Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentEZEKIEL 9
THE WICKED ISRAELITES SLAIN; THE FAITHFUL SPARED
This chapter continues the great theme of these four chapters by recording the first stage of the removal of God's presence (Ezekiel 9:3). Keil's divisions of the chapter are: (1) the supernatural executioners of Jerusalem are summoned (Ezek. 9:1-3; (2) mercy is extended to the faithful (Ezekiel 9:4-7); and (3) Ezekiel's intercession cannot avail (Ezekiel 9:8-11).F1
THE EXECUTIONERS SUMMONED
Then he cried in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause ye them that have charge over the city to draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And behold, six men came from the way of the upper gate, which lieth toward the north, every man with his slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man in the midst of them clothed in linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side. And they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar. And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon it was, to the threshold of the house: and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writer's inkhorn by his side.
"This chapter is closely connected with the preceding, and carries expressly the threatening of Ezek. 8:18 into immediate action."F2
Cause ye them that have charge over the city
(Ezekiel 9:1). These words need to carry a more ominous import; and Cooke translated this sentence, Approach, ye executioners of the city.F3
Six men. and one man ..
(Ezekiel 9:2). It is ridiculous for men to suppose that there is any reference here to the pagan gods of the seven planets, or to the so-called Seven Arch-angels (there being only one archangel). Seven is a perfect number, associated in Hebrew thought with 'completeness.'F4 Clearly, the six men were supernatural beings, probably angels; because, in the New Testament, angels are always represented as aiding Christ in the execution of judgment. Also, the appearance of the seventh `man' with an inkhorn, his evident superiority over the six, and his having charge of marking the faithful, all suggest his identity as the pre-incarnated Christ. Feinberg noted that, From his clothing and the nature of his work, it is to be inferred that the Chief of these six angels was the Angel of the Lord.F5 Keil disputed this, but he offered no better explanation. Furthermore, Keil admitted the superior rank of the seventh man; and that fact alone identifies him as a member of the godhead, there being no one else, as far as we know, who is any higher than the angels.
"These seven are an overwhelming embodiment of the Divine will, in the face of which humanity is helpless."F6
No details of the actual destruction of Jerusalem are included here. None are needed. God decreed it, and it happened! Just exactly how it happened doesn't really matter.
The supernatural nature of these six made them more powerful and formidable than all of the greatest armies on earth combined into a single force.
And stood beside the brazen altar
(Ezekiel 9:2). This was the Solomonic altar (1 Kings 8:64), which Ahab had removed and placed north of his new-style Damascus altar (2 Kings 16:14).F7 Significantly, these heavenly beings, by their actions, snubbed Ahab's copy of the pagan altar by choosing to stand by the true altar.
And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon it was, to the threshold of the house
(Ezekiel 9:3) The departure of the glory of the Lord from Israel is part of the theme of these four chapters; and, Ezekiel traces it in stages, this being the first.F8 The normal place for God's glory in the temple was above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies; and in this first stage of the glory's leaving, it removed from the Holy of Holies and went to the entrance of the temple.
And Jehovah said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in my hearing, Go ye through the city after him, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly the old man, the young man and the virgin, and little children and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark: and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the old men that were before the house. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and smote in the city.
MERCY EXTENDED TO THE FAITHFUL
A mark upon the foreheads of men
(Ezekiel 9:4). This of course was an act of Divine mercy. Although God would indeed destroy the apostate idolaters, he would by no means destroy his faithful worshippers. This placing of a mark upon the ones to be redeemed appears again in Rev. 7:3 and Rev. 14:1, indicating that all of the saved in our own generation indeed bear the mark of God in their forehead. As this appears to be the very same thing as the sealing of God's servants in Rev. 7:3, which is clearly a reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are entitled to conclude that it is no literal mark of any kind, but a certain characteristic of the human spirit, that would be recognized instantly by supernatural beings. We do not believe that either in this vision or in the current dispensation can it be shown that God brands his people with any kind of a literal mark, such as a rancher would use to brand his cattle.
As Cook noted, "There are eschatological predictions in this chapter."F9 And one of the clearest of these is that the Great Judgment of the last day will be individually and not by races, nations, or groups of any kind. Note too that there are only two classes, the saved and the lost. Another startling fact is that absolutely none shall be spared except those who have received the mark of redemption. This was the way it was in the days of the flood; and that is the way it will be in the final judgment.
That sigh and cry over all the abominations
(Ezekiel 9:4). The truly righteous are always those who grieve over the sins and wickedness of their contemporaries.
We are not impressed at all with some who try to find some reference to the Cross, or the "sign of the Cross" in this passage. This notion is based upon the fact that the word here translated "mark" is in Hebrew the name of tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet; and it is claimed that the early way of making that letter was with a cross; but as Plumptre noted, "There could have been no anticipation of Christian symbols, either in the mind of Ezekiel, or in the minds of his hearers."F10
And begin at my sanctuary
(Ezekiel 9:6). The very place where one should have been able to find a few faithful believers in God was the holy temple; but here God commanded that the slaughter should begin there. There is indeed a great responsibility upon those persons who know God's word and are responsible for teaching others. An apostle indicated that this principle shall be operative in all of the judgments of God. For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).
They began at the old men that were before the house
(Ezekiel 9:6) Dummelow identified these as the sun worshipping priests.F11 Apparently the directive to begin at the sanctuary was intended to imply that there was the seat of the worst sins.F12 This should certainly be a warning to religious leaders of all generations.
