He cried also in my ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near…
He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, etc. In the preceding chapter the various forms of idolatry which were practised in Jerusalem, and by which the Lord Jehovah was provoked, were set forth; and now Ezekiel beholds in vision the treatment which God was about to deal out to the people by reason of their provocations. We observe -
I. THAT THE AGENTS OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS ARE EVER READY TO EXECUTE HIS COMMANDS. "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," etc. (vers. 1, 2). Instead of "Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near," Hengstenberg translates, "The visitations of the city draw near;" and Schroder, "Near are the visitations of the city." These six must be angels, heavenly watchers over the city; or, perhaps, as Bunsen says, "the punishing and destroying angels," who are now to execute the Divine retribution. They are spoken of as men, because they appeared in human form, in which form angels appeared unto Abraham (Genesis 18:2). That they were angels is evident also from the fact that they formed the retinue of the "man in their midst, clothed in linen," who is "no other than the angel of the Lord, and whom we never see accompanied with any other retinue than that of the lower angels; compare for example Zechariah 1:11, etc., and Joshua 5:14, where the angel of the Lord designates himself as prince of the host of the Lord" (Hengstenberg). Many have been the conjectures as to the significance of the number of these angels. The true explanation seems to be that, with the angel of the Lord, they made the sacred number - seven (cf. Zechariah 3:9; Revelation 5:6). They were the executioners of the judgments of God upon the guilty inhabitants of the favoured city. And they were to execute it under the direction of "the man clothed in linen." For we have to regard him "not alone as appointed to the work of delivering the pious - not as standing in opposition to the six ministers of righteousness. The protection of the pious is his privilege; but the work of vengeance also stands under his control. The six are to be regarded as absolutely subordinate to him, executing the work of destruction only by his order and under his authority" (ibid.). After the execution of the judgment in this chapter, he said, "I have done as thou hast commanded me" (ver. 11). And in Ezekiel 10:2, 7, he is expressly represented as the agent of the Most High in the burning of the city. Now, these angelic beings may be said to have been the agents, and the Chaldeans the instruments, in the work of slaughter. Soon as they were required for that work they were promptly at hand. And soon as they received their commands "they went forth, and slew in the city." Many are the agents and instruments which God employs; and when he summons them, they quickly respond to his call. When he commanded, the flood of waters overwhelmed the old world; and the flood of fire consumed the cities of the plain; and the earth yawned and engulfed the rebels against Moses and Aaron. In his judgments upon Egypt, frogs and flies, locusts and hail, were his ready instruments (cf. Psalm 68:43-51; 148:8).
II. IN THE EXECUTION OF HIS JUDGMENTS GOD DISCRIMINATES BETWEEN THE TWO GREAT DIVISIONS OF MORAL CHARACTER. "And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side; and the Lord said unto him," etc. (vers. 6). Thus in this judgment certain persons were to be spared, while the rest were cut off; and provision was made for sparing them. How were they to be divided? Upon what principle was the awful separation to be made?
1. The discrimination is in moral character. There are those who represent the great division of men as a matter of Divine choice, altogether irrespective of human character or conduct. They say that men are elect or non-elect and reprobate solely because of the determinations of the Divine will. Certainly it is not so in this case. In the Divine estimation the essential division of men is not material, social, or intellectual, but moral. Mark the character here indicated of the men who are to be preserved: "The men that sigh and cry for all the abominations, that be done in the midst" of the city.
(1) Men who deeply grieved because of sin. They "sighed for all the abominations," etc. They did not participate in them, or regard them as trivial, or treat them with indifference; but were burdened by them, and mourned over them. Thus have holy men in all ages been afflicted by sin (cf. 2 Peter 2:7, 8; Psalm 119:53, 136, 158; Psalm 139:21; Jeremiah 9:1; Ezra 9:3). And thus our blessed Lord was deeply moved by the wickedness and woe of men (cf. Luke 13:34; Luke 19:41-44).
