THE MARK OF GOD DIFFERENTIATES BETWEEN JUDGMENT AND PRESERVATION
The visions of the abominations in chapter 8 naturally lead to the execution of God’s justice in chapter 9. Here we see the tension between the vast majority of ungodly who must be slain indiscriminately (no matter the age or sex) and the small remnant that is marked out for preservation by the pre-incarnate Christ. God’s patience and long-suffering have limits. There comes a time when the wrath of God will be poured out against the ungodly. Here we see that judgment begins at the household of God.
Peter Pett: The chapter reminds us of the Angel of Death at the Exodus (chapter 12) and the destroying Angel of Yahweh in 2 Samuel 24:16-17; 1 Chronicles 21:15-27. See also 2 Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 37:36; Amos 9:1. While refined the idea was not new. . .
As we review these chapters that we have been considering we should recognise their primary message, the seriousness of sin and rebellion against God. The end of an era had been reached. In spite of all the efforts of the prophets, and the pleadings and constant demonstrations of the mercy of God, the people had remained hardhearted. Indeed they had become even more hardhearted. And in the end sin must be accounted for. God is longsuffering, but even that longsuffering will one day come to an end. And then there is nothing but judgment for the unrepentant. That is what had happened here. We too must recognise that to go on sinning deliberately is a very serious matter. One day God’s longsuffering with us will also cease.
Daniel Block: But this chapter also anticipates events still to come. Most notably, by introducing the glory of Yahweh in v. 3 the editor has not only set the stage for the departure of the glory (which takes up most of ch. 10), but has also intentionally coordinated the themes of divine judgment and divine abandonment. A second link is provided by the man dressed in linen. To be sure, his role changes—from agent of life (ch. 9), marking all who are to be spared, to agent of death, pouring the coals of divine wrath upon the city (10:2)—but the fact that one person should perform both tasks highlights the interrelation between these chapters.
Derek Thomas: Ezekiel has been taken from the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon to the temple in Jerusalem, where he has been shown how far the Israelites have fallen from the true faith. Their worship has become thoroughly idolatrous. God’s patience has now run out. Executioners have done their work, first amongst the elders and then in the city itself. They have shown no pity. The Day of Judgement has arrived. And what a day it is! Ezekiel has prophesied the death of Judah; this has been Judah’s obituary— in advance! When a newspaper mischievously published in advance an obituary of Mark Twain, he wrote in the paper the following day, ‘The news of my death was an exaggeration.’ Judah’s obituary is no exaggeration. The fall of Israel in the eighth century B.C. and that of Judah in the sixth century B.C. are both foretastes of the coming of another day. John saw this day and warned of it: ‘If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire’ (Rev. 20:15).
I. (:1-2) SUMMONS OF THE SUPERNATURAL AGENTS –
BOTH FOR DESTRUCTION AND FOR MERCY
A. (:1) Summons Directed to Armed Executioners
“Then He cried out in my hearing with a loud voice saying,
‘Draw near, O executioners of the city,
each with his destroying weapon in his hand.’”
Douglas Stuart: “Those who have charge over the city” (v. 1) are Jerusalem’s guardian angels. The fact that they are called “men” in verse 2 is merely typical of the language of angelic visions. Not only people (Heb. 1:14) but nations (Daniel 10) and cities have angels that are, as it were, assigned to them by God. Angels do not, of course, have any authority of their own; they simply do what God wants done. So these angels in charge of Jerusalem are a means by which God may choose to impose His will on the city’s populace. Here their presence foreshadows the coming brutal invasion of the city after the siege will end in 586 b.c. (2 Chr. 36:17, 19; Lam. 1:15; 2:3–8), so they appear as destroying warriors with battle weapons (v. 2; cf. Rev. 9:14–15). The seventh angel, however, has a different task. His dress is linen, typical of angels not on bloody assignments (e.g., Ezek. 10:6–7; Dan. 12:6–7), indicating his heavenly origin (cf. Ezek. 44:17–18; Rev. 19:8, 14). His task will depart significantly from that of the six others, as we learn in verses 4 and 11.
Feinberg: These men were equipped with slaughter weapons, that is, maces or battle-axes.
