And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, “This is Wickedness.”
The angel from the previous visions “came forward” to introduce to Zechariah the seventh vision he would experience by saying to him, “Lift up your eyes and see what this is that is going out” (Zech. 5:5). Apparently, the prophet did not understand what he was seeing and asked the angel to explain it. The angel said that what Zechariah was seeing was “the basket that is going out,” calling it “their iniquity in all the land” (5:6). The Hebrew term which the ESV translates as “basket” is ephah, a measurement of about six or seven gallons. The angel used this Hebrew measurement to describe the container, likely a large bushel basket or barrel which were commonly used during that time. The basket had a “cover” made of lead (5:7a). Some translations call this a “talent” of lead because the Hebrew term, kikar, in this context refers to the round shape of the lead (rather than a weight used as a monetary measurement, as “talent” is commonly used elsewhere in Scripture). Thus, the inference is that the basket had a round covering made of lead.
Inside the basket sat a woman (5:7b). If this were a literal human woman, then she must have been a very tiny woman so as to fit inside a basket which would only hold about six or seven gallons of material. Considering that the prophet did not understand what he was seeing and thus required the angel to explain it to him, it’s more likely that this was a small figurine of a woman instead of a literal human female. Since the angel then apparently took the woman out of the basket, said of her, “This is Wickedness,” and then “thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening” (5:8), it’s logical to conclude that the “woman” was in fact an idol in the form of the figurine of some pagan goddess probably worshiped by the locals living around Jerusalem as the Jews were rebuilding the temple.
Zechariah then saw “two women coming forward” with “the wind…in their wings,” said wings being “like the wings of a stork,” probably his way to describe the strength of their wings since storks, being migratory birds, have strong wings (5:9a). They “lifted up the basket between earth and heaven” (5:9b). To my knowledge, the Bible does not speak of any celestial beings with the same description. Were they simply human women given wings and the power of flight for the symbolic purposes of the prophet’s vision, or were they a different class of celestial being mentioned only here in all of Scripture? It is impossible to say with certainty.
The prophet asked the angel where the women were taking the basket (5:10), and the angel replied, “To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base” (5:11). “The land of Shinar” was where “Nimrod the mighty hunter” built the first world empire (Gen. 10:8-11), from which other pagan, sinful empires, including Babylon, sprang forth. Thus, “Shinar” probably symbolizes either the pagan kingdoms of the world overall or Babylon specifically. I prefer the latter interpretation. The message of this vision seems to be that the Jews had learned their lesson concerning pagan idolatry. It had been primarily because of their idolatry that they had been taken into Babylonian captivity a few decades prior. Following their return to Palestine during the days of Zechariah, Israel never worshiped pagan idols again.
Idolatry comes in many forms, as seen by Paul’s citing “covetousness” as idolatry (Col. 3:5). It is basically taking God out of His rightful place at the top of one’s priorities (Matt. 6:33; 22:37) and replacing Him with something else. It is so easy for Christians to practice idolatry without realizing it. Is there anything in your life that in practice or attention has more time and energy given to it than God and His will for you, Christian? Work? Sports? Politics? Recreation? It’s worth thinking about (2 Cor. 13:5).