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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 9

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verses 1-11

CHAPTER 9.

THE VISION OF THE SEALING.

Ezekiel 9:1 . And he cried in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Let the overseers of the city come near, (The language in this opening verse, as well as the communication that follows, shows that what is said here is merely the continuation and proper sequel of the preceding vision. In the last words of the eighth chapter, mention was made of a cry being heard in the Lord’s ears, a loud cry for mercy from the doomed city; and now the prophet is made to hear in his ears a loud cry for vengeance in itself a sign how fruitless the other cry should be. The persons addressed, ideal executioners of justice, are called פְּקֻדּוֹת , which properly means offices, but it is also used concretely for those holding office, or having charge for example, Isaiah 60:17; 2 Chronicles 24:11.) and every man his weapon of destruction in his hand.

Ezekiel 9:2 . And, behold, six men came by the way of the upper gate, which looks toward the north, and every man his slaughter-weapon in his hand; and one man among them clothed in linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.

Ezekiel 9:3 . And the glory of the God of Israel ascended from above the cherub, whereupon it was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man that was clothed in linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn;

Ezekiel 9:4 . And Jehovah said to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark (literally, mark a mark) upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done in the midst of it.

Ezekiel 9:5 . And to the others he said in my hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, nor have pity.

Ezekiel 9:6 . Slay utterly old and young, maids and little children, and women; and on every man who has the mark upon him, come not near him; and begin at my sanctuary. And they began at the elders who were before the house.

Ezekiel 9:7 . And he said to them, Defile the house, and fill its courts with slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and smote in the city.

Ezekiel 9:8 . And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and I cried, and said, Ah, Lord Jehovah! wilt thou slay all the remnant of Israel when thou art pouring out thy fury upon Jerusalem?

Ezekiel 9:9 . And he said to me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is filled with blood, and the city is full of perverseness: for they say, Jehovah has forsaken the earth, and Jehovah sees not.

Ezekiel 9:10 . And I also, mine eye shall not spare, nor will I pity; their way I recompense upon their head.

Ezekiel 9:11 . And, behold, the man clothed in linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done according as thou didst command me.

THE vision depicted in Ezekiel 8:0 was intended to lay open the various workings of that apostate and rebellious spirit which had infected the people of Judah and Jerusalem. And as such a wide-spread and leprous state of guilt manifestly called for the interposition of a righteous God, the prophet proceeds to unfold the course of procedure which was to be adopted regarding it.

