Ezekiel 9 – Marked for Preservation, Marked for Judgment
A. Angelic judgment upon Jerusalem.
1. (1-2) The men beside the bronze altar.
Then He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his battle-ax in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer’s inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar.
a. Let those who have charge over the city draw near: In his vision of Jerusalem and the corruptions at the temple (Ezekiel 8), Ezekiel heard God speaking with a loud voice, calling forward six men who, in some sense, had charge over the city.
i. “Those who had charge over the city were those whom God set to watch over the welfare of the city. They were not earthly agents, but heavenly. Angels are frequently called men because of their outward appearance.” (Feinberg)
b. Each with a deadly weapon in his hand: The six men of Ezekiel’s vision were armed, each with a battle-ax in his hand. It’s best to understand these six men as angelic beings with responsibility over Jerusalem.
i. In ways we don’t completely understand, sometimes angelic beings have or desire assignments related to places, to geography. This is true of both faithful and fallen angelic beings.
· In Daniel’s day, a demonic spirit was assigned to Persia (Daniel 10:13, 10:20) and to Greece (Daniel 10:20).
· Daniel 12:1 says that Michael had some responsibility regarding Israel.
· Satan himself was connected with the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14).
· Mark 5:10 indicates that demons wanted to stay in one place and not be sent elsewhere by Jesus.
ii. Which faces north: “The angelic executioners came from the way of the upper gate which was built by Jotham (II Kings 15:35), called the upper Benjamin gate (Jeremiah 20:2) or the new gate (Jeremiah 26:10; 36:10). The gate was toward the north of the city, the direction from which the Babylonian invaders came, as well as the area where the idolatries had taken place.” (Feinberg)
c. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer’s inkhorn at his side: In addition to these six men, there was another dressed differently and who also carried an inkhorn, ready to write.
i. There is some debate among commentators as to if this one man among them is an additional person or included in the number of the six men. Keil and Delitzsch are among those who think there were a total of seven: “In the midst of the six men furnished with smashing-tools there was one clothed in white byssus, with writing materials at his side. The dress and equipment, as well as the instructions which he afterwards receives and executes, show him to be the prince or leader of the others.”
ii. “Linen was the fabric used for the dress of priests (Exodus 28:29–42) and angelic beings (Daniel 10:5; 12:6–7), two classes of beings directly involved in divine service.” (Block)
iii. “At his side was a writing case (RSV; AV, RV inkhorn): the word is peculiar to this chapter and may be a loan-word from Egyptian, where it refers to the scribe’s writing equipment, incorporating pen, ink-horn and wax writing-tablet.” (Taylor)
d. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar: The seven men – who actually seem to be angels – were ready for service.
i. They march in past the image of jealousy and the mourners for Tammuz, and take their stand near the sun-worshippers, invisible to all except Ezekiel.” (Wright)
ii. Stood beside the bronze altar: “To signify that the people against whom they had their commission were, for their crimes, to be sacrificed to the demands of Divine justice.” (Clarke)
2. (3-4) The command to mark the foreheads of godly men in Jerusalem.
Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.”
a. The glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub: The visible representation of God’s glory rose up higher than where the cherub stood.
i. “The Lord vividly demonstrated his readiness to judge by withdrawing his glory from his people. God’s glory moved from the Most Holy Place to the entry of the temple to assign the tasks of judgment.” (Alexander)
ii. Had gone up: “The departure of the glory of the Lord from Israel is one of the basic disclosures of this prophetic book, so Ezekiel traces it very carefully in its different stages (cf. Ezekiel 9:3; 10:18-19; 43:2-5).” (Feinberg)
iii. From the cherub: “For the first time, in this and the following chapters, the ‘living creatures’ that were the support of the LORD’s throne in Ezekiel’s inaugural vision of Ezekiel 1 receive the name that properly applies to them: cherub in the singular and collective, and in the plural cherubim.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iv. “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.” (Block)
b. Go through the midst of the city…put a mark on the foreheads: God commanded the one with the inkwell to mark the righteous men of the city. Ezekiel 9:6 shows this was a protective identification, to protect them in the coming invasion and also to protect them spiritually for the age to come. It shows that even when judgment comes upon an entire nation, God still knows how to mark and identify the righteous.
