Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Angels which Smite Jerusalem
At the call of Jehovah, His servants appear to execute the judgment. - Eze 9:1. And He called in my ears with a loud voice, saying, Come hither, ye watchmen of the city, and every one his instrument of destruction in his hand. Eze 9:2. And behold six men came by the way of the upper gage, which is directed toward the north, every one with his smashing-tool in his hand; and a man in the midst of them, clothed in white linen, and writing materials by his hip; and they came and stood near the brazen altar. Eze 9:3. And the glory of the God of Israel rose up from the cherub, upon which it was, to the threshold of the house, and called to the man clothed in white linen, by whose hip the writing materials were. - פּקדּות העיר does not mean the punishments of the city. This rendering does not suit the context, since it is not the punishments that are introduced, but the men who execute them; and it is not established by the usage of the language. פּקדּה is frequently used, no doubt, in the sense of visitation or chastisement (e.g., Isa 10:3; Hos 9:7); but it is not met with in the plural in this sense. In the plural it only occurs in the sense of supervision or protectorate, in which sense it occurs not only in Jer 52:11 and Eze 44:11, but also (in the singular) in Isa 60:17, and as early as Num 3:38, where it relates to the presidency of the priests, and very frequently in the Chronicles. Consequently פּקדּות are those whom God has appointed to watch over the city, the city-guard (Kg2 11:18), - not earthly, but heavenly watchmen, - who are now to inflict punishment upon the ungodly, as the authorities appointed by God. קרבוּ is an imperative Piel, as in Isa 41:21, and must not be altered into קרבוּ (Kal), as Hitzig proposes. The Piel is used in an intransitive sense, festinanter appropinquavit, as in Eze 36:8. The persons called come by the way of the upper northern gate of the temple, to take their stand before Jehovah, whose glory had appeared in the inner court. The upper gate is the gate leading from the outer court to the inner, or upper court, which stood on higher ground, - the gate mentioned in Eze 8:3 and Eze 8:5. In the midst of the six men furnished with smashing-tools there was one clothed in white byssus, with writing materials at his side. The dress and equipment, as well as the instructions which he afterwards receives and executes, show him to be the prince or leader of the others.
Kliefoth calls in question the opinion that these seven men are angels; but without any reason. Angels appearing in human form are frequently called אנשׁים or אישׁ, according to their external habitus. But the number seven neither presupposes the dogma of the seven archangels, nor is copied from the seven Parsic amschaspands. The dress worn by the high priest, when presenting the sin-offering on the great day of atonement (Lev 16:4, Lev 16:23), was made of בּד, i.e., of white material woven from byssus thread (see the comm. on Exo 28:42). It has been inferred from this, that the figure clothed in white linen was the angel of Jehovah, who appears as the heavenly high priest, to protect and care for his own. In support of this, the circumstance may be also adduced, that the man whom Daniel saw above the water of the Tigris, and whose appearance is described, in Dan 10:5-6, in the same manner as that of Jehovah in Eze 1:4, Eze 1:26-27, and that of the risen Christ in Rev 1:13-15, appears clothed in בּדּים (Dan 10:5; Dan 12:6-7).
(Note: לבוּשׁ בּדּים is rendered by the lxx, in the passage before us, ἐνδεδυκώς ποδήρῃ. It is in accordance with this that Christ is described in Rev 1:13 as clothed with a ποδήρης, and not after Dan 10:5, as Hengstenberg supposes. In Dan 10:5, the Septuagint has ἐνδεδυμένος βαδδίν or τὰ βαδδίν. In other places, the Sept. rendering of בּד is λίνον (thus Lev 16:4, Lev 16:23; Lev 6:3; Exo 28:42, etc.); and hence the λίνον λαμπρόν of Rev 15:6 answers to the בּד made of שׁשׁ, βύσσος, and is really the same as the βύσσινον λαμπρόν of Rev 19:8.)
