Zechariah 5:3-4 threatens a curse to those who steal and those who swear falsely. It’s a somewhat unusual combination. Perhaps the implied scenario is this: A thief steals, he is questioned about his theft, and he swears falsely that he did not steal. His theft is compounded by an oath declaring his innocence. He steals goods, and then robs the name of God by a lie.

The ultimate source of this threat, though, goes back to a specific incident in Israel’s history. Jericho was under the ban, which meant that all living things were slaughtered and all plunder was given to Yahweh. Achan, the “troubler of Israel,” stole some of the consecrated goods and hid them in his tent. Yahweh accuses him of “stealing” and “deceit” (Joshua 7:11). Because of his sacrilege, Israel is defeated before Ai, changing the psychological dynamics of the conquest against Israel. Before they got beaten at Ai, the Canaanites’ hearts were melting (2:9); after Ai, Israelite hearts became water (7:5).

No wonder Zechariah takes this combination of sins so seriously: Until the troublers are purged, Israel will flee in fright before their enemies.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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