New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Ezekiel 9:1 Then He cried in my ears with a loud voice saying, Cause those who are in charge of the city to draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand- It was Ezekiel who caused the Angels of judgment to go in to Jerusalem and slay her elders (Ez. 9:1-4). How Ezekiel did this was simply by teaching his prophecies to the captives in Babylon. If they had responded, then the judgment could have been averted. So much power and eternal consequence lies in the message we preach, and in the invitation we give men to repent. See on Ez. 10:2. Those "in charge of the city" were Angels; along with Ezekiel, the "writer" of :2, this made seven in total. The Jewish leadership weren't really "in charge". The Angels along with their human agent, Ezekiel, who was effectively under house arrest in a prison camp by the Chebar river, were those really in control. We too have far more influence in world geopolitics than we realize; for "all things are for your sakes". A new group of faithful men were to 'have charge' over the temple in the rebuilt Zion (Ez. 44:11 s.w.) who would likewise be in step with the Angel cherubim.

Ezekiel 9:2 Behold, six men came from the way of the upper gate which looks toward the north, every man with his slaughter weapon in his hand- The men, representing Angels, came from the north. They had charge of the city (:1) but were also on the side of the Babylonians, who approached from the north. The tribal gods of the nations were thought to always be on the side of the tribe, fighting for them and ever protecting the sanctity of their own holy places. Yahweh was uniquely different; He could fight against His people and desecrate even His own holy place. This is the essence of the "problem of suffering"; that the one true God doesn't act as we all subconsciously expect a God to.

And one man in their midst clothed in linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side. They went in, and stood beside the bronze altar- This man was Ezekiel the prophet, who presumably also wrote down the words he saw in vision. He was "in their midst". Ezekiel was alone in a prison camp in Babylon effectively under house arrest. But he was in the midst of the Angels. They came to the bronze altar, the altar where the burnt offerings were made, as if to offer a sacrifice. The destruction of Jerusalem by fire was to be an offering to God. 

Ezekiel 9:3 The glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub upon which it rested, to the threshold of the house: and He called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn by his side- The departure of the cherubic glory from the temple was the sign of God's leaving Jerusalem. And the massive cherubim system went to Babylon. That was where God now intended to work with the remnant whom He hoped would repent. The way the cherubim of glory had "gone up" and removed to the threshold shows that now God's departure was imminent.

Ezekiel 9:4 Yahweh said to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done in its midst- The faithful in Ezekiel’s time sighed and groaned over all the abominations committed in Jerusalem. Likewise the bleeding hearts of Jeremiah and Moses were actually for the ecclesia. David’s eyes wept “streams of tears” because Israel didn’t keep the Law (Ps. 119:136); Paul spoke “even with tears” about those in the ecclesia who lived as enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18), exhorting the Corinthians to mourn for those they had to disfellowship (1 Cor. 5:2; 2 Cor. 12:21); Ezra wept for the sins of his people (Ezra 10:1). Is this attitude seen amongst us? We lament in a gossipy way the weaknesses of the brotherhood; but is there this bleeding heart for the cases we mention? Perhaps we should never think of disfellowshipping anybody unless the decision has been come to through a process of such prayerful mourning for them first. The mark was placed upon the foreheads because it was the mental attitude of the faithful which was of paramount importance, as it is today. Those marked off were to be preserved. Presumably they were not a large enough minority for God to avert the destruction of the majority for their sakes.

Ezekiel 9:5 To the others He said in my hearing, Go through the city after him, and strike. Don’t let your eye spare, neither have pity- These men were a manifestation of God; as their eye was not to pity, so God would not (:10; see note there). The situation recalls the Passover night, where those marked with the blood of the lamb were saved and the rest destroyed. We also think of Lot, who like these faithful ones, bemoaned the apostacy of Sodom and was spared. The implication is that the Angels followed Ezekiel; it was totally within his power as to who was preserved. Perhaps he personally knew all the few faithful in Jerusalem. In vision, he did this, and we imagine him marking Jeremiah.

Ezekiel 9:6 Kill utterly the old man, the young man and the virgin, and little children and women; but don’t come near any man on whom is the mark. Begin at My sanctuary. Then they began at the old men that were before the house- These men were not necessarily old, but the elders. We notice that the little children were to be killed too. They were not marked. This raises the impossible question as to the death of little children. We are humbled and tested by the whole issue to accept by faith alone that the judge of all the earth judges rightly. He knew their futures, as He knows all possible futures. And on top of that there is the fact that we suffer the consequences of others' sins, and there is no Divine mechanism which stops children from not suffering the results of their parents' sins and positions.

