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Welcome to Bible Fiber, where we are encountering the textures and shades of the biblical tapestry through twelve Minor Prophets, two reformers, and one exile. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel, both ancient and modern.

This week we are studying Ezekiel 9, a continuation of the vision that began in Chapter 8 with the prophet’s depressing sneak peek into Jerusalem’s abominations. Presumably, Ezekiel remained in his home with his visitors, but he sat there in an altered state of consciousness as the vision played out.

After showing Ezekiel the reprehensible practices in the temple, Yahweh pronounced judgment on Judah. At three different points, Yahweh reiterated that his pity had run out (8:18; 9:5, 10). His compassion tank was on empty.

Six executioners and one scribe

Ezekiel watched as God summoned six executioners forward to take their places in the temple courtyard. The executioners each wielded a weapon for slaughter (9:2). Initially, Ezekiel referred to them as “guards,” but their task was not to protect the temple city. Although he also referred to them as “men,” they behaved more like angelic assistants than regular mortals. They only purposed to do God’s bidding.

Besides the six executioners, God summoned one scribe, a man dressed in linen with a writing kit strapped to his side. The scribe also has angelic-like qualities. The word Ezekiel used for writing kit was an Egyptian loanword to describe a professional scribe’s carrying pouch. Scribal kits usually contained a writing palette, a pen, and two colors of ink.

Momentarily, Ezekiel’s attention shifted to the temple’s inner sanctum, away from the executioners and scribe. He noticed “the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the entryway of the temple” (9:3). Despite Ezekiel’s priestly background, he lacked access to the Holy of Holies, as he was not the High Priest. However, in his visionary experience, he could peer into the Holy of Holies. After seeing the gleaming amber figure atop the throne chariot, the sight of his earthly footstool does not shake Ezekiel.

The Glory

In the dreamlike recount of the Jerusalem vision, Yahweh’s glory seems to exist at several points simultaneously. When the vision began, his glory addressed Ezekiel from the mobile throne chariot. In the tour of the temple abominations, his glory seems to be walking alongside Ezekiel as his guide. Then suddenly, Ezekiel spies his glory rustling in the Holy of Holies.

According to Jewish understanding, Yahweh’s presence always sat atop the Ark of the Covenant’s mercy seat. The cherub Ezekiel mentioned was one of two statues originally placed by King Solomon on either side of the Ark. Although their height is unknown, the Bible describes their fifteen-foot wingspan as stretching across the entire length of the room (1 Kings 6:23-28). Ezekiel’s mention of Yahweh’s stirring within the temple was almost parenthetical, but it foreshadowed the most climatic moment in the first half of Ezekiel: Yahweh’s full departure from Jerusalem (11:23)


The six executioners congregated by the temple’s bronze altar. They awaited Yahweh’s signal to dispense his judgment. Mercifully, Yahweh first gave instructions to the scribe: “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (9:4). God tasked the scribe with separating the faithful from the unfaithful. When the executioners moved through the city, they had to spare all x-marked individuals. Interestingly, the criteria for selection were whether they were visibly and audibly grieving Jerusalem’s spiritual decline. In distinguishing between the repentant and unrepentant, Yahweh was looking for passion and zeal. Those who were quietly discomforted by idolatry, but remained silent, did not receive the saving mark. The mark was reserved only for those who loudly lamented Jerusalem’s rebellion and protested the rampant sin that had taken over their city.

The scribe moved through Jerusalem, marking the righteous with a tav on their forehead. Tav is the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Scholars do not quite know what the letter was meant to represent in Ezekiel’s vision. In the block script still used today, tav is rectangular. In the paleo-Hebrew cursive script, the letter was written as two intersecting lines, like an “X”.

Christian thinkers in the early church—like Origen and Tertullian—were keen to notice that an x-mark was cross-like in appearance. Ezekiel’s imagery suited Christian theology: all those with marked by the cross of Christ were saved from the penalty of death. Whether or not the x-mark was a cross, Ezekiel’s imagery of righteous folk bearing a permanent mark on their foreheads inspired Christian apocalyptic literature. In the book of Revelation, 144,000 believers will appear with Jesus on Mount Zion with a visible seal on their foreheads as a sign of their salvation (Rev. 14:1).