1. He first of all hears the Lord crying with a loud voice, as in a matter of great urgency, and in a state of vehement indignation, summoning the officers or overseers of the city into his presence, and ordering them to bring each in their hand a weapon for slaughter. The persons who answered to this summons were six in number, but along with these, and in the midst of them as being the leader of the party, there was one in different habiliments clothed in linen, and with a writer’s inkhorn at his side. That these should have been in all precisely seven in number is chiefly to be accounted for from the sacredness attached to that number in ancient times, and especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. It indicated that the action now to be proceeded with bore that sacred character which belongs to everything that comes from the hand of God. With reference to the same import, we read in Zechariah of the seven eyes of the Lord (Zechariah 3:9), and in the Apocalypse of the seven spirits before the Lord (Revelation 5:6), The persons in question, although called men, are evidently to be regarded as the inhabitants of a higher sphere the special messengers of Jehovah; and they appeared in the character of officers, who had the charge of the city committed to them, because they had come to execute the judgments of righteousness, which the proper officers should have put in force. Their approach was from the north, where also the different forms of idolatry had been seen by the prophet; and they stood beside the brazen altar, waiting to receive the command of Jehovah. It was there, as we said before, that the people’s guilt lay unpardoned; and according to the principle, “where the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” from the same quarter must proceed the work of judgment. a While those ministers of the Divine justice,” says Hengstenberg excellently, (Christology, on Amos 9:1.) “tread beside the brazen altar, the glory of the Lord moves to ward them out of the holy of holies, and appears to them at the threshold of the temple. It imparts to him who is clothed in linen the commission to preserve the pious, to the others to destroy the ungodly without mercy. Now who is the one clothed in linen 1 No other than the angel of the Lord. This appears from Daniel 10:5, Daniel 12:6-7, where Michael, but another name for the angel of the Lord, is designated in the same way, a remarkable agreement in two contemporary prophets. It is also evident from the subject itself. The clothing is that of the earthly high priest; but the heavenly high priest and intercessor is the angel of the Lord (Zechariah 1:12). He who was clothed in linen is not, however, to be regarded as solely engaged in the work of delivering the pious; not as standing in contrast with the six ministers of righteousness. These are rather to be considered as subordinate to him, as accomplishing the work of destruction only by his command and under his authority. The punishment proceeds from him no less than the prosperity. This appears even from general grounds. Both have the same root, the same object the prosperity of the kingdom of God. The six cannot be regarded as evil angels. This would be in contradiction to the whole doctrine of Scripture on the subject. It uniformly attributes the punishment of the ungodly to the good angels, and the trial of the pious, under God’s permission, to the evil; as is seen, for example, in the trial of Job, the temptation of Christ, the buffeting of Paul by a messenger of Satan. If this, then, be established, it is equally so that the judgment on this occasion belongs to the angel of the Lord. For all inferior angels are subordinate to him, the prince of the heavenly host, so that all they do is done by his command. But in addition to these general grounds, there are special reasons, which are entirely decisive. It deserves consideration that he who was clothed in linen appears in the midst of the six. They surround him as his followers, his servants. Still more weighty, however, and of itself sufficient, is Ezekiel 10:2, Ezekiel 10:7: “And the Lord spake to the man clothed in linen, and said, Go between the wheels under the cherubim, and fill thy hand with coals of fire, which are between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city; and he went before mine eyes. And a cherub stretched out his hand between the cherubim, to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took and gave it into the hands of him who was clothed in linen. And he took it and went forth.” The fire is an image of the Divine anger. The angel of the Lord is here, therefore, expressly designated as the one who executes the judgments of the Divine justice. The importance of the transaction extends beyond the explanation of the passage before us. We have here the Old Testament foundation of the doctrine of the New, that all judgment has been committed to the Son; and a remarkable example of the harmony of the two Testaments, which in recent times has been but too much overlooked. (Comp. Matthew 13:41, Matthew 25:31.)

In regard to what was ordered to be done on the present occasion by the angel of the covenant and his attendant ministers of righteousness, a few particulars deserve to be noted. (1) It was pre-eminently a work of judgment against sin. Of this the moving of the Divine glory from the inner sanctuary to the threshold without was itself an impressive sign, indicating that God was rising out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the land; yet even in doing this, the Lord showed the care and fidelity with which he watched over his own. For the first part of the charge given to the presiding angel has respect to the safety of the good the small remnant of faithful ones, who, so far from going along with the prevailing tide of evil, were daily sighing and crying for the abominations that were proceeding around them. These were to be kept under the shadow of the Almighty, while destruction, like a whirlwind, was sweeping on every side of them. So has it ever been in the history of God’s judgments. The angels who were charged with the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah declared they could do nothing till righteous Lot had made good his escape. Nor was the destroying angel sent forth to slay the first-born in Egypt till the families of Israel found time to sprinkle on their door-posts the blood of reconciliation. So also in Revelation, before the great tribulations begin, the peremptory command was given, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of God in their fore heads.” Refreshing thought! The Divine faithfulness still abides sure to the true children of the covenant, even though they should exist but as a few grains of wheat among heaps of chaff destined to destruction. Let such, therefore, trust in the Lord at all times, and fear not that it shall be well with the righteous.