(2) Men who gave expression to their grief because of sin. "That cry" - or groan - "for all the abominations," etc. Their sorrow found audible utterance. It was not concealed, but manifest. Their cries and groans indicated the oppression of their souls. "It argues strength of grace," says Greenhill, "to mourn for others' sins. Censuring and reproaching of others for their sins argues strength of corruption; and mourning for them argues strength of grace, a sound spiritual constitution. Such a one was in Christ; he prayed because of the hardness of others' hearts (Mark 3:5)." Such are the characters who were to be spared in the great slaughter.
2. The discrimination is made in infinite wisdom. "And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side," etc. (vers. 3, 4). Some think that the inkhorn was to be used for registering the names in the book of life, and making the mark upon the forehead. And as to the character of the mark, many contend that it was in the form of a cross. But the entire proceeding appears to be symbolical. We know that it took place in vision; and this marking upon the forehead was not to be an actual external thing, but it was a figurative setting forth of the truth that in the general slaughter certain persons would be safe, they would be guarded by the omniscient and omnipotent providence of God. Now, this discrimination was infallible. The man with the inkhorn is no other than he who "knew all men, and needed not that any one should testify of man; for he himself knew what was in man." His knowledge is infinite, both in its minuteness and in its comprehensiveness. And in the final judgment, which is committed unto him, there will be no mistake. To him every man's character will be manifest as if written upon his forehead; and he will read it with unerring accuracy.
3. The discrimination leads to most momentous issues. "And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite," etc. (vers. 5, 6). They who had the mark upon their foreheads were exempted from the awful judgments, while they who had it not were subject unto them. The signed ones were perfectly secure; the unsigned were ruthlessly slaughtered. But were the godly actually preserved in the siege and capture of the city? We know that Jeremiah, Ebed-melech, and Baruch were (Jeremiah 39:16-18; Jeremiah 45:5). But looking at the question more broadly - Are the true and good exempted from the judgments which befall the wicked? In some instances they have been. Noah was saved when the ungodly world was drowned; Lot was rescued from the doomed cities of the plain; the Israelites escaped the plagues which fell upon the Egyptians; and ere the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans the Christians had escaped to the little town of Pella, in Persia. But, to quote the words of Dr. Payson, "it will perhaps be said that many of the most bold and faithful servants of God and opposers of vice have suffered even unto blood, striving against sin. We grant it, but still it is true that the mark of God was upon them. It appeared in those Divine consolations which raised them far above suffering and the fear of death, and enabled them to rejoice and glory in tribulation. Did not Stephen exhibit this mark, when his murderers saw his face as it had been the face of an angel? Did not Paul and Silas display it, when at midnight their joy broke forth, in the hearing of their fellow prisoners, in rapturous ascriptions of praise? Did not some of the martyrs display it, when they exclaimed in the flames, 'We feel no more pain than if reposing on a bed of roses'?" So far as the outward event is concerned, the righteous and the wicked have often been swept away in one common calamity; but wide has been the difference of their inward experiences in such calamities. Nothing befalls the godly but what they shall be sustained under, and it shall be overruled for their good. In the gracious providence of God "all things work together for good to them that love" him. "Who is he that will harm you if ye be zealous of that which is good?" It is eternally true that "righteousness tendeth to life; and he that pnrsueth evil pursueth it to his own death." In the last great assize the wicked "shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life."
III. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD FALL FIRST UPON THOSE WHO HAVE PERVERTED THE RICHEST PRIVILEGES. "Slay utterly... and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house." The ancient men, or elders, are those mentioned in Ezekiel 8:16 as standing "with their faces toward the east," worshipping the sun. They had practised their idolatry nearest to the sanctuary of the Most High; and they were the first to be slain. As ancient men, elders, they occupied a position of honour and privilege, and should have used their influence to keep the people faithful to the Lord their God; but they had set an example of idolatry, and they were to be made the first example of judgment. "Begin at my sanctuary" - the place where the highest privileges had been neglected or perverted, where priests had proved treacherous to their trust, and where God was dishonoured. "To stand near the house of God is a blessed and also a safe position; but it is also the most dangerous position, if it is hypocrisy. Certainly in this case religion is no lightning conductor, but what the tree is in the storm; those who are under it are sure to be struck dead" (Schroder).
1. Let those who are eminent in position and privileges endeavour to be eminent also in principle and piety.
2. Let every one ask himself - Am I of the character of those who were spared in this stern judgment? - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.