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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 9

The Second Cycle—Chapters 8-19

THE second cycle (ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14) is separated from the first by an interval of a year and two months. The date is here the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin, the sixth month, the fifth day, about five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A vision here also forms the introduction, a song the close in ch. Ezekiel 19, in the midst of prophetic discourses that elucidate the vision, obviate objections, and form a bridge between it and the mind. The historical starting-point and the tendency also are similar. The prophet here also strives against the political dreams, represents the destruction as inevitable, and points to repentance as the only way of safety.

The vision is here far more comprehensive than in the first cycle. It occupies four whole chapters. It gives a complete representation of the sins of the people; and here accordingly is unfolded what in the first vision is only indicated concerning the punishment. Common to both visions is the delineation of the theophany itself, and in particular the description of the cherubim. The former delineation is supplemented by that here given only in details.

Ch. Ezekiel 8 contains the exposition of the guilt—the delineation of the four abominations of Jerusalem; ch. Ezekiel 9, the first punishment—Jerusalem filled with dead bodies; ch. Ezekiel 10, the second punishment—Jerusalem burnt; ch. Ezekiel 11:1-12, the third—God’s vengeance follows the survivors of the catastrophe. The close consists of comfort for the captives, who are already in exile with Ezekiel, and on whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem proudly look down; of these will God Himself take care, after the total disappointment of all human hopes (vers. Ezekiel 11:13-21). The prophet then sees still (vers. Ezekiel 11:22-23) how the glory of the Lord leaves the temple; and then the ecstasy comes to an end (vers. Ezekiel 11:21, Ezekiel 11:25).

Verses 1-11

Ezekiel 9. From the sin the prophet turns to the punishment. The announcement of this begins in this section with the slaying of the sinful inhabitants of the city, and then in the following chapter we have the destruction of the city itself. The scene is the following: At the command of the Lord, who will punish the revolt of His people, appear the ministers of His righteousness, six in number, and in their midst “a man clothed in linen,” the former with weapons of destruction, the latter with an inkhorn. They come (the scene is the temple) near the brazen altar: thence the glory of the Lord went towards them from the most holy place to the threshold of the temple. It gives to the man clothed in linen the order to protect the pious, to the others the order to destroy the ungodly without mercy. These orders are executed.

Ezekiel 9:1. And he called in my ears with a loud voice, saying, The visitations of the city draw near, [52] and let every man have his destroying weapon in his hand. 2. And, behold, six men came by the way of the upper gate, which lies toward the north, and each had his breaking weapon in his hand; and one man was in their midst clothed in linen, and an inkhorn upon his loins: and they came and stood beside the brazen altar. 3. And the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub, on which it was, to the threshold of the house; and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the inkhorn at his loins. 4. And the Lord said unto him, Pass through the midst of the city, through Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that groan for all the abominations that are done in the midst of it. 5. And to those he said in my ears. Pass through the city after him, and smite; let not your eyes [53] spare, nor have ye pity. 6. Old and young, and maiden and child, and women, slay to destruction; and any man upon whom is the mark touch not; and begin at my sanctuary. And they began at the old men that were before the house. 7. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city. 8. And it came to pass, when they had slain them, and I was left, then fell I on my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord Jehovah! wilt thou destroy all the remnant of Israel, when thou pourest out thy fury upon Jerusalem? 9. And he said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is filled with blood, and the city filled with perversity: for they say. The Lord hath forsaken the land, and the Lord seeth not. 10. And I also, my eye shall not spare, nor will I pity; their way I have laid upon their own head. 11. And, behold, the man clothed in linen, who had the inkhorn at his loins, returned word, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.

[52] Luther, “cause to come near.” But קרבו is usually the perfect in Kal, and occurs in ch. 12:23, 42:14. As imperative it is found only once, Isaiah 41:25. For treating it as the perfect, the fundamental passage Hosea 9:7 speaks, “The days of visitation are come.”

[53] על stands for אל . The reading attested by manuscripts is איניכם , for which the marginal reading gives the singular. It is to be rejected as explanatory. The eyes are combined into an ideal unity, and so the verb may stand in the singular. The Masoretes could not understand this.

