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.
Verse 1. - He cried, etc. The voice comes, as before, from the human form, seen as a theophany, in the midst of the Divine glory. Cause them that have charge over the city. The noun is an abstract plural, commonly rendered "visitation" (Isaiah 10:3; Jeremiah 11:23, and elsewhere). Here, however, it clearly stands for persons (just as we use "the watch" for "the watchmen"), and is so used in Isaiah 60:17; 2 Kings 11:18 (comp. Ezekiel 44:11). The persons addressed are called "men," but they are clearly thought of as superhuman; like the angels who came to Sodom (Genesis 19:1); like the angel with the drawn sword in 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:16. His destroying weapon. The word clearly implies something different from a sword, but corresponds in its vagueness to the Hebrew. In ver. 2 the Hebrew for "slaughter weapon" implies an instrument for crashing into fragments, probably an axe or mace. A cognate word in Jeremiah 51:20 is translated "battle axe," and the LXX. gives that meaning here, as also does the margin of the Revised Version.
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.
Verse 2. - Behold, six men, etc. The man clothed with linen brings the number up to the sacred number seven, as in Zechariah 4:10; Revelation 1:16, 20; Revelation 15:6. He is over them rather than among them, and answers to the scribe who appears so frequently in Assyrian sculptures, as the secretary who counts the prisoners that have been taken in battle. They come from the north, the region from which the vision of Ezekiel 1:4 had come, in which, in the nearer vision of Ezekiel 8:4, the prophet had seen the same glorious presence. They appear, i.e., as issuing from the Divine presence to do their work of judgment. Possibly. as in Jeremiah 1, there may be an allusive reference to the fact that the Chaldeans, as the actual instruments of their judgment, came from the same region. The gate in question was built by Jotham (2 Kings 15:35). The captain of the band is arrayed in the "white linen" of the hosts of heaven and of the priests on earth (ποδήρης in the LXX.; comp. Leviticus 6:10; Leviticus 16:4; Ezekiel 44:17; Daniel 10:5; Daniel 12:6). A writer's inkhorn. Through all the changes of Eastern life this has been the outward sign of the scribe's office. Here it is obviously connected with the oft-recurring thought of the books of life and death in the chancery of heaven (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Psalm 139:16; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3). It was to be the work of this scribe (ver. 4) to mark such as were for death to death, such as were for life to life. The LXX., misunderstanding the Hebrew, or following a different text, gives, not "a writer's inkhorn," but "a girdle of sapphire." With all the precision of one who knew every inch of the temple courts, the priest-prophet sees the visitants take their station beside the brazen altar, probably, as they came from the north, on the north side of it.
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;
Verse 3. - Was gone up; better, went up. The prophet saw the process as well as the result. The "glory of the Lord" which he bad seen (Ezekiel 8:4) by the northern gate rose from its cherub throne (we note the use of the singular to express the unity of the fourfold form), as if to direct the action of his ministers, to the threshold of the "house." This may be connected also with the thought that the normal abiding place of the presence of the Lord had been "between the cherubim" (Psalm 80:1) of the mercy seat, but that thought seems in the present instance to be in the background, and I adopt the former interpretation as preferable.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Verse 6. - Begin at my sanctuary, etc. It was fitting that the spot in which guilt had culminated should be the starting point of punishment. There seems something like a reference to this command in 1 Peter 4:17. In each case judgment "begins at the house of God." So the dread work began with the ancient men, or elders, of the same class, i.e., if not the same persons, as those in Ezekiel 8:11.
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.
Verse 7. - Defile the house, etc. What Ezekiel saw in vision was, we may well believe, fulfilled literally when the city was taken by the Chaldeans. The pollution of the temple by the bleeding corpses of the idolatrous worshippers was a fitting retribution for the worship with which they had polluted it (comp. Ezekiel 6:13).
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?
Verse 8. - I fell upon my face, etc. The ministers of vengeance and the prophet were left in the courts of the temple alone. His human, national sympathies led him, as they led Moses (Numbers 11:2; Numbers 14:19) and St. Paul (Romans 9:1-3) to undertake the work of intercession. With the words which had been the keynote of Isaiah's prophecies, probably present to his thoughts (Isaiah 37:32, et al.), he asks whether Jehovah will indeed destroy all that remnant of Israel (comp. Ezekiel 11:13) who might be as the germ of hope for the future.
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.
Verse 9. - Then said he unto me. The answer holds out but little comfort. The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah (we note the coupling of the names though Judah only was the immediate subject of the vision, as if his prayer had gone up for the whole body of the twelve tribes) was immeasurably great. Not idolatry only, but its natural fruits, bloodshed and oppression, had eaten into the life of the nation (comp. Ezekiel 7:11, 12; Ezekiel 8:17; Ezekiel 22:25). And these evils had their root in the practical atheism of the denials which had been already uttered in Ezekiel 8:12. and which are here reproduced. The unpitying aspect of God's judgments is, for the present, dominant, and the work must be thorough. One notes how the despair of the prophet leads him to forget those who were to have the mark upon their foreheads, who were indeed the true "remnant." Like Elijah, he does not know of any such (1 Kings 19:10); like Jeremiah, he searches through the streets of Jerusalem, and cannot find one righteous man (Jeremiah 5:1).
And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head.
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.
Verse 11. - And, behold, etc. The speaker in the previous verses had been none other than the Presence which remained upon the cherubic lotto, while the seven ministers did their work. The captain of the seven now returns to report, as an officer to his king, that the work has been accomplished.