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Explore the enigmatic figures of Ezekiel’s vision with our in-depth analysis. Understand who the man with the secretary’s inkhorn and the six men with weapons symbolize in the context of divine judgment and mercy. Unlock the symbolism in the Book of Ezekiel and discover its relevance to biblical prophecy.
Ezekiel 8:5-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Detestable Things Seen in the Temple
5 Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and look, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great detestable things that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater detestable things.”
7 And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. 8 Then he said to me, “Son of man, dig in the wall.” So I dug in the wall, and look, there was an entrance. 9 And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked detestable things that they are committing here.” 10 So I went in and saw, and look, every form of creeping things and beasts and disgusting idols, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. 11 And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. 12 Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each man in the inner rooms of his idols? For they say, ‘Jehovah does not see us, Jehovah has forsaken the land.’ ”
Ezekiel 9:1-7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Six Executioners and Man with Inkhorn
9 Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.”
2 And look, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and one man was in the midst of them clothed in linen, with a scribe’s inkhorn at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the copper altar.
3 Now the glory of the God of Israel rose from where it had rested above the cherub and moved to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the scribe’s inkhorn at his waist. 4 Jehovah said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the detestable things which are being committed in its midst.”
5 But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not feel any compassion. 6 Old man, young man, virgin, little children, and women kill outright. But do not touch any man on whom there is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. 7 Then he said to them, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.” So they went out and struck in the city.
The Figures in Ezekiel’s Vision
In the profound visions of Ezekiel, we are often confronted with imagery that is both complex and compelling, stirring within us a deep desire for understanding. One such vision is found in Ezekiel 9, where a man clothed in linen with a writer’s inkhorn and six men armed with weapons for smashing appear prominently. These figures are not mere specters of the prophet’s imagination but hold significant symbolic weight within the narrative.
Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry occurs at a tumultuous time for the people of Judah. Jerusalem is on the brink of destruction by the Babylonians, and Ezekiel’s prophecies often reflect the righteous judgment of Jehovah upon His people due to their persistent idolatry and sinfulness. The vision in chapter 9 follows a graphic portrayal of idolatry and detestable practices in the temple in the preceding chapter, which sets the context for understanding the subsequent judgment depicted in the vision.
The man with the secretary’s inkhorn (see more below) is introduced as one clothed in linen with a writing kit at his side. In ancient Near Eastern cultures, linen was often worn by those engaged in priestly service, denoting purity and set-apartness. Moreover, the inkhorn signifies a role that involves recording or marking—functions associated with administration, selection, and preservation.
In the vision, Jehovah instructs this man to “go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the detestable things which are being committed in its midst.” (Ezekiel 9:4, UASV). The Hebrew word for “mark” here is תָו (taw), which is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and, in the ancient script, is written as an “X” or a cross-like figure. This marking serves as a divine protection against the impending judgment, sparing those who are pained by the sins surrounding them. This parallels the Passover in Egypt, where the blood on the doorposts marked the houses of the Israelites, protecting them from the destroyer (Exodus 12).
The man with the inkhorn can be seen as representing a divine agency of mercy and preservation amidst judgment. He symbolizes the concept that Jehovah’s judgments are not indiscriminate; He acknowledges and preserves those who are faithful and grieved by unrighteousness.
Accompanying this figure are six men with weapons for smashing, whom Jehovah commands to follow through the city and strike without mercy or pity, sparing none but those marked by the secretary. These men personify the instruments of God’s judgment. The number six, one less than seven, which often symbolizes completeness in biblical numerology, may suggest that these agents of judgment are not the final word or the complete end; there is yet something to follow, an eventual restoration beyond the destruction.
The nature of the weapons and the actions commanded to the six men highlight the severity of divine judgment. Just as idolatry and sin have defaced the spiritual and moral fabric of the nation, the smashing signifies an irrevocable shattering of the existing state of affairs. It conveys the irrefutable truth that there are consequences to persistent sin and rebellion against God’s sovereign statutes.
When we ponder the significance of these figures in Ezekiel’s vision, it is imperative to understand the broader thematic elements present throughout the book. Ezekiel’s prophecies consistently reinforce the righteousness of Jehovah’s judgments (Ezekiel 18:25), His sovereignty over all nations (Ezekiel 29:20), and the promise that He will not forsake His covenant with Israel despite their unfaithfulness (Ezekiel 16:60).
Interpreting these figures also requires us to acknowledge the limitations of temporal and historical specifics. While they undoubtedly addressed the immediate context of impending Babylonian conquest, the enduring principles they embody resonate throughout the canon of Scripture. The man with the inkhorn and the six men with weapons for smashing thus function on multiple levels: as agents within a specific historical judgment and as representations of Jehovah’s timeless principles of justice and mercy.
In the New Testament, we see echoes of this motif of marking and sparing in the sealing of the 144,000 servants of God in Revelation 7, which shows continuity in divine dealings—God’s protection and salvation are assured for those who are His, even amidst judgment.