B. (:2) Response to the Summons
1. Six Armed Heavenly Men Arrive
“And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with his shattering weapon in his hand;”
Peter Pett: Seven heavenly ‘men’ now entered the temple area, six equipped for destruction and one for mercy (compare Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6). In all Near Eastern nations seven was the number of divine perfection and completeness. These men were thus seen as complete for the divine task in hand. The fact that they came from a northerly direction was probably either to indicate the direction from which judgment was coming, or to confirm that they came from the heavenly dwelling place of God (see on Ezekiel 1:4). They entered by the way where the women were weeping for Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), and the image of jealousy had its place (Ezekiel 8:5). They saw enough to stir their righteous anger.
2. One Unarmed Linen-clad Heavenly Man Arrives
“and among them was a certain man clothed in linen
with a writing case at his loins.”
Cooper: This writing kit usually was made from an animal horn. It had a palette with a slot for pens and a hollow place for two kinds of ink, usually black and red. Professional scribes usually carried this kind of equipment.
Block: Linen was the fabric used for the dress of priests (Exod. 28:29–42) and angelic beings (Dan. 10:5; 12:6–7), two classes of beings directly involved in divine service.
MacArthur: “six men” — Angels can appear like men when ministering on earth (cf. Ge 18:1; Da 9:20-23). “a certain man” – He was superior to the others. Linen indicates high rank (cf. Da 10:5; 12:6). Perhaps this was the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ. He had all the instruments of an oriental scribe to carry out His task (vv. 4, 11).
3. Position Themselves Beside the Bronze Altar
“And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.”
David Thompson: They came from a direction of the “upper gate” and they stood at the bronze altar. That altar should have been the place where people went to deal with their sin. That altar was the place where those animals were sacrificed as a means of atonement for sin. It is clear that these people were not dealing with their sin. So that same altar that offered grace would now become the very spot that would authorize judgment.
Feinberg: The inkhorn may well remind us of the book of life (see Exodus 32:32; Ps. 69:28; 139:16; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3).
II. (:3-7) SPARING VS SLAYING COMMISSIONED
A. (:3-4) Sparing Commissioned
1. (:3) Engagement with the Linen-clad Heavenly Man
a. Departure of the Glory of God to the Threshold of the Temple
“Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub
on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple.”
Peter Pett: The movement of ‘the glory of God’ is also very significant. Being ‘on the cherub’ referred to the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh on which was the throne of Yahweh overseen by cherubim. In the past the glory of God had regularly covered the Ark and the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), and in vision Ezekiel had seen this as transportable as we have seen earlier, with the living creatures bearing it. But the latter have not yet been identified as cherubim. But now He leaves His throne in the sanctuary and moves to the threshold of the temple. He is at this point deliberately rejecting the temple and all it means. He is about to depart.
Daniel Block: Being of priestly descent, Ezekiel was undoubtedly familiar with the images of the cherubim in the temple. Apparently this vision offered him an opportunity that was impossible in real life—a look into the inner sanctum of the divine palace, the holy of holies. There he observes the glory of Yahweh rise from its throne, above the ark of the covenant, and move to the threshold of the temple. For Ezekiel the movement of the divine glory would have had ominous significance. It signaled Yahweh’s suspension of rule and raised the possibility of his departure from the city. The people’s accusation/rationalization that Yahweh has abandoned them is about to be fulfilled, and when that happens there will be no hope. By inserting this observation here the author has intentionally correlated Yahweh’s departure with the judgment of Jerusalem.
MacArthur: The glory of God departs before the destruction of the city and temple. The gradual departure of God from His temple is depicted in stages: the glory resides in the temple’s Most Holy Place, between the wings of the cherubs, on each side of the ark of the covenant over the mercy seat, then leaves to the front door (9:3; 10:4), later to the E gate by the outer wall (10:18, 19), and finally to the Mt. of Olives to the E, having fully departed (11:22, 23). The glory will return in the future kingdom of Messiah (43:2-7).
Wiersbe: It’s interesting that the glory of God should be associated with the judgment of a polluted city, but it is for His glory that God judges sin. It is also for His glory that God graciously saves those who put their trust in Him.
b. Directive to the Linen-clad Heavenly Man
“And He called to the man clothed in linen
at whose loins was the writing case.”
Constable: Some expositors believed that this individual was the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, because of his prominence among these messengers and because of what he did (cf. 10:2, 6-7). There is no way to prove or disprove this theory. Most interpreters believe he was an angel.
