Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter forms part of the same continuous vision with the preceding one, but while the former is occupied with the exposure of the sin, this latter specifies the consequent punishment.
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) He cried also . . . with a loud voice.—The pronoun refers to the same Being as throughout the previous chapter. His nature is sufficiently shown by the prophet’s address to Him in Ezekiel 9:8 : “Ah, Lord God!” The “loud voice” was to give emphasis to what is said; it is the natural expression of the fierceness of the Divine indignation and wrath.
Them that have charge over the city.—Not earthly officers, but those to whom God has especially entrusted the execution of His will concerning Jerusalem. The word is, no doubt, used often enough of human officers, but such sense is necessarily excluded here by the whole circumstances of the vision. Nor does the phrase “every man” at all indicate that they were human beings, the same expression being constantly used of angels (as in Genesis 18:1-2; Joshua 5:13; Judges 13:11; Daniel 8:16, &c), and the representation here being plainly that of angelic executioners of God’s wrath. They appear only in the light of the administrators of vengeance, the description of them being that each had “his destroying weapon in his hand.” This is repeated in the following verse.
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) One man among them was clothed with linen.—He was among them, but not of them. There were six with weapons, and this one without a weapon formed the seventh, thus making up the mystical number so often used in Scripture. He was “clothed in linen,” the ordinary priestly garment, and the special garment of the high priest at the ceremonies on the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16); yet also used by others, and on other occasions, simply as a garment of purity and of distinction (comp. Daniel 10:5), so that there is no need here to suppose a priestly character attached to this one. He carried in his girdle the “inkhorn,” i.e., the little case, containing pens, knife, and ink, commonly worn by the Oriental scribe. There is no occasion to understand this person either, on the one hand, as a representation of the Babylonian god Nebo, “the scribe of heaven,” nor, on the other, as is done by many commentators, of our Lord. There is nothing mentioned which can give him any special identification. He is simply a necessity of the vision, an angelic messenger, to mark out those whose faithfulness to God amid the surrounding evil exempts them from the common doom (comp. Revelation 7:3). This party are seen coming “from the way of the higher gate.” The courts of the Temple were built in stages, the innermost the highest. This, then, was the gate of the inner court, and was on the north, both as the place where the prophet had been shown the idolatries, and as the quarter from which the Chaldæan destruction was poured out upon the nation. They took their station “beside the brazen altar,” as the central point at once of the true worship of Israel and of the present profanation of that worship.
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) The glory . . . to the threshold.—In Ezekiel 8:4 the prophet had seen the same vision as he has described in Ezekiel 1 standing at the entrance of the court of the priests, and there it still remained. The word cherub is here used collectively. Now that special glory above the cherubim, which represented the Divine Being Himself, was gone from its place to the threshold of the house, but is returned again in Ezekiel 10:1. At the same time, there is also suggested the idea that the ordinary presence of God between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies within the Temple has left its place, and come out to the door of the house. The two ideas are indeed distinct, and yet by no means incapable of being blended in the imagery of a vision. The significance of the former is that the command for judgment proceeds from the very Temple itself to which the Pharisaic Jews looked as the pledge of their safety; while the other would mean that the Lord had already begun to forsake His Temple. Both thoughts are true, and both are emphasised in the course of the vision.
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) Set a mark upon the foreheads.—The word for mark is literally a Tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This, in many of the ancient alphabets, and especially in that in use among the Hebrews up to this time, and long retained upon their coins, was in the form of a cross—X or +. Much stress was laid upon this use of the sign of the cross as the mark for the Divine mercy by the older Christian writers, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, and Jerome. This marking was done, it is true, in vision, but the symbolism is taken from such passages as Genesis 4:15; Exodus 12:7; Exodus 12:13; Exodus 28:36; and it is used several times in the Apocalypse (Ezekiel 7:3; Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 14:1). Such marks may be necessary for the guidance of the angelic executors of God’s commands, and at all events, the symbolism is of value to the human mind. It is with reference to such Scriptural instances of marking, doubtless, that the Church has provided for the signing of the baptized with the sign of the cross. It is to be observed here that the distinction of the marking has reference wholly and only to character. No regard is paid to birth or position; they and they only are marked who mourned for the prevailing sinfulness, and kept themselves apart from it.
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) Go ye after him.—No interval is allowed. Here, as in the corresponding visions in Revelation referred to above, judgment waits only until those whom mercy will spare have been protected. (Comp. the deliverance of Lot, Genesis 19:22-25.) The destruction was to be utter and complete, and was to begin at the sanctuary, where the gross sin of the people had culminated. This is one of those many important passages in Scripture (comp. Matthew 25:41; Luke 23:30; Revelation 6:16, &c.) in which God reveals Himself as one who will ultimately take vengeance without pity upon those who have rejected and insulted His mercy and long-suffering kindness. The revelation of future wrath is no less clear and distinct than that of love to those who trust in Him.
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 utmost possible pollution under the Mosaic economy was the touch of a dead body. (See Numbers 19:11; 1Kings 13:2; 2Kings 23:16.) It might be thought that the Temple would be spared this defilement; but not only must the execution of justice override all technicalities, as at the execution of Joab (1Kings 2:28-31), but in this case the very defilement itself was a part of the judgment, since God was about to forsake His sanctuary, and give over even this to the desolations of the heathen. From the Temple the destroying angels passed out into the city.
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?(8) I was left.—The words imply left alone. The prophet had just before seen the courts of the sanctuary thronged with idolaters in the full glory of their heaven-defying sin. Now it is a city of the dead, and he is left standing alone in the midst of the dead. He falls upon his face in consternation, and pleads that “the residue of Israel” may not be utterly destroyed. The sternness of the Divine answer leaves no room for hope of any mitigation of the judgment. No mention is made here of those who were to be saved; they were so few among the mass as to have no effect upon the general impression of the vision. Yet they are not forgotten; and to show that they are not, the man in linen is represented in the next verse (11) as reporting that he had executed the command given him.