Nevertheless, we cannot regard this view as established. The shining white talar, which is evidently meant by the plural בּדּים, occurring only here and in Daniel (ut. sup.), is not a dress peculiar to the angel of Jehovah or to Christ. The seven angels, with the vials of wrath, also appear in garments of shining white linen (ἐνδεδυμένοι λίνον καθαρὸν λαμπρόν, Rev 15:6); and the shining white colour, as a symbolical representation of divine holiness and glory (see comm. on Lev 16:4 and Rev 19:8), is the colour generally chosen for the clothing both of the heavenly spirits and of "just men made perfect" (Rev 19:8). Moreover, the angel with the writing materials here is described in a totally different manner from the appearance of Jehovah in Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 10, or that of Christ in Rev 1; and there is nothing whatever to indicate a being equal with God. Again, the distinction between him and the other six men leads to no other conclusion, than that he stood in the same relation to them as the high priest to the Levites, or the chancellor to the other officials. This position is indicated by the writing materials on his hips, i.e., in the girdle on his hips, in which scribes in the East are accustomed to carry their writing materials (vid., Rosenmller, A. u. N. Morgenland, IV. p. 323). He is provided with these for the execution of the commission given to him in Eze 9:4. In this way the description can be very simply explained, without the slightest necessity for our resorting to Babylonian representations of the god Nebo, i.e., Mercury, as the scribe of heaven. The seven men take their station by the altar of burnt-offering, because the glory of God, whose commands they were about to receive, had taken up its position there for the moment (Kliefoth); not because the apostate priesthood was stationed there (Hvernick). The glory of Jehovah, however, rose up from the cherub to the threshold of the house. The meaning of this is not that it removed from the interior of the sanctuary to the outer threshold of the temple-building (Hvernick), for it was already stationed, according to Eze 8:16, above the cherub, between the porch and the altar. It went back from thence to the threshold of the temple-porch, through which one entered the Holy Place, to give its orders there. The reason for leaving its place above the cherubim (the singular כּרוּב is used collectively) to do this, was not that "God would have had to turn round in order to address the seven from the throne, since, according to Eze 8:4 and Eze 8:16, He had gone from the north gate of the outer court into the inner court, and His servants had followed Him" (Hitzig); for the cherubim moved in all four directions, and therefore God, even from the throne, could turn without difficulty to every side. God left His throne, that He might issue His command for the judgment upon Israel from the threshold of the temple, and show Himself to be the judge who would forsake the throne which He had assumed in Israel. This command He issues from the temple court, because the temple was the place whence God attested Himself to His people, both by mercy and judgment.
The Divine Command
Eze 9:4. And Jehovah said to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark a cross upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which take place in their midst. Eze 9:5. And to those he said in my ears: Go through the city behind him, and smite. Let not your eye look compassionately, and do not spare. Eze 9:6. Old men, young men, and maidens, and children, and women, slay to destruction: but ye shall not touch any one who has the cross upon him; and begin at my sanctuary. And they began with the old men, who were before the house. Eze 9:7. And He said to them, defile the house, and fill the courts with slain; go ye out. And they went out, and smote in the city. - God commands the man provided with the writing materials to mark on the forehead with a cross all the persons in Jerusalem who mourn over the abominations of the nation, in order that they may be spared in the time of the judgment. תּו, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, had the form of a cross in the earlier writing. התוה תּו, to mark a ת, is therefore the same as to make a mark in the form of a cross; although there was at first no other purpose in this sign than to enable the servants employed in inflicting the judgment of God to distinguish those who were so marked, so that they might do them no harm. Eze 9:6. And this was the reason why the תּו was to be marked upon the forehead, the most visible portion of the body; the early Christians, according to a statement in Origen, looked upon the sign itself as significant, and saw therein a prophetic allusion to the sign of the cross as the distinctive mark of Christians. A direct prophecy of the cross of Christ is certainly not to be found here, since the form of the letter Tâv was the one generally adopted as a sign, and, according to Job 31:35, might supply the place of a signature. Nevertheless, as Schmieder has correctly observed, there is something remarkable in this coincidence to the thoughtful observer of the ways of God, whose counsel has carefully considered all before hand, especially when we bear in mind that in the counterpart to this passage (Rev 7:3) the seal of the living God is stamped upon the foreheads of the servants of God, who are to be exempted from the judgment, and that according to Rev 14:1 they had the name of God written upon their foreheads. So much, at any rate, is perfectly obvious from this, namely, that the sign was not arbitrarily chosen, but was inwardly connected with the fact which it indicated; just as in the event upon which our vision is based (Exo 12:13, Exo 12:22.) the distinctive mark placed upon the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, in order that the destroying angel might pass them by, namely, the smearing of the doorposts with the blood of the paschal lamb that had been slain, was selected on account of its significance and its corresponding to the thing signified. The execution of this command is passed over as being self-evident; and it is not till Eze 9:11 that it is even indirectly referred to again.
In Eze 9:5, Eze 9:6 there follows, first of all, the command given to the other six men. They are to go through the city, behind the man clothed in white linen, and to smite without mercy all the inhabitants of whatever age or sex, with this exception, that they are not to touch those who are marked with the cross. The על for אל before תּחוס is either a slip of the pen, or, as the continued transmission of so striking an error is very improbable, is to be accounted for from the change of א into ע, which is so common in Aramaean. The Chetib עיניכם is the unusual form grammatically considered, and the singular, which is more correct, has been substituted as Keri. תּהרגוּ is followed by למשׁחית, to increase the force of the words and show the impossibility of any life being saved. They are to make a commencement at the sanctuary, because it has been desecrated by the worship of idols, and therefore has ceased to be the house of the Lord. To this command the execution is immediately appended; they began with the old men who were before the house, i.e., they began to slay them. האנשׁים הזּקנים are neither the twenty-five priests (Eze 8:16) nor the seventy elders (Eze 8:11). The latter were not לפני הבּית, but in a chamber by the outer temple gate; whereas לפני הבּית, in front of the temple house, points to the inner court. This locality makes it natural to think of priests, and consequently the lxx rendered ממּקדּשּׁי by ἀπὸ τῶν ἁγίων μου. But the expression אנשׁים זקנים is an unsuitable one for the priests. We have therefore no doubt to think of men advanced in years, who had come into the court possibly to offer sacrifice, and thereby had become liable to the judgment. In Eze 9:7 the command, which was interrupted in Eze 9:6, is once more resumed. They are to defile the house, i.e., the temple, namely, by filling the courts with slain. It is in this way that we are to connect together, so far as the sense is concerned, the two clauses, "defile...and fill." This is required by the facts of the case. For those slain "before the house" could only have been slain in the courts, as there was no space between the temple house and the courts in which men could have been found and slain. But לפני cannot be understood as signifying "in the neighbourhood of the temple," as Kliefoth supposes, for the simple reason that the progressive order of events would thereby be completely destroyed. The angels who were standing before the altar of burnt-offering could not begin their work by going out of the court to smite the sinners who happened to be in the neighbourhood of the temple, and then returning to the court to do the same there, and then again going out into the city to finish their work there. They could only begin by slaying the sinners who happened to be in the courts, and after having defiled the temple by their corpses, by going out into the city to slay all the ungodly there, as is related in the second clause of the verse (Eze 9:7).
Intercession of the Prophet, and the Answer of the Lord
Eze 9:8. And it came to pass when they smote and I remained, I fell upon my face, and carried, and said: Alas! Lord Jehovah, wilt Thou destroy all the remnant of Israel, by pouring out Thy wrath upon Jerusalem? Eze 9:9. And He said to me: The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is immeasurably great, and the land is full of blood-guiltiness, and the city full of perversion; for they say Jehovah hath forsaken the land, and Jehovah seeth not. Eze 9:10. So also shall my eye not look with pity, and I will not spare; I will give their way upon their head. Eze 9:11. And, behold, the man clothed in white linen, who had the writing materials on his hip, brought answer, and said: I have done as thou hast commanded me. - The Chetib נאשׁאר is an incongruous form, composed of participle and imperfect fused into one, and is evidently a copyist's error. It is not to be altered into אשּׁאר, however (the 1st pers. imperf. Niph.), but to be read as a participle נשׁאר, and taken with כּהכּותם as a continuation of the circumstantial clause. For the words do not mean that Ezekiel alone was left, but that when the angels smote and he was left, i.e., was spared, was not smitten with the rest, he fell on his face, to entreat the Lord for mercy. These words and the prophet's intercession both apparently presuppose that among the inhabitants of Jerusalem there was no one found who was marked with the sign of the cross, and therefore could be spared. But this is by no means to be regarded as established. For, in the first place, it is not stated that all had been smitten by the angels; and, secondly, the intercession of the prophet simply assumes that, in comparison with the multitude of the slain, the number of those who were marked with the sign of the cross and spared was so small that it escaped the prophet's eye, and he was afraid that they might all be slain without exception, and the whole of the remnant of the covenant nation be destroyed. The שׁארית of Israel and Judah is the covenant nation in its existing state, when it had been so reduced by the previous judgments of God, that out of the whole of what was once so numerous a people, only a small portion remained in the land. Although God has previously promised that a remnant shall be preserved (Eze 5:3-4), He does not renew this promise to the prophet, but begins by holding up the greatness of the iniquity of Israel, which admits of no sparing, but calls for the most merciless punishment, to show him that, according to the strict demand of justice, the whole nation has deserved destruction. מטּה (Eze 9:9) is not equivalent to מוהט, oppression (Isa 58:9), but signifies perversion of justice; although משׁפּט is not mentioned, since this is also omitted in Exo 23:2, where הטּה occurs in the same sense. For Eze 9:9, vid., Eze 8:12. For נתתּי 'דּרכּם בר (Eze 9:10 and Eze 11:21-22, 31), vid., Kg1 8:32. While God is conversing with the prophet, the seven angels have performed their work; and in Eze 9:11 their leader returns to Jehovah with the announcement that His orders have been executed. He does this, not in his own name only, but in that of all the rest. The first act of the judgment is thus shown to the prophet in a figurative representation. The second act follows in the next chapter.