(2) In respect, again, to the method taken to separate between this faithful remnant and others, though there is something peculiar in it, yet it evidently points to the preservation of Israel in Egypt by the sprinkling of the paschal blood on the door-posts. Here, however, as it was not for families, but for individuals that the sign was needed, a change in the mode was necessarily adopted. “Set a mark (literally, mark a mark) upon their foreheads,” is the command given to the angel of the covenant. What kind of mark is not specified, and indeed would scarcely have been suitable, as it was a mere symbol of the personal security of the individuals referred to not a mark to be actually imprinted and seen upon their persons, but as an indication of the place they held in the watchful oversight and directing agency of God. And that the forehead is named the most prominent and conspicuous part of the person as that on which the mark was to be set, this was simply to show how clear and certain their interest was in the guardianship and protection of Heaven; it was as if God would have all men to take notice of their connection with his service, and their sure inheritance of blessing from his hand. (The practice of imprinting marks upon men in a religious connection was in ancient times not unknown in real life, as we learn from Herodotus (ii. 113), who says in respect to a temple of Hercules in Egypt, “that if the slave of any one takes refuge there, and has sacred marks impressed upon him, it is not lawful to lay hands on him.” In opposition, however, to what is said above, and apparently under the idea that an actual mark was to be made on the persons in question, some of the Fathers (Tertullian, Origen, Jerome), and the Roman Catholic writers generally, have strenuously contended for the specific sign of the cross as being the mark intended. The chief philological ground for this idea is, that as the word used for mark is tau, the name of the last letter of the alphabet, the old form of that letter was a cross. On this ground, though without respect to the use made of it by the Catholics, Hitzig translates: “mark across.” But the more ancient versions, the Sept., Aq., and Symm., all render generally a mark. And Vitringa justly observes, that “nowhere throughout Scripture are those words, which are now employed as names of the letters of the alphabet, and several of which occur, ever used to denote those letters themselves or their figures. Besides, there is connected with the word tau in this text the verb תָּיָח , from which the other is derived. And as among the Hebrews such conjunctions of verbs with nouns sprung from them are common, it is probable that the tau here is of the same meaning with the verb with which it is joined. Is it not also the case that in the parallel passage (Revelation 7:3), where a fact of the same kind is recorded, no mention is made of any special mark? We therefore gladly embrace the version of the Septuagint, which accords with the interpretations of the most eminent Jews, and simply render: mark a sign.” Obs. Sac. lib. ii. chap. xv. sec. 8.)

(3) Further, we cannot but perceive in regard to the sentence of judgment executed upon the rest of the community, that it is ordered so as most fitly to express the utter loathing and abhorrence with which the sins of the people had filled the mind of God. The work of slaughter was appointed to begin at the sanctuary, that all its courts might be defiled with the blood of the slain. In consequence of the aggravated and shameful guilt of the worshippers, it had already lost the reality of holiness, and in accordance with its true character, the appearance of an abominable place must now be given to it. Not only so, but the very first persons whose blood is reported to have been shed there was that of “the ancient men before the house,” the seventy elders mentioned in the preceding chapters, themselves the more aged and venerable portion of the worshippers, and those who might naturally be regarded as occupying the foremost rank among the people at large. The slaying of such persons first was an indication of the unsparing severity with which the Divine judgment was to proceed, involving alike in destruction “old and young, maids and little children, and women.” So terrible was the sight, that the prophet himself for the moment forgets the assurance that had been given by the act of sealing a preserved remnant; and, overcome by his intense feelings, falls down and exclaims, “Ah, Lord God! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in the pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?” A cry for mercy which has no other effect than to call forth a fresh declaration from the Lord of the greatness of the people’s guilt, and of the necessity of vengeance being executed against it.

So very broadly marked in this portion of the vision is the distinction between the righteous and the wicked! In the ideal territory which the vision occupies, the treatment awarded to each is as different as the character respectively belonging to them; but was the distinction equally preserved amid the real transactions that followed? In the calamities that so soon fell like an overwhelming flood on the city, did the wicked alone suffer, and the good escape unhurt? Such, certainly, we are warranted to infer would in general be the case, as we see in Jeremiah and the false prophets the one faithfully guarded, though surrounded on every hand with instruments of destruction, while the others miserably perished. Yet we cannot suppose the line of demarcation would be preserved with such perfect exactness, as that all the wicked should be destroyed, and all the righteous defended from evil. The records of history prove, indeed, the reverse. “But it must be noted,” as Calvin justly remarks, “that while God apparently sends trouble to his people in common with the wicked, there is still this distinction on the side of the former, that nothing befalls them but what shall turn to their salvation. When God, therefore, forbids the Chaldeans to touch his faithful servants, he does not mean that they should be free from all trouble and annoyance, but promises that matters should be ordered so differently with them, as compared with the wicked, that they should know in their own experience God had not forgotten his faithful word. It may be, indeed, that God shall not spare his own so as to exempt them from having their faith and patience exercised; yet he will spare so far as not to allow anything deadly to befall them so far as always to prove himself their faithful guardian. But when he appears to extend pardon to the wicked, this only tends to their destruction, because they are rendered by it more and more inexcusable.”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 9". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-9.html.
 
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