I The Eight Symbolic Visions, B The Communication of the Visions, 6 The Vision of the Handwriting, Text: 5:1-4, Title: The Lengthy Indictment

Introduction

Most of us don’t believe in curses but there are people who do and they practice magic, witchcraft and voodoo. Also in sports people often make up curses. During the 5 years that Babe Ruth played for the Boston Red Sox they won the world series three times. IN 1918 they sold the Babe to the New York Yankees and it was 86 years before the Red Sox won again. Some people drew the obvious conclusion: they were cursed. It is a fact that if you travel to Lancaster county in Pennsylvania you will be able to buy “hex” signs and these were put on barns by Germans to keep the stable-witches from cursing the cows and horses. You may safely regard these as irrelevant to your modern lifestyle, but there are some curses to which you should pay attention. Before Israel entered the promised land, the land to which they have just returned in Zechariah’s time, God issued a series of blessings for obedience and and curses for disobedience. We read in Deuteronomy 28:15-29, However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed. The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you. Those are curses worth listening to. In our text the curse is issued again to the newly returned exiles. We see here a covenant charge, a comprehensive cleansing, and a complete chastisement.

I A Covenant Charge

The Lord of the covenant who redeemed His people from the bondage of Egypt required from them, in return, obedience and therefore issued what we call the ten commandments through Moses and written in stone. Today when we want to describe something that is indelible and lasting we say it is written in stone. These commandments do not change or altar with passing generations including Israel after the captivity and us today. They are not suggestions as the curses of Deuteronomy 28 testify. The curses of the law were passed along in writing and the normal material was a scroll. Here they are portrayed as a flying scroll in verses 1 and 2, I looked again—and there before me was a flying scroll! He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.” In our justice system indictments are framed by a grand jury and read in court and are necessarily brief and to the point. Needless to say they are not thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide. The scroll is immense because it contains all the indictments of God against a sinful people. It is calculated to impress upon them how serious their disobedience is. Some see the dimensions as reflecting the dimensions of the porch of the temple which would be appropriate since the tablets of the law were in the temple and it is the sanctions of the law of God which are being imposed. The scroll is flying because it is announcing swift judgment. Even in an age before jumbo jets people knew that flying was the fastest way to get there. We understand that swift and searching judgment was being announced by God to the people of the land. Certainly Ezra and Nehemiah took it seriously and made a genuine effort to bring about lawful changes.

II A Comprehensive Cleansing

The theocracy, the Old Testament Church, is going to be cleansed and purified by the removal of offenders. Here it is called banishment we would call it excommunication. We read in verse 3, And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. This curse is comprehensive because it covers the whole land, and indeed the whole world since the law came through the Jews, but judges everyone. It is also comprehensive in that it covers all of life. There are two specific sins mentioned here, thievery, and false swearing. We should not think that God is concerned only about these specific transgressions. Actually these sins are representative. An important detail of the vision is the assertion that the curse for the first sin, thievery, is on one side of the scroll, and the second curse for false swearing is on the other side of the scroll. This corresponds exactly to the two tables of the law. The first table, that is the first five commandments, pertains to our duty to God, and the second table pertains to our duty to our neighbor. Thus the cleansing in view is comprehensive and complete because Every thief would represent all who wrong their neighbor; and swearing falsely, which involves using God’s name, is an insult to the Lord Himself, and wrongs Him. So worshiping God alone, in the way he has prescribed, spiritually without images, faithfully on the Sabbath and honoring His authority in everyone is the way we love Him. And the way we love our neighbor is by respecting his property, his life, his marriage and home, his reputation, and being glad when he is successful. If we want to see how exceedingly broad these commandments are and what they involve we need only consult the Westminster Larger Catechism. In the exposition of the law we read concerning the eighth commandment, thou shall not steal that the duties required and the sins forbidden are as follows: “The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.”  The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.” This gives you a pretty good idea of how God sees those who are stealing and suggests the indictment is very long and wide.

III Complete Chastisement

God’s response to this disobedience is complete chastisement as we read in verse 4, The Lord Almighty declares, “I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.” Of course we  must pause and note that a genuine repentance will forestall this judgment, but barring that, God will execute what he has said and the description is frightening. The thoroughness of this judgment parallels the coming judgment described by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:12 as he warns the religious leaders of Israel, His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean up his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into a barn, but he will burn the husks in a fire that can never be put out. Recently there were a series of tornadoes where we live. The weather reporters incessantly warned people to take shelter to go to the most interior protected room in their homes, or flee to another sturdier place. But there is no shelter whatsoever from the judgment described here. It not only enters the sinner’s home, it lodges like a dreadful infestation in the very construction materials of the building. It cannot be eradicated and it cannot be escaped. There is no place to hide for there is only one true hiding place and it is the Lord and the Lord is one punishing. Still we can take refuge in Him, but in Him alone. Understanding the secret of how Christ is our hiding place starts at the cross. There Christ died for us and we died with Him and when he rose we rose with Him. Paul understood this mystery of Christ’s “exchanged life,” and knew Christ was his hiding place. This is he meant when he said he had learned the secret of being content in Christ in every situation whether he was in prosperity or in adversity. However as Jesus laments in Luke 13:34 and 35, 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate. He was always there as a refuge but they refused to repent and turn. Let us not follow in their steps.