Leslie Allen: The second part of the main narrative begins, like the first, with a divine cry, now addressed to the seventh, linen-clad angel. The initial role of this angel and the function of his writing kit are revealed. He is to use his pen and ink to mark with a cross those who are to be exempted from the general destruction of the population of Jerusalem. The mark, like the sign put on Cain in Gen 4:15, has a protective significance. It is literally the letter taw or “t,” which in the old Hebrew script was written in the form of a cross or plus sign. . .
The notion of sparing any comes as a surprise after the categorical divine statement of 8:18. The earlier part of the book has already displayed variety in the negative prospects of the Judeans, sometimes implying complete destruction within the land, sometimes permitting for some a short lease on life before death strikes (5:2, 12), and sometimes envisioning exile as a limbo where surviving sinners mourn over their sins (6:9). The sparing of 5:3 has an ironic ring in its context. In the next chapter, 12:16 accords with 6:9, while 14:22 is similar; in 21:8–9 (3–4) both innocent and guilty are to be killed. The present passage is striking in that it straightforwardly implies the presence of innocent people in the capital, who were to be spared; perhaps 14:12–20 aligns with it. Different pastoral needs among Ezekiel’s fellow prisoners of war presumably shaped these different prophetic responses. The small number of the survivors may be gauged from the proportion of one angel devoted to exemption and six to destruction. His unsummoned appearance in v 2, after the summons to the executioners in v 1, suggests his relatively minor role, at least in his task as a scribe. The survivors serve to enhance the sinful status of their fellow citizens and so the fairness of divine punishment, inasmuch as they voice God’s own dismay at the cultic aberrations.
2. (:4) Excluding the Righteous from Judgment by Marking Them
“And the LORD said to him, ‘Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.’”
Peter Pett: The mark on their foreheads was an X (the ancient form of the letter taw). Compare Job 31:35 where it represented a signature. It was sometimes used by the scribes at Qumran to indicate points of importance in their scrolls such as Messianic passages. We may well see in it a remarkable precursor to the sign of the cross. These men were ‘signed’ by God, marked as belonging to Him. They were engraved on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). In all His wrath against sin He was faithful to His covenant with those who still trusted Him, with the righteous.
David Guzik: “put a mark on the foreheads” —
i. “Like the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses on the night of the Passover (Exod. 12) and the scarlet cord in Rahab’s window (Josh. 2:18–21; 6:22–25), it was a sign of hope.” (Block)
ii. “There is a prophetic significance in the Hebrew word for the mark. It is the Hebrew letter T (Tau), which at that time was written as a cross. Without being superstitious we can rejoice in this anticipation of salvation through the death of Christ on the cross.” (Wright)
iii. Revelation 7:3 later describes God’s servants again being sealed on their foreheads. Revelation 13:16 (and several other passages) also describe a later Satanic counterfeit of this mark, identifying allegiance to Satan and his false messiah.
iv. “This is in allusion to the ancient every-where-used custom of setting marks on servants and slaves, to distinguish them from others. It was also common for the worshippers of particular idols to have their idol’s mark upon their foreheads, arms, &c.” (Clarke)
Douglas Stuart: What is important to remember about the marking process is its relationship to the doctrine of individual responsibility so strongly asserted in the book (cf. ch. 3). While God may judge nations, cities, cultures, etc. as a group, He is not an arbitrary, unfair judge. Those who have turned against the evils of their own people will be spared by God’s judgment, even if from an earthly point of view they may be caught up in the fate of the corporate entity to which they belong. . . in Ezekiel’s Jerusalem, corrupt as the city was, the righteous were still to remain faithful and not give up or give in to the practices and ideals of the surrounding culture.
MacArthur: Since God’s departure removed all protection and gave the people over to destruction, it was necessary for the angelic scribe (Angel of the Lord) to mark for God’s preservation the righteous who had been faithful to Him. Those left unmarked were subject to death in Babylon’s siege (v. 5). The mark was the indication of God’s elect, identified personally by the pre-incarnate Christ. He was marking the elect (cf. Ex 12:7). Malachi 1:16-18 indicates a similar idea. Cf. Rev 7:3; 9:4. The marked ones were penitent and were identified for protection. Here was a respite of grace for the remnant. The rest were to be killed (vv. 5-7).
