Ezekiel 9:4
And the LORD said to him, Go through the middle of the city, through the middle of Jerusalem, and set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the middle thereof.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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.

9:1-4 It is a great comfort to believers, that in the midst of destroyers and destructions, there is a Mediator, a great High Priest, who has an interest in heaven, and in whom saints on earth have an interest. The representation of the Divine glory from above the ark, removed to the threshold, denoted that the Lord was about to leave his mercy-seat, and to pronounce judgment on the people. The distinguishing character of this remnant that is to be saved, is such as sigh and cry to God in prayer, because of the abominations in Jerusalem. Those who keep pure in times of general wickedness, God will keep safe in times of general trouble and distress.mercy precedes judgment. So in the case of Sodom Genesis 19, and in the last day Luke 21:18, Luke 21:28; Revelation 7:1. This accords with the eschatological character of the predictions in this chapter (see the introduction of Ezekiel).

A mark - literally, "Tau," the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The old form of the letter was that of a cross. The Jews have interpreted this sign variously, some considering that "Tau," being the last of the Hebrew letters, and so closing the alphabet, denoted completeness, and thus the mark indicated the completeness of the sorrow for sin in those upon whom it was placed. Others again observed that "Tau" was the first letter of Torah ("the Law") and that the foreheads were marked as of men obedient to the Law. Christians, noting the resemblance of this letter in its most ancient form to a cross, have seen herein a reference to the cross with which Christians were signed. The custom for pagan gods and their votaries to bear certain marks furnishes instances, in which God was pleased to employ symbolism, generally in use, to express higher and more divine truth. The sign of the cross in baptism is an outward sign of the designation of God's elect, who at the last day shall be exempted from the destruction of the ungodly Matthew 24:22, Matthew 24:31.

4. midst of … city … midst of Jerusalem—This twofold designation marks more emphatically the scene of the divine judgments.

a mark—literally, the Hebrew letter Tau, the last in the alphabet, used as a mark ("my sign," Job 31:35, Margin); literally, Tau; originally written in the form of a cross, which Tertullian explains as referring to the badge and only means of salvation, the cross of Christ. But nowhere in Scripture are the words which are now employed as names of letters used to denote the letters themselves or their figures [Vitringa]. The noun here is cognate to the verb, "mark a mark." So in Re 7:3 no particular mark is specified. We seal what we wish to guard securely. When all things else on earth are confounded, God will secure His people from the common ruin. God gives the first charge as to their safety before He orders the punishment of the rest (Ps 31:20; Isa 26:20, 21). So in the case of Lot and Sodom (Ge 19:22); also the Egyptian first-born were not slain till Israel had time to sprinkle the blood-mark, ensuring their safety (compare Re 7:3; Am 9:9). So the early Christians had Pella provided as a refuge for them, before the destruction of Jerusalem.

upon the foreheads—the most conspicuous part of the person, to imply how their safety would be manifested to all (compare Jer 15:11; 39:11-18). It was customary thus to mark worshippers (Re 13:16; 14:1, 9) and servants. So the Church of England marks the forehead with the sign of the cross in baptizing. At the exodus the mark was on the houses, for then it was families; here, it is on the foreheads, for it is individuals whose safety is guaranteed.

sigh and … cry—similarly sounding verbs in Hebrew, as in English Version, expressing the prolonged sound of their grief. "Sigh" implies their inward grief ("groanings which cannot be uttered," Ro 8:26); "cry," the outward expression of it. So Lot (2Pe 2:7, 8). Tenderness should characterize the man of God, not harsh sternness in opposing the ungodly (Ps 119:53, 136; Jer 13:17; 2Co 12:21); at the same time zeal for the honor of God (Ps 69:9, 10; 1Jo 5:19).

The Lord said, spake from the midst of that glory, Ezekiel 9:3.

Unto him, the man clothed in linen, i.e. to Christ.

Go through; pass through as men use to go who keep an even, steady pace.

The midst of the city; the chief street of the city.

Set a mark: it is too curious, and as useless, to inquire what mark this was. It is groundless to confine it to the sign of the cross, whatever some discourse of the antique form of the letter Thau. It is sufficient that, after the manner of man’s speaking, the Lord assures us his remnant are safe, as what is under a seal, which none can or dare break open.

