A Mark on Those Who Sigh and Cry Over Abominations
The vision of the previous chapter continues. This chapter reveals some insight about God's sparing of a remnant during a time of destruction. Notice that punishment is to come on "Israel and Judah" (verse 9). As the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen more than a century before Ezekiel wrote, this prophecy must be meant for the future destruction of Israel and Judah in the end time. As in chapters 4-7, Jerusalem is here used to represent all Israel, the city being the ancient capital of all 12 tribes. Of course, the prophecy no doubt had a limited application to the people of Judah in Ezekiel's own day.
As the chapter opens, men who "have charge over the city" are summoned (verses 1-2). These are apparently angelic beings who were to render God's judgment on the people of Jerusalem, again representative of all Israel. Six arrive, each armed with a battle-ax. They stand beside the bronze altar, the altar of sacrifice, perhaps symbolizing that they will make a sacrifice of the disobedient nation (compare Isaiah 34:6; Zephaniah 1:7)—that blood would run as a result of the sins of the people.
With them is a man clothed in white linen who has a writer's kit containing a horn of ink at his side. In the Bible, one "clothed in linen" typically represents a holy servant of God (compare Daniel 10:5; Revelation 15:6).
In Ezekiel 8:3 the prophet again mentions the presence of the "glory of the God of Israel." It had "gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold [or entryway] of the temple"—on its way out altogether, as we will see in chapters 10-11. Putting this verse together with Ezekiel 10:3-4, it appears that the "cherub" in Ezekiel 8:3 and Ezekiel 10:4 indicates the inanimate copies of the cherubim whose wings covered the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The transporting cherubim were waiting outside on the south side of the temple (Ezekiel 10:3). The idea seems to be that God rises from His earthly throne in the Holy of Holies, ascends His transportable throne above the four living cherubim and then flies away. By withdrawing His presence God demonstrates His readiness to bring judgment on the people.
The writer with the horn is instructed to mark the foreheads of those who "sigh and cry" over the abominations and idolatry around them. The sighing here is not just a brief exhalation of disappointment. It is an utter groaning of spirit—deeply grieving and feeling anguish over what is happening. Jesus likewise said, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matthew 5:4). This does not mean an absence of any joy and happiness in life. Rather, it means regular and heartfelt sober reflection on the state of the world.
Of course, those who are truly grieved at the sins are those who follow righteousness. That does not mean they are perfect, but they strive to do God's will. They mourn over their own sins as well as over those of the world around them. They groan over the pain and suffering human beings inflict on one another through their sins. They are indignant and outraged at injustice and blasphemy against God and His truth. They constantly cry out to God to intervene. These are the righteous—God's true servants—and God says He will spare them. He certainly protected such individuals in Ezekiel's day, but the primary focus here is on the future. This passage might well be read along with traditional references to a "place of safety" or God's protection at the end time (Zephaniah 2:3; Luke 21:36; Revelation 3:10; Revelation 12:14)—the object of such protection being those who are a part of God's true Church.
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John also saw visions of people being marked in their foreheads for protection. Notice: "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads" (Revelation 7:3). And: "They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads" (Revelation 9:3-4). Also: "Behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads" (Revelation 14:1).
The first occasion in Scripture of a host of people being spared through some outward sign was the time of the Passover in Egypt, when lamb's blood was used to mark the dwellings of the Israelites who were spared from the slaughter of the death angel. The seal on those in the end-time is an inward one, the forehead representing the mind—wherein resides God's Holy Spirit, which signifies whether one is truly a Christian or not (see Romans 8:9).
The "death angels" in Ezekiel's vision are instructed to begin killing the people of Jerusalem—no doubt through the various punishments mentioned in Ezekiel 4-7. Of course, God doesn't command this slaughter until the people have been given sufficient warning to repent. But eventually it is time for the punishment to fall.
God says to begin with His sanctuary—the elders before the temple then being the actual starting point (Ezekiel 9:5-6). This clearly hearkens back to the abominations portrayed in the previous chapter.
The place to begin correction is always with those who should know better. In the early days of the tabernacle, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu disobeyed God and were destroyed by fire (Leviticus 10:1-2). The precedent continues throughout time. The apostle Peter explained that "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17). This he said of God's New Testament Church. And in fact, the Church may well be the "sanctuary" of Ezekiel 9:6, at least in type.
The Church is the true "temple" of God today (Ephesians 2:19-22), as God dwells in His people through the Holy Spirit, making each individual Christian a temple or, in fact, part of the same temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). That being so, consider the interesting statement God makes in Ezekiel 11, part of the same prophecy. Regarding "all the house of Israel in its entirety" (Ezekiel 11:15), God says, "Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone" (verse 16). This ties in well with Christ's statement to the Samaritan woman at the well: "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain [the Samaritan holy place], nor in Jerusalem [where the temple was], worship the Father... The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24)—that is, through the Holy Spirit, thereby becoming the spiritual temple of God, which is not confined to one place.
If the sanctuary in Ezekiel 9:6 is meant to portray the Church of God on some level (which, besides the parallels we've just seen, seems likely also because those to be protected in verse 4 are probably true Christians of the end time), then the indication is that punishment would apparently fall first and foremost on apostates from God's truth. This would have to mean that the temple abominations of the previous chapter apply in part to such apostates—again, as mentioned in the commentary on Ezekiel 8, possibly indicating the great falling away from God's truth foretold by the apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 2). Moreover, there are degrees of responsibility even within the Church. The apostle James stated, "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). So the "elders before the temple," the first to be judged in Ezekiel 9:6, may well be apostate elders of God's Church. Paul sternly warned Church elders that savage wolves would rise up from among them (Acts 20:17, Acts 20:29-31).
Yet the sanctuary is just the beginning of the slaughter. It continues throughout all of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 9:9-10). Ezekiel sees great numbers killed until He alone is left, and He cries out to God, asking Him if He is going to wipe out everyone who is left (verse 8). Of course, he already had the answer from verse 4 that some would be spared. But they were no longer here to be seen. God explains to Ezekiel that the punishment fits the crime, bemoaning the exceedingly great iniquity of Israel and Judah. The people have degenerated into depravity and disrespect for human life because of their false religion. They have denied the power and reach of God—but they won't be able to deny it any longer. At that very moment the angel clothed in linen returns, reporting that he has done his job. This means he has marked all of those who wanted to obey God and they have been spared. God thus gives Ezekiel encouragement by the report of the angel.
Let us take heart as well and strive to be among those who sigh and cry over the abominations committed throughout the nations of Israel and the rest of the world, praying to God, "Your kingdom come."