Bible Commentary: Ezekiel 9

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Ezekiel 9

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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 Isaiah 34:6The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
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; Zephaniah 1:7 Zephaniah 1:7Hold your peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has bid his guests.
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)—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 Daniel 10:5Then I lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:
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; Revelation 15:6 Revelation 15:6And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.
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).

In Ezekiel 8:3 Ezekiel 8:3And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looks toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy.
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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 Ezekiel 10:3-4 [3] Now the cherubim stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. [4] Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD's glory.
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, it appears that the "cherub" in Ezekiel 8:3 Ezekiel 8:3And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looks toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy.
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and Ezekiel 10:4 Ezekiel 10:4Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD's glory.
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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 Ezekiel 10:3Now the cherubim stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court.
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). 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 Matthew 5:4Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
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). 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 Zephaniah 2:3Seek you the LORD, all you meek of the earth, which have worked his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be you shall be hid in the day of the LORD's anger.
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; Luke 21:36 Luke 21:36Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
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; Revelation 3:10 Revelation 3:10Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
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; Revelation 12:14 Revelation 12:14And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
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)—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 Revelation 7:3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
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). 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 Revelation 9:3-4 [3] And there came out of the smoke locusts on the earth: and to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. [4] And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
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). 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 Revelation 14:1And I looked, and, see, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
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).

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 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
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).

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 Ezekiel 9:5-6 [5] And to the others he said in my hearing, Go you after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have you pity: [6] Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man on whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
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). 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 Leviticus 10:1-2 [1] And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. [2] And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
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). The precedent continues throughout time. The apostle Peter explained that "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17 1 Peter 4:17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
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). This he said of God's New Testament Church. And in fact, the Church may well be the "sanctuary" of Ezekiel 9:6 Ezekiel 9:6Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man on whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
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, at least in type.

The Church is the true "temple" of God today (Ephesians 2:19-22 Ephesians 2:19-22 [19] Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; [20] And are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; [21] In whom all the building fitly framed together grows to an holy temple in the Lord: [22] In whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
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), 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 3:16-17 [16] Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? [17] If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
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; 1 Corinthians 6:19 1 Corinthians 6:19What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?
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; 2 Corinthians 6:16 2 Corinthians 6:16And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
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). 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 Ezekiel 11:15Son of man, your brothers, even your brothers, the men of your kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the LORD: to us is this land given in possession.
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), 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 John 4:21-24 [21] Jesus said to her, Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. [22] You worship you know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. [23] But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. [24] God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
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)—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 Ezekiel 9:6Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man on whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
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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 James 3:1My brothers, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
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). So the "elders before the temple," the first to be judged in Ezekiel 9:6 Ezekiel 9:6Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man on whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
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, 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 20:17And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
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, Acts 20:29-31 Acts 20:29-31 [29] For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. [30] Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. [31] Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
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).

Yet the sanctuary is just the beginning of the slaughter. It continues throughout all of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 9:9-10 Ezekiel 9:9-10 [9] Then said he to 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 perverseness: for they say, The LORD has forsaken the earth, and the LORD sees not. [10] And as for me also, my eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way on their head.
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). 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."