Ezekiel’s vision was not the only time in the Bible that God placed a physical marker on the righteous to spare them from his wrath. From the very beginning of Israel’s history, God had Abraham undergo circumcision as a symbol of his dedication and obedience (Gen. 17). Circumcision continued to be a visible marker separating Abraham’s descendants from the surrounding peoples. When Moses neglected to circumcise his son, the Lord almost killed him had it not been for the quick knife work of his wife Zippora (Ex. 4:24-26).

The Passover is the most obvious comparison to the saving powers of Ezekiel’s scribal ink. When the angel of death passed over Egypt, it killed the first born in every Egyptian home. However, the Israelites who covered their doorposts with the blood of a lamb were spared (Ex. 12).

Once the scribe’s task was complete, Yahweh ordered the six executioners to move through the city, cutting down everyone without the forehead marking, even women and children (9:6). They started at the temple courtyard, where the elders from the previous vision were still gathered to worship the sun. Quickly, the temple courtyard turned into a slaughterhouse. According to the laws of the Torah, corpses defiled both the temple and the priests (Num. 19:11-22). However, their idolatry had already voided any normal purity standard. God commands, “Defile the house and fill the courts with the slain” (9:7).

Interpreting the Babylonian attack

Only five years after Ezekiel’s vision, the Babylonians attacked and burned Jerusalem in 587 BCE. Like the six executioners, Nebuchadnezzar’s army slaughtered everyone in its path without discrimination or pity. The book of Lamentations describes slain bodies of the old and young cluttering the streets of Jerusalem (Lam. 2:21).

Ezekiel’s vision offered a prophetic interpretation of a near-future event. The Babylonians were God’s agents of destruction, summoned by him. It might appear to other nations that the Babylonian attack surprised Yahweh. Because of the prophets, expelled Israelites could look back on their plight and understand that God had tried to warn them for decades. Their exile did not challenge God’s sovereignty; it proved God’s sovereignty.

The carnage Ezekiel witnessed in his vision left him weak. He collapsed and cried out to God for mercy. Overwhelmed, he cried, “Ah Lord God! Will you destroy all who remain of Israel as you pour out your wrath upon Jerusalem?” (9:8). The prophet worried that after the slaughter, the Israelites would be extinct without even a surviving remnant. When God first called him to the prophetic office, he made his forehead hard like flint to withstand the callous response of his audience (3:9). However, nothing prepared him for the violent actions of God. He tried to intercede on behalf of the people, but it was too late.

Rather than answering Ezekiel directly, God justified his judgment. He reiterated he could no longer tolerate their infidelity, violence, and injustice. He said, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city full of perversity” (9:9).

Although God’s reply may have left the prophet unsatisfied, Ezekiel’s actual answer came through the scribe. The prophet reported, “Then the man clothed in linen with the writing case at his side brought back word, saying, ‘I have done as you commanded me” (9:11). The scribe’s task was to ensure that the righteous and unrighteous experienced different fates. His laconic announcement that he completed his task meant the remnant was secure. The remnant was Ezekiel’s last hope.

Sheep and goats

Although the scribe marked the foreheads of the righteous, it seems doubtful that every righteous person in Judah avoided being killed by the Babylonians. That is not the way God works in the world today when horrible things happen. Righteous people die alongside everyone else in wars, accidents, and terrorist attacks. It’s a dangerous way of thinking to assume only those who miraculously survive life-threatening events are right with the Lord. What I believe, based on the Bible’s description of a remnant, is that many of the x-marked people survived the attack and became the progenitors of the revived nation of Israel. However, I am sure that the attack killed plenty of righteous people as well. If so, from the standpoint of eternity, their death was only a departure from the present life, but they were secure in their eternal life. When God promised the scribe would separate the faithful and unfaithful, it might not have only related to the earthly dimension of life.

The New Testament also mentions a day when God will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told a parable of a shepherd tasked with separating the sheep in his flock from the goats (Matt. 25:31-46). The sheep represented the righteous, who treated others with loving kindness and honored God. When they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, gave water to the thirsty, and welcomed strangers, they were serving and honoring Christ himself. The goats represented the unrighteous. They lacked compassion and only cared about themselves, ignoring the plight of the oppressed and marginalized. On the Day of judgment, God would put the sheep at his right hand and the goats on his left. The sheep would receive eternal life as a reward, while the goats would face eternal punishment.

Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. And please keep the nation of Israel in your prayers as the country continues to accomplish its war goal of releasing the remaining hostages and eradicating Hamas.

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Shabbat Shalom