Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 9. First act of the divine judgment, slaughter of the inhabitants of the city
Ch. 8 presented a picture of the enormities practised by the inhabitants of the land and of the city, their religious debasement in contrast with the glory of Jehovah. The description was meant to lead up to the conclusion expressed in the end of the chapter, “Therefore will I deal in fury, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity” (ch. Ezekiel 8:18). Now is shewn the first act of the execution of this threat.
(1) Ezekiel 9:1-3. A loud cry proceeded from the glory of the Lord, Bring hither the executioners of the city! and forthwith are seen approaching from the northern gate of the temple six men, each with his weapon of destruction in his hand, and a seventh clad in linen garments, with a writer’s inkhorn at his girdle. The seven take up their position between the house and the brazen altar.
(2) Ezekiel 9:4-6. Ere this the glory of the Lord which was over the cherubim had risen, or now rose, and stood over the threshold of the temple. From there a cry came to the man clothed in linen to go forth into the city and put a mark upon the foreheads of those who mourned over the evils done in the midst of it, and to the six others to follow him and slay indiscriminately all not so sealed, and to begin at the house of the Lord.
(3) Ezekiel 9:7-10. Immediately the work of slaughter commences, beginning with the elders before the house (ch. Ezekiel 8:16). From there the destroying angels move outwards, polluting the courts with dead, and pass into the city. The prophet is left alone, conscious only of the work going on without. This work fills his mind with such a conception of the wrath of God that it seems to him the whole remnant of Israel must perish before it. He falls on his face and intercedes for them, but is answered that the sin is great, and must be unsparingly chastised.
(4) Ezekiel 9:11. While his intercession is repelled, the man clad in linen garments returns, announcing the fulfilment of the commands given to him and his fellows.
He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.1. that have charge over the city] Lit. either the “oversights” (overseers), or the “visitations” (visitants) of the city. The latter is most natural, “visitations” being said for “those who visit,” that is, the executioners (Jeremiah 52:11). Cf. Isaiah 60:17 (officers). The verb may be rendered as A.V. Bring near, or Draw near (ch. Ezekiel 36:8; Job 31:37). The perf., the executioners are at hand, is less suitable to the loud cry, and the immediate appearance of the seven men seems in response to the summons.
And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brasen altar.2. six men] The symbolism represents the judgment of God as executed by supernatural agents, immediately under his command. These agents are called “men,” having the human form to the eyes of the prophet (cf. ch. Ezekiel 40:3, Ezekiel 43:6). Six of the men had instruments of destruction in their hands, and the seventh was clothed in linen garments with an inkhorn at his girdle. The inkhorn consisted of a case for holding the reed pens, with an inkholder attached near the mouth of the case. These inkhorns are carried in the girdle, and those worn by high officials are often of silver, richly chased and ornamented. The purpose of the inkhorn appears in Ezekiel 9:4. The linen garments mark the man’s divine sanctity and eminence, not priestly rank (Ew.); the high angel, Daniel 10:5; Daniel 12:6, was so clothed, as were the seven angels having the vials of wrath, the last plagues of judgment upon the world, Revelation 15:6. The seven men entering the inner court proceeded until they stood beside the brazen altar, in front of the house, whither the glory of the Lord had moved from the cherubim (Ezekiel 9:3).
the higher gate] Or, upper. What this gate was is not quite clear. It is usually held to be the same gate of the inner court already mentioned, ch. Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 8:5. In Ezekiel’s new temple the inner court is higher than the outer, and a flight of steps leads to the gate from the level of the outer court, but probably in the old temple the courts were much on a level. In 2 Kings 15:35, Jotham is said to have built the “upper gate” of the house of the Lord. This gate seems identical with the upper Benjamin gate, Jeremiah 20:2, probably also with the “new gate,” Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 36:10. In the last passage this new gate is said to be in the “upper court,” which can hardly be the inner court, but rather a small court which lay at the northern extremity of the outer court, and was elevated some feet above the latter. (See plan in Encycl. Brit., Art. Temple.) At all events the “men” came from the north side of the house into the inner court. The abominations of the people are represented as practised on the north side (ch. 8), and the Instruments of God’s vengeance approach from the same quarter.