“He called” (ver. Ezekiel 9:1)—He who had formerly spoken—the Lord (comp. Ezekiel 9:4). The loud voice corresponds to the greatness of the abominations that cry to God. God speaks to the ministers of His vengeance, and announces to them that now it is time to go to work. The visitation in itself may also be used in a good sense: that it is here penal, lies in the connection with the foregoing, according to which Jerusalem can only be the object of the divine anger, and also in the summons, founded on the actual state of things, to the ministers of God to provide themselves with destructive weapons. The six men in ver. Ezekiel 9:2 can only be angels in human form, which they must assume to be visible to the prophet. For only thus do they suit as the retinue of the man clothed in linen, who on sure grounds can be no other than the angel of the Lord, and whom we never see accompanied with any other retinue than that of the lower angels; comp. for ex. Zechariah 1:11 f. and Joshua 5:14, where the angel of the Lord designates himself as the Prince of the host of the Lord. The men come from the north, because the earthly foes were to come thence, whom the proper factors, the heavenly powers, employ as their instruments (comp. ch. Ezekiel 1:4; Jeremiah 1:14). That the man clothed in linen is the angel of the Lord, appears from Daniel 10:5, Daniel 12:6-7, where Michael, the angel of the Lord (comp. Beiträge, i. p. 166, and the comm. on ch. Revelation 12 of Revelation), is designated in the same way,—a remarkable coincidence between the two prophets of the exile. But the thing itself shows that the man clothed in linen is no other than the angel of the Lord. The clothing is that of the earthly high priest. All the different pieces of raiment of the earthly high priest are, according to Leviticus 16:4, Leviticus 16:23, of linen: hence is explained also the plural, linen garments. The earthly high priest cannot be here intended. But the Antitype of the same, the heavenly High Priest and Intercessor, is the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of the covenant ( Malachi 3:1), who in Zechariah 1:12 makes intercession for the covenant people, and to whom the Lord answers with good and comfortable words. The high priest appears in Zechariah 3 as a type of Christ, and a figure of the angel of the Lord (comp. the Christol. on the passage). But we have to regard the man clothed in linen not alone as appointed to the work of delivering the pious—not as standing in opposition to the six ministers of righteousness. The protection of the pious is his privilege; but the work of vengeance also stands under his control. The six are to be regarded as absolutely subordinate to him, executing the work of destruction only by his order and under his authority. We must regard this as antecedently probable, because the angel of the Lord is elsewhere represented as the leading personage in the great judgments of God, which are executed in the interest of the kingdom of God. It was he, for ex., who, as the “destroying angel,” smote the first-born of Egypt ( Exodus 12:23, compared with vers. Exodus 12:12-13). Especially here the number seven leads to the intimate connection of the man clothed in linen with the six. The former also appears at the altar, so that he thus belongs to the eagles, who gather where the carcase is, comes in the midst of the rest, who follow after him. In ch. Ezekiel 10:2, Ezekiel 10:7, the man clothed in linen is expressly declared to be he who executes the judgments of the Lord: the burning of the city proceeds from him, and this is inseparably connected with the slaying of the guilty inhabitants. According to ver. Ezekiel 9:5 here, “pass through the city after him” the angels in the work of destruction are the retinue of the angel. In ver. Ezekiel 9:11, after the completion of the work of destruction, the man clothed in linen says, “I have done as Thou hast commanded me.” Accordingly, the order for destruction is especially addressed to him. The man clothed in linen has an inkhorn on his loins: the Orientals to this day often carry the inkhorn in the girdle at the side. The use to be made of the inkhorn we learn from ver. Ezekiel 9:4. It serves to mark the foreheads of the elect. It is a question whether it is intended at the same time for inscribing them in the book of life, which is first mentioned in Exodus 32:32 (comp. Psalms 69:28, and on Revelation 20:12). This is indeed probable, especially on account of the fundamental passage, Isaiah 4:3, “Every one that is written for life in Jerusalem.” Accordingly the inscription in the book of life is to be regarded as the original act, the marking on the forehead as the consequence. The ministers of vengeance “came and stood by the brazen altar.” The brazen altar is the altar of burnt-offering. This is the place of transgression. There lies accumulated the unexpiated iniquity of the whole people, instead of the rich treasure of faith and love that should lie there embodied in offering. The ministers of God appear in the place of transgression, to glorify Him in the fall of those who would not glorify Him by their life. In the one or the other way He must necessarily come to His right and to His honour in them. The delineation of sin also, in ch. Ezekiel 8, involves the principle that, ideally taken, all the sins of the people are committed in the temple. The fundamental passage is Amos 9. The Lord appears on the point of punishing the sins of Israel upon the altar, on which they are heaped up. The angels stand beside the desecrated altar, awaiting the beck and command of God. He whose spiritual eye was opened to see them standing there, could only look with deep horror on the people, filled with joyful hopes of the future. According to ver. Ezekiel 9:3, the glory of God moves from the most holy place, where it sat over the cherub, the ideal unity of the cherubim, to the gate of the sanctuary, near which the altar stood, to give orders to His ministers standing at the altar. First in