Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what is appearing.”
I asked, “What is it?”
He replied, “It is a basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”
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 its lead cover down on it.
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.
“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 the house is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”
Here, Zechariah is shown a basket with a lead cover in which a female figure is being contained. She is identified as ‘Wickedness’. Two other winged females – perhaps akin to fravashis who feature in Persian religious tradition – lift the basket and fly away to Shinar (= Babylon – cf. Gen.11:2) where it is deposited into a new ‘house’. This might symbolize the removal of idolatrous images of various Mesopotamian goddesses (sometimes called ‘queen of heaven’ e.g. Jer.7:18; 44:17,18) which had proliferated in Judah at the time of exile and sending them back from whence they came. It could mark the beginning of a patriarchal tendency to identify Eve with the embodiment of sin and evil.
However we interpret the imagery, the vision represents divine action to deal with sin as an objective reality. By cleansing the land of sin and idolatry the restored community can make a fresh start as God’s faithful people. If only it was that simple to eradicate sin and evil! If only we could identify the forces that cause mayhem, put them in a box and dispose of them forever. If only the insidious influence of sin could be prevented from permeating society.
However, the idea of shunting a problem, or those who cause a problem situation, out of our vicinity into someone else’s territory, isn’t any kind of solution. It doesn’t deal with sin and it isn’t in accord with the loving, transformative ways of God.
Our faith teaches that the ultimate victory over sin’s power has been achieved through Christ; but in this age let us take the reality of sin seriously and deal with it constructively, before it can take hold and destroy lives. Let us turn away from it ourselves and commit together to establishing open, life affirming communities, for all.
Eternal God, we often wish there were easy solutions to difficult problems, we could hide matters of concern under the carpet, you would take away all causes of sin and evil’s temptations. We feel overwhelmed and cry out, ‘If only things were different!’
Fill us anew with your Spirit and guide us in ways that tackle the reality of sin and the harm it causes, that the world may receive new life. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.