The last couple of articles looked at Ezekiel 9:3-4, where – in a vision from God – Ezekiel saw men summoned. One of those men was charged with identifying those who grieved over the sin around them, by writing a mark of some kind on their foreheads.
Let’s take a look at the positive result of those receiving a mark here.
As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.
Ezekiel 9:5-6 NIV
While those who were marked were excluded from the consequences that others faced (like at the Passover), punishment is decreed for those who do not regret the evil that is going on. It is swift and it is unyielding, but it is also just.
In an age of grace, where God has shown us mercy through the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, this might seem harsh, but we must remember that death is the punishment for sin (Romans 6:23, Proverbs 10:16). While God often gives sinners a chance to repent and accept salvation, He is under no obligation to wait forever, and justice can be served whenever the time is right.
The Lookout says the following:
“God is a gentleman of the highest order. He will not stay where he is not wanted. However, he does not take lightly being pushed away. His patience has limits (Romans 2:4). If repeatedly pushed away, he will punish those who resist him. That is the essence of Ezekiel’s vision at this point.”
For those who think that old men shouldn’t have been the first to be executed, note that, in chapter 8, Ezekiel was shown examples of Israelite idolatry. In fact, Ezekiel 8:16 speaks of 25 men who were at the entrance of God’s temple, but who are apparently worshiping the sun or some other false god. In my mind, these seem to be those who are put to death first in verse 6: those who are willfully showing spite to God by worshiping another god in God’s own house.
This is also an example that Israelites should have understood. In Exodus 32, when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to find the Hebrew people worshiping a golden calf, he calls for those who are on God’s side (my paraphrase) to join him, and then – when the Levites step up – Moses sends them to execute people throughout the camp. (See Exodus 32:25-29)
It is normal to cringe at situations like this. Death is not part of God’s ideal, and once humanity brought death to the world by sinning, even the death of the condemned and unrepentant wicked is not a cause for celebration. However, we should not be surprised or offended when sin is punished, nor when our sin leads to the clearly-stated outcomes that God outlines in His Word. Instead, what is amazing is the fact that God does not promptly punish each of us with what we deserve. We also need to recognize that sometimes consequences are part of loving discipline, meant to bring us back to a better place.
(By the way, the Lookout – cited below – also frames this prophecy in context, identifying the army of King Nebuchadnezzar as the force that would actually be carrying out this merciless slaughter. However, Matthew Henry – also cited below – points out that some were spared during this invasion, similar to how Christians escaped the destruction of Jerusalem centuries later. The prophecy given to Ezekiel in his vision came to pass in what we now know as history.)
Continuing in verses 7-11, as the men – the scribe and the swordsmen – continue following their orders, Ezekiel expresses concern that Israel’s remnant would be destroyed. (Apparently, not too many people were receiving the mark of salvation.) This is a concern that God addresses, but I’ll let you read Ezekiel – and other books for the Bible – to learn that for yourself.
In addition, there is an explanation for this punishment in these later verses. Not only is there great evil in Jerusalem, but it sounds like the people think that God doesn’t even see what they are doing anymore. Remember that God’s mercy in delaying punishment, or when He holds back blessings to persuade people to return to Him, doesn’t mean that He isn’t still aware of everything that we do: whether in the dark or in the light.
By the end of this chapter, the scribe completes his work, and – we may expect – the six other men following him complete their work as well.
This is fairly heavy stuff, and I know what it is like to have our human logic wrestle with overt punishments for sin. We try to find the good in people, rationalize their (or our) behavior, or protest the plight of the innocent. However, I believe that the more we fully appreciate the horrific nature of sin, along with the fact that we – as human beings – propagate sin in this world, then just and fair punishment starts to make more sense, when delivered by a perfectly holy God who we have each turned our backs on, at one time or another.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 28, 2022
- The Lookout, August 28, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.