Ezekiel 9:7 He said to them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the dead. Go forth! They went forth, and struck in the city- Judah had already defiled the temple, God's house (Jer. 7:30; 32:34; Ez. 5:11). This judgment, as all God's judgments of men, was simply confirming them in what they had themselves done in their time of opportunity. They were judged according to their own judgments. "According to their own judgments will I judge them" (Ez. 7:27).

Ezekiel 9:8 It happened, while they were smiting, and I was left- Jeremiah was asked to do likewise and he found nobody in the city to as it were "mark" (Jer. 5:1). It seems that Ezekiel too knew nobody whom he could mark. He was the only one left of the priests 'in the sanctuary'.

 That I fell on my face and cried, and said, Ah Lord Yahweh!- This was to intercede for his people as Moses and Aaron "fell upon their faces" to intercede for the people in Num. 16:22. God does hear intercession, but by grace. And not always.

 Will You destroy all who remain of Israel in Your pouring out of Your wrath on Jerusalem?- Ezekiel hadn't marked anyone, because he didn't know any of his former acquaintances who truly lamented the abominations. But he believed that surely there must be a remnant apart from him. He had learnt the lesson from Elijah's arrogance, who considered himself the only one faithful in Israel because he was unaware of the remnant. He was seeing in vision absolutely everyone destroyed apart from himself. He was sure there must be more spirituality, a remnant at least somewhere. And there wasn't. The implication was that all in Jerusalem and Judah were to be destroyed apart from himself. There was no righteous remnant. Although God apparently responds negatively in :9, He doesn't say He will not hear Ezekiel. And  the reality was that not literally all of the unmarked people were slain. Ezekiel's intercession worked. Just as if Abraham had reduced his numbers in reasoning with God to the point that if there were one faithful found in Sodom it wouldn't have been destroyed... it seems it wouldn't have been. This is the 'power of one'. It's an endlessly powerful challenge. The intercession of just one can save lives, even eternally. And we see this come to its ultimate term in the work of the Lord Jesus for us.

Ezekiel 9:9 Then He said to me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great- Although only Judah is in view, it seems the sins of Israel, the ten tribes, were being also visited. And probably there were many of the ten tribes who had fled to Judah from the Assyrians and were living there with them. The restoration prophets envisaged a uniting of Israel and Judah at the restoration on the basis of their common experience of the new covenant, repentance and grace meaning that all personal divisions would end. That ought therefore to be true of all under the same new covenant today.

And the land is full of blood, and the city full of perversion; for they say, Yahweh has forsaken the land, and Yahweh doesn’t see- They considered that Yahweh existed but was somehow distant from them, and therefore they had turned to other gods and even placed their images in the sanctuary of Yahweh. We too can have a sense that God is so distant that it leads us to turn to other gods and assume that He is not watching our thoughts and actions. But if God seems distant, then it is we who have moved and not Him. I suggest on :8 that God did in fact take notice of Ezekiel's intercession. But He doesn't mention that here, because He simply wishes to emphasize that the volume of judgment inflicted would never exceed their sin.

Ezekiel 9:10 As for Me also, My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will bring their behaviour on their heads- The wonder of God's grace was that His eye did spare and He did pity at the restoration (Ez. 36:21; Joel 2:18; Mal. 3:17 s.w.), just as His eye had spared them in the desert (Ez. 20:17). This reveals the emotion of God, His pity even for the spiritually weak, and how this triumphs over His judgment. This apparent change was due to Ezekiel's intercession; see on :8.

Ezekiel 9:11 Behold, the man clothed in linen, who had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as You have commanded me-  In the AVmg. we read that “the man clothed with linen”- representing Ezekiel or his representative Angel- “returned the word, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me”. The word ‘returned’ in the sense that someone, somewhere, was obedient to it even if others weren’t. This idiom is also found in Is. 55:11. Ezekiel alone was obedient to God's word. For all his concerns about the justice of God and the 'problem of suffering', he was personally obedient. These whole issues exist as a test for us, a help in our attaining of the humility which is so important to God.