We do not find that the prophet now needed to be awakened, as he did Zech. 4:1. Being awakened then, he kept wakeful after; nay, now he needs not be so much as called to look about him, for of his own accord he turns and lifts up his eyes. This good men sometimes get by their infirmities, they make them the more careful and circumspect afterwards. Now observe,
I. What it was that the prophet saw; he looked up into the air, and behold a flying roll. A vast large scroll of parchment which had been rolled up, and is therefore called a roll, was now unrolled and expanded; this roll was flying upon the wings of the wind, carried swiftly through the air in open view, as an eagle that shoots down upon her prey; it was a roll, like Ezekiel’s that was written within and without with lamentations, and mourning, and woe, Ezek. 2:9, 10. As the command of the law is in writing, for certainty and perpetuity, so is the curse of the law; it writes bitter things against the sinner. “What I have written I have written and what is written remains.” The angel, to engage the prophet’s attention, and to raise in him a desire to have it explained, asks him what he sees? And he gives him this account of it: I see a flying roll, and as near as he can guess by his eye it is twenty cubits long (that is, ten yards) and ten cubits broad, that is, five yards. The scriptures of the Old Testament and the New are rolls, in which God has written to us the great things of his law and gospel. Christ is the Master of the rolls. They are large rolls, have much in them. They are flying rolls; the angel that had the everlasting gospel to preach flew in the midst of heaven, Rev. 14:6. God’s word runs very swiftly, Ps. 147:15. Those that would be let into the meaning of these rolls must first tell what they see, must go as far as they can themselves. “What is written in the law? how readest thou? Tell me that, and then thou shalt be made to understand what thou readest.”
II. How it was expounded to him, Zech. 5:3, 4. This flying roll is a curse; it contains a declaration of the righteous wrath of God against those sinners especially who by swearing affront God’s majesty or by stealing invade their neighbour’s property. Let every Israelite rejoice in the blessings of his country with trembling; for if he swear, if he steal, if he live in any course of sin, he shall see them with his eyes, but shall not have the comfort of them, for against him the curse has gone forth. If I be wicked, woe to me for all this. Now observe here,
1. The extent of this curse; the prophet sees it flying, but which way does it steer its course? It goes forth over the face of the whole earth, not only of the land of Israel, but the whole world; for those that have sinned against the law written in their hearts only shall by that law be judged, though they have not the book of the law. Note, All mankind are liable to the judgment of God; and, wherever sinners are, any where upon the face of the whole earth, the curse of God can and will find them out and seize them. Oh that we could with an eye of faith see the flying roll of God’s curse hanging over the guilty world as a thick cloud, not only keeping off the sun-beams of God’s favour from them, but big with thunders, lightnings, and storms, ready to destroy them! How welcome then would the tidings of a Saviour be, who came to redeem us from the curse of the law by being himself made a curse for us, and, like the prophet, eating this roll! The vast length and breadth of this roll intimate what a multitude of curses sinners lie exposed to. God will make their plagues wonderful, if they turn not.
2. The criminals against whom particularly this curse is levelled. The world is full of sin in great variety: so was the Jewish church at this time. But two sorts of sinners are here specified as the objects of this curse:—(1.) Thieves; it is for every one that steals, that by fraud or force takes that which is not his own, especially that robs God and converts to his own use what was devoted to God and his honour, which was a sin much complained of among the Jews at this time, Mal. 3:8; Neh. 13:10. Sacrilege is, without doubt, the worst kind of thievery. He also that robs his father or mother, and saith, It is no transgression (Prov. 28:24), let him know that against him this curse is directed, for it is against every one that steals. The letter of the eighth commandment has no penalty annexed to it; but the curse here is a sanction to that command. (2.) Swearers. Sinners of the former class offend against the second table, these against the first; for the curse meets those that break either table. He that swears rashly and profanely shall not be held guiltless, much less he that swears falsely (Zech. 5:4); he imprecates the curse upon himself by his perjury, and so shall his doom be; God will say Amen to his imprecation, and turn it upon his own head. He has appealed to God’s judgment, which is always according to truth, for the confirming of a lie, and to that judgment he shall go which he has so impiously affronted.
3. The enforcing of this curse, and the equity of it: I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, Zech. 5:4. He that pronounces the sentence will take care to see it executed. His bringing it forth denotes, (1.) His giving it commission. It is a righteous curse, for he is a righteous God that warrants it. (2.) His giving it the setting on. He brings it forth with power, and orders what execution it shall do; and who can put by or resist the curse which a God of almighty power brings forth?
4. The effect of this curse; it is very dreadful, (1.) Upon the sinner himself: Every one that steals shall be cut off, not corrected, but destroyed, cut off from the land of the living. The curse of God is a cutting thing, a killing thing. He shall be cut off as on this side (cut off from this place, that is, from Jerusalem), and so he that swears from this side (it is the same word), from this place. God will not spare the sinners he finds among his own people, nor shall the holy city be a protection to the unholy. Or they shall be cut off from hence, that is, from the face of the whole earth, over which the curse flies. Or he that steals shall be cut off on this side, and he that swears on that side; they shall all be cut off, one as well as another, and both according to the curse, for the judgments of God’s hand are exactly agreeable with the judgments of his mouth. (2.) Upon his family: It shall enter into the house of the thief and of him that swears. God’s curse comes with a warrant to break open doors, and cannot be kept out by bars or locks. There where the sinner is most secure, and thinks himself out of danger,—there where he promises himself refreshment by food and sleep,—there, in his own house, shall the curse of God seize him; nay, it shall fall not upon him only, but upon all about him for his sake. Cursed shall be his basket and his store, and cursed the fruit of his body, Deut. 28:17, 18. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, Prov. 3:33. It shall not only beset his house, or he at the door, but it shall remain in the midst of his house, and diffuse its malignant influences to all the parts of it. It shall dwell in his tabernacle because it is none of his, Job 18:15. It shall dwell where he dwells, and be his constant companion at bed and board, to make both miserable to him. Having got possession, it shall keep it, and, unless he repent and reform, there is no way to throw it out or cut off the entail of it. Nay, it shall so remain in it as to consume it with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof, which, though ever so strong, though the timber be heart of oak and the stones hewn out of the rocks of adamant, yet they shall not be able to stand before the curse of God. We heard the stone and the timber complaining of the owner’s extortion and oppression, and groaning under the burden of them, Hab. 2:11. Now here we have them delivered from that bondage of corruption. While they were in their strength and beauty they supported, sorely against their will, the sinner’s pride and security; but, when they are consumed, their ruins will, to their satisfaction, be standing monuments of God’s justice and lasting witnesses of the sinner’s injustice. Note, Sin is the ruin of houses and families, especially the sins of injury and perjury. Who knows the power of God’s anger, and the operations of his curse? Even timber and stones have been consumed by them; let us therefore stand in awe and not sin.