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(2.) THE JUDGMENT UPON THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM (Chap. 9)
1. The guards of the city and their work (Ezekiel 9:1-7)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—This chapter is closely connected with the preceding, and carries expressly the threatening of Ezekiel 8:18 into immediate action. Ministers of the Lord, waiting on Him, are summoned to execute His purposes.
Ezekiel 9:1. The prophet is made a hearer of the summons. “And He called in mine ears with a loud voice;” the mode of speaking is a copy of that in Ezekiel 8:18. There is a sense in which God treats men as they treat Him: “As I cried and they would not hear, so they cried and I would not hear.” Moreover, the minute details as to the ears and pitch of voice are significant of the realistic character of the vision. It was not ϗ marvellous but shadowy experience through which Ezekiel was passing. He accents the fact that the smallest as the greatest items were well defined; while the loudness of the voice is a token both of the strong emotion of the Lord and the importance to be attached to the events about to happen. “Saying, Come near, ye that have charge of the city.” The phrase, ye that have charge, is a translation of a Hebrew word rendered elsewhere office, visitation, oversight, and those holding office, officers (Isaiah 60:17). Accepting this last rendering as applicable here, we have to think of overseers, watchers, guards (Daniel 4:13; Daniel 10:20), who attend to the execution of the sentences of God. They were armed, “each man with his instrument of destruction in his hand.” “No common earthly weapon is suitable to the hands of such an host.”—Haev.
Ezekiel 9:2. At the summons, “six men came” from the same quarter as the glory (chap. Ezekiel 1:4), and from which the earthly armies were to proceed as instruments of the heavenly powers. The weapon of each is named differently from the name in Ezekiel 9:1; here it is “an instrument of demolition.” Interpretation of the number six—parts of the city, military Chaldean divisions, &c.—is superfluous. It is immediately shown that the number of watchers was the sacred, perfect number. “And one man in their midst clothed with linen.” He was not one of the six, but a seventh man and superior to the others. They go after him; he marks before they strike (Ezekiel 9:5). The material which clothes him is like that of the various parts of the high priest’s dress (Leviticus 16:4), and is supposed by many to signify that this seventh man had a high-priestly function. This is doubtful, and all that we need ascribe to the texture of his garments is that it represented a heavenly messenger of the Lord specially commissioned. So it is set forth in Daniel (Ezekiel 10:5 and Ezekiel 12:6), and it may be that the idea symbolised by linen had by this time attributed to it a wider application, preparing for that universal application which the New Testament ratifies. “The armies which are in heaven followed, clothed in fine linen, white and pure.” “It was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure.” The seventh had not a destroying weapon: he is to carry out another procedure besides that of slaughter; so he had “an inkhorn upon his loins.” “It is still customary in the East to wear the inkhorn in the girdle. Scribes wear them constantly in their girdles, and ministers of state wear them in the same manner, as symbols of their office.”—Kitto. The purport of these writing materials is, in accordance with the custom of registering the names of the Israelites in public rolls, that he may write certain names in the book of life—the names of those on whom he is to place a mark. Who is this distinguished watcher? “In Daniel 10:5 we have the appearance of a man clothed in linen, who is manifestly the same as He whom John describes as the Son of man clothed with a garment down to his feet (Revelation 1:13). This One man, then, was the angel of the covenant, the great High Priest, superior to those by whom He was surrounded, receiving direct communication from the Lord, taking the coals of vengeance from between the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:2), but coming with mercy to the contrite as well as with vengeance to the impenitent; who took upon Him the form of a man … who came to send fire upon the earth, but also to call sinners to repentance; who shall lose none of those whom the Father hath given Him”.—Speaker’s Com. “And they came and stood beside the brazen altar;” they were waiting in reverence and readiness in the very spot where sin had reached its worst form (Ezekiel 8:16), to fulfil that which would be commanded.
It is by no means to be understood “that there is a band of seven angels whose special vocation it is to be the watchmen and guardians of Jerusalem. For the number seven is here, as elsewhere in the Old Testament, the sign that a divine operation is being completed—in this passage the divine judgment, now advancing to its close—and there is no necessity for having recourse to the seven planet gods of the Babylonians, &c.… The seventh angel, of special dignity, corresponds to the horseman who, in the vision of Zechariah 1:8, stands among the myrtle trees which symbolise the covenant people, and is evidently the chief over those who run to and fro through the earth. It is very remarkable that, as Baumgarten very justly observes, this angel, in whom is the name of Jehovah, withdraws from the history of revelation so long as Israel is under a visible ruler of the house of David; but now, when this visible rule is abrogated, an invisible Ruler again appears, and attains a more concrete form, combined with personal agency, though at the same time hypostatically distinguished from God.”—Oehler.
Ezekiel 9:3. An ominous symbol appears. “And the glory of the God of Israel rose up from the cherub upon which it was.” The cherub, corresponding to living creature (chap. Ezekiel 1:20), is used for cherubim. These forms over the mercy-seat constituted the throne of the glory, the place where His honour dwelt; but the Temple having been made a scene on which His glory was given to idols, He retires “to the threshold.” He rises up to scatter His enemies, and at the place of egress from the Temple to open ground, He issues His commands for the seven guards in reference to His sentences on the people.
Ezekiel 9:4. A command is given to the leader, so that mercy should precede judgment. “And the Lord said to him, Go through the midst of the city … and mark a mark.” Such a marking, as a religious and separating sign, has been customary in various countries, and is especially conspicuous upon the foreheads of the Hindus. The mark may be an honour or a dishonour, according as it separates for the living God or from God. Here it is a token of the former. The word translated “mark” is the name-word of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, tau. The oldest form of this letter is said to be that of a cross, T; and from this statement sundry of the fathers and others have drawn, very unnecessarily, recondite meanings and pious conclusions. That the mark would be a definite one is obvious—how else could the six smiters know whom to pass by?—but what its shape was who can specify? It was “not a mark to be actually imprinted and seen upon their persons, but was an indication of the place they held in the watchful oversight and directing agency of God.”—Fairbairn. “upon the foreheads of the men,” there it would be distinctly seen and betoken the character before God. It separated from the mass of the people. In Egypt a mark of blood was made on the doorposts of the Israelites—their deliverance was that of families; here the mark was on the forehead—the salvation is that of individuals. The difference is one of the proofs, which Ezekiel elsewhere incidentally presents, that a new principle of God’s dealings was on the way to establishment. The individual and not the nation was to be the point of His operations in the latter days. In relation to this “mark,” the “Speaker’s Commentary” says, “The sign of the cross in baptism is an outward sign of the designation of God’s elect, who at the last day shall be exempted from the destruction of the ungodly (Matthew 24:22; Matthew 24:31).” Patristic legends are apparently not yet extinct! How different from this inept comment is that which Keil gives, though he translates tau by cross: “There is something remarkable in this coincidence to the thoughtful observer of the ways of God, whose counsel has carefully considered all beforehand, especially when we bear in mind that, in the counterpart to this passage (Revelation 7:3), the seal of the living God is stamped upon the foreheads of the servants of God who are to be exempted from the judgment, and that according to Revelation 14:1, they had the name of God written upon their foreheads.” Very different indeed from “the sign of the cross!” “that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof.” This is the criterion by which the writer will know those whom he has to mark. In secret and in public they grieve over the evils which are rife in the land.
Ezekiel 9:5-6. A command is given to the six, “Go in the city after him and smite,” so as to make an utter end, sparing neither age nor sex. One special exception is made. No other class is recognised but two. In a testing time like this there is no possibility of holding the place of neutrals; “and every man upon whom is the mark touch not;” their tears, and words of prayer and reproof because of sin, show that they are on the Lord’s side. He is pledged to preserve His own; “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.” There is here no guarantee against all kinds of sorrow and sufferings. Lot is rescued from Sodom, but he has to incur loss and the pain of dissevered family ties. Jeremiah had to pass through deep waters of affliction during the period in which the six watchers were cutting down the unworthy. The exemption of the marked ones must be considered as referring only to direct strokes of punishment. “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, 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.’ ”—Hengstenberg. “and begin at my sanctuary,” in it the abominations had found their normal expression. The head and front of the offence against the holy God was exhibited there. It had lost the reality and must be deprived of the semblance of holiness. The watchers inflict their first strokes in it and beat down the men who stood with backs to the altar while worshipping the creature; “they began with the men, the elders who were before the house;” they were not called elders (chap. Ezekiel 8:16), but their representative position may suggest that they were so; and “before the house” will refer not to the whole Temple, but to that portion which constituted its germ, as seems intimated in what follows.
