In Ezekiel 9, God has two sets of instructions. On one hand, he tells a man (angel) clothed in linen to mark everyone in Jerusalem who sighs and groans over the abominations in the city. On the other hand, he commands six men (angels) to slaughter people who do not have the protective mark. These people include young men, old men, women, and children.
This chapter has been the topic of interesting discussion. In a rabbinic source known as the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, the writer observes that the man in linen reports back to God, whereas the six executioners do not. Only the being who protected God’s people reports back to God. The writer concludes that God is more interested in protection and love than in slaughter. This implies that God’s punishment of Jerusalem was reluctant and, in a sense, out of character.
Jonathan Edwards also appealed to Ezekiel 9, only he emphasized God’s wrath. In Original Sin, Edwards observes that God ordered the slaughter of infants. Since God protects the righteous in the chapter, Edwards argues, then the infants must be tainted with sin and deserving of their punishment. Edwards used Ezekiel 9 to justify infant damnation.
What I want to look at today is the means that God used to protect his people. Essentially, Ezekiel 9 is a metaphor of what happened to Jerusalem. Jerusalem did not fall through a literal angelic slaughter of unmarked inhabitants. Rather, Jerusalem fell at the hands of the Babylonians. God’s command to the six executioners symbolizes that God was behind the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. The Babylonian invasion was God’s expression of his just wrath.
What does the marking of the righteous symbolize? How were the righteous preserved? While I will continue to read Ezekiel to see if he answers those questions, I notice that Jeremiah actually presents a scenario: the righteous were preserved through obedience to God’s word. Jeremiah told the Judeans that they should surrender to Babylon and go into exile. Those who did so saved their own lives. Many who refused were slaughtered.
History actually repeated itself in 70 C.E. Jesus told his disciples (who in turn told other Christians) to flee to the mountains when they saw the abomination of desolation in the temple (Mark 13:14). Those who obeyed saved their lives. Those who did not were mostly killed.
In both cases, the Judeans had to destroy some idols in their hearts in order to obey God. In the sixth century B.C.E., many Judeans wanted to hold on to their nation and its long-standing institutions. Jeremiah said that God wanted to purify them and offer a new beginning, but they clung to the past. In 70 C.E., there were Judeans who desperately wanted independence from Rome. Most longed for the good old days, while the Christian survivors forsook the “good old days” in favor of what God wanted them to do.
Obedience to God required devotion. In Ezekiel 9, God tells the man in linen to mark those who are disturbed by the immorality and idolatry in the land. These people are sensitive to God. They love what he loves and they hate what he hates. Popular opinion does not influence their decisions. These were the people who obeyed God’s message when the Babylonians invaded. Most of the Judeans tried to hold on to their national institutions, and surrender to Babylon was largely viewed as treasonous. Devotion to God was needed for the Judean minority to disregard peer pressure, obey, and (as a result) save their own lives. The righteous Judeans were protected through their obedience to God’s word.
Later this week, we will discuss some implications of this. Stay tuned!