Feinberg: Grief is always the portion of those who know the Lord in an evil day. The marked ones were penitent and faithful at a time of widespread departure from the will of the Lord.
John Taylor: It is worth noting that the procedure for inflicting God’s punishment was selective, in keeping with the principle of 18:4, ‘the soul that sins shall die’. The basis for exemption from the slaughter was the individual’s deep concern (who sigh and groan, 4) over the city’s apostasy. This was what Amos had looked for among the luxury-loving revellers of Jerusalem and Samaria whom he castigated with his tongue. Their most guilty sin was that they ‘did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph’ (Amos 6:6). In both cases the criterion that was needed was not strictly a religious quality, like faith, or an outward act, like sacrifice, but an affair of the heart—a passionate concern for God and for his people. Failing that, there was no mark, and judgment followed just as surely as it had done for the households that lacked the blood on the doorposts on the night of the first Passover. There was no other exemption: age and sex did not enter into it (6): only the mark would save.
Jamaal Delbridge: The mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry in verse four speaks to the individuals who have the seal of the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; II Corinthians 1:21-22; II Timothy 2:19, Revelation 7:3-4) in their foreheads who are written in the Lambs book of Life by the blessed Messiah who is the man clothed in linen that has the writer’s inkhorn to write the names in heaven.
B. (:5-7) Slaying Commissioned
1. (:5) Mobilizing the Executioners
“But to the others He said in my hearing, ‘Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity, and do not spare.’”
Douglas Stuart: The rest of the populace would be destroyed (v. 5), including women and children. Total elimination of the population is associated with Old Testament holy war (Deut. 20), which is a divine war of extermination of a wicked society in which the human soldiers are merely agents of God’s wrath. Thus the implication for Ezekiel and his eventual audience was clear: The coming destruction represented God’s condemnation, not just a political-military success for the Babylonians in Palestine.
2. (:6) Making No Exceptions for the Unmarked
“’Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.’ So they started with the elders who were before the temple.”
Peter Pett: ‘Then they began at the old men (elders) who were before the house.’ These would be the five and twenty who represented the priesthood, worshippers of the sun (Ezekiel 8:16). They were the most guilty because of their closeness to the sanctuary. These men who had had the most holy privileges had betrayed their trust.
Galen Doughty: God is judging his people according to their hearts. Just because someone is a Jew does not guarantee their safety. The condition of their heart towards God is what will determine whether they are saved in the destruction of Jerusalem. What Ezekiel sees is a vision of God’s angels slaughtering the unfaithful people of Jerusalem. Historically the Babylonian army was the instrument of God’s judgment upon Judah. Ezekiel shows us that the Babylonians would have never been able to attack and destroy Jerusalem and kill so many Jews unless God beforehand had determined their fate. His justice will be done.
Lamar Cooper: Those judged by the executioners were from five all-inclusive groups: the old men, the young men, the maidens, the women, and the children (Ezek 9:6). Judgment of the guilty was indiscriminate. God plays no favorites and gives no exemptions. Divine justice is served by the fact that no one who is guilty will be spared (9:5–6). Judgment not only included God’s own people; it began in his sanctuary (9:6). Those who are leaders are not exempt from the holy standard of God’s Word. They are even more responsible and will incur more severe punishment for leading others astray (cf. Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2; Heb 13:17).
3. (:7) Stacking the Slain in the Temple Courts
“And He said to them, ‘Defile the temple and
fill the courts with the slain.
Go out!’ Thus they went out and struck down the people in the city.”
Lamar Cooper: Normally a corpse was not allowed in the sanctuary because a dead body was considered unclean. Since the temple already had been defiled by the worshipers seen in Ezek 8, the angel-executioners were told to “defile the temple” and to “fill the courts with the slain” (v. 7). Justice was more important than ritual purity.
III. (:8-11) SLAUGHTER JUSTIFIED
A. (:8) Protest of Ezekiel
“Then it came about as they were striking and I alone was left, that I fell on my face and cried out saying, ‘Alas, Lord God! Art Thou destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Thy wrath on Jerusalem?’”
John Taylor: For all Ezekiel’s outward appearance of severity, beneath the hard shell there was a heart that felt deeply for and with his people. He did not relish the message of judgment that he had to give, still less the reality that followed when the message was rejected.
