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, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.[a]”
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. The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.’”
The flying scroll in this vision has dimensions which are extremely large; and it is totally unfurled, rather than partially unrolled, revealing a section to be read. This is symbolic and not something actually seen by the prophet. One side has text about the consequences for anyone who commits theft; the other for the person who swears falsely against someone. The Ten Commandments aren’t explicitly mentioned but the third (about misusing God’s name – when an oath is taken), the eighth (stealing) and the ninth (bearing false witness) are probably being referenced.
The vision conveys the idea of divine judgment hovering over the whole community, actively seeking out individuals who are guilty of these sins and dealing with them. Harsh punishment (being cut off from the community) is threatened. As Christians we want to plead, ‘What about mercy, a chance for repentance, divine forgiveness?’ That is a matter for God.
The point being made here, is the devastating effect on any community that is trying to re-establish itself, if personal property isn’t respected, if false accusations are made, if someone’s word cannot be trusted. Without honesty, integrity and trust, the fabric of society breaks down. Also if religion is being abused to claim moral superiority, or falsely to imply a believer’s integrity, God’s anger is justified.
I am writing this when the integrity of a former Prime Minister is being challenged as to whether Parliament was misled recklessly or intentionally. The hearing demonstrates that the issues which were important for Zechariah’s community remain important in secular societies today.
As people of faith let us strive to live by the highest possible standards of behaviour in all our interactions with society; that our lives may reflect the divine values revealed to us by Jesus and give honour to God’s name.
Righteous God, forgive us for the times when we fall short of your expectations and help us to uphold your values for the benefit of all society. Grant that all who hold positions of leadership may be held to account for the way they exercise their authority so that righteousness may prevail. Be merciful towards us and towards all people of goodwill, in your judgments we pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.