Summary: Eventhough it sometimes appears that God is doing nothing, he is preparing his judgement on evil for the end of the world
As you look around the world it’s easy to think to yourself, "Why doesn’t God do something?" Whether it’s East Timor, or Kosovo, or Rwanda not so long ago, whether it’s the rising level of AIDS around the world, or young children dying of cancer, or other people dying on the roads, whether it’s people suffering as the victims of violent crime, you wonder why does God allow this to continue? Surely he could do something to stop it. It’s interesting that at the end of last century there was a lot of optimism about the future. The 20th century was going to bring advances in science, an end to poverty and war, and a better world due to advances in health and education. Well, at the end of the 20th century, after 2 major wars and countless smaller ones, with poverty and corruption, famine and disease, still as prevalent as ever, the only thing we’re looking forward to now seems to be the effect of the Y2K bug. So it’s no wonder people ask "Why doesn’t God do something?"
Of course that’s not a new cry. We of the 20th century haven’t invented it. In fact one of the recurring themes of the Bible is the incompleteness of God’s plan. All through the Bible you find that God’s plan for the world is awaiting a conclusion. Well, that was certainly true for the people of Israel waiting in exile in Babylon at the time that Zechariah writes. They must have been thinking "Why doesn’t God do something about our situation? Doesn’t he care that we’re stuck here in exile among these idol worshippers. He’s said that he’ll rescue us, so when’s he going to do it?"
The people in Jerusalem may have been thinking similar things as they looked around at how few they were; as they saw the way nothing had really changed, how there was just as much laziness and corruption as there was before the exile. "What’s God going to do about it?" they were no doubt asking. What’s happened to us being a holy nation set apart for God? Why haven’t God’s purposes been accomplished after all these years? So God sends Zechariah another message, to show what he’s going to do to bring about the restoration of Israel, and to establish his dwelling place on earth. The message comes in a series of visions or images: of a scroll, a basket, chariots, and a crown.
The first vision is of a giant scroll. "Again I looked up and saw a flying scroll. 2And he said to me, ’What do you see?’ I answered, ’I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.’" This is like one of those banners you see flying above the cricket or the football, with a message like, "Marry me, Stella!" Or "I love you Darren!" It’s big enough to be read clearly from a distance, and there are a couple of other interesting features to it. Its dimensions are interesting, to start with. It isn’t just big. Its the same size as the Holy Place in the Tabernacle (Ex 26:15-28). That may or may not be significant. If it is then it may be intended to remind us of the covenant requirements of holiness and obedience. The second feature is similar: it has writing on both sides, the same as the tablets of the law. So this scroll represents the law of God, going throughout the land, clearly visible for everyone to see, telling them of the curse on those who disobey. And what is the curse? "Everyone who steals shall be cut off, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off."
Let’s think about that for a moment. These two may be linked, in that the thief if he’s caught would swear by the name of God as a way of establishing his innocence. On the other hand, it’s a little bit reminiscent of the later prophets, like Amos, who accused the rich of exploiting the poor, of stealing their birthright from them and of using lies and bribery in court to cement their position. In which case the purpose of this scroll may be to highlight those sins which led to the downfall of Jerusalem in the first place.
So in the first vision we see God’s judgement on evil going forth throughout the land, seeking out and destroying all evildoers.
Then the angel comes and tells him to look again. This time he sees a basket coming out. A measuring basket. The sort that would have been used to measure grain. And what’s it for? To measure the iniquity of those in the land, or perhaps even in the whole earth, though the land seems more probable. Again, this measuring basket may be meant as a reminder of the way the rich had exploited the poor by fiddling the measurements of basic commodities.