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Chapter 9. The Marking of the Righteous and the Slaying of the Wicked.
In this chapter we see God’s dealings with Jerusalem through heavenly visitants whose activities are reproduced on earth. Nebuchadnezzar would think that he was in charge of events, but Ezekiel, and the people he spoke to, would know that it was Yahweh Who was in charge, and that Nebuchadnezzar was only His instrument. However before that the righteous had to be protected by being marked as God’s by an angel of mercy. This would then be followed in vision by the sending forth of the Destroyers, and, in the following chapter, by the city being showered with the burning coals of judgment and destruction.
The chapter reminds us of the Angel of Death at the Exodus (chapter 12) and the destroying Angel of Yahweh in 2Sa 24:16-17 ; 1 Chronicles 21:15-27. See also 2 Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 37:36; Amos 9:1. While refined the idea was not new.
‘Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Cause those who have charge over the city to draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.” ’
Ezekiel heard a loud voice, the voice of Yahweh, and it spoke to heavenly visitants. Perhaps it was seen as addressed to Michael, the archangel, heavenly prince over God’s people (Daniel 12:1). Alternately it may be a direct command to the leader of the visitants. The command goes out that those appointed to have charge over the judgment of Jerusalem now draw near. The time has come. The command is ominous, ‘every man with his destroying weapon in his hand’. The loudness of the cry indicated the certainty of what was to follow. Nothing could prevent it. It contrasts with the loud voice which would have done the inhabitants of Jerusalem no good at this point in time (Ezekiel 8:18).
This is similar in idea to Daniel 10:5-21; Daniel 12:1 where angels were said to be in charge of various countries, with their activities affecting what happened there. The ones in mind here may have been watching angels over Jerusalem, or else they may have been angels appointed and given charge for the task in hand.
The voice speaks from within the temple where God has temporarily again taken over His throne in the sanctuary as the glory of God fills the temple for the last time (Ezekiel 9:3).
‘And behold six men came from the way of the upper gate, which lies towards the north, every one with his weapon for destruction in his hand, and one man in the midst of them, clothed in linen, with a writer’s kit hanging by his side (‘on his loins’). And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.’
Seven heavenly ‘men’ now entered the temple area, six equipped for destruction and one for mercy (compare Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6). In all Near Eastern nations seven was the number of divine perfection and completeness. These men were thus seen as complete for the divine task in hand. The fact that they came from a northerly direction was probably either to indicate the direction from which judgment was coming, or to confirm that they came from the heavenly dwelling place of God (see on Ezekiel 1:4). They entered by the way where the women were weeping for Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), and the image of jealousy had its place (Ezekiel 8:5). They saw enough to stir their righteous anger.
They entered in a group with the man with the writing kit in the middle. He was clothed in linen. This regularly denotes a heavenly personality (Daniel 10:5; Daniel 12:6-7; Revelation 15:6). The remainder were probably dressed as warriors, and the weapon held ready in the hand was always an indication of judgment. But we must not see the man with the writing kit as being of a different temper than the others, for he is the one who will throw the coals of judgment over Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10:2). He merely has a different function. All are one in their actions. The group reminds us that in the midst of God’s judgments there is always mercy for those who respond to Him.
The word for ‘writing kit’ is found only here and may well be an Egyptian loan word (qeset from Egyptian gsti). Such a writing kit was usually made from animal horn or wood. It would have a palette with a long groove for the rush pens and circular hollows for two kinds of ink, usually black and red. It was a kit that would be carried by professional scribes.
‘And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.’ This bronze altar was the old altar from Solomon’s temple which had been replaced with a stone altar by Ahaz, which he patterned on a Syrian altar (2 Kings 16:14), the old bronze altar being removed and put to the north of the stone altar for the king to ‘enquire by’ (2 Kings 9:15). But this was the altar recognised by Yahweh. This is another indication of how the temple had been defiled. God had not overlooked the replacing of His altar with a foreign altar. From the true altar His mercy and judgment would reach out.
The action is very significant. On that bronze altar had been offered sacrifices for Israel for many generations. There atonement had been made. It had also been a place of sanctuary when there was nowhere else to go. Men could flee to the altar (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28). But now the right of sanctuary was lost. The sacrifices had ceased. God was deserting His temple and His altar. It was no longer a holy place.
‘And the glory of the God of Israel had gone 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 writer’s kit hanging at his side. And Yahweh said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark (‘a taw’, in ancient Hebrew an X) on the foreheads of the men who sigh and who cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst of it.” ’
The movement of ‘the glory of God’ is also very significant. Being ‘on the cherub’ referred to the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh on which was the throne of Yahweh overseen by cherubim. In the past the glory of God had regularly covered the Ark and the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), and in vision Ezekiel had seen this as transportable as we have seen earlier, with the living creatures bearing it. But the latter have not yet been identified as cherubim. But now He leaves His throne in the sanctuary and moves to the threshold of the temple. He is at this point deliberately rejecting the temple and all it means. He is about to depart.
The use of the singular ‘cherub’ to indicate the cherubim is paralleled in Ezekiel 10:2; Eze 10:4 ; 2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10.
But God never forgets His own. Within the city there were still those who were faithful to Him and whose hearts were broken at what was going on. They sighed and cried at what they saw around them. True faith and true righteousness are always revealed by men’s attitude to sin and disobedience to God. He had determined to put His protecting mark on them. None would harm those who were faithful to Him. His mark would be on their foreheads. Compare Revelation 7:3; Revelation 9:4; Revelation 14:1. In the later words of Jesus, ‘the hairs of their head were all numbered’. Ezekiel and his listeners would think in terms of preservation of life. With our greater revelation we recognise that the meaning was their eternal preservation. They were untouchable.
The mark on their foreheads was an X (the ancient form of the letter taw). Compare Job 31:35 where it represented a signature. It was sometimes used by the scribes at Qumran to indicate points of importance in their scrolls such as Messianic passages. We may well see in it a remarkable precursor to the sign of the cross. These men were ‘signed’ by God, marked as belonging to Him. They were engraved on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). In all His wrath against sin He was faithful to His covenant with those who still trusted Him, with the righteous.
‘And to the others he said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him, and smite. Do not let your eye spare, nor have pity. Slay utterly (literally ‘slay to destruction’) the old man, the young man and the maiden, and little children and women. But do not come near any man on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” ’
Then came the command for judgment. It was to be without mercy, without pity. None was to be spared. The judgment and wrath of God was to come on each one, from the oldest to the youngest. All were marked out by God for judgment in one way or another. (The Assyrians would make no distinctions). And it was to begin at His sanctuary where those who were supposed to serve Him had proved so utterly unfaithful. It is a serious thing to profess to be a leader of God’s people but to lead them astray (1 Peter 4:17; compare Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2; Hebrews 13:17).
But none who were marked by God was to be touched. They may suffer at the hands of men, but not at the hands of God’s visitants. This underlines one of Ezekiel’s central messages. Judgment is individual. It is the one who sins who must die in judgment. Those who are faithful to God and His covenant may die, but they will not die in judgment.
We must remember that this was a vision and a heavenly message. It symbolised God’s view and purpose in what was to come. It would not be fulfilled literally as we have already been told, for some would go into captivity. But it indicated that God’s judgment was upon all.
‘Then they began at the old men (elders) who were before the house.’ These would be the five and twenty who represented the priesthood, worshippers of the sun (Ezekiel 8:16). They were the most guilty because of their closeness to the sanctuary. These men who had had the most holy privileges had betrayed their trust.
‘And he said to them, “Defile the house and fill the courts with the slain. Go forth.” And they went forth and smote in the city.’
The house was to be deliberately defiled (compare Numbers 19:11; 1 Kings 13:2; 2 Kings 23:16). It was no longer God’s temple. They had handed it over to idolatry, so that just as bones were scattered around the high places (Ezekiel 6:5), they would be around the temple precincts. It was a house of idolatry. And once that was so defiled then the visitants were to go out and destroy the city.
‘And it was so that while they were smiting and I was left, I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, Lord Yahweh. Will you destroy all the residue of Israel in your pouring out of your fury on Jerusalem?” ’
As Ezekiel watched every man in the temple around him smitten down one by one, until he was left alone, it was more than he could bear. And he cried out to God. Would there be no mercy for any, for the residue of Israel? Would not God leave but a few? The Christian must never gloat over God’s judgments. Though he recognise that they are right, as a sinner among fellow sinners they should break his heart even while he rejoices that God’s way is fulfilled (compare Amos 7:1-6)
‘Then he said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice (‘bending’ of justice). For they say, “Yahweh has forsaken the land, and Yahweh sees not.” ’
These men left in Jerusalem and its surrounds had seen the previous judgments of God and the carrying away of the cream of the people, first of Israel and then of Judah. But they had not taken warning. Instead of repenting and turning to God they had increased their sinfulness. Instead of recognising that He had done what He had always promised they had interpreted it as meaning that God had forsaken the land and the people in it. That God no longer noted their behaviour. Thus instead of becoming better they had become worse. Murder was rife. True justice was unobtainable. Might was right. There was only one thing to do. Begin with those who in exile had learned to be humble and to seek God. And that was why Ezekiel was here.
Note in passing that God saw the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surrounds as representing in fact the whole of Israel, ‘the house of Israel and Judah’. There were no ‘lost tribes’ to Him.
“And as for me also, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. But I will bring their way on their head.”
So as there was no justice and mercy among the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surrounds, so there would be no mercy from God. He would make them reap what they had sown, and there would be no restraint. His eye was and had been on them all the time. And now it would demand justice. ‘All things are laid bare and open to the eye of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13), and He will always finally call to account.
‘And behold the man clothed in linen, who had the writing kit by his side, reported the matter, saying, “I have done as you have commanded me.” ’
The marking of the righteous had taken place as God had commanded. Justice must now take its course.
As we review these chapters that we have been considering we should recognise their primary message, the seriousness of sin and rebellion against God. The end of an era had been reached. In spite of all the efforts of the prophets, and the pleadings and constant demonstrations of the mercy of God, the people had remained hardhearted. Indeed they had become even more hardhearted. And in the end sin must be accounted for. God is longsuffering, but even that longsuffering will one day come to an end. And then there is nothing but judgment for the unrepentant. That is what had happened here. We too must recognise that to go on sinning deliberately is a very serious matter. One day God’s longsuffering with us will also cease.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent