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He cried, etc. The voice comes, as before, from the human form, seen as a theophany, in the midst of the Divine glory. Cause them that have charge over the city. The noun is an abstract plural, commonly rendered "visitation" (Isaiah 10:3; Jeremiah 11:23, and elsewhere). Here, however, it clearly stands for persons (just as we use "the watch" for "the watchmen"), and is so used in Isaiah 60:17; 2 Kings 11:18 (comp. Ezekiel 44:11). The persons addressed are called "men," but they are clearly thought of as superhuman; like the angels who came to Sodom (Genesis 19:1); like the angel with the drawn sword in 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:16. His destroying weapon. The word clearly implies something different from a sword, but corresponds in its vagueness to the Hebrew. In 1 Chronicles 21:2 the Hebrew for "slaughter weapon" implies an instrument for crashing into fragments, probably an axe or mace. A cognate word in Jeremiah 51:20 is translated "battle axe," and the LXX. gives that meaning here, as also does the margin of the Revised Version.
Behold, six men, etc. The man clothed with linen brings the number up to the sacred number seven, as in Zechariah 4:10; Revelation 1:16,Revelation 1:20; Revelation 15:6. He is over them rather than among them, and answers to the scribe who appears so frequently in Assyrian sculptures, as the secretary who counts the prisoners that have been taken in battle. They come from the north, the region from which the vision of Ezekiel 1:4 had come, in which, in the nearer vision of Ezekiel 8:4, the prophet had seen the same glorious presence. They appear, i.e; as issuing from the Divine presence to do their work of judgment. Possibly. as in Jeremiah 1:1-19; there may be an allusive reference to the fact that the Chaldeans, as the actual instruments of their judgment, came from the same region. The gate in question was built by Jotham (2 Kings 15:35). The captain of the band is arrayed in the "white linen" of the hosts of heaven and of the priests on earth (ποδήρης in the LXX.; comp. Le Jeremiah 6:10; Jeremiah 16:4; Ezekiel 44:17; Daniel 10:5; Daniel 12:6). A writer's inkhorn. Through all the changes of Eastern life this has been the outward sign of the scribe's office. Here it is obviously connected with the oft-recurring thought of the books of life and death in the chancery of heaven (Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; Psalms 139:16; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 41:1; Philippians 4:3). It was to be the work of this scribe (Jeremiah 1:4) to mark such as were for death to death, such as were for life to life. The LXX; misunderstanding the Hebrew, or following a different text, gives, not "a writer's inkhorn," but "a girdle of sapphire." With all the precision of one who knew every inch of the temple courts, the priest-prophet sees the visitants take their station beside the brazen altar, probably, as they came from the north, on the north side of it.
Was gone up; better, went up. The prophet saw the process as well as the result. The "glory of the Lord" which he bad seen (Ezekiel 8:4) by the northern gate rose from its cherub throne (we note the use of the singular to express the unity of the fourfold form), as if to direct the action of his ministers, to the threshold of the "house." This may be connected also with the thought that the normal abiding place of the presence of the Lord had been "between the cherubim" (Psalms 80:1) of the mercy seat, but that thought seems in the present instance to be in the background, and I adopt the former interpretation as preferable.
Set a mark upon the foreheads, etc. The command reminds us of that given to the destroying angel in Exodus 12:13, and has its earlier and later analogues in the mark set upon Cain (Genesis 4:15), and in the "sealing" of the servants of God in Revelation 7:3. Here, as in the last example, the mark is set, not on the lintels of the doorposts, but upon the "foreheads" of the men. And the mark is the letter tau, in old Hebrew, that of a cross + , and like the "mark" of mediaeval and (in the case of the illiterate) of modern usage, seems to have been used as a signature, and is rightly so translated in the Revised Version of Job 31:35. Jewish writers have accounted for its being thus used, either
(1) from its being the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus denoting completeness, or
(2) from its being the first letter of the word thorah (Law); or
(3) from its standing in the same position in the Hebrew word for "thou shalt live." Christian writers have not unnaturally seen in it a quasi-prophetic reference to the sign of the cross as used by Christians, and it is possible that the use of that sign in baptism may have originated in this passage. That was to be the sign of the elect of God in the midst of a world lying in wickedness. Possibly in older as in later forms of idolatry (as eg. in the cultus of Mithras, Vishnu, Sehiva), the votaries of this or that deity may have been distinguished by some outward note of this kind; but of this, though suggested by Currey, I do not find any evidence. It is clear, however, that there could be no anticipation of the Christian symbolism in the minds of Ezeldel or of his hearers. The "mark" was to be placed on all who were still faithful to the worship of their fathers, though they could show their faithfulness only by lamentation of the national apostasy. Such, of course, were Jeremiah, and Baruch, and Ahikam, and Shaphan, and Gedaliah, and others, and such as these Ezekiel may have had present in his thoughts. Against all others (verse 5) they were sent forth with unsparing severity.
Begin at my sanctuary, etc. It was fitting that the spot in which guilt had culminated should be the starting point of punishment. There seems something like a reference to this command in 1 Peter 4:17. In each ease judgment "begins at the house of God." So the dread work began with the ancient men, or elders, of the same class, i.e; if not the same persons, as those in Ezekiel 8:11.
Defile the house, etc. What Ezekiel saw in vision was, we may well believe, fulfilled literally when the city was taken by the Chaldeans. The pollution of the temple by the bleeding corpses of the idolatrous worshippers was a fitting retribution for the worship with which they had polluted it (comp. Ezekiel 6:13).
I fell upon my face, etc. The ministers of vengeance and the prophet were left in the courts of the temple alone. His human, national sympathies led him, as they led Moses (Numbers 11:2; Numbers 14:19) and St. Paul (Romans 9:1-3) to undertake the work of intercession. With the words which had been the keynote of Isaiah's prophecies, probably present to his thoughts (Isaiah 37:32, et al.), he asks whether Jehovah will indeed destroy all that remnant of Israel (comp. Ezekiel 11:13) who might be as the germ of hope for the future.
Then said he unto me. The answer holds out but little comfort. The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah (we note the coupling of the names though Judah only was the immediate subject of the vision, as if his prayer had gone up for the whole body of the twelve tribes) was immeasurably great. Not idolatry only, but its natural fruits, bloodshed and oppression, had eaten into the life of the nation (comp. Ezekiel 7:11, Ezekiel 7:12; Ezekiel 8:17; Ezekiel 22:25). And these evils had their root in the practical atheism of the denials which had been already uttered in Ezekiel 8:12. and which are here reproduced. The unpitying aspect of God's judgments is, for the present, dominant, and the work must be thorough. One notes how the despair of the prophet leads him to forget those who were to have the mark upon their foreheads, who were indeed the true "remnant." Like Elijah, he does not know of any such (1 Kings 19:10); like Jeremiah, he searches through the streets of Jerusalem, and cannot find one righteous man (Jeremiah 5:1).
And, behold, etc. The speaker in the previous verses had been none other than the Presence which remained upon the cherubic lotto, while the seven ministers did their work. The captain of the seven now returns to report, as an officer to his king, that the work has been accomplished.
A writer's inkhorn.
Here was a singular contrast. When Jerusalem was about to be given over to slaughter, six armed men went forth for the work of destruction, their accoutrements and military bearing quite in harmony with the dread circumstances of the day; but accompanied by a most incongruous companion, a civilian, one of the city clerks, perhaps, with no better ammunition than an inkhorn. When, however, the work of this man of ink is apparent, his function is seen to be of supreme importance in regard to the events of the day; for he it is who is to set a mark on the foreheads of the penitent, which is to save them from the otherwise indiscriminate slaughter.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF THE INKHORN. Writing was but slenderly used in those early days; yet even then the pen was known and used. Since that distant age how greatly has its power extended! It is now par excellence the tool and weapon of civilized society. From the inkhorn go forth influences that encircle the globe and endure to many generations. The writer at his desk uses his magic fluid as an elixir vitae for ideas which would otherwise he still born and be speedily buried in oblivion. By means of this potent agency he is able to give body and endurance to the fleeting fancies of the hour. The greatest truths are thus preserved and transmitted. If there had been no inkhorn, we should have had no Bible. Civilization has grown up on the food of literature. The sword destroys; the pen creates. When the work of the warrior is lost in the wreck of ages, the work of the writer still endures. The victories of Nebuchadnezzar have left not a shadow behind them; but the Psalms of David are more powerful today than when the sweet singer of Israel first chanted them to his shepherd's harp.
II. THE MISSION OF THE INKHORN. This fearful power of writing may be put to hurtful or frivolous uses. It may disseminate poisonous ideas. Bad literature is worse than the plague. In private life the pen may record scandal that had better have been forgotten; it may write spiteful words that will rankle in the mind of the leader who peruses them long years after the heedless writer has forgotten that he ever committed the folly of putting them to paper. The power of the pen is a warning to the humblest writer to beware of what he sets down. But there is a noble use of this power. The man with the inkhorn in Ezekiel's vision was to mark the penitent, and so to secure their being passed over in the great slaughter by the men of the sword. It is nobler to save than to destroy. The arts of peace are better than the science of war. Pure literature should be a saving and protecting influence. They who have the thoughts of God written on their minds and hearts may be said to be marked against the advent of the destroyer. All who have the gift or the vocation of writing are called to a career which should be one of help to their fellow men. The literary man is tempted to be indolent and selfish, to dream his life away without coming into contact with the misery of his fellow men, and without doing much to alleviate that misery. Ezekiel's man of the inkhorn, however, is to leave his desk and walk through the streets. He is to use his ink to save his fellows. When a city is perishing it is no time to write idle sonnets.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE INKHORN. The man with the inkhorn was required to give an account of his use of it (see verse 11). This is a talent which the great Master expects to be used for his glory. Abuse of it is sin. Now, there are special temptations to such an abuse.
1. The love of fame. This leads to writing what will be admiral rather than what is good and true.
2. The greed of money. The gift of writing is prostituted to a shameful use when a man writes for pay contrary to his conscience and his convictions.
3. The sense of power. A writer is tempted to set down striking words, even if they should not be quite true, or though, perhaps, they should needlessly pain some fellow man. Smartness is often cruel. Writing, like every other act of life, needs to be consecrated to Christ and executed for his glory.
The mark upon the forehead.
I. THE PENITENT ARE TO HAVE A MARK UPON THEIR FOREHEADS. "The men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations" are to be marked on the forehead by the man with the inkhorn. God looks for confession of sin and repentance. He does not expect primitive innocence, because we have all lost that fair grace of Eden; but he desires to see our admission of guilt and our sorrow for sin. The penitent publican is accepted (Luke 18:13). The woman who washed Christ's feet with her tears is forgiven (Luke 7:37-48). Such a condition involves certain experiences.
1. A recognition of the fact of guilt. We are often just blind to sin. It is one great step gained when we abandon excuses and admit the charges God has against us.
2. A sense of sorrow for sin. These men "sigh." It is worse to admit guilt and to pride ourselves in it, or regard it with indifference, making light of sin, than to be ignorant of its enormity.
3. A public confession. These men "cry." They are known among their companions as penitents. Such are the men whom God marks.
II. THE PENITENT ARE TO BE SAVED BY THE MARK ON THEIR FOREHEADS. When the slayers go about with their swords they are to spare all who have the mark. The use of this inkmark on the forehead is like the use of the blood smeared on the doorposts of the Hebrews on the night when the destroying angel went about to slay the firstborn of Egypt. God does not punish indiscriminately. In the midst of wrath he remembers mercy. There is a way of escape from Divine vengeance. When we repent of our sin he is ready to forgive and save.
1. The mark is set by a Divine command. The penitent do not mark themselves, nor do they mark one another. There may be wolves in sheep's clothing in Christ's flock. The seeming penitent may be a hypocrite; but "the Lord knoweth them that are his."
2. The mark is conspicuous. "On the forehead," not on some hidden part of the body. There can be no mistake about it. Men may be disowned by their brethren, but God will not forget his own.
III. THE MARK OF THE PENITENT IS TYPICAL OF THE GRACE OF CHRIST. This whole scene is visionary. We may find in it illustrations of more than the people of the time guessed, or even the prophet himself dreamed. According to the best interpretation of the text, the mark seems to have been a cross. The penitent had the sign of the cross drawn in ink upon their foreheads. In Egypt the Hebrews sprinkled blood on their door posts. Look at these two symbols—a cross; sprinkled blood! Both are for the same object—to secure deliverance. Surely we have here, at least, most apt illustrations of the Christian redemption. No mere inkmark of the cross, nor sacramental wine, can effect spiritual deliverance. But the cross and blood of Christ, i.e. the giving of his life for us and to us, secure our salvation. We must see to it, however, that this cross, this "mark of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians 6:17), is on each one of us individually.
Beginning at the sanctuary.
The apostles, when entering on their missionary labours, were to "begin at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). The destroying messengers were to begin their direful work at the sanctuary.
I. THERE IS NO PROTECTION IN THE SANCTUARY. Some might flee to the holy shrine as to an asylum. This was done at heathen temples, and later at Christian churches, and no doubt in rude, violent ages, the pause of vengeance which such places afforded, like the use of the "cities of refuge" for the innocent manslayer, would then serve the purpose of justice. But this would be needless with God, because he is never hasty nor unjust, but slow to anger, and only taking just vengeance. Moreover, the asylum can never be a permanent protection for the guilty, and Ezekiel's Jews at the temple are guilty.
1. No holy place can secure us against God's wrath. We are not saved by attending church. The bad man who dies at church will go to the same fate that would have awaited him if he had dropped dead in his familiar haunts of debauchery.
2. No holy office will secure us without holy living. They who minister at the altar are not spared because of their sacred function. Priests share the doom of laity. Dante and Michael Angelo locate bishops in hell. The cardinal's hat appears in Fra Angelico's picture of the prison of lost souls. We shall not escape the punishment of our sins by putting on clerical vestments.
II. THE GREATEST GUILT IS FOUND IN THE SANCTUARY. No doubt the punishment was to begin there because the worst sin was practised in that place. The previous chapter gives an account of the abominations of the "chambers of imagery" in the temple. Many things concur to make the sins of the sanctuary great.
1. They are sins committed against light. The sins of Christians are worse than the same deeds done by the heathen, because Christians know the evil of them. People brought up under religious influences have not the excuse which may be pleaded for the poor waifs and strays of the streets.
2. They are sins committed by men who profess better things. Hypocrisy is thus added to the guilt of the offences themselves.
3. They are stumbling blocks to others. Where a good example is looked for, people see the shame of a hypocritical pretence. This is enough to destroy all faith in religion.
4. They are dishonouring to God. The holy place is desecrated. Where God should be most honoured his Name is most outraged.
III. THE DOOM OF THE SANCTUARY IS A WARNING TO THE WORLD. The beautiful temple of Solomon was burnt; Jerusalem itself was destroyed; the Jews were scattered. These things were done in part for our warning. They show that great guilt will surely bring great punishment. They make it evident that no favouritism will prevent God from punishing the guilty. The members of a Christian Church will have no immunity on account of their membership, nor will pious phrases condone impious deeds. The bosom of destruction wilt make a thorough search of the most secret refuges when God does begin the dreadful work. Let us flee from the sanctuary to the Saviour.
The temple defiled.
The Jews had a horror of death, and regarded a corpse with disgust as an unclean thing, the presence of which would defile the most holy place, and the touch of which would render unclean any person who came in contact with it. Therefore a massacre in the temple would defile that sanctuary in the eyes of the nation by filling it with scenes of death, and strewing its courts with abhorred dead bodies. The irony of such a conception lies in the fact that the aggravated abominations of idolatry and vice which brought down this fate on the doomed temple had not been regarded as any defilement. So it was when the Jews feared to enter Pilate's palace lest the consequent defilement should prevent them from eating the Passover, although the stain of murder on their consciences was not reckoned to be any impediment (John 18:28). Thus men strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.
I. SIN LEADS TO AN UNDUE PREFERENCE OF THE EXTERNAL TO THE INTERNAL.
1. This is caused by the deadening influence of sin. The once keen conscience is blunted, and the perception of real evil dulled, so that what should be regarded with loathing is tolerated with indifference. At the same time, the conventional standards by which questions of outward propriety are measured remain undiminished. The loss of the higher standards then gives these lower ones a fictitious supremacy. The fog which hides the eternal mountains of Divine righteousness magnifies the petty hillocks of human opinion.
2. This is illustrated in all phases of experience. Not only is more thought of external than of internal defilement in religion; external things generally take the lead. The punishment of a sin is more considered than the evil of the sin itself. Shame is treated as worse than guilt. The word "character" comes to be transferred from interior disposition to public reputation. A social stigma is dreaded, while undiscovered sin is harboured complacently.
II. REAL DEFILEMENT IS MORAL AND INTERNAL. It is those things which proceed out of a man that defile him (Matthew 15:18), because they spring from the centre of all true evil, the heart of man.
1. The sanctuary of worship is only defiled by the corrupt conduct of the worshippers. Pompey could not really defile the sacred courts by trampling rudely over the holy ground. The true abomination of desolation was the sin of the Jews. A church is desecrated by worldliness and evil thoughts in the worshippers.
2. The temple of the body is only defiled by unholy conduct. It is a mere symbol of this defilement when contact with a corpse is thought to render the person unclean. Contact with sinful occupations is the real defilement. When this temple of the Holy Ghost is turned into a depository of evil, its glory departs. It is not the dead flesh of a corpse, but living carnality that defiles. When this rottenness is cut out no external defilement can hurt, for then "to the pure all things are pure."
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF INTERNAL DEFILEMENT IS OUTWARD SHAME. The Jews are to have the temple defiled in this external manner as a punishment for the previous moral degradation of it. In the end sin blossoms into shame. The commission of sin may be hidden, but the punishment of it will be public. In God's great day the secrets of all hearts will be revealed. Then hypocrisy will cease, and the external will be a true index to the internal The defiled soul will be seen in a foul body; the corruption of heart will be punished by the degradation of all things that a man prizes. The only way of escape is by a previous confusion of the soul corruption, and the cleansing of the heart from its defilement through the grace of Christ (Psalms 51:7).
The inexorable God.
We are so accustomed to dwell upon the forbearance, long suffering, and merciful disposition of God, that the inexorable character of his righteousness is not sufficiently considered. There are conditions in which he cannot show mercy.
I. GOD WILL NOT SPARE THE IMPENITENT. He pardons on condition of repentance. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). But if we will not humble ourselves to admit our guilt, nor cease to court and favour the things that God hates, it is simply impossible that he should regard us with complacency.
II. GOD WILL NOT SPARE ANY FAVOURED PERSONS. The perpetual fallacy of Israel lay in considering itself a privileged nation, sure of the favour of God in spite of its own unfaithfulness, instead of understanding that it stood under covenant relations with him which involved a loyal observance of certain conditions if the Divine blessings were to be received. Christians are in danger of flattering themselves with a similar delusion, nod cast off his own people the Jews when they were faithless. God will cast off a faithless Church. Christians who break away from Christ will merit and will receive the "wrath of the Lamb." Those in highest positions in the Church will find. no immunity. No excuses will be available for real guilt.
III. GOD WILL NOT SPARE ANY SIN. He means to destroy sin. If the sinner hold to it and identify his fate with it he must come under the destruction. If he cast it off as an alien, hateful, deadly thing—a viper that he has plucked from his bosom—God will destroy the sin. In the discipline of the Christian life God is always fighting against sin. He will not cease till he has killed the last of the vile brood of the serpent. Christ has come as the friend of the sinner, and therefore as the enemy of his sin. "He will throughly purge his floor," etc. (Matthew 3:12).
IV. GOD WILL NOT SPARE ANY NEEDFUL CHASTISEMENT. It hurts the kind parent to have to chastise his son. Yet it would be an unkindness and a selfishness to spare himself the pain of inflicting wholesome punishment. The surgeon has a steadier hand than the soldier. His knife is more inexorable than the sword of war. The very fact that it cuts to heal makes it the more strong and certain. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth" (Hebrews 12:6). Therefore the chastisement which love inspires is the more certain to fall.
V. GOD DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON (Romans 8:32.) In the sacrifice of Christ God showed the firmness and strength of his love to us. A weak and soft love would not have gone to so great a cost. Even the tears of Gethsemane did not move the inexorable God, though, of course, this was really with the consent of Christ, who freely gave himself for as, and to whom therefore no wrong was done.
The completed task.
A man with an inkhorn had been sent round Jerusalem to set a cross on the foreheads of all penitent persons, and so to mark them for protection against the terrible coming slaughter. This pleasant task had been performed, and the messenger now returned, saying, "I have done as thou hast commanded me." These words are a suitable motto for a completed task.
I. THE SERVANT OF GOD IS REQUIRED TO DO AS HIS MASTER COMMANDS HIM. He is not only required to serve, he is also required to obey; i.e. he is not merely to work for the benefit of his Master, he is to do what his Master wishes. Thus obedience is more than service; and it is harder of performance.
1. He should have a single eye to his Master's will. Possibly this may be contrary to his own inclinations, and even opposed to what he imagines would be most serviceable towards the end in view. Men may criticize, advise, mock, threaten. The servant of God must be ready to reply with St. Peter, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye," etc. (Acts 4:19). The will of God—in the revelation of the Bible, the example of Christ, and a man's own conscience—is the one sole authority. With the enlightened liberty of Christianity this does not come as a blind law, but appealing to conviction. Yet still, when thus we know the right, there is an end of the matter. The servant of God is then like the famous Six Hundred.
2. He has only to accomplish his Master's will. The man with the inkhorn has simply to mark the penitent—not to rescue them, build a castle in which to hide them, fight on their behalf, The Christian soldier is to preach the gospel to every creature. The results he must have with God. Moreover, each is just to do his own part, and not to distress himself because he cannot also do his neighbour's work. The terrible burden of the world would seem less if we realized our responsibility as lying just in obedience.
II. THE JOY OF THE SERVANT OF GOD IS IN ACCOMPLISHING THE TASK HIS MASTER LAYS UPON HIM. God does not put upon his servants harder work than they can perform by his aid. Now we have to face our tasks, and perhaps they appear toilsome and formidable. It will be a most happy thing to be able to look back upon them as accomplished. Not, indeed, that any one perfectly fulfils the Master's commands. Christ alone could cry, in the fullest sense of the words, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). Yet St. Paul could say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). And Christ will welcome his true steward with the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23).
1. There is the joy of accomplishment. The task of a Sisyphus is one of the tortures of Tartarus. The aimlessness of the walk of the treadmill gives the sting to the convict's punishment. There is a joy in accomplishment. Each stage passed, each height climbed, each task done, brings its own joy—a joy of which the indolent can have no conception. The true servant will say -
"And I will ask for no reward,
Except to serve thee still."
2. There is the joy of the Master's approval. Christ makes obedience the condition of his friendship (John 15:14).
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The mark of spiritual concern.
The defection and idolatry already described in the previous chapter could neither be disregarded nor unavenged. A nation that bad enjoyed privileges so conspicuously great as Israel, and that had, in spite of all such privileges, apostatized from the God to whom they owed everything that distinguished them from the surrounding nations, had written its own sentence of condemnation. But the Divine retribution is never undiscriminating. The laws of national life are such that the righteous are often slain with the wicked; but their calamity is not a sign of Divine displeasure. And above this earth, upon which anomalies are ever witnessed—anomalies calling for both submission and faith—there is a region where perfect discrimination is ever exhibited. This passage teaches a precious lesson. The Judge of all the earth will do right; he will separate the wheat from the chaff. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." They bear his own mark, the impress of his own seal. They shall be delivered in the judgment that shall overtake the disobedient and rebellious. The Divine Priest of salvation himself gives the direction, "Come not near any man upon whom is the mark!"
I. THE PREVALENCE OF MORAL ABOMINATIONS IN A COMMUNITY. The various idolatries that had been brought into Jerusalem had led the population of that city into error and sin. Even in the neighbourhood and the precincts of the temple itself the worship and the practices of the heathen prevailed unchecked. A holy God, and commandments righteous and pure, were forsaken for deities and for rites which were the expression of human degradation and corruption. Where is the community in which there is nothing parallel to the state of things at Jerusalem in the time of Ezekiel? Wealth, luxury, pleasure, a worldly standard of judgment and of life, are too often substituted for the lofty and exacting religion of the Lord Jesus Christ. With irreligion come vice and crime in varying forms. Abominations are wrought in every great city in Christendom at which angels may weep.
II. THE RETRIBUTIVE JUDGMENT OF GOD. The six men with the battle axes, whom the prophet saw in his vision, were directed to execute a righteous sentence upon the inhabitants of the city; they were without pity to slay the sinful and rebellious of every age and every class. There is something awful in the resolve of the Lord, as recorded by the prophet, "I will recompense their way upon their head." No one who has studied the history of the nations of the earth will question the action of a retributive Providence. In the facts which meet us there is indeed much that perplexes us; but we are not left in doubt as to the fate of the selfish, the worldly, the unjust, the cruel, the voluptuous, in a word, the idolatrous, those who forget and forsake God. However it may be hereafter, there is no room for questioning how it is in this world with those who rebel against God.
III. THE INDIFFERENCE WITH WHICH PREVAILING INIQUITY IS TOO GENERALLY REGARDED. Such indifference is sometimes justified by argument: as when men say that the world's sin is fated and inevitable, and that it is needless and useless to trouble ourselves concerning it. But generally this is merely a sign of selfishness and hardness of heart. Men shut their eyes and deafen their ears to the evidences of prevailing sin; to recognize it would disagreeably disturb them in their pursuits, their pleasures, their dreams.
IV. THE SUFFERING AND DISTRESS OCCASIONED TO THE TRUE PEOPLE OF GOD BY THE SPECTACLE OF ABOUNDING INIQUITY. There are those, thank God, in every community of professed Christians who are not unaffected by the abominations which are done. They mark their sense of prevailing sin by their protests and rebukes, by their confessions and prayers, by their practical efforts for the improvement of their fellow men, and especially by their zeal in the proclamation of the gospel and in the furtherance of all means employed to bring before the minds of sinners the character, the ministry, the redeeming work of him who came "to seek and to save that which was lost."
V. THIS SPIRITUAL CONCERN A MARK OF GOD'S SPECIAL FAVOUR, AND A SIGN OF FUTURE SALVATION. It was a common practice, and indeed still is, in the East, to set a mark upon the forehead of the deity worshipped, and upon the forehead of the worshipper. The practice is alluded to in other passages besides this in Ezekiel. The priest and intercessor placed the sign upon those who sighed and cried because of the abominations; and they were exempted from the general calamities and destruction. In this provision is a great spiritual truth. We should commit a mistake did we understand an outward and visible sign merely. This may be present or absent. It is the Lord's own prerogative to mark his own people, to recognize their earnest spiritual concern, to assure them of his own favour and approval as partaking the sentiments, if it may so be expressed with reverence, of his own nature, and to secure them for the coming tribulation, to hide them as in the cleft of the rock, and to enrich them with the blessings of eternal salvation. There is no truer mark of the Divine Spirit than sorrow for prevalent sin, and solicitude for the cause of truth and righteousness.—T.
Begin at the sanctuary!
The vision which Ezekiel saw, and which brought vividly before his mind the moral state of his country's metropolis, contained no feature more painful than the representation of the idolatry prevailing in the very precincts of the temple itself. He saw twenty-five men, apparently representing the priesthood, turning their backs towards the temple of the Lord, and their faces towards the east, and worshipping the rising sun. Upon these, as the most flagrant and inexcusable offenders, the righteous retribution first fell. Those most highly privileged are by that very fact most evidently responsible; and unfaithfulness upon their part deserves and will receive sorer condemnation.
I. THOSE SPECIALLY EMPLOYED IN RELIGIOUS SERVICES ARE SPECIALLY BOUND TO WATCHFULNESS, SENSITIVENESS, AND ACTIVITY IN THE PRESENCE OF MORAL ABOMINATIONS. A profession of religion, much more occupation in the ministrations of religion, imposes a peculiar responsibility; for religion is essentially in antagonism to error, to superstition, and to vice. Yet there have been periods in which ministers even of the true religion have been lax in their own conduct, and have connived at prevailing error. There is an obligation on the part of every one who, by reason of office, employment, and public position, is a representative of Christianity, to aim at the prevalence of Christian principles throughout the community.
II. THOSE WHO, BEING PROFESSEDLY MINISTERS OF RELIGION, ARE YET NEGLIGENT AND INDIFFERENT IN THE PRESENCE OF FLAGRANT SIN, ARE IN A SPECIAL MANNER OBJECTS OF DIVINE DISPLEASURE. It is not only in privilege and blessing that the sanctuary takes precedence. Unfaithfulness there is observed and reprehended as sin of the first magnitude. Retribution begins at the sanctuary. How should they be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord! God is indeed forbearing towards the failings and infirmities of his true servants. But the insincere and hypocritical are the objects of Divine aversion; those of such character who occupy positions of prominence and influence are regarded as abusing their position and as forfeiting all claim to confidence.
III. THE UNFAITHFUL IN THE SANCTUARY ARE THE FIRST TO FEEL THE NATION'S CHASTISEMENT. There is a well known proverb, "Like priest, like people." A corrupt clergy encourages national degeneration. And when such degeneration issues in national calamity and destruction, it is but just that these who have fostered evil principles should be the first to suffer. This has happened again and again in the world's history. Those who should have led the people aright, who should have enjoyed the people's confidence and esteem, have too often been the agents in their deterioration; and when the time of trial has come, they have lust their influence, forfeited the position they abused, and paid for their unfaithfulness with the ruin of their reputation, and even with the loss of their life. The destruction which has involved a nation has begun at the sanctuary.—T.
The very word "obedience" is to some minds offensive and repulsive. Association may connect it with tyranny, and then it suggests harshness and severity on the one side, and merely compulsory submission on the other. But to the right minded no word is more welcome, for no moral quality is more honourable. The son obeys the wishes of his father; the soldier, the sailor, render immediate obedience to the word of command; to the school boy who is worthy of his advantages, his master's will is law; the ambassador lives to carry out the instructions of the court by which he is commissioned. In fact, all through human life, especially in civilized and Christian communities, command and obedience are universal principles, binding society together. In the text we have an example of obedience rendered by one of his servants to the most high God; the profession of obedience here made is distinguished by remarkable simplicity and dignity.
I. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE IS BASED UPON PERSONAL RELATIONS. There is natural law, which, in a certain sense, we may be said to obey, but with no voluntary adoption or choice. Being, so far as the body is concerned, subject to physical law, we are to that extent obedient without the moral quality and virtue of obedience. But law in its proper sense is the imposition of the will of a superior upon that of an inferior. Law of this kind is not always just, is not always deserving of reverence. The despot commands, and his trembling subject may obey; the slave driver commands, and the slave may from fear render unquestioning obedience. But, on the other hand, there are human relations which involve wise directions and willing compliance. And such are, in a sense, the copy of that beneficent relation which subsists between the Creator and his subject man. Mind comes into contact with mind. "I have done as thou hast commanded me." The language brings the personalities into closest contact. The obedient is impelled, not by regard for his interests or by fears lest he suffer, but by the recognition of the personal right of God. It is always well, in the religious life, to look through the Law to the Lawgiver, through the decision to the Judge, through the fatherly word to the Father himself.
II. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE INVOLVES AUTHORITY AND SUBJECTION. Authority is not, as has sometimes been taught, an invention of human ingenuity for the promotion of human convenience. In its essence it is Divine. It is something quite different from power, and something far higher. In human nature and in human society, authority is sometimes unaccompanied by power; force even usurps its proper place. Human beings are fallible in wisdom and imperfect in goodness; and it often happens that the exercise of authority is unjust and hateful. But the authority of God is always exercised with wisdom and with justice. Obedience to man is always a qualified, whilst obedience to God is an absolute, duty. The Divine will is indeed binding, and for this reason—that the Divine judgment is always supremely excellent. In fact, every command of God is the utterance of the Infinite Reason. There is moral authority in God's commands, which our judgment and conscience spontaneously acknowledge.
III. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE IS MOTIVED AND INSPIRED BY GRATEFUL LOVE. There is much obedience rendered by man to man, merely upon compulsion, under the influence of fear. And there are those who, under similar motives, seek to serve God. Veneration for the Lawgiver, and admiration of commandments in themselves excellent and beautiful, constrain some men to devote themselves to a life of obedience. But the distinctively Christian obedience is that which is rendered from gratitude and affection to the Saviour. When his mission to earth is truly understood; when it is perceived that it was pity which led him to undertake the work of redemption; when not only his labours, but his sufferings and sacrifice, are pondered and appreciated;—then love may well enkindle love, and those for whom Christ died may well ask what they shall render for all the benefits they receive from and through him. Who would not do anything to evince loyalty, affection, and gratitude, to a Friend so self-sacrificing, a Saviour so compassionate? Our Lord Jesus himself relied upon these motives. He did indeed claim obedience as his right: "Why call ye me Master and Lord, and do not the things which I say?" But he also asked obedience as a proof of response to his friendship: "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you;" "If ye love me, keep my commandments."
"'Tis love that makes our willing feet
In swift obedience move."
IV. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE OVERCOMES NATURAL REPUGNANCE TO ANY COURSE OF ACTION PRESCRIBED BY DIVINE AUTHORITY. We have an illustration of this in the context. The special vocation of the man with the inkhorn was to set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sighed and cried for all the abominations that were done; yet he seems also to have had charge of the officers of the city to whom was entrusted the awful task of punishment and destruction. The work of deliverance was agreeable and grateful; the work of chastisement and slaughter must have been painful and distressing. Yet in both directions the will of the rightful Lord and King was done; and the report was rendered of the fulfilment in all their completeness of the royal commands. It happens to us all now and again to be called to undertake some service from which we shrink, to which by our temperament and habits we are naturally averse. But obedience has to be rendered, not only when the commands given harmonize with our predilections, but when they arc sorely opposed to our natural or acquired tastes and inclinations. But rightful orders must be obeyed. As in the case of the Six Hundred—
"Theirs not to reason why;
Theirs not to make reply:
Theirs but to do and die."
So in the case of many a child of God, many a soldier of Christ, orders are known to be issued upon Divine authority which can only be obeyed at the risk of wealth, or reputation, or life. But such considerations have to be dismissed. Once satisfied that the commandments are Divine, the subject renders, if not a happy, yet a willing obedience. It is not to be expected that, in this imperfect state of being, obedience should always be enjoyment, though the aim of every Christian should be to say, with his Master, "I delight to do thy will, O my God!"
V. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE YIELDS SATISFACTION TO THE CONSCIENCE, If pleasure does not always accompany and follow true service, approval will not fail. Upon the grave of a great philanthropist may be read these lines -
"He does well who does his best.
Brothers! I have done my best:
I am weary: let me rest."
There may be something of self-righteousness in these lines. Here is an epitaph, however, which may be placed over any faithful servant of Christ—
"Life's work well done;
Life's course well run;
Life's crown well won:
Now comes rest."
There is, however, no reflection upon a life of obedience to compare in grandeur and beauty with that recorded to have been uttered by our Lord himself, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." To have given up one's own will, to have accepted the will of Heaven, to have toiled and suffered as an obedient son and servant in God's cause,—this is the better part, which will endure the retrospect of life's closing hour.
VI. RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE SECURES ACCEPTANCE AND REWARD FROM THE SUPREME RULER HIMSELF. If rebellion is, in the sight of God, man's one great error and sin, obedience is, in his sight, above all things acceptable. Every man who is saved is indeed saved by grace; but all are judged by their works. The good pleasure of the King promotes to higher service as the reward of diligence and fidelity. And there can be no words so welcome at the last as these, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The hour of judgment.
As among men there are magistrates' sessions as well as the great assizes, so also God has seasons for the local administration of justice, as well as the final judgment. In fact, God is always upon his judicial seat, always meting out justice to the various orders of his creatures. If he ceased to judge, he would cease to rule.
I. MARK THE SUPREMACY OF GOD'S JUDICIAL VOICE. The last chapter finished with the declaration, "Though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them;" this chapter begins with the statement, "He cried in mine ears with a loud voice."
1. The season for prayer was exhausted. Examination of Israel's case had terminated. The verdict had passed, and nothing now remained but execution. Prayer on the part of the condemned, at this point, would be merely a selfish thing. It would bring no good. It would be out of harmony with God's plans and with righteous law.
2. The voice of God subjugates and overpowers all other voices. It is a voice of creation: "He spake, and it was done." It is a voice of life: "Awake thou that sleepest!" It is a voice of judicial destruction: "Depart, ye cursed, into outer darkness!" The voice that Ezekiel heard was a loud voice. The prophet could not question its reality nor mistake its utterance. It overcame the prophet's unwillingness to hear judgment pronounced. It drowned all dissentient voices. Nothing was heard save this. "The voice of the Lord shaketh the mountains."
II. GOD'S SERVANTS ARE FOUND AMONG ALL ORDERS OF CREATURES. This earth is not an isolated kingdom; it is a province of God's great realm. The persons hers summoned to appear for the execution of Jehovah's will are, without doubt, angels, though to the prophet's vision they seemed in form like men. As we read of angels who are appointed the guardians of little children, so we learn that certain angels are ordained guardians of cities and nations. To Daniel the angel spake of "Michael, your prince"—"the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people." The history of the Hebrew people is full of instances in which the angels of God were despatched either for the rescue or for the destruction of men. The Most High is unchangeable; and inasmuch as a destroying angel had executed God's vengeance on the idolators of Egypt, so now angels are employed to slay the idolaters in Israel. Yet there is singular economy in all God's arrangements. The number of these officers of justice was six, so that one might issue from each of the six gates of the city. The ministers of vengeance shall neither be too many nor too few. Eventually the Chaldean armies should he God's agents in the punishment of the Hebrews; still, these would act under the generalship of the heavenly principalities and powers.
III. THE WORK OF JUSTICE PROCEEDS SIDE BY SIDE WITH THAT OF MERCY. Along with the six officers appointed to destroy was one differently clad, whose work was to save. His clothing was the attire of peace—white linen—i.e. the dress of a true priest. Against six destroyers there was one protector, which denoted how few was the number of the faithful. They were to have a distinguishing mark in the most conspicuous place—in their foreheads. The owner of the flock will take care to put his own sign-manual on his sheep. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." In every time of trouble "he has hidden them in his pavilion—in the secret of his tabernacle will he hide them." Noah and his family in the ark; Lot and his daughters in Zoar; the early Christians sale in Pella when Jerusalem was destroyed;—these are evidences of God's special care of his chosen. He accounts them his jewels, and in times of danger holds them in the hollow of his hand. Not only had they not connived at the idolatry, but their souls were distressed on account of it. They had besought with tears their brethren to desist from the evil thing. Their holy zeal shall have a conspicuous reward.
IV. GOD'S SERVANTS HAVE LIKE DISPOSITIONS WITH HIMSELF. God had described the emotions and purposes of his mind thus: "Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity." And now he requires his officers to cherish the selfsame sentiments: "Lot not your eye spare, neither have ye pity." To be a servant of God, and the executioner of his will, we must be like minded with himself. Only such does God employ on work of high importance. Eye and heart must be as God's. Following the tendencies of natural temperament, some servants of God would be too lenient, some too harsh. In such matters we must be sure that we arc doing God's will, not indulging our own. Private spleen, and merely natural bias, must be completely repressed. Our feeling and temper and will must be chastened by almighty grace, in order that we may be the servants of God. His will must find a full response in our will.
V. RETRIBUTION IS EQUITABLE AND COMPLETE. There is no miscarriage of justice in God's court, and in his retributions there is no excess. The equity of the destruction is seen in that it begins at the sanctuary. The ringleaders in rebellion shall be foremost in the punishment. That sacred place is sacred no longer. God has withdrawn his presence; therefore all privilege is extinguished. It had been a sanctuary for the oppressed, for the unfortunate, for the fugitive in war; but it shall be no refuge for rebels defiant against God—no refuge for sin. Mere sentiment about the traditional sacredness of the place must yield to sterner virtues—must yield to practical and primitive righteousness. Better that every sanctuary of religion be defiled with bloodshed, than that they be nests of immorality, cesspools of vice! If the reality be gone, it is a common injury to maintain the appearance. And God's retributions will be complete. They will spare none. We may hesitate respecting the justice of destroying "little children;" yet we can repose confidently on the bosom of the eternal Father, and say, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" To our limited view the administration of supreme justice may sometimes be veiled in "clouds and darkness;" but we can afford to wait the fuller disclosures of the truth. "What we know not now, we shall know hereafter."—D.
In every age good men have felt an internal constraint to intercede for the guilty. Love to God always produces love to men.
I. INTERCESSION FOR THE GUILTY IS PRAISEWORTHY. Ezekiel felt that, though surrounded by the slain, his own life had been spared. A proper sense of God's compassion to us awakens similar compassion for others. It is a noble sentiment, and God does not discourage it. It sheds a blessing in the breast of him who cherishes it. Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul, are notable examples of earnest intercessors for their fellows.
II. INTERCESSION FOR THE GUILTY SHOULD BE MADE IN GREAT HUMILITY. Ezekiel "fell upon his face." This was most seemly. For, on the surface of our appeal, it would seem as if an imperfect man were more possessed with pity than is God. Yet this can never be. The tiny rill can never rise higher than the fount. One beam of light can never outvie the sun. Nor can we suppose that any element of extenuation has been overlooked by the comprehensive mind of God. In fact. reflection at such time is quiescent; the intercessor yields for the moment to the impulse of feeling. Nevertheless, intercession is proper and becoming; for who can tell but that God has predetermined to grant delay or reprieve on condition that intercession be made? We must stoop if we would conquer.
III. INTERCESSION FOR THE GUILTY MUST ALWAYS BE SUBORDINATE TO THE INTERESTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The prophet evidently had due regard to the honour of God, while he sought a reprieve for men. To blot out the very nation which he had aforetime so protected and blessed, would (in the eyes of the heathen) have been a dishonour. But the approval of the good among angels and among men was more precious, deserved more consideration, than the opinion of idolatrous nations. The well being of the universe is intertwined with the maintenance of righteousness; and, at all costs, righteousness must be upheld. Already God had provided fur the safety of the faithful few; but to the eye of the prophet the few seemed as nothing. Yet, if we had larger faith, we should have less anxiety for the Church's weal.
IV. INTERCESSION, THOUGH APPARENTLY UNSUCCESSFUL, BRINGS SOME ADVANTAGE. Though Abraham, in pleading for Sodom, was apparently unsuccessful, he was not really so. No prayer is fruitless. God was not displeased with Ezekiel's intercession. He condescended to reason with him. He showed him yet more clearly the magnitude of Israel's sin. He showed him how that, if he did not destroy evil men, the evil men in Israel would slay the pious: "The land is full of blood." He impressed on the prophet's heart yet more deeply the sanctity of law and equity. The severest punishment was simply "recompense"—their proper wages. By such intercession the prophet is the better equipped for his future work.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Divine discrimination in the execution of judgment.
"He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near," etc. In the preceding chapter the various forms of idolatry which were practised in Jerusalem, and by which the Lord Jehovah was provoked, were set forth; and now Ezekiel beholds in vision the treatment which God was about to deal out to the people by reason of their provocations. We observe—
I. THAT THE AGENTS OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS ARE EVER READY TO EXECUTE HIS COMMANDS. "He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand," etc. (verses 1, 2). Instead of "Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near," Hengstenberg translates, "The visitations of the city draw near;" and Schroder, "Near are the visitations of the city." These six must be angels, heavenly watchers over the city; or, perhaps, as Bunsen says, "the punishing and destroying angels," who are now to execute the Divine retribution. They are spoken of as men, because they appeared in human form, in which form angels appeared unto Abraham (Genesis 18:2). That they were angels is evident also from the fact that they formed the retinue of the "man in their midst, clothed in linen," who is "no other than the angel of the Lord, and whom we never see accompanied with any other retinue than that of the lower angels; compare for example Zechariah 1:11, etc; and Joshua 5:14, where the angel of the Lord designates himself as prince of the host of the Lord" (Hengstenberg). Many have been the conjectures as to the significance of the number of these angels. The true explanation seems to be that, with the angel of the Lord, they made the sacred number—seven (cf. Zechariah 3:9; Revelation 5:6). They were the executioners of the judgments of God upon the guilty inhabitants of the favoured city. And they were to execute it under the direction of "the man clothed in linen." For we have to regard him "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" (ibid.). After the execution of the judgment in this chapter, he said, "I have done as thou hast commanded me" (Joshua 5:11). And in Ezekiel 10:2, Ezekiel 10:7, he is expressly represented as the agent of the Most High in the burning of the city. Now, these angelic beings may be said to have been the agents, and the Chaldeans the instruments, in the work of slaughter. Soon as they were required for that work they were promptly at hand. And soon as they received their commands "they went forth, and slew in the city." Many are the agents and instruments which God employs; and when he summons them, they quickly respond to his call. When he commanded, the flood of waters overwhelmed the old world; and the flood of fire consumed the cities of the plain; and the earth yawned and engulfed the rebels against Moses and Aaron. In his judgments upon Egypt, frogs and flies, locusts and hail, were his ready instruments (cf. Psa 68:1-35 :43-51; Psalms 148:8).
II. IN THE EXECUTION OF HIS JUDGMENTS GOD DISCRIMINATES BETWEEN THE TWO GREAT DIVISIONS OF MORAL CHARACTER. "And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side; and the Lord said unto him," etc. (Ezekiel 10:6). Thus in this judgment certain persons were to be spared, while the rest were cut off; and provision was made for sparing them. How were they to be divided? Upon what principle was the awful separation to be made?
1. The discrimination is in moral character. There are those who represent the great division of men as a matter of Divine choice, altogether irrespective of human character or conduct. They say that men are elect or non-elect and reprobate solely because of the determinations of the Divine will. Certainly it is not so in this case. In the Divine estimation the essential division of men is not material, social, or intellectual, but moral. Mark the character here indicated of the men who are to be preserved: "The men that sigh and cry for all the abominations, that be done in the midst" of the city.
(1) Men who deeply grieved because of sin. They "sighed for all the abominations," etc. They did not participate in them, or regard them as trivial, or treat them with indifference; but were burdened by them, and mourned over them. Thus have holy men in all ages been afflicted by sin (cf. 2 Peter 2:7, 2 Peter 2:8; Psalms 119:53, Psalms 119:136, Psalms 119:158; Psalms 139:21; Jeremiah 9:1; Ezra 9:3). And thus our blessed Lord was deeply moved by the wickedness and woe of men (cf. Luke 13:34; Luke 19:41-44).
(2) Men who gave expression to their grief because of sin. "That cry"—or groan—"for all the abominations," etc. Their sorrow found audible utterance. It was not concealed, but manifest. Their cries and groans indicated the oppression of their souls. "It argues strength of grace," says Greenhill, "to mourn for others' sins. Censuring and reproaching of others for their sins argues strength of corruption; and mourning for them argues strength of grace, a sound spiritual constitution. Such a one was in Christ; he prayed because of the hardness of others' hearts (Mark 3:5)." Such are the characters who were to be spared in the great slaughter.
2. The discrimination is made in infinite wisdom. "And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side," etc. (verses 3, 4). Some think that the inkhorn was to be used for registering the names in the book of life, and making the mark upon the forehead. And as to the character of the mark, many contend that it was in the form of a cross. But the entire proceeding appears to be symbolical. We know that it took place in vision; and this marking upon the forehead was not to be an actual external thing, but it was a figurative setting forth of the truth that in the general slaughter certain persons would be safe, they would be guarded by the omniscient and omnipotent providence of God. Now, this discrimination was infallible. The man with the inkhorn is no other than he who "knew all men, and needed not that any one should testify of man; for he himself knew what was in man." His knowledge is infinite, both in its minuteness and in its comprehensiveness. And in the final judgment, which is committed unto him, there will be no mistake. To him every man's character will be manifest as if written upon his forehead; and he will read it with unerring accuracy.
3. The discrimination leads to most momentous issues. "And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite," etc. (verses 5, 6). They who had the mark upon their foreheads were exempted from the awful judgments, while they who had it not were subject unto them. The signed ones were perfectly secure; the unsigned were ruthlessly slaughtered. But were the godly actually preserved in the siege and capture of the city? We know that Jeremiah, Ebed-melech, and Baruch were (Jeremiah 39:16-18; Jeremiah 45:5). But looking at the question more broadly—Are the true and good exempted from the judgments which befall the wicked? In some instances they have been. Noah was saved when the ungodly world was drowned; Lot was rescued from the doomed cities of the plain; the Israelites escaped the plagues which fell upon the Egyptians; and ere the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans the Christians had escaped to the little town of Pella, in Persia. But, to quote the words of Dr. Payson, "it will perhaps be said that many of the most bold and faithful servants of God and opposers of vice have suffered even unto blood, striving against sin. We grant it, but still it is true that the mark of God was upon them. It appeared in those Divine consolations which raised them far above suffering and the fear of death, and enabled them to rejoice and glory in tribulation. Did not Stephen exhibit this mark, when his murderers saw his face as it had been the face of an angel? Did not Paul and Silas display it, when at midnight their joy broke forth, in the hearing of their fellow prisoners, in rapturous ascriptions of praise? Did not some of the martyrs display it, when they exclaimed in the flames, 'We feel no more pain than if reposing on a bed of roses'?" So far as the outward event is concerned, the righteous and the wicked have often been swept away in one common calamity; but wide has been the difference of their inward experiences in such calamities. Nothing befalls the godly but what they shall be sustained under, and it shall be overruled for their good. In the gracious providence of God "all things work together for good to them that love" him. "Who is he that will harm you if ye be zealous of that which is good?" It is eternally true that "righteousness tendeth to life; and he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death." In the last great assize the wicked "shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life."
III. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD FALL FIRST UPON THOSE WHO HAVE PERVERTED THE RICHEST PRIVILEGES. "Slay utterly … and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house." The ancient men, or elders, are those mentioned in Ezekiel 8:16 as standing "with their faces toward the east," worshipping the sun. They had practised their idolatry nearest to the sanctuary of the Most High; and they were the first to be slain. As ancient men, elders, they occupied a position of honour and privilege, and should have used their influence to keep the people faithful to the Lord their God; but they had set an example of idolatry, and they were to be made the first example of judgment. "Begin at my sanctuary"—the place where the highest privileges had been neglected or perverted, where priests had proved treacherous to their trust, and where God was dishonoured. "To stand near the house of God is a blessed and also a safe position; but it is also the most dangerous position, if it is hypocrisy. Certainly in this case religion is no lightning conductor, but what the tree is in the storm; those who are under it are sure to be struck dead" (Schroder).
1. Let those who are eminent in position and privileges endeavour to be eminent also in principle and piety.
2. Let every one ask himself—Am I of the character of those who were spared in this stern judgment?—W.J.
The intercession of the prophet and the answer of the Lord.
"And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left," etc. This intercession helps us to understand why the Lord showed to Ezekiel the secret abominations of the people, and called upon him to consider them (Ezekiel 8:7-12). In dealing with that vision, we suggested that he was called upon to consider it in order that he might be qualified to estimate correctly the righteousness of God's treatment of the wicked. To know the extent and enormity of their sins was necessary to enable him to acquiesce in the Divine judgments with which they were about to be visited. That necessity is made manifest by the fact that, now that the prophet beholds the execution of those judgments, he cries to God to abate their severity, and has to be reminded again of the many and heinous sins of the house of Israel and Judah. Consider—
I. THE AFFECTING INTERCESSION OF THE PROPHET. (Verse 8.) In vision the work of slaughter in the temple is finished, and the angels of judgment have gone forth to slay in the city, leaving Ezekiel alone "in the court of the priests of the temple;" then he "fell upon his face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord God! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?" This intercession:
1. Arose from deep feeling. "I fell upon my face, and cried." Falling upon the face in prayer is indicative of great humiliation and grief, as may be seen from several examples (cf. Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:4, Numbers 16:22; Numbers 20:6; Joshua 7:6). And our Lord, when his "soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death …. fell on his face, and prayed." So the soul of Ezekiel was intensely stirred as he beheld in vision the terrible slaughter of the sinful people. It may be a prophet's stern task to denounce the awful judgments of the Most High; but he will be deeply moved because of those judgments. The miseries of even the most guilty sinners will affect his heart with grief; and this feeling will lead him to intercede with God on behalf of the sinful and suffering people. Deep feeling prompts to earnest prayer.
2. Presented an earnest appeal. "Ah, Lord God! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?" But had it not been shown unto Ezekiel that certain persons were to have a mark set upon their foreheads, and were to be spared in the general slaughter? "That his question is not hindered by his having heard of the pious being spared shows either his fear in this respect, that in Jerusalem there will he nothing at all to be spared, or that the sparing in comparison with the destruction does not at all come into consideration" (Schroder). Almost every word in this appeal is weighty. "Ah, Lord Jehovah! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel?" Thou who didst enter into covenant with them, and didst say, "My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me;" wilt thou fail in thy promises, and break thy covenant? "Wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel?" Thou didst say, "If his children forsake my Law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail;" and wilt thou now destroy them? Will it not suffice for thee to visit them with the sharp rod and with the searching stripes of thy chastisement? "Wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel?" They have slain all that were in and about the temple, and have gone forth to stay in the city, and thou didst say unto me, "Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword" (Ezekiel 6:8); and wilt thou make an utter end, leaving no remnant, but slaying all? Thus earnestly and powerfully does the prophet appeal to the Lord on behalf of he doomed people.
II. THE CONDESCENDING ANSWER OF GOD TO THE PROPHET. (Verses 9, 10.) The Lord graciously responds to the intercession of his servant; and in this response we have:
1. A declaration of the great wickedness of the people. (Verse 9.)
(1) Here are some forms of their wickedness. "The land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness;" or, as in the margin, "wresting of judgment." Cruelty and injustice abounded. They had "filled the land with violence" (Ezekiel 8:17).
(2) Here is the root of their wickedness: "They say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not." (We have noticed these words in Ezekiel 8:12.) They were practically atheistic, denying the Divine interest in and observation of human life. "The source of all transgression," says Michaelis, "is the denial of the providence of God."
2. A declaration of his determination to fully execute his judgments. "And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity." (See our notes on these words in Ezekiel 7:4.)
3. A declaration of the retributory character of his judgments. "I will recompense their way upon their head." This relation of judgment and sin is more fully stated in Ezekiel 7:3, Ezekiel 7:4 (see our notes there). The Prophet Obadiah also declares this truth: "As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head."
CONCLUSION. The answer of the Lord to the intercession of the prophet sheds encouraging light upon his treatment of our wavers to him. We learn that we have liberty of approach to him. We may talk with him of his judgments; and he will not resent it as if it were presumptuous on our part. We may rather rest assured that he will graciously respond to our appeals. He will reply even to our "wild and wandering cries" to him. But he will not always grant our requests either for ourselves or for others. He loves us too much and too wisely so to do.—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent