Continuing without pause from the final words of chapter 8, Ezekiel 9 continues the vision of impending judgment on the idolatrous people of Judah and Jerusalem. The opening verse has the Lord crying out, summoning the executioners for the city of Jerusalem (1). Seven men immediately appear, six holding weapons of “ slaughter” (2) and one—dressed in linen—carrying a “writing case at his waist” (3). The scribe is told to “pass through Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sign and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (4). The others are told to ruthlessly and relentlessly kill all who have no mark, whether old or young, male or female (6). The judgment is to begin “at my sanctuary” (7).
Ezekiel sees what is beginning to happen (“as they were striking”) and falls upon his face, crying out in shock and sadness: “Ah Lord God! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem” (8). The Lord responds that the iniquity of Israel and Judah is “exceedingly great” (9). He speaks of the injustice and violence committed in the city. This violence is linked to the conclusion drawn by many of the inhabitants that “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see” (9, see also 8:12). Because of this, the Lord repeats that his “eye will not spare”, nor will he show “pity” (10, see 8:18).
The chapter concludes with the man in linen reporting back that he has marked all those who are troubled and grieved by the idolatry, injustice and violence in the city.
Visions of God
God’s wrath is a fearful thing. This passage presents God as the judge who sentences the guilty to execution. He calls and commissions the executioners to do their grim task. This chapter destroys the illusion that God is a cosmic pushover, indulgent and lenient. While He is indeed slow to anger (Judah was given many years to repent), His anger is a fearful thing. As the writer of Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
God executes judgment that is fair and thorough. God’s judgment is fair (individually oriented, not just communal) and thorough (reach men, women, young and old). His wrath is not irrational or capricious but calculated and calibrated. No one slips through unnoticed. No one escapes. Here again is a fearsome reminder that the final judgment will be fair and thorough. As Romans 2:1-16 teaches, each one will be fairly judged.
God’s wrath will be poured out. Judgment expresses something fundamental about God—His holy justice. As John White wrote many years ago, it’s not that God becomes angry but that He is eternally angry with all that is evil. He will pour out his wrath on sin. Here is the wonderful news about the cross. As Paul explains in Romans 3:21-26, God did pour out his wrath and vindicate His justice. But He poured out his holy wrath on Himself in the person of His Son. Jesus bore the wrath of God in our stead. Now all who flee to Him find their death sentence already carried out. God is now the “just and justifier” of all who have faith in Christ (Rom 3:25-26).
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen can be both grieved by evil and concerned for evildoers. Ezekiel is certainly among those who “sigh and groan” over the abominations of God’s people. Yet, when judgment begins to come, he does not stand callously by, watching or delighting that it is taking place. Rather, he falls on his face and cries out, asking God to have mercy and at least spare a remnant (8). While he does not question God’s justice or accuse Him of injustice, he still pleads for mercy. By asking a question (“Will you destroy all the remnant”) he is actually making a request (“Please spare some!). This should be the heart attitude of all God’s watchman. We see evil and hate what we see. However, we plead for the Lord to “in wrath, remember mercy” (Hab 3:2).
Watchmen keep their eyes on the glory of God. Throughout this vision (Ezek 8-11), Ezekiel notes the presence and movement of the glory of God as it leaves the Temple and departs from the city. Ezekiel certainly sees the pervasive wickedness and punishing judgment visited on the people of Israel. But he keeps God’s glory in view. Here is a good lesson for all watchmen: never take your eyes off the glory of God. Let it be the bright spot in the midst of our preaching and warning and praying. Jesus said faithful preachers seek the glory of God (John 7:16-18). May that be true of me at all times.