Meditations from Ezekiel: 16. A Separating Out
Ezek 9:3,4 Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
Call for the Guards: The vision continues but the content changes and we move away from observing the various expressions of the apostasy in Jerusalem to see something completely different but very much related. It is heralded by the Lord’s loud call: “Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” (9:1) Now it is speculation whether these are real armed guards or angelic guards within this vision but there is an immediate response: “ I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” (v.2a) Why six is uncertain but there is a seventh: “With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.” (v.2b) Also why they come from the north gate and stand beside the bronze altar is again not explained. Possibly there is a contrast intended, these men coming to do God’s will come from the place where there is an idol and a woman worshiping other false deities. Perhaps it says that despite the appearances of idol worship prevailing the will of God will come forth from within it and be brought to the heart of the place of encounter with God.
The Departing Glory: But then something significant occurs: “Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple.” (v.3a) We have to distinguish in the pages of Ezekiel between the glory in heaven in the vision of chapters 1 and 10, and the glory of the Lord that dwelt on the earth. God’s glory represents His presence and it had been there from the origin of the Temple (see 1 Kings 8:10,11) The movement of the glory is tragic. We saw it first, simply in the Temple in 8:4. It’s usual resting place was over the cherubim in the Most Holy Place, the innermost part of the Temple, but now (9:3) it moves to the threshold of the Temple. Later (10:18,19) if joins with the heavenly cherubim and moves to the east gate of the Temple. Even later it moves from there and leaves the city (11:23). The gradual departure of the glory of the Lord from His Temple and His city is a key issue in this book.
Back to the guards: Having seen this we return to the seven men. Other versions of verse 1 say, “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” (NKJV) or “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” (ESV) each suggesting a different emphasis, one that these men are associated with the city in the same way that the angels are associated with the seven churches of Asia Minor in Rev 1, and the other that they are to bring the judgment of God.
Marking & Judgment: So now we see the Lord giving instructions to them: “Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” (v.3b,4) Now this is important to see. First there is to be a marking out of all the righteous ones in Jerusalem by the one with a priestly appearance and writing kit. But then, second, “As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” (v.5,6) there is to be a judgment on those without the mark. The absence of pity or compassion suggests that this is to be purely an objective exercise that depends entirely upon the heart of each person confronted in Jerusalem. And so the destruction begins (v.6b-11).
Considerations: Now we have to remember various things about this. First, the context. This is still a vision; this is not what was happening at that moment on the ground in Jerusalem. It is a prophetic picture of what will happen, an analogy of the truth behind what will happen when Nebuchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem again in a few years time.
Second, the cause. We have been shown in previous chapters what is going on in Jerusalem and it is so entrenched that the godless attitude that prevails, encompasses men, women and children, and so all these groups are guilty. Yet within the city there will be a few – a remnant – whose hearts anguish for the state of the city and the land. They are the faithful few, the righteous ones who still hold firm to the Lord and they will be saved. That is what this chapter is all about, dividing out the righteous from the unrighteous.
Third, nothing changes. In the big overarching history of the Bible and of the world, this is how it is. Because of Sin entering the world at the Fall, this propensity prevails, this propensity to self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteousness and so often idolatry. Yet there will always be those who, even before the coming of Jesus, had hearts that sought out the Lord and His goodness (see Rom 2:6-10). Now with the coming of Jesus, he is the bench mark for faith and those who believe will be saved but those who refuse to believe and go on refusing to believe will be condemned.
The heart of God: What we have been reading in this chapter, and what is behind all that is about to happen in the next few years of this history, all boils down to whether a people will determine to remain self-centred, godless, idolaters, or whether they will hear the word of the Lord and repent and be saved. There will be a faithful remnant and we have already referred to them in an earlier study when we recognized Jeremiah and the few with him who were saved. Later in Ezekiel we find a three-times repeated message about the heart of the Lord: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23, then 18:32 and then 33:11) I have to agree with those who say that these three sets of verses are perhaps the most important message of the entire book and they go to reveal the Lord’s heart behind all that took place in Jerusalem in these years. This judgment that we have been reading about in chapter 9 is no callous, cold-hearted destruction by an unfeeling God. To the contrary we see it is the action of a God who anguishes over His people (even as He had done from the start – See Ex 3:7-9) and who concludes that this must be a judgment of the last resort – and yet one from whom there will be a remnant saved, and of those who are carried away into exile, there will yet be a further chance in decades to come to return home and start again. It is an incredible story!