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Angels looking for fallen Israelites to execute

God continued pointing out the wickedness of the exiled people to Ezekiel. Ezekiel heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring me those who are appointed to execute judgement on the city. Have each bring a weapon in hand.”

Ezekiel saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, the gate which faces north. Each man carried a deadly weapon in his hand. 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.

The glory of God went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then God called to the man clothed in linen who had a 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 their city.”

Then God said to the others,

“Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.”

So, they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.

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Ezekiel bows before God in visionThen God said,

“Defile the temple and fill the courts with he slain. Go!”

So, the men went out and began killing throughout the city. While they were killing, Ezekiel fell to the ground crying out,

“Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

God answered Ezekiel,

“The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land. The Lord does not see.’ So, I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

The man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word saying, “I have done as you commanded.”

What the story means to us today

Consequences for actions – a common biblical theme

While Ezekiel watches the abominations occurring inside the Temple, six executioners enter the inner court’s northern gate accompanied by a man wearing linen and carrying a writing kit at his side. Appropriately the seven men gather around the bronze altar – the altar of the sacrificial judgement.

God begins to leave the temple while ordering the execution of the heathens within the temple. Ezekiel’s people have lost their way and God is relinquishing his divine guidance while judgement is carried out.

Actions and consequences are a repeated motif in the Bible. The principle is still relevant today – there must be consequences for our actions. And many times, those consequences can be severe, even deadly. It should be noted though, that God showed compassion for those who chose to follow him. They were marked and left unharmed. In this sense, the execution of fallen Israelites within the temple can be seen as God’s way to protect those who chose to follow him.

Additional thoughts and considerations

How to reconcile a god of wrath with a god of compassion

Ezekiel's vision - four living creaturesThe point that typically stands out in people’s minds is the horror surrounding the brutal destruction initiated by the hand of God. Even Ezekiel himself was stunned by the violence. But we cannot fail to see God’s compassion too. God protected those who followed him.

Mankind chose free will. We cherish the freedom today. Man’s ability to make choices requires there must always be consequences for those choices. Without consequences, God’s guidance means nothing and free will becomes nothing more than mindless chaos.

The Bible tells us repeatedly that evil will be destroyed – and the destruction of evil does not come by chance, but by the hand of God, Still, recognize that what Ezekiel witnessed was merely a vision, symbolic of the destruction of Jerusalem. Ultimately, the destruction would be carried out by the invading Babylonians, not six divine warriors.

The glory of God moves from the cherubim to the threshold of the temple

Cherubim are seen throughout the Bible. Exactly what they are is unclear. They were described earlier by Ezekiel as “creatures”, with a human form but with four faces and four wings (Ezekiel 1:5). In this instance, they appear to be divine “movers of the throne”. Ezekiel says the “glory of God’ moved from above the cherubim to the threshold or entryway of the temple. God is symbolically or literally leaving the temple.

With regards to the cherubim, there are at least two possible ways to interpret this. The cherubim could be the bearers of the throne and God is seen leaving the throne to exit the temple. Or God’s position could have been above the cherubim, who act as protectors over the temple, but not carried by them. Regardless, Ezekiel sees God remove his divine glory from his chosen people.

A God who sees all

When Ezekiel pleas for the people’s lives, God tells Ezekiel “they say the Lord does not see”. The chosen people felt God had forgotten them. Unfortunately for the people in the temple, we find that the Lord did see – and he was repulsed by what he saw. God sees everything but may not necessarily reveal his presence at the time we expect.

Who were the men who executed judgement?

Ezekiel sees angels destroy fallen IsraelitesAlthough Ezekiel describes the entities he witnessed as “men”, it is clear they are heavenly, divine beings of some sort. The man with the writing kit at his side wore linen, a symbol of purity and godliness. He is the one responsible for marking the righteous. He is the people’s protector, their salvation. Daniel records a similar being wearing linen who acts as a guiding angel.

The first ones executed – the religious leaders who stood in front of the temple

When God orders the execution of the rebellious people, he instructs the men to “begin at my sanctuary”. God’s judgement begins with the men in front of the temple. These are the elders who were worshipping false deities. Elders are religious leaders and as such, bear responsibility for those they lead. Through their leadership, their actions are greatly amplified – good and bad – and the consequences of their actions will be amplified too.

We see judgement dispensed on fallen religious leaders all around us today. Whether sex scandals, lies, or thievery, religious leaders who have fallen are ultimately exposed and judged according to their deeds. The critical responsibility they hold over the lives and souls of those they lead dictates their judgement should indeed be severe.

The Lord’s response to Ezekiel’s pleas

Ezekiel is heartbroken to see the bloodshed brought upon his people. He is a kind man, caring, and loves his fellow Israelites. He pleads with God, “Alas, are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel?” Ezekiel fears everyone is going to be destroyed. Sadly, it appears as if Ezekiel wonders if there are any righteous people left.

