Home » Ponderings of the Bible » The Angelic Women of Zechariah 5.9-11

The Angelic Women of Zechariah 5.9-11

In 5.9 of Zechariah, the prophet is confronted with a vision of wickedness (seen as a woman) being removed from the land. In that vision, the prophet also sees two women with wings like storks who do the job of flying wickedness away.

The question is who are these women? Especially as it seems that the prophet knew, after all, he does not ask about them, but modern scholars certainly have.[1]  Are they the agents of Yahweh or rather are they demonic forces who bends to his will?

They are described as having “wind/spirit is in their wings,” and having “wings like the wings of the stork.” The former statement implies that they have wings and they are airborne.[2] The use of the Hebrew term ר֫וּחַ, rûaḥ, also suggests that these figures are God’s servants. The word which can be translated as wind or spirit, could be a sign of God’s spirit “empowering the two,” just as God’s spirit strengthened Zerubbbabel (Zech. 4.6).[3]  God’s rûaḥ worked in creation (Gen. 1.2), opened and shut the Red Sea (Ex. 15.8,10, 2 Sam 22.16), in Ezekiel it brought the dead to life (37.1-14).[4] Thus because of the “words double meaning” it could be translated as “the Spirit was in their wings,” and points that the removal of Wickedness is from God’s hand.[5] The wind can be seen as Yahweh’s agents in several other passages (Gen. 8.1; Ex 15.10; Jer. 10.13; Num. 11.31).[6]

Scholars have also noted that these angelic woman share certain affinities with the cherubim seen in other Old Testament passages. For example, “the wind in their wings” is a similar phrased used of cherubim in 2 Samuel 22.11; Psalm 17.10 “wings of the wind” and in Hosea 4.19 “wind in its wings.”[7] This in itself would seem to indicate that these angelic-like creatures are Yahweh’s agents.[8] (See Above)

Their task in Zechariah 5.9-11 is also similar to the task of the Cherubim in Ezekiel 8-11 and other divine creatures. For example, Ezekiel 11.22-23 the Cherubim remove God’s glory from Jerusalem as the winged women here remove personified wickedness from Judah.[9] One could also note that the winged move in the same space as that of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 8.3) and the Angel of the Lord (1 Chr 21.16) another indication they are YHWH’s agents.[10] Their motions also seemed similar to that God’s chariot in Ezekiel’s initial vision.[11]

They are given the task of caring the ephah to Babylonia, but do they do this of their volition or not? As Sals noted, “that they carry unrighteousness away is surely to Israel’s advantage.”[12] Moreover their task, ridding the land of wickedness-sin, is one which only Yahweh can do, and a major theme of Zechariah seems to be of God’s divine actions.[13]

Most scholars agree that these figures should not be seen as female cherubim. These winged women seem the only ones fit to carry the ephah to Shinar, perhaps because, of the Cherubim general proximity to Yahweh, compared to these figures.[14] Or as Peterson noted, “Yahweh could not touch the evil and sin-guilt, but he could provide the power for its removal.”[15]

Their wings are likened to that storks. The majority of scholars think the liking of the wings have some “symbolic significance.”[16]

For some, they look at the negative connotations of the stork, specifically, Leviticus 11.19 and Deuteronomy 14.18 the stork are listed as an unclean animal, and some argue their unclean status would make them “suitable carries of the guilt.”[17] (See Rudman “Zechariah and Priestley Law” and Merrill Zechariah) Others point to the negative image given to it in Exodus 11.13-19.[18] (Conrad Zechariah 120).

Others maintain that it may be positive. For example, the Hebrew word for stork “חֲסִידָה” has its root חָסַד which means “to be kind” or to “show mercy,” perhaps a reflection of how the bird cares for its young.[19] Others point to Jeremiah 8.7 where the stork is seen as a “pious, compassionate, and true to God.”[20] As “This same tender care,” George Klien noted of the Storks, “for the helpless young marks the Lord’s treatment of his “young,” the Israelites.”[21]

It could also be simply that Zechariah was trying to describe the wings of these women as best as he could.[22] Or that the women went north worth, as a stork migrates, and so the writer associated their wings with that.[23]

While there can be no certainty with what these creatures are I think that Tiemeyer concluded correctly that, “the textual evidence in Zech 5:9-11, as well as the comparable biblical and non-biblical material, implies that the two winged women are God’s agents.”[24]

Endnotes:


                                [1] Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, Zechariah and his Vision (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015), 228

                                [2] Ibid., 228.

                                [3] Ibid., 229.

                [4] Joyce G. Baldwin, vol. 28, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 128.

                                [5] Ibid., 137

                [6] David L. Peterson, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (Old Testament Library), (The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1984) 259.

                                [7] Tiemeyer, 228.

                                [8] Ibid.

                                [9] Ibid.

                                [10] Ibid.

                                [11] Ibid.

                [12] Ulrike Sals, “Reading Zechariah 5.5-11: Prophecy, Gender and (Ap)Perception,” in Athalya Brenner Prophets and Daniel (A Feminist Companion to the Bible. Second Series, (Sheffield Academic Press, New York, 2001), 199.

                [13] George L. Klein, vol. 21B, Zechariah, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 179.

                [14] Tiemeyer, 228-29.

                [15] Peterson, 259.

                [16] Tiemeyer, 230.

                [17] Tiemeyer, 231.

                [18] Ibid.

                [19] Ibid., 230.

                [20] Ibid., 230-31.

[21] Klien, 179

                [22] Tiemeyer, 232.

                [23] Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary, Includes Indexes. (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 306.

                [24] Tiemeyer, 233.

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