Ezekiel 9:7. “And He said unto them Defile the house,” by the bodies of the slain. If to touch a corpse and to worship without being sprinkled with the water of separation was to defile the tabernacle of the Lord (Numbers 19:13), much more would blood and corpses do so. But the execution of judgment was to extend beyond the inner place where the altar stood: “and fill the courts with slain.” Scarcely is the edict issued when it is obeyed, and the further order is added, “go forth.” “The expression has the air of military abruptness,” and despatches at once from the desecrated temple: “and they went forth and slew in the city.”
FEATURES OF DIVINE DISCIPLINARY GOVERNMENT
Over all the conditions in which persons or peoples act their parts God is King and Judge. Whether they worship Him or pay adoration to created things, whether they act in brotherliness or selfishness, He tests their character and passes sentences from which they may learn to do righteousness and hate iniquity. That they do not always learn is no more a proof against the discipline of God, than the belief of numberless men that the sun moves round the earth is a proof against the science of the works of God. And just as in the case of astronomy, He “waited six thousand years for an observer,” and, even since Kepler lived, myriads have not known the real position of the sun; so in the case of moral discipline, He has been giving here a little and there a little, and still His moral government is unrecognised by multitudes who are subjected to it. He is in no hurry on this account. He waits with patience, teaching as He waits and giving indications of the modes in which He deals with moral beings, as in this manifestation before Ezekiel.
I. Divine moral discipline involves the action of latent forces. Such forces exist. The seer is not aware of the contiguousness of the guards of the city. They are not within the field of his sight before the call to them is uttered. What they are, where they are, how they will act when they appear, are questions which can be answered only by the event. There are forces suitable for disciplinary ends in air, or earth, or sea, or the regions beyond, and the Lord can make them attend to His word. Storms, earthquakes, epidemics, armies may be poured forth, as soldiers from a fortress, to ravage a land and its people, and they will come from any quarter in which their germs have been stored, and will spread under the direction of spiritual powers who obey the God of glory. At the due moment He will summon them though He may have long time holden His peace.
They are multifold. At one time fiery flying serpents destroy the wandering Israelites and the plague at another. David is required to make choice of one out of three punishments for his sin in numbering the people. Ezekiel sees six men preparing to visit the city, and a seventh in their midst having another duty than theirs to fulfil in it. One angel may minister to the suffering Jesus, but He could have twelve legions of them for the asking. We are open at every pore to the action of the Lord who has made us, and He has a messenger in some occult garrison who is fitted to enter into the pore He would affect us by. Almightiness calls just the kind and number needed to execute His will. There is never one too few or one too many.
They wait at command. The seven watchers of the city appeared from out their concealment and stood beside the brazen altar. They are ready to receive and to execute the orders of Him to whose honour the sacrifices offered on the altar were to be consecrated. And when such divine forces operate, no intervention can prevent the mark of approbation which the Lord would give to His faithful friends from being impressed on them, as no shield is broad enough and strong enough to ward off the penalty which a course of rebellion ensures to those who forget God. You are secure if you have the mind that was in Christ Jesus; you are exposed to incalculable anguish if you make light of Him and go your way.
They are varied in capability. The weapons and the inkhorn are emblems of the differing influences which condemn and praise human thoughts and conduct. There are numberless producers of suffering to mankind. Onlookers cannot tell whether the trouble causing sin is to be ascribed to the sufferers or their parents; but no believer in a righteous Father can doubt that every suffering is due. It is a just measure, in view of what men need, that they may learn there is a holy God. Influences, moreover, proceed from appeals to the mind. Books and letters, sermons and conversations, have induced many souls to grieve over sin and to long for the grace of God—have brought many into shame and also into peace. Who can imagine the various features of God’s action upon men? Who can tell from whence that action will proceed? It is our comfort to know that He has sovereign authority everywhere; that no influence acts casually, but each one in due subordination to Him; that the upshot of all the summonses He sends forth will be to prove that He is holy, and just, and good; and that men have been treated with the end of saving them from sin and making them partakers of His holiness.
II. It grounds its procedure upon marked differences in human character. In God’s moral discipline precedence is given to His saving will. The man clothed in linen first made the mark of deliverance from death, and then the other six followed with the blows of their fatal weapons. The righteous are not treated as the wicked. Mercy is honoured before judgment is executed.
Safety is apportioned to those who are of one heart with God. They are seen to be loyal to His rule. They hate what He hates. They deplore the abominations which cast a slur upon the Holy One of Israel. They are seen to have sympathy for men. They do not neglect, despise, denounce the unworthy lives of their fellow-citizens: they grieve deeply because of them, knowing their own natural feebleness in the assaults of temptations; they dare not assume the airs of them that are at ease and the contempt of those that are proud. At the same time they profess no maudlin charity, and so excuse the sins which are openly committed or secretly practised in chambers of imagery. It may be that they are comparatively few—six men to punish and one only to seal with the mark of safety—but they are not ruled by the popular fashions. They are to serve God and not men. Their love to God teaches them to love their brother also, and they are conformed to the image of Him who, on a later day, wept over Jerusalem. This was the character which secured the sealing on the forehead—this the kind of character which has the sealing of the Holy Spirit of promise. For the mark is not what they see, but rather what others see on them. It is not some suggestion which they suppose is made to themselves, however vivid that suggestion may seem to be. That is no valid assurance of our being sons of God. Our assurance must come, not from an inward suggestion, but from proof, evidence, witness, which is of the nature of a work of the Spirit on the soul. What more effectual, as such a testimony, than a character which exhibits loyalty to God and sympathy for sinners? which is like that of Christ Jesus? “This is the highest sort of witness which it is possible the soul should be the subject of: if there were any such thing as a witness of the Spirit by immediate suggestion or revelation, this would be vastly more noble and excellent, and as much above that as the heaven is above the earth.”—Edwards. We who hear the Gospel may truly understand that the sealer to our safety is the Son, to whom all judgment is committed; whom the armies of heaven follow; who has all power in heaven and in earth. He knows His sheep by name. His care for them is the care of prayer and self-sacrifice. He does not go into churches and mark crowds by water of baptism. He does not pass over one house and into another so that He may mark a household on their foreheads. He acts upon individuals and on their hearts. He washes away their sins by His own blood. He renews their wills. He induces them to follow His example. And because they are quickened by His Spirit and walk in newness of life, He secures them, and they shall never perish. Christ does not guarantee His followers against all tribulation, but He does their safety from destruction by calamity. The Chaldeans might cause distress to, but could not slay, the sorrowing citizens. The enticements of sinful lusts may harass you again and again; disease may keep you bodily and spiritually low; you may be bereaved of friends whom you greatly miss; you may be injured by the conduct of those with whom you come into association; your sighs and tears may be apparently fruitless; you may see the evils still in full force around you as if you never had prayed, never had stood up for God against the workers of iniquity; yet the mighty power of God preserves you, and the time will come when you will be removed from the furnace purified like gold, and you will receive the crown of righteousness which fadeth not away. “The divine faithfulness still abides sure to the true children of the covenant.… Let such, therefore, trust in the Lord at all times, and fear not that it shall be well with the righteous.”—Fairbairn.
Death is appointed to those who continue in trespasses. The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he turn from his wicked way. Only, if he will not turn, what remains? He is dead in sins, and a worse fate there cannot be. The guilt of it should produce unbounded fear, and be a signal to arise from the dead that Christ may give light. Let all attempts directed by a merciful God have failed to rouse, then the heavy judgment must fall on the head of every one thus guilty of hardening their hearts against the Lord. No place is so sacred as to prevent the execution of the sentence. Let it be temple or church, called holy or sacred, sin is damnation anywhere. The waters of wrath shall sweep into all hiding-places. The very place in which sin is committed may be the place for punishing sin. No leader is so great as to have immunity from the sentence. “The more aged and venerable portion of the worshippers, and those who might naturally be regarded as occupying the foremost rank among the people at large,” were slain with impartial severity. They whose Godward privileges are greatest, when they defile His worship, incur the penalty of those who are chief in wickedness. “So far is the possession of means of grace from saving men from wrath, that He abhors sin most in those from whom, by reason of their spiritual opportunities, most good was to have been expected.”—Fausset. As formerly, so now, the appeal is to be seriously listened to, “Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish.” God rules in righteousness.
MOURNING FOR OTHER MEN’S SINS (Ezekiel 9:4)
Lamenting the sins of the times and places wherein we live is—
I. A duty incumbent on us. Our affections of grief and anger cannot be better employed than for the interest, nor better bestowed than for the service, of Him who implanted those passions in us. Our natural motions should be ordered for the God of nature, and spiritual ordered for the God of grace.
(1.) This was the practice of believers in all ages.
(2.) It was our Saviour’s practice.
(3.) Angels, as far as they are capable, have their grief for the sins of men.
II. It is an acceptable duty to God.
(1.) It is a fulfilling of the whole law consisting of love to God and love to our neighbours.
(2.) It is an imitating return for God’s affection.
(3.) This temper justifies God and His justice.
(4.) It is a sign of such a temper God hath evidenced Himself in Scripture much affected with. It is both our duty and God’s pleasure.
III. It is a means of preservation from public judgments.
(1.) Sincerity escapes best in common judgments, and this mourning for public sins is its greatest note.
(2.) This frame clears us from the guilt of common sins.
(3.) It is an endeavour to repair the honour God has lost.
(4.) Mourners in Zion are humble, and humility is preventive of judgments.
(5.) They keep covenant with God; and
(6.) fear His judgments, which is a means of preventing them.
1. We may be reproved if we make sport of sin; if we use mere invectives against it; if we look on it rather as a hurt to ourselves than as injury to God; if we do not truly mourn for our own sins.
2. We may be comforted. God doth not strike at random, and they who are stamped with Christ’s mark have His wisdom to guard them against fully, His power against weakness, the Everlasting Father against man, whose breath is in his nostrils.
The Lord seems to be upon the threshold of the temple, come down already from the cherubim, and is it not time to bewail our own sins and the common abominations that have so polluted the place of His habitation? Doth not the Holy Spirit grieve for the sins of those who play the wantons with the grace of God (Ephesians 4:30)? Shall we refuse mourning for that which goes to the heart of the Holy Ghost? Let us sorrow for the sins of the time and place in which we live.—Charnock.
THE MARK OF DELIVERANCE (Ezekiel 9:4-6)
When God visits the world, or any part of it, with His desolating judgments, He usually sets a mark of deliverance on such as are suitably affected with the sins of their fellow-creatures.
I. What is implied in being suitably affected with the sins of our fellow-creatures? If our fellow-creatures infringe none of our real or supposed rights, and abstain from such gross vices as evidently disturb the peace of society, we usually feel little concern respecting their sins against God. Our nearest neighbours may be of a character remote from that of a Christian, and we show no uneasiness respecting their dangerous condition. There may indeed be a kind of pleasure when we contrast their vices and our virtues, and we are encouraged to hope for impunity in sin. Nor is this surprising. We naturally think little of our own souls or of our own sins, and he who takes no care to save himself is not likely to feel concern for the salvation of others. Evidently a great change must take place in our views and feelings if the conduct of the persons mentioned in our text is suitable for us. Though they lived in an evil day, when the judgments of God were falling heavily upon their nation, they appear to have felt more poignant grief for prevailing sins than for the desolating judgments which they occasioned. To be rightly affected—
First, We must fear sin more than the punishment of sin; be more grieved to see God dishonoured, His Son neglected, and immortal souls ruined, than to see our commerce interrupted, our fellow-citizens divided, and our country invaded.
Second, We must use diligent exertions, by every means in our power, to reform the sinners. There are many who will readily allow that sins prevail among us, and confess it is a very melancholy thing, but still they use no means to counteract or repress the evils which they profess to lament. As it is not sufficient to confess our own sins without renouncing them, so it is not sufficient to mourn for the sins of others without attempting their reformation. This attempt must be made—
1. By example. As the force of example is inconceivably great, every person is sacredly bound, in times of prevailing degeneracy, to act an open, firm, and decided part in favour of virtue and religion—avoiding the very appearance of those evils which are prevalent around him.
2. By exertions to suppress vice and impiety. When the interests of virtue and religion are fenced round by wholesome laws, every individual is bound to see them faithfully executed. By conniving at the sins of others we make them our own. “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” A righteous God will not hold us guiltless if we do not prevent evil which we could have prevented. “If thou forbear to deliver,” &c. Those who neither fear God nor regard man must be taught by their apprehensions not to stalk their vicious propensities in open day. The task may be disagreeable. Many will mourn in their closets, but use no exertion in public, pretending that others may more properly engage in it. We are willing that God should take care of our honour and interests, but too often we suffer His laws to be violated with impunity. We can thus have no claim to the character mentioned in our text. God will set no mark on us unless we appear openly and decidedly against the prevalence of sin.
3. By prayers. A regard to order or some similar principle induces to the suppression of vice; but this is presumptuous and tempting God if we neglect prayer for divine influence.
Third, We must be deeply affected with our own sins. We shall acknowledge that our sins have assisted in forming the mass of national guilt. If not guilty of the same vice as others, it is because of the restraints of grace, and we shall temper all exertions with pity for the offender while abhorring the offence. He who is most affected by the sins of others will mourn most sincerely for his own. Thus have all the good men mentioned in the Bible done.
II. That on such as are thus affected God will set a mark of deliverance when those around them are destroyed by His desolating judgments. This is inferred—
1. From the justice of God. They do not share in the national sins; they mourn for and oppose them, and justice requires a mark of separation for them. True, such persons have violated the law of God as individuals; but they have not done the wickedness which is chargeable on the community, and they are spared.
2. From God’s holiness. Such characters love God. It is their love to God which causes them to mourn over and oppose iniquity. His cause, His honour, they consider as their own. While God loves holiness He cannot but love them.
3. From His faithfulness. None more highly honour Him than those who appear openly on His side in opposition to sin, and He will honour them by placing some mark of distinction on them. Like their Father and their Redeemer they are grieved with the sins of man, and a strong refuge is provided by Him.
4. From the facts of Scripture. Noah, Job, Elijah, Jeremiah, &c. Will it be said that facts do not always justify the statement of deliverance? We allow that they do not. But may the professed mourners not partake in common sin, or be entangled in policy so as not to bear a testimony against the prevailing evil? And if many righteous have been put to death, the mark of God was on them. Stephen, Paul, and Silas, martyrs. However this may be, the Son of God, clothed in the linen garments of His priestly office, has sprinkled them with His blood, sealed them with the Holy Spirit, written their names in the book of life, and they will have His Father’s name written in their forehead.
If God should send a messenger to set a mark on all who are suitably affected, would it appear on thee?—Payson (abridged).
2. The Prophet Interceding in Vain (Ezekiel 9:8-11)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 9:8. Ezekiel recovers from a passing surprise while the slaughter in the city was proceeding, and then realises his solitariness. “And remained I,” the frequenters of the Temple all dead, the only one spared alive there, his perturbed mind was found in a temporary oblivion of what he had heard in reference to such as were to be marked, and then loomed before him the obliteration even of the promised remnant. In intense sympathy for the people; in fear and sorrow, “I fell upon my face;” with his mouth in the dust he burst forth into an appeal for forbearance—speaking not in name of the exiles, but in name of the inhabitants of Judea, “and said, Ah! Lord God, destroyest Thou all the remnant of Israel,” as would be done, “in the pouring out Thy fury upon Jerusalem?” The captive sin Assyria and Babylon are undergoing their punishment: all that is left of Israel as a nation is here, and therefore Ezekiel’s cry is to the Lord God for the latter.
Ezekiel 9:9. The answer to his appeal is decisive. “And He said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is great exceedingly.” The criminality was not all of the same character: in the landward parts, crimes of “blood-shedding” were most common; in the city, crimes of “perverting rights.” Religious declension and rebelliousness are not mentioned here, but moral corruption is, as constituting the evil which is to be severely punished. And the terms in which the people form an excuse for their sins correspond with the predominance of the moral element: “for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not.” The difference between this and that in chap. Ezekiel 8:12, where the religious aspect was prominent, lies here: the latter verse puts “seeth us not” first—religion is primarily a matter between God and man. The verse now before us puts “hath forsaken the earth” first—as if the Lord had gone away from all regard of the conduct of men to men. They imagine they have free scope to act as they choose towards each other, no one is taking oversight of them. “The source of all transgression is denial of the providence of God.”
Ezekiel 9:10. The people had taken the position that they only had rights, and yet that position is commanded by another. “And I also, my eye shall not spare … their way I put (give) upon their head.” The path of life which they are walking on turns up to smite their head with punishment. Ezekiel’s appealing question is not directly answered. The Lord “merely vindicates His justice by showing that, whatever amount of vengeance He might inflict, it did not exceed their sin. He would have us humbly acquiesce in His judgments, and wait and trust” (Fausset). The prophet sees that a people laden with iniquity go to meet their doom, and he makes no further cry for consideration of their case.
Ezekiel 9:11. Scarcely had the answer of the Lord been received when “behold the man clothed in linen,” the chief of the guardians of the city, appearing by himself seemingly, “brought word, saying, I have done as Thou hast commanded me.” The marks have been affixed on as many as and in the manner in which he had been commissioned. Probably the other six were still carrying on their work (chap. Ezekiel 11:13). “The counsel of the Lord, it shall stand.”
