Just as Zechariah lifted up his eyes to see the flying scroll in the last vision (Zechariah 5:1-4), his angelic guide throughout these visions tells him to lift them up again to see something else. The angel turns his attention away from the scroll to the appearance of a basket (ephah) which might hold anywhere from 5-10 gallons with a lead cover. The cover (literally, a talent of lead) was heavily weighted so that whatever was inside could not escape. The weight and basket were commonly used in the marketplace for measuring and weighing (cf. Micah 6:11).
As previously, Zechariah is uncertain about the meaning of the vision. What is this basket? Literally, “This is their eye [appearance] throughout the land.” The difficulty of that reading has led many to emend the text to “this is their iniquity throughout the land.” The difference between iniquity (‘ynm) and eye (‘wnm) is one stroke. Ancient translations, like the Septuagint and Syriac, read “iniquity,” and this has the value of often being paired with “wickedness” (Zechariah 5:8). The measuring basket with its weighted cover symbolizes the evil in the land of Judah.
This evil is personified by a woman who is imprisoned in the basket. What does this evil represent? Some connect it with the economics of the previous vision, that is, the measuring basket and lead weight point to economic practices. This is possible but it appears that more is intended here though probably building on that vision.
The wicked woman is carried to Shinar, that is, Babylon, by two women with stork wings. Storks are unclean animals (Leviticus 11:9; Deuteronomy 14:18) and every unclean bird, according to Revelation 18, is found in Babylon. The wind (ruach), a divine wind perhaps, carried them to Shinar. Arriving there, a house is built for her and the basket is set on a pedestal. This points us to temple-building in Shinar where an idol is erected for the sake of worship. Some identify this woman with the “Queen of Heaven” worshipped in Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 44:17-19), but I don’t think we are supposed to identity the woman with a particular religious cult.
Rather, Shinar alludes to Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel, or the ziggurat built as an assertion of their power and divine privileges. They wanted to make a name for themselves and erect a building in which they could take their place among the heavens as gods. The “let us” of Genesis 11 stands in contrast to the “let us” of Genesis 1. Humanity had assumed its own agenda in the world rather than joining God in the divine mission.
If the basket and weight connect us with economic practices, its removal to Babylon—where such practices are enshrined in Babel’s temple—point to the idolatry of greed and economic injustice. Mammon is worshipped in this temple, and such worship belongs to the ancient sin of Babel. It is the arrogance of human self-interest and pride.
Fundamentally, the vision recognizes that what is worshipped among the nations (e.g., power and greed) has no place in the land of Judah; it has no place within the kingdom of God. The evil is removed from the land of Judah and returned to the nations who pursue their own agenda. Judah, however, as the kingdom of God in the world, will pursue God’s mission.