Upon the foreheads, as the faithful servants of God, in allusion perhaps to the custom in the East, that servants wore their master’s name in their foreheads, or to let us know that now this deliverance would be not as in Egypt by whole families, but by single and selected persons.

That sigh, out of inward grief for other men’s sins and sorrows.

That cry; express their grief by vocal lamentations, who dare openly bewail the abominations of this wicked city, and so bear their testimony against it.

For all the abominations; not as if these mourners knew every particular abomination, but they mourned for all the kinds of wickedness which they knew of. And the Lord said unto him,.... This shows that a divine Person is meant by the glory of the God of Israel:

go through the midst of the city; that is, as it is next explained,

through the midst of Jerusalem; the city the six men had the charge over or against, Ezekiel 9:1;

and set a mark upon the foreheads; not the Hebrew letter as some say, because in the form of a cross, and so signifying salvation by the cross of Christ; for this letter has no such form, neither in the characters used by the Jews, nor by the Samaritans, at least in the present character; though Origen and Jerom on the place say that the letter "tau" had the form of a cross in the letters the Samaritans used in their time; and this is defended by Walton (t), who observes, that Azariah in his Hebrew alphabet gives a double figure, one like that which is in present use, and another in the form of a cross, called St. Andrew's cross, and as it appears in some shekels; and in the Vatican alphabet, which Angelus E Roccha published, the last letter has the form of a cross; as have the Ethiopic and Coptic alphabets, which, it is certain, sprung from the ancient Hebrew; and so Montfaucon says (u), in some Samaritan coins, the letter "thau" has the form of a cross; which, if Scaliger had met with, he says he would never have opposed the testimonies of Origen and Jerom; though, after all, it seems to be no other than the form of the Greek "x"; and so the Talmudists say (w) the high priest, was anointed on his forehead in the same form: some think this letter was the mark, because it is the first letter of the word "the law"; as if it pointed out such who were obedient to it; or of the word "thou shall live". It is a Rabbinical fancy, mentioned by Kimchi (x), that Gabriel had orders to write the letter in ink upon the foreheads of the righteous, and in blood upon the foreheads of the wicked; in the one it signified "thou shall live", and in the other "thou shall die"; but, as Calvin observes, rather, if this letter could be thought to be meant, the reason of it was, because it is the last letter of the alphabet; and so may signify, that the Lord's people marked with it are the last among men, or the faith of the world; or that such who persevere to the end shall be saved: but the word signifies, not a letter, but a mark or sign; and so it is interpreted in the Septuagint version, and by the Targum, Jarchi, Kimchi, and others; and denotes the distinction the Lord had made by his grace between them and others; and now by his power and providence in the protection of them; for the, Lord knows them that are his, and will preserve them. The allusion is either to the marking of servants in their foreheads, by which they were known who they belonged to, Revelation 7:3; or to the sprinkling of the posts of the Israelites' houses with blood, when the firstborn of Egypt were destroyed, Exodus 12:22;

of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof; the abominations were those abominable idolatries mentioned in the preceding chapter, and those dreadful immoralities hinted at in Ezekiel 9:9; all which were grieving and distressing to godly minds, because they were contrary to the nature and will of God; transgressions, of his righteous law; and on account of which his name was dishonoured, and his ways blasphemed and evil spoken of; for these they sighed and groaned in private, and mourned and lamented in public; bearing their testimony against them with bitter expressions of grief and sorrow, by groans, words, and tears; and such as these are taken notice of by the Lord; he comforts those that mourn in Zion, and preserves them.

(t) Supplementum de Sicl. Formis, p. 37. 3. Prolegom. 3. de lingua Hebr. sect. 36. (u) Palaeograph. Graec. l. 2. c. 3.((w) T. Bab. Ceritot, c. 1. fol. 5. 2.((x) Vid. T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 55. 1.

And the LORD said to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that {f} sigh and that cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst of it.

(f) He shows what is the manner of God's children, whom he marks for salvation: that is, to mourn and cry out against the wickedness which they see committed against God's glory.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 4. - Set a mark upon the foreheads, etc. The command reminds us of that given to the destroying angel in Exodus 12:13, and has its earlier and later analogues in the mark set upon Cain (Genesis 4:15), and in the "sealing" of the servants of God in Revelation 7:3. Here, as in the last example, the mark is set, not on the lintels of the doorposts, but upon the "foreheads" of the men. And the mark is the letter tau, in old Hebrew, that of a cross + , and like the "mark" of mediaeval and (in the case of the illiterate) of modern usage, seems to have been used as a signature, and is rightly so translated in the Revised Version of Job 31:35. Jewish writers have accounted for its being thus used, either

(1) from its being the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus denoting completeness, or

(2) from its being the first letter of the word thorah (Law); or

(3) from its standing in the same position in the Hebrew word for "thou shalt live." Christian writers (Origen, in loc.; Tertullian, 'Adv. Marcion,' 3:22) have not unnaturally seen in it a quasi-prophetic reference to the sign of the cross as used by Christians, and it is possible that the use of that sign in baptism may have originated in this passage. That was to be the sign of the elect of God in the midst of a world lying in wickedness. Possibly in older as in later forms of idolatry (as eg. in the cultus of Mithras, Vishnu, Sehiva), the votaries of this or that deity may have been distinguished by some outward note of this kind; but of this, though suggested by Currey, I do not find any evidence. It is clear, however, that there could be no anticipation of the Christian symbolism in the minds of Ezeldel or of his hearers. The "mark" was to be placed on all who were still faithful to the worship of their fathers, though they could show their faithfulness only by lamentation of the national apostasy. Such, of course, were Jeremiah, and Baruch, and Ahikam, and Shaphan, and Gedaliah, and others, and such as these Ezekiel may have had present in his thoughts. Against all others (ver. 5) they were sent forth with unsparing severity. Second Abomination: Worship of Beasts

Ezekiel 8:7. And He brought me to the entrance of the court, and I saw, and behold there was a hole in the wall. Ezekiel 8:8. And He said to me, Son of man, break through the wall: and I broke through the wall, and behold there was a door. Ezekiel 8:9. And He said to me, Come and see the wicked abominations which they are doing here. Ezekiel 8:10. And I came and saw, and behold there were all kinds of figures of reptiles, and beasts, abominations, and all kinds of idols of the house of Israel, drawn on the wall round about. Ezekiel 8:11. And seventy men of the leaders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them, stood in front, every man with his censer in his hand; and the smell of a cloud of incense arose. Ezekiel 8:12. And He said to me, Seest thou, son of man, what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every one in his image-chambers? For they say: Jehovah doth not see us; Jehovah hath forsaken the land. - The entrance of the court to which Ezekiel was now transported cannot be the principal entrance to the outer court towards the east (Ewald). This would be at variance with the context, as we not only find the prophet at the northern entrance in Ezekiel 8:3 and Ezekiel 8:5, but at Ezekiel 8:14 we find him there still. If he had been taken to the eastern gate in the meantime, this would certainly have been mentioned. As that is not the case, the reference must be to that entrance to the court which lay between the entrance-gate of the inner court (Ezekiel 8:3) and the northern entrance-gate to the house of Jehovah (Ezekiel 8:14), or northern gate of the outer court, in other words, the northern entrance into the outer court. Thus the prophet was conducted out of the inner court through its northern gate into the outer court, and placed in front of the northern gate, which led out into the open air. There he saw a hole in the wall, and on breaking through the wall, by the command of God, he saw a door, and having entered it, he saw all kinds of figures of animals engraved on the wall round about, in front of which seventy of the elders of Israel were standing and paying reverence to the images of beasts with burning incense. According to Ezekiel 8:12, the prophet was thereby shown what the elders of Israel did in the dark, every one in his image-chamber. From this explanation on the part of God concerning the picture shown to the prophet, it is very evident that it had no reference to any idolatrous worship practised by the elders in one or more of the cells of the outer court of the temple. For even though the objection raised by Kliefoth to this view, namely, that it cannot be proved that there were halls with recesses in the outer court, is neither valid nor correct, since the existence of such halls is placed beyond the reach of doubt by Jeremiah 35:4; 2 Kings 23:11, and 1 Chronicles 28:12; such a supposition is decidedly precluded by the fact, that the cells and recesses at the gates cannot have been large enough to allow of seventy-one men taking part in a festive idolatrous service. The supposition that the seventy-one men were distributed in different chambers is at variance with the distinct words of the text. The prophet not only sees the seventy elders standing along with Jaazaniah, but he could not look through one door into a number of chambers at once, and see the pictures draw all round upon their walls. The assembling of the seventy elders in a secret cell by the northern gate of the outer temple to worship the idolatrous images engraved on the walls of the cell, is one feature in the visionary form given to the revelation of what the elders of the people were doing secretly throughout the whole land. To bring out more strikingly the secrecy of this idolatrous worship, the cell is so completely hidden in the wall, that the prophet is obliged to enlarge the hole by breaking through the wall before he can see the door which leads to the cell and gain a view of them and of the things it contains, and the things that are done therein.

(Note: "Because the whole is exhibited pictorially and figuratively, he says that he saw one hole in a wall, and was directed to dig through and make it larger, that he might enter as if through an open door, and see the things which he could not possibly have seen while stationed outside." - Jerome.)

And the number of the persons assembled there suggests the idea of a symbolical representation, as well as the secrecy of the cell. The seventy elders represent the whole nation; and the number is taken from Exodus 24:1. and Numbers 11:16; Numbers 24:25, where Moses, by the command of God, chooses seventy of the elders to represent the whole congregation at the making of the covenant, and afterwards to support his authority. This representation of the congregation was not a permanent institution, as we may see from the fact that in Numbers 11 seventy other men are said to have been chosen for the purpose named. The high council, consisting of seventy members, the so-called Sanhedrim, was formed after the captivity on the basis of these Mosaic types. In the midst of the seventy was Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, a different man therefore from the Jaazaniah mentioned in Ezekiel 11:1. Shaphan is probably the person mentioned as a man of distinction in 2 Kings 22:3.; Jeremiah 29:3; Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 39:14. It is impossible to decide on what ground Jaazaniah is specially mentioned by name; but it can hardly be on account of the meaning of the name he bore, "Jehovah heard," as Hvernick supposes. It is probable that he held a prominent position among the elders of the nation, so that he is mentioned here by name as the leader of this national representation.

On the wall of the chamber round about there were drawn all kinds of figures of רמשׂ וּבהמה, reptiles and quadrupeds (see Genesis 1:24). שׁקץ is in apposition not only to בּהמה, but also to רמשׂ, and therefore, as belonging to both, is not to be connected with בּהמה in the construct state. The drawing of reptiles and quadrupeds became a sheqetz, or abomination, from the fact that the pictures had been drawn for the purpose of religious worship. The following clause, "and all the idols of the house of Israel," is co-ordinate with 'כּל־תּבנית וגו. Besides the animals drawn on the walls, there were idols of other kinds in the chamber. The drawing of reptiles and quadrupeds naturally suggests the thought of the animal-worship of Egypt. We must not limit the words to this, however, since the worship of animals is met with in the nature-worship of other heathen nations, and the expression כּל־תּבנית, "all kinds of figures," as well as the clause, "all kinds of idols of the house of Israel," points to every possible form of idol-worship as spread abroad in Israel. עתר, according to the Aramaean usage, signifies suffimentum, perfume, בּחשׁך, in the dark, i.e., in secret, like בּסּתר in 2 Samuel 12:12; not in the sacred darkness of the cloud of incense (Hvernick). חדרי משׂכּית, image-chambers, is the term applied to the rooms or closets in the dwelling-houses of the people in which idolatrous images were set up and secretly worshipped. משׂכּית signifies idolatrous figures, as in Leviticus 26:1 and Numbers 33:52. This idolatry was justified by the elders, under the delusion that "Jehovah seeth us not;" that is to say, not: "He does not trouble Himself about us," but He does not see what we do, because He is not omniscient (cf. Isaiah 29:15); and He has forsaken the land, withdrawn His presence and His help. Thus they deny both the omniscience and omnipresence of God (cf. Ezekiel 9:9).

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