylon where they had been captive for seventy years. We read in verses 10 and 11, “Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me. He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.” The word translated Babylonia is actually “Shinar.” Shinar is the place where the mighty warrior Nimrod built his first city. He was a descendant of Ham and Cush upon whom the curse or Noah rested. It was also the place that Abraham left when God made a covenant with him and where the tower of Babel was built—and destroyed by God. The Sumerian civilization was the first to emerge in Shinar, but was followed by the Babylonians in that fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is perhaps significant that Shinar is mentioned because it is the place where God destroyed the tower of Babel and scattered the people across the face of the earth by confusing their languages. Of course they were re-scattered after Noah and the flood. What makes that somewhat ironic is that the final exile picture here is not back to Babylon. Rather it is a scattering of the people of Israel across the face of the earth. We call this the dispersion or the diaspora and although it had begun earlier it was consummated by the Roman destruction of the temple, Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy in 70 AD. From then on they had no real homeland. Thus their estrangement from God was complete. And even though from 1948 on they have been unwelcome guests in a new Israeli state in Palestine they are still not home from the dispersion because God has provided a better home for them in the new heavens and the new earth. It is the new Jerusalem and as Paul said in Romans 1:16, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.