the brasen altar] This is again obscure. It is said in 1 Kings 8:64 that the brazen altar was too small to receive the burnt-offerings and the fat of Solomon’s holocausts, and that the king consecrated the middle of the court, and there burnt his offerings. Ahaz caused his priest Uriah to “build” an altar after the pattern of the altar which he saw in Damascus. This new altar must have been of stone, terminating at the top in a platform or hearth for burning the fat and sacrifices upon; and somewhat after this model the altar in Ezekiel’s new temple is to be constructed (ch. Ezekiel 43:13-17). The altar of Ahaz appears to have been placed in the middle of the court, further from the house than the original position of the brazen altar; and it is added that Ahaz removed the brazen altar from its former place, and set it on the north side of his new altar (2 Kings 16:14). This sense is given both by the Heb. and LXX., though the texts differ in some points. The Heb. reading is not quite natural, and as construed by some it says nothing of a removal of the brazen altar from its former place. (See W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem., p. 466 seq.) The seven men took up their position either in the middle of the court in the vicinity of the altar place, or considerably nearer the house than the altar of burnt-offering.
And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side;3. from the cherub] See at the end of ch. 10.
And the LORD 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 for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.4–7. Command to seal those to be spared, and to slay without distinction all others
4. set a mark] The word is Tav, the last letter of the alphabet, the old form of which was a cross. The term is used here as in Job 31:35, of a mark in general, though perhaps the Tav or cross was the simplest form the mark could take. The passage is imitated, Revelation 7, though the mark there is the name of God. All who mourned over the abominations done in Jerusalem were to be thus sealed and spared.
And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:5. The other executioners were to follow the footsteps of the seventh man, and slay without discrimination all not marked by him.
Slay utterly old and young, both maids, 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 ancient men which were before the house.6. begin at my sanctuary] Judgment begins at the house of God. The Lord had returned for a moment to the place of his abode in the temple, and from there the judgment went forth; Amos 1:2, “The Lord shall roar out of Zion and give forth his voice from Jerusalem.” There he was most present, there most fully known, there if possible most forgotten and provoked, and there his holiness and godhead will assert themselves with most terribleness against the sins of men.
the ancient men] the elders, those mentioned, ch. Ezekiel 8:16.
And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.7. Defile the house] The “house” embraces the temple house and its precincts, including the courts. The presence of dead in the courts defiled the whole.
And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?Ezekiel 9:8-10. Intercession of the Prophet
and I was left] The executioners passed out of the inner court, leaving only dead behind them, and the prophet was left alone (Isaiah 49:21. The anomalous form is to be read impf.). The terrible outbreak of the Divine wrath seemed to forebode the extinction of all the remnant of Israel, and the prophet fell on his face, appealing to the Lord on their behalf. The “residue” suggests the many calamities that had already befallen the people, wearing them down to only a few men (Isaiah 41:14, comp. the prophet’s own figure of the half-burnt brand, ch. 15), and the threat of a fire going out upon all the house of Israel seemed about to be realized (ch. Ezekiel 5:4). The prophet passes from one state of feeling to another. Sometimes he is in sympathy with the divine resentment, and is himself full of fury against the sinful people (ch. Ezekiel 3:14), and of a scorn that rejoices at their coming chastisements (ch. Ezekiel 6:11), but when the judgments of God are abroad before his eyes he is appalled at their severity, and his pity for men overcomes his religious zeal (ch. Ezekiel 11:13).
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 perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.9. full of perverseness] As marg., wresting of judgment, or turning the innocent out of the way (Amos 2:7). The Divine answer is inexorable. Two evils are stated, and the deeper cause of them: violence unto bloodshed, and the perversion of justice, the cause of both being the feeling that Jehovah had forsaken the land. The language shews the strange length to which the hard fate of Israel had brought men—Jehovah had abandoned his land. Possibly these persons concluded that he had retired, being overcome by deities stronger than himself; even the godly were driven to conclude that he had ceased to interest himself in his people (Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 49:14). And with the departure of Jehovah, the righteous God, all moral restraints were relaxed. The persons who here speak had probably been obstinate opponents of the prophets, but the passage shews that the prophetic preaching of Jehovah’s righteousness, even when to appearance unheeded, had lodged itself in the consciences of men.
And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head.10. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 5:11, Ezekiel 7:4, Ezekiel 8:18.
And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.11. The man clad in linen returns, announcing the execution of Jehovah’s commands.