God reminds Ezekiel of the severity of the people’s transgressions. All seems lost, but there is promise. The man with the writing kit arrives and tells God that he had completed his task – marking the righteous for protection. A remnant of God’s chosen people will survive.

The science and history behind the story

The writing equipment carried by the man wearing linen

The word used to describe the man in linen’s writing equipment (“scribe’s inkhorn”) are probably based on Egyptian concepts. The word only appears in Ezekiel 9. The writing implements of Egyptian scribes included the scribe’s pens, ink carriers, writing surfaces, and a case to carry them in that could double as a portable desk.

Notes on Biblical translation

The weapons carried by the executioners

Most translations call the objects carried by the men “deadly weapons”, “war clubs”, or “battle axes”. The true translation is “shattering weapon” which indicates the weapon could be any sort of device that shatter’s a human’s body.

The mark placed on the forehead of the righteous

The word for “mark” in Hebrew is an “X” – or if turned slightly, a cross.

Bible Text

NIV

9 Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” 2 And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. 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.

3 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. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 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.”

5 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. 6 Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.

7 Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. 8 While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Alas, Sovereign LORD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

9 He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see.’ 10 So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

11 Then the man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

9:1 Then he shouted in my ears, “Approach, you who are to visit destruction on the city, each with his destructive weapon in his hand!” 9:2 Next, I noticed six men coming from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with his war club in his hand. Among them was a man dressed in linen with a writing kit at his side. They came and stood beside the bronze altar.

9:3 Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub where it had rested to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man dressed in linen who had the writing kit at his side. 9:4 The LORD said to him, “Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the people who moan and groan over all the abominations practiced in it.”

9:5 While I listened, he said to the others, “Go through the city after him and strike people down; do no let your eye pity nor spare anyone! 9:6 Old men, young men, young women, little children, and women—wipe them out! But do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary!” So they began with the elders who were at the front of the temple.

9:7 He said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courtyards with corpses. Go!” So they went out and struck people down throughout the city. 9:8 While they were striking them down, I was left alone, and I threw myself face down and cried out, “Ah, sovereign LORD! Will you destroy the entire remnant of Israel when you pour out your fury on Jerusalem?”

9:9 He said to me, “The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is extremely great; the land is full of murder, and the city is full of corruption, for they say, ‘The LORD has abandoned the land, and the LORD does not see!’ 9:10 But as for me, my eye will not pity them nor will I spare them; I hereby repay them for what they have done.”

9:11 Next I noticed the man dressed in linen with the writing kit at his side bringing back word: “I have done just as you commanded me.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

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New King James Version

9 Then He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” 2 And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his battle-ax in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer’s inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar.

3 Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; 4 and the LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.”

5 To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; fdo not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. 6 Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. 7 Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city.

8 So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?”

9 Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!’ 10 And as for Me also, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity, but I will recompense their deeds on their own head.”

11 Just then, the man clothed with linen, who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, “I have done as You commanded me.”

Thew New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1 9 Then I heard him call out loudly, “Executioners, come! And bring your deadly weapons with you.”

2 Six men came down the road from the upper gate that faces north, each carrying his lethal weapon. With them was a man dressed in linen with a writing case slung from his shoulder. They entered and stood by the bronze altar.

3–4 The Glory of the God of Israel ascended from his usual place above the cherubim-angels, moved to the threshold of the Temple, and called to the man with the writing case who was dressed in linen: “Go through the streets of Jerusalem and put a mark on the forehead of everyone who is in anguish over the outrageous obscenities being done in the city.”

5–6 I listened as he went on to address the executioners: “Follow him through the city and kill. Feel sorry for no one. Show no compassion. Kill old men and women, young men and women, mothers and children. But don’t lay a hand on anyone with the mark. Start at my Temple.”

They started with the leaders in front of the Temple.

7–8 He told the executioners, “Desecrate the Temple. Fill it with corpses. Then go out and continue the killing.” So they went out and struck the city.

While the massacre went forward, I was left alone. I fell on my face in prayer: “Oh, oh, GOD, my Master! Are you going to kill everyone left in Israel in this pouring out of your anger on Jerusalem?”

9–10 He said, “The guilt of Israel and Judah is enormous. The land is swollen with murder. The city is bloated with injustice. They all say, ‘GOD has forsaken the country. He doesn’t see anything we do.’ Well, I do see, and I’m not feeling sorry for any of them. They’re going to pay for what they’ve done.”

11 Just then, the man dressed in linen and carrying the writing case came back and reported, “I’ve done what you told me.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

9 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. 2 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 brazen altar. 3 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; 4 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. 5 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: 6 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. 7 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.

8 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? 9 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. 10 And as for me also, rmine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head. 11 And, behold, gthe man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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