And he said unto them, Defile the house
(Ezekiel 9:7). This was accomplished by their filling the courts with dead bodies. If to touch a corpse and then to worship without being sprinkled with the water of separation was to defile the tabernacle of the Lord (Numbers 19:13), how much more would the blood of corpses do so.F13
Speaking of the defilement of the temple, Eichrodt noted that, "Such a stupendous act of judgment left no room for any doubt that the complete liquidation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be carried out in full."F14
And it came to pass, while they were smiting, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord Jehovah! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy wrath upon Jerusalem? Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of wrestling [of judgment]: for they say, Jehovah hath forsaken the land, and Jehovah seeth not. And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will bring their way upon their head. And behold, the man clothed in linen, who had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.
EZEKIEL'S INTERCESSION OF NO AVAIL
"This passage shows how wrong are those evaluations of Ezekiel that see him only as a merciless religious zealot. The prophets of God had a heart for the people to whom they had to preach condemnation and judgment."F15 Ezekiel loved his people and their sacred city Jerusalem; and it is possible that he still might have been thinking that the "righteous remnant" so often mentioned by Isaiah, and which also vividly appears now and then in his own writings, would undoubtedly be found "in Jerusalem."
However, the events which Ezekiel saw in this vision appeared to the prophet as the end of any such possibility as that of a "righteous remnant" remaining in Jerusalem. No! The "righteous remnant" would be found among the captives in Babylon, not in Jerusalem; and the complete end of Jerusalem, as it began to unfold before the eyes of Ezekiel, broke his heart, because he probably thought there might not be left any remnant at all; and that appears to be the reason for his passionate, tearful and heartbroken intercession.
I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel
(Ezekiel 9:8)? The background of this plea is most certainly that of Ezekiel's knowledge of God's promise that a righteous remnant would remain, There is a similarity here to Abraham's intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah. Both intercessions were offered in the form of a question. Both were based upon previous promises of God. Here, the promise was that God would spare a remnant. With Abraham, the promise that God would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Here the tearful question is Wilt thou destroy the residue of Israel? With Abraham, the question was, Wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked? There is also a third similarity, namely, in the fact that both intercessions failed. Both Jerusalem and Sodom were destroyed, exactly as God promised. God did not violate his promise in either case. There were not ten righteous persons in Sodom; and God preserved a righteous remnant, as he promised, only it was not in Jerusalem, but in Babylon!
The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great
(Ezekiel 9:9). God here gave the grounds for the utter necessity of Jerusalem's destruction. At first, we are surprised that God did not here enumerate such things as Israel's worshipping other gods, or their defiling the temple, or of their neglect of sacrifices, despite the fact of such sins being the source of all their wickedness. The wickedness mentioned here was, (1) the land was filled with blood; (2) the city is full of injustice, and (3) they do not believe in an omniscient, personal God to whom every man must give an account. These terrible conditions were the end result of the peoples' false religion.F16
Nothing is any more important in the life of any man or any nation than his religion. The relationship to God is the governor and determiner of everything else. If that relationship is correct, so will be his life; if it is wrong, no other obligation or duty will be honored for one minute longer than the personal wishes of the sinner may dictate.
Illustration: This writer once visited a young woman just married who was severely prejudiced against her husband's religion; and she vowed that, "I am going to take him away from that church."
She did so. Seven years later, she called, pleading for aid to save her marriage. He had developed an affair with another woman; and the answer to her was, "What did you expect? When any person forsakes his duty to God, why should he honor any other duty?"
Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity
(Ezekiel 9:10). This was God's answer to Ezekiel. Jerusalem would be subjected to the destruction which they so richly deserved. God would have his servants humbly acquiesce in his judgments and trust God to do exactly what is right.F17
Ezekiel's passionate intercession evidently caused him to forget the sparing of those who received the mark upon their foreheads; and, to soften the dreadful news of Jerusalem's fall, God permitted him to hear the report of the Angel of Jehovah in Ezek. 9:11.
Those who received that mark were the true "righteous remnant"; and they were in no danger whatever of being forsaken.
I have done as thou hast commanded me
(Ezekiel 9:11). Yes indeed, some of the righteous remnant were in Jerusalem right up to the fall and through the dreadful events that followed, among whom, we feel sure the great prophet Jeremiah was numbered.
"The execution of God's command in Ezek. 9:4 to mark the faithful was passed over as being self-evident until this verse (v. 11), where the accomplishment of it was reported."F18 It might have been mentioned indirectly here in order to encourage Ezekiel and to let him know that, after all, that "righteous remnant" was still and would continue to be intact.
Footnotes for Ezekiel 9
1: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 124.
2: D. G. Watt in The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (Funk and Wagnalls), p. 100.
3: International Critical Commentary, p. 103.
4: Moshe Greenberg, p. 175.
5: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 55.
6: WE, p. 130.
7: Moshe Greenberg, p. 176.
8: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 55.
9: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 325.
10: E. H. Plumptre in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 163.
11: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 498.
12: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 257.
13: D. G. Watt in The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (Funk and Wagnalls), p. 102.
14: WE, p. 132.
15: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 57.
16: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 257.
17: D. G. Watt in The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (Funk and Wagnalls), p. 108.
18: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 130.