Summary: After God showed Ezekiel the extent of the idolatry of Jerusalem, he then shows Ezekiel that in spite of His anger, a remnant will be preserved.
In Chapter 8 we saw God’s bold demonstration that the people of Judah were more than deserving of His divine judgment, if for no other reason, their idolatry. When they faced the North (the direction of their kinsman nation of Israel, which had already been judged) and sneered at them, there was an idol in front of them. When they went to worship in the temple, there were idols in the courtyard. There were idols hidden in the deepest recesses of the temple. The ultimate delusion of the Jews was that they could worship idols and still serve God. God shows Ezekiel what’s going on in the city of Jerusalem and repeatedly states the obvious, that the people are deserving of Judgment.
In chapter 9, we see some balance brought to judgment. God demonstrates an awareness of His own and the need to spare a remnant.
VERSES 1-2: Calling out the Guard
The voice Ezekiel hears is evidently the voice of God calling out the “guards” of the city and these six men come and stand before the altar. Each of these six men has a weapon in his hand and is prepared to mete out judgment. The 7th man, the one who completes the group, however is dressed as a priest, and instead of weapons he has a scribe’s writing kit at his side. The writing kit of a scribe normally was made from an animal’s horn. It carried a slot for pens and a compartment designed to hold ink, often two different colors, black and red.
Notice that the number of men who come and stand before the bronze altar in the temple is seven. This number suggests completeness and indicates that their actions will be conclusive and complete.
VERSES 3-6 : A Mark and a Slaughter
The first part of this section shows God preparing to visibly depart from dwelling in the temple. Ezekiel saw the Glory of God prepare to depart (which it does in chapter 10) by visibly rising and going to the door of the sanctuary.
Before the judgment and executions commence, the messenger dressed like a priest is commanded to go through the city and place a mark (the Hebrew word is taw) on the forehead of those who were grieving over the abominable worship taking place in the temple. The “mark” was used to distinguish the righteous from the unrighteous. Taw is the last letter of the Jewish alphabet and resembles an X or a sloped cross. Of course, if we interpret this in light of the New Testament, God is somehow placing these people under the blood of Christ, looking forward to the day of judgment. Also, the letter taw may have been short for tam which means blameless. Those with the mark are preserved.
Marks in the Bible are interesting and used more frequently than we know. We see the concept of God marking and then preserving His own in Revelation Chapter 7. Of course, the devil stirs up the Anti-Christ to do some sealing of his own by demanding that people take the mark of the beast upon their head or hand in order to receive sustenance. God also marks Cain so that nobody will take his life. Finally, God declares that He has taken note of those who fear Him (Malachi 4) and will preserve them.
In this case, the executioners were commanded not to harm any person who had this mark, clearly demonstrating that God is a righteous judge, even as he speaks sternly that He has no pity, His wrath is reserved for the unrighteous, not the righteous.
VERSES 7-11: Who Left that Body in the Temple?
Normally, corpses were not permitted in the sanctuary because a dead body was considered to be spiritually unclean. However, here the executioners are told not to be concerned about defiling the temple. Why? It was because the temple had already been completely defiled by the idol worship taking place within its confines. The temple was ruined for Holy Worship. The Glory of God was about to depart and the need for judgment to take place was strong.
The execution begins with the elders of Jerusalem. These men had led the people of God astray and judgment always begins with spiritual leaders. Then, the judgment spread to the city.
Ezekiel, seeing this judgment taking place, was overwhelmed and cried out to God. He feared that God was going to completely destroy the people, even the remnant. He voiced his concern to God who responded boldly that both the nations, Israel and Judah, were corrupt. He mentioned the other two sins (aside from idolatry) of violence and injustice. It is important to remember that the three major sins that the prophets all seem to echo in their pronouncements against God’s people were: 1) idolatry, 2) oppression of the poor, 3) Injustice.