In conclusion, Ezekiel’s vision is a powerful tableau of justice and mercy. The man with the secretary’s inkhorn represents the divine intention to preserve the righteous even when executing judgment, while the six men with smashing weapons symbolize the instruments of that judgment. Jehovah’s actions are deliberate and considered, always preserving a remnant for Himself. The enduring lesson from Ezekiel’s vision is clear: Jehovah’s judgments are just, and His mercy is evident, even in the midst of the most severe acts of justice. This vision is not merely an ancient narrative but echoes a timeless principle that transcends generations. It is a testament to the fact that within Jehovah’s sovereignty, judgment comes with a profound awareness of human frailty and the potential for repentance.
The man with the inkhorn, marking the faithful, assures us that Jehovah does not overlook those who are loyal to Him. It resonates with the assurance given in 2 Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of Jehovah roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is complete toward Him.” Conversely, the six men with weapons stand as a stern reminder of the consequences of turning away from Jehovah’s statutes and commands.
This vision in Ezekiel stands as a profound message for all who read it. It serves as a sobering reminder that idolatry and sin can corrupt and lead to downfall, but it also highlights Jehovah’s enduring commitment to those who remain steadfast in their devotion to Him. Those marked by the man with the inkhorn are those who grieve over the abominations committed, showing that Jehovah values a heart that is sensitive to sin and yearns for purity.
Moreover, the vision speaks to the reality of Jehovah’s patient call for repentance. Before the execution of judgment, there is always the merciful opportunity for individuals to turn back to Him. The narrative is also emblematic of the hope that lies beyond judgment – the hope of restoration and renewal. The preservation of a remnant signifies a future where faithfulness can flourish once again.
For believers today, the message is dual-edged: it is a call to self-examination and a reminder of Jehovah’s unfailing mercy. It encourages a personal application, urging individuals to align with Jehovah’s standards and to mourn the moral decay seen in the world. In doing so, one aligns with the man with the inkhorn, rather than with those who face the judgment of the six men with weapons.
In reflecting on Ezekiel’s vision, we find a narrative rich with meaning, deeply rooted in Jehovah’s character as just and merciful. It demonstrates that while Jehovah’s ways may transcend human understanding, His purposes are always laced with the threads of grace for those who choose to live in accordance with His will. This balance of justice and mercy is central to understanding Jehovah’s dealings with humanity throughout the Scriptures and remains a pivotal concept for the faithful.
The Figures in Ezekiel’s Vision
At Ezekiel 9:2, 3, 11, we find the man clothed in linen (pictures Jesus Christ) responsible for marking godly individuals on the forehead is depicted as having “a scribe’s inkhorn (writing case) at his waist,” which would have been secured by the girdle about his waist. The six men with smashing weapons depict the angels with Christ. This scribe’s inkhorn may have been comparable to those that appear in numerous ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. “The pen was a rush or reed cut to a point that could serve as brush or point depending on the shape of the letter being drawn. Ink was made from a mixture of carbon and gum. Red ink had iron oxide added to produce the color needed for rubrics or the lines on the scroll. Completing his kit would be a knife to sharpen his pens (Jer 36:23).”—(Walton, Matthews and Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Old Testament) 2000, 697)
2. six men] Angels of wrath—figurative of destruction. They come from the North, the quarter from which invading armies entered the Holy Land. These six Angels, with the one among them, a superior over the six, make up the number seven, a number symbolical of God’s Covenant with His people.
the higher gate] The North gate of the court of the priests. The Temple rose by platforms; as there was a North gate to the outer and also to the inner court, the latter was probably distinguished as the higher gate. It was built by Jotham (2 K. 15:35).
clothed with linen] The priestly garment (Ex. 28:6, 8; Lev. 16:4). This One Man (Cp. Dan. 10:5; Rev. 1:13) was the Angel of the Covenant, the great High Priest, superior to those by whom He was surrounded, receiving direct communication from the Lord, taking the coals of vengeance from between the Cherubim (10:2), but coming with mercy to the contrite as well as with vengeance to the impenitent;—these are attributes of Jesus Christ (John 5:30; Luke 2:34; Matt. 9:13; John 6:39).
a writer’s inkhorn] Usually a flat case about nine inches long, by an inch and a quarter broad, and half an inch thick, the hollow of which serves to contain the reed pens and penknife. At one end is the ink-vessel which is twice as heavy as the shaft. The latter is passed through the girdle and prevented from slipping through by the projecting ink-vessel. The whole is usually of polished metal, brass, copper or silver. The man with the inkhorn has to write in the Book of Life the names of those who shall be marked. The metaphor is from the custom of registering the names of the Israelites in public rolls. Cp. Ex. 32:33; Ps. 69:28; Isai. 4:3; Philip. 4:3; Rev. 3:5. – Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Jeremiah, Lamentations & Ezekiel, ed. F. C. Cook and J. M. Fuller (London: John Murray, 1879), 324–325.
