1 Samuel 31; 1 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 9; Psalm 48
IF EZEKIEL 8 DESCRIBES THE CORRUPT worship that was going on in Jerusalem in the years leading up to her destruction in 587 B.C., Ezekiel 9 describes something of what God does about it.
There is both a negative component and a positive element. In his vision, Ezekiel hears God call for “the guards of the city” (Ezek. 9:1)—more precisely, the executioners of the city. Six men arrive, “each with a deadly weapon in his hand” (Ezek. 9:2). A seventh man, clothed in linen, has a writing kit at his side. God commissions him to put an identifying mark on the foreheads of those who will escape slaughter; he commissions the executioners to go through the city “and kill, without showing pity or compassion” (Ezek. 9:5), beginning at the sanctuary itself. “So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple” (Ezek. 9:6).
As they proceed with their grisly task, Ezekiel cries out, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” (Ezek. 9:8). The Lord responds with a devastating indictment (Ezek. 9:9-10) that includes a word-play: the people of Israel insist the Lord does not “see” (or “look”), so the Lord resolves not to “see/look” on them with pity or spare them. He is resolved to “bring down on their own heads what they have done” (Ezek. 9:10).
The positive element has already been alluded to. Not everyone is destroyed. The seventh man, the man with the writing kit, goes through the city putting a mark on the foreheads “of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (Ezek. 9:4). The executioners are strictly forbidden to harm these people (Ezek. 9:5). Note well: those who are spared are not those who simply sit on the sidelines, but those who actively grieve over the spiritual degradation of the city. They may not have the power to effect change, but they have not sunk into the lassitude of careless indifference. And God spares them.
Of course, all that is described here takes place within Ezekiel’s visionary world. In the real world, we are not to think that all the righteous and only the righteous escaped all of the sufferings associated with Nebuchadnezzar’s siege: the Bible is full of stories in which righteous people suffer (e.g., Naboth the vineyard owner). What this vision does mean is that God himself ordains the judgment, and God himself vindicates those who are covenantally faithful. Similar symbolism is picked up at the end of Revelation 13 and the beginning of Revelation 14 (see vol. 1, meditation for December 23).