UNSATISFIED PRAYERS (Ezekiel 9:8-11)
When God spares His servants at a time during which calamity overtakes others, or saves them when many go on in the broad way to destruction, they deeply grieve and earnestly pray for those who are thus overtaken. What they ask for seems not to be assured. They have prayed and wept in vain, they suppose, and a sore heart-trouble is produced. They wonder if the Lord has shut up His compassions; if prayer is nothing but a cry. They doubt if they have prayed aright; if they have misconceived the ways of the Lord. To such questions Ezekiel’s case here may suggest direction and solace about unsatisfied prayers.
I. Such prayers may come from true sympathy with misery. Men, who have learned to love their fellowmen because of love to their Father, do not take precautions merely for their own safety in the face of impending suffering. If they are secure themselves they cannot be at ease while their neighbours are in danger of being swept away as with a flood. The sins, sorrows, deaths of others cast a heavy burden upon their souls, and they bow down in utter self-abandonment before God to besecch Him to take pity on the impenitent and doomed. They place themselves between the living One and the condemned to death, and put forth the energies which love can command into their supplications. They weep with them that need to be wept for.
II. Such prayers may use the most effective grounds of appeal. They appeal to God as God. “Ah, Lord God!” They have no cure in such need. They can help only by prayers, and they present them to Him who hears prayer as to Him who alone is able to do what they long for. In weakness and in conscious self-unworthiness they come boldly to the throne of grace and plead, “Wilt Thou act in such severity, Thou who hast made us and fashioned us, and who knowest our frame? Wilt Thou forget the work of Thine own hands and let it perish? Wilt Thou not show thyself to be the Lord mighty to save?” They appeal to His promises. “Israel,”—that was a name to touch the heart of God. For He had chosen the people, had nourished and brought them up as children, and in them meant to bless all the families of the earth. Were, then, all to be cut off—men women, and children? The remnant, to which so much has been pledged, would it too be discarded? Would He thus suffer His faithfulness and truth to fail? They appeal to His interests. “Jerusalem,”—those who have stood in the area of His manifested glory, who have been hearers of His word, who are the chief representatives of His people in covenant, who seem best adapted to maintain His way upon earth,—if they are sent down to darkness and death, where will He find a people to show forth His praise and saving health? His nature, His truth, His kingdom are grounds of prayer in which man’s selfish pleas have no part. “Do not disgrace the throne of Thy glory!”
III. Such prayers may be presented in submissiveness. “I fell upon my face.” God’s ways are beyond even a prophet’s comprehension. They trend too high and also too deep for us. We are disposed to count that to be confused which is only farther off than we can define, or to charge that with hardness which is only covered with a thin crust. Thus when deprecating the sufferings which befall our persons, our churches, the nations, we may take to questioning God, if not dictating to Him, Wilt Thou not take other steps? Wilt Thou not have regard to the prayers of the destitute? Wilt Thou not have respect to Thy great name whose glory is dearer to Thee than it can be to us? We are but of “yesterday and know nothing.”
IV. And such prayers may be based on misconceptions of God. As to His mercy. Sympathising friends think they would show pity, they would spare, when God does not, and their tendency is to count Him severe. This conclusion is unreasonable. When once we grasp the idea that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, we learn that they do not take in all the elements involved in divine mercy who surmise that the mercy of God is limited to the surveys of sense. We must rise beyond the range of the earthly for an ampler view of His rule. For Him, as righteous ruler, to spare those who reject His authority, who will not turn to Him in spite of all His endeavours, would be to connive at His own eternal dishonour. They would go on adding sin to sin. They would produce influences which would shake the loyalty of those who had been faithful to Him. There could be no mercy in a course which would cause such results.
As to His patience. We would have Him check the process of degeneracy in individuals, in churches, in states, at the very outset. We would have Him strike down the man who was leading others into evil as soon as he acquired a bad preeminence. We would not have Him wait till sin is excessive. Therefore do we fancy He has been too patient, and yet, with strange inconsistency, when He is punishing, we fall down and urgently ask if He will not stay His hand! We cannot measure out His patience thus. Both the deferring of punishment and the execution of punishment are ordered in wisdom and love. They must be, for the Lord reigneth, and we should stay on Him, let the darkness about Him be what it may.
As to means of carrying out His will. We acknowledge that the law which binds penalty to guilt is just and good, and can be nothing if it is not irrefragable. We grant that the doom should somehow be in correspondence with the sin. But what will be wisest and most impressive way of manifesting the connection which thus subsists? We are utterly unable to tell, and our prayers might be offered against the very method which we would assent to as right and best, if we knew all. But assuming that there are two chief classes of sins to provide against—inhumanity and denial of God’s interference with the doings of men—we should look for a wonderful variety of treatment according to men’s circumstances and place in the world’s development. It is for us not only to pray for the mercy we wish for troubled souls, but also to wait on the Lord so as to see His goings. “Those who take heed to the signs of the times can hardly but observe the tendency of our age to ignore the God of special providence, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’ ” Nor can we fail to mark a prevalence of dishonesty, brutality, self-pleasing, which indicate sad disregard of love to man. What may follow we leave with God while we cry for His grace. Only we do well to remember that judgment will begin at the house of God, and that the sufferings of unfaithful Christians will be more awful than those of rebellious Jews. “What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy living and godliness!”
V. Yet such prayers are answered, but otherwise than directly. We are too disposed to conclude that many of our prayers are not granted—prayers in which we had not regard to iniquity but to Christ. It may be, it is true that often they are not granted in accordance with the express form which we had hoped for, and we become like thoughtless children who complain that their wishes for good are not attended to because their father does not give them the very thing they want and at the time they ask it. We ought to have more confidence in our Heavenly Father than that complaint implies. He who says, “Call upon me and I will answer thee,” “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name that will I do,” is true and faithful. What He has said He will do, only it lies with Him to settle both the form and the season of the answer. He brought the man who had been setting a mark upon the mourners in Zion in view of Ezekiel, and that appearance told Ezekiel that his prayer was really answered. He said to Paul, in response to his thrice-told entreaty, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness;” and though that was not what the Apostle besought for—the removal of the thorn in the flesh—it was tantamount to that, as the promise secured him against being overcome by his infliction. Were we able to see better, we might come to say of many of our apparently unsatisfied prayers, “Verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer.”
Wait for the unfolding of the sealed book, and then will many rejoice to learn that they had not prayed in vain when they besought that God would glorify Himself by saving men. They died in the sorrow of hopes disappointed; they live in the joy of better things than they could conceive. Let us learn to trust God as revealed in Jesus Christ, His Son, and endeavour to observe more closely how He responds to our prayers.
FAITHFULNESS IN STEWARDSHIP (Ezekiel 9:11)
In fulfilling any work for the manifestation of the Lord’s will—
I. There should be regard to the Lord who appoints it. A position in His service is wished for sometimes because it is counted honourable and respectable, or because it is profitable, or because it is best to take it even if we have no interest in its duties. All such motives are condemned. The only one which can stand in the light is that which prompts us to act because we have been directed by considerations of His will, and are desirous to please Him to the utmost. “He that regardeth the day regardeth it unto the Lord.” This is capable of being an ever-present motive to faithfulness. It may influence us everywhere, whether we eat or drink, buy or sell, worship alone or with others. He is always at our right hand where we are and where we are called to serve, and we can do whatever we do as before Him. An elastic motive. When we need much power we are moved towards the treasures of Almightiness; when we need little, we come to the same Mighty One who is wise to measure out the adequate supply. He will furnish us for a gentle or a stern service, for presenting a reward or a threat, for expressing a sentence of mercy or of condemnation. We serve not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord,—that will regulate us in our “daily round,” and in dying for Him if need be.
II. Regard to the manner of obeying. “As Thou hast commanded.” Faithfulness is shown not in doing the appointed service with slovenliness, as if any way of fulfilling it would be sufficient; not in self-regard, as if the way we would like to do it would be satisfactory; not with deference to the opinions and habits of any men, as if they had authority to curtail or enlarge the commands of God; not with limitations, as if we could stop at any point but the point which the Holy One has defined. No; the work of the watcher is not done till he has reached, taught, comforted, saved all whom the Lord has characterised. “He will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
III. Regard to the account to be rendered. No faithful servant need go in fear to the tribunal of the Great King. They who obtain mercy to be faithful have boldness in the day of judgment, are not ashamed before Christ at His coming, give in their account with joy, and are enabled to say, in reference to the charge which had been committed to them, “Lord, it is done as Thou hast commanded.” He is the pattern of perfect faithfulness who did always that which was pleasing to the Father; who could say at the close of the day in which he did His work, “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work Thou gavest me to do,” and who will meet the consummation of all things with the words, “Of all that Thou hast given me I have lost nothing.” Let us imitate Christ Jesus in doing the will of our Father, not negligently, or equivocally, or incompletely, but so as “to be counted worthy of that world, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Let us, in all we do, for the glory of Christ’s name, follow His example, and report every matter to our God in prayer and supplication.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26