ver. Ezekiel 9:4, the order is issued to the man clothed in linen, to make a sign on the forehead of the men who are the objects of sparing mercy, because they have kept themselves free from the community of corruption. By the sign one is separated from the mass. This may be done according to circumstances, either for honour or dishonour, for salvation or for destruction. In Psalms 78:41 the marking is dishonouring. To mark, stands there as the Latin notare, for to dishonour: here, where the mass is devoted to destruction, the marking is one that honours and saves. The marking takes place on the forehead, the place where the sign is most easily seen. The sign on the forehead here, the symbolic expression of the truth that God in great judgments holds the sheltering hand of His grace over His own, that He “knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” ( 2 Peter 2:9), corresponds to the sprinkling with blood of the door-posts of those who are to be spared in the judgment upon Egypt in Exodus 12, where Grotius justly remarks, “He marks the foreheads, not the door-posts, as formerly in Egypt, because the act of deliverance was to be wrought, not for whole families, but for individuals, and indeed the elect.” At that time stood house against house, people against people; now the great separation is to be among the people themselves. We have here the fundamental passage for the sealing of the elect on their foreheads in Revelation 7:2-3. The marking secures not against any share in the divine judgments; this would not correspond with the nature of the divine righteousness, as even the elect are in many ways affected with the prevailing corruption (comp. Isaiah 6:5): it secures only against being swept away with the wicked ( Psalms 28:3), against an evil death, and all that would stand in contradiction with the rule that “all things work together for good to them that love God” ( Romans 8:28). We have an example of the fulfilment of this symbolic prophecy in Jeremiah, whose life was preserved in the taking of the city. A personal application of the general truth here expressed we have in that which the Lord by Jeremiah says to the God-fearing Ebed-melech (ch. Jeremiah 39:16-18), “Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good; and they shall be before thee in that day. But I will deliver thee in that day; . . . and thou shalt have thy life for a prey, because thou hast trusted in me.” So also is it said to Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5, “Behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh; but thy soul will I give unto thee for a prey, in all places whither thou goest.” The “old men” in Ezekiel 9:6, which forms the fundamental passage for 1 Peter 4:17, “Judgment must begin at the house of God,” are the seventy elders in ch. Ezekiel 8:11. The sanctuary, often elsewhere the dwelling-place of the whole people, appears here specially as the dwelling-place of their representatives: on the other hand, the mass of the people is assigned to the city, which, however, forms no counterpart to the temple, but is, as it were, a chapel of case to it. In Ezekiel 9:7, in the words, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain,” that which has already taken place is approved in the form of an order, to connect it with the actual order, “Go ye forth.” The expression has the air of military abruptness. The uncleanness of the human corpse is, according to the law, especially great ( Numbers 19:11), much greater than that of the animal carcase ( Leviticus 11:24). It is here peculiarly great, as it concerns those who perish amidst their sins. The house is defiled by the corpses, which are heaped in its courts. Nothing is said, either here or in Ezekiel 9:6, of any being slain in the house. The prophet, in Ezekiel 9:8, does not express his own feeling, but speaks from the soul of those upon whom the judgment of God has fallen, and appears as their representative: only on this supposition, for which there is abundance of analogy, is his speech conceivable. The remnant is the remnant in full that was left, after the Assyrian and the former Chaldean visitation. The small election, consisting of those marked, is overlooked. But the exiles come not into account, according to the view of those whom the prophet represents. The Inhabitants of Jerusalem regarded themselves as the whole of Israel, and the exiles as a cut off and rejected branch of the vine (ch. Ezekiel 11:15). [54] In the divine answer in Ezekiel 11:9, which turns away the complaint by reference to the greatness of the people’s guilt, Israel is the whole, Judah the part, in which the whole at that time alone continued to exist. For the ten tribes, as branches cut off, come not into account: they could attain again to significance only by renewed connection with the vine, which was prepared by the exile of Judah, and partly accomplished. The fearful extent of the moral declension is referred to this, that they say, “The Lord hath forsaken the land, and the Lord seeth not.” On this Michaelis remarks: “The source of all transgression is the denial of the providence of God.” To this denial they have attained, inasmuch as, from defect in the acknowledgment of their sins, they can discover no reason in their misfortunes; rather must they see in them, as they are, witnesses against the power and good-will of their God. The man clothed in linen says, in Ezekiel 9:11, “I have done as Thou hast commanded me”—in both respects, the destruction and the preservation. The first comes pre-eminently into account. For only destruction is mentioned in the immediate context. We have here the transition from the slaying of the citizens to the destruction of the city, of which the following chapter treats. Our verse forms the close of the former work.

[54] נאשאר is the 3 perf., with א inserted, which bore takes the place of a noun: a he-remained-over.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 9". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-9.html.