i. “Like the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses on the night of the Passover (Exodus 12) and the scarlet cord in Rahab’s window (Joshua 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)
c. Of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations: The remnant God would spare had nothing to do with age or perceived innocence. The remnant was those who had broken hearts over the idolatry and wickedness of the city, men like Jeremiah.
i. The men who sigh: “[Sigh] will resurface in Ezekiel 21:6–7, where the moaning will be a symptom of a broken heart and intense grief over impending doom. In Ezekiel 24:17 [sigh] describes the grief that Ezekiel expresses over the death of his wife. Here the scribe is to search for individuals who will display a similar emotion over all the abominations being perpetrated in Jerusalem.” (Block)
ii. “Let us mourn in time of sinning: so shall we be marked in times of punishing.” (Trapp)
iii. “Amid scenes of judgment, whether in the Church or the world, there is always a remnant, upon whom is the mark; on Lot in Sodom; on Israel amid the plagues of Egypt; on Rahab in the fall of Jericho; on the 144,000 at the Great Tribulation. They are safe amid the fiery indignation which devours the adversaries.” (Meyer)
3. (5-7) The command to kill in judgment.
To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city.
a. Go after him through the city and kill: God commanded the other of the six men to use their weapons of judgment against the city as a whole, sparing none except anyone on whom is the mark.
i. “Regard no state or sex, neither the loveliness of the virgin, nor the prettiness of the infant, nor the comeliness and gravity of the matron; spare none.” (Poole)
ii. 2 Chronicles 36:17 described the fulfillment of this: Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand.
b. And begin at My sanctuary: God decrees that judgment should begin at His house. Peter later applied this principle to the people of God under the New Covenant (1 Peter 4:17). Therefore, these judging angels began with the elders who were before the temple.
i. “In the sanctuary God should have been most honored, but there He was most dishonored and provoked, and there His holiness would most fully and certainly be vindicated.” (Feinberg)
c. Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain: In Ezekiel 6:4-5 and 6:13, God promised that He would defile and desecrate the pagan altars on the high places because of Israel’s idolatry. Here He promised the same desecration at His own house.
i. “These people had defiled God’s house by their wicked lives, and now they would defile it further in their terrible deaths.” (Wiersbe)
B. Ezekiel’s reaction.
1. (8) Ezekiel’s grief.
So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?”
a. I fell on my face and cried out: Though Ezekiel had many times announced such a severe judgment when he actually saw it carried out in his vision, it made him completely undone.
i. “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.” (Taylor)
b. Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel: In desperation (Ah, Lord GOD!), Ezekiel begged God to not destroy the remnant as He poured out His fury on Jerusalem.
2. (9-10) God’s explanation.
Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!’ And as for Me also, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity, but I will recompense their deeds on their own head.”
a. The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great: God reminded Ezekiel of what he had been preaching – that as terrible as the judgment was, it was fully deserved and a long time in coming.
b. The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see: This is what the leaders of the city said earlier in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 8:12). Because of their persistent, offensive rejection of God, Yahweh vowed, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity.
i. “Since the righteous are marked, the fate of the wicked is sealed. For them there is no hope of escape.” (Block)
3. (11) The report of the man with the inkhorn.
Just then, the man clothed with linen, who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, “I have done as You commanded me.”
a. Reported back: Angels are diligent and accountable in their service.
i. “Angels and men must all give account of their conduct to God; for although he is everywhere, and his eye sees all things, yet they must personally account for all that they have done.” (Clarke)
b. I have done as You commanded me: The angel could report that he had marked the faithful remnant in Jerusalem.
i. This was “an encouragement to Ezekiel that all Judah had not strayed from God, the man with the writing kit reported, ‘I have done as you commanded.’ In other words, the righteous ones had been marked.” (Alexander)
ii. “These grand words are reminiscent of the declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 17:4. How worthwhile and fruitful was that life!” (Feinberg)