B. (:9-10) Perspective of the Lord
1. (:9) Causes of Provocation
a. Great Iniquity
“Then He said to me, ‘The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great,’”
b. Social and Moral Perversion
“and the land is filled with blood,
and the city is full of perversion;”
c. Theological Perversion
“for they say,
‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!’”
Ralph Alexander: Violence and spiritual perversion had filled the land because the people had forgotten God’s character, assuming that he did not see what they were doing because he had deserted them. They denied God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and faithfulness.
Leslie Allen: The prophet’s protest provides an opportunity for a powerful justification of the destruction at the close of the chapter. “Ezekiel prays, but the answer is in effect: Too late! Sin has reached its full measure” (Blenkinsopp 59). The mercilessness of v 5 is grounded in a fresh statement of the human guilt that must meet with retribution. The guilt is not expressed in terms of the religious sins of chap. 8 that were summarized in 9:4, though they are obviously included in its characterization as “quite considerable.” Here the point is being made that the guilt relates not only to Israel’s worship but also to their way of life. This other side of their guilt, which was briefly mentioned in 8:17, is now amplified. Jerusalem, as representative of the nation, must suffer for the social sins to be found both in the country at large and in the capital. The charges align with Jeremiah’s denunciation of Jehoiakim (Jer 22:13–19; cf. Lam 4:13) and also with Ezekiel’s post-587 comprehensive description of the final kings who abused human rights in Jerusalem and of royal officials who did the same both in Jerusalem and in Judah (22:25, 27, 29). The description of objective guilt is reinforced by one of a subjective attitude that repudiated Yahweh’s claim on their lives as no longer valid. The double description of the wicked in Ps 94:5–7 is remarkably similar, though it lacks the pointed reference to the defeat of 597:
“Your people, Yahweh, they crush,
and your inheritance they afflict.
Widow and resident alien they kill,
and orphans they murder.
They say, ‘Yah does not see,
the God of Jacob does not realize.’”
2. (:10) Corresponding Judgment without Pity
“But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare, but I shall bring their conduct upon their heads.”
Lamar Cooper: In response to Ezekiel’s plea for mercy, God reminded him that there was a just and equitable basis for the punishment he had witnessed. Their sin (v. 9), literally “wickedness,” was great, the land was filled with violence and bloodshed, and the city was filled with injustice. Therefore there would be no relaxation of judgment (v. 10).
Derek Thomas: John Stott is of the opinion that the statement, ‘God’s patience runs out,’ is not appropriate to God. Speaking of the prophets of the exile and their use of the language of provocation, he says, ‘They did not mean that Yahweh was irritated or exasperated, or that Israel’s behaviour had been so “provocative” that his patience had run out. No, the language of provocation expresses the inevitable reaction of God’s perfect nature to evil. It indicates that there is within God a holy intolerance of idolatry, immorality and injustice’ (Cross of Christ, p. 124). But this is, I think, a mistaken interpretation of the word ‘patience’. God’s ‘patience’ is his slowness to anger. It is not limitless. The fact that it runs out does not necessarily imply a loss of control.
C. (:11) Performance Report by Linen-clad Angel
“Then behold, the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case reported, saying, ‘I have done just as Thou hast commanded me.’”
Galen Doughty: God’s justice has been pronounced and carried out in the spiritual realm. Now all that remains is for that justice to be carried out in history. By his vision Ezekiel is telling the elders Jerusalem is doomed as are its people. Nothing the Jews do will stop God from carrying out his just and righteous sentence on the Jews for their sin. The official theology is exposed as a deception and a trap.
Iain Duguid: Yet at this critical juncture, precisely when it appears that all hope is gone, suddenly the priestly figure with the writing kit reappears, saying, “I have done as you commanded” (9:11). His appearance also answers Ezekiel’s question concerning the remnant, for he stands mute testimony to the Lord’s purpose to save those who sigh and mourn over the abominations of Jerusalem. We are not told how many he has marked—indeed, we are not even told that he has marked any—yet his presence acts to mitigate slightly the awful severity of the judgment, just as the rainbow of 1:28 tempers slightly the coming windstorm of God’s wrath. As at the time of the Exodus, there is shelter from God’s destruction for those who are willing to take refuge in the appointed sign. But on this occasion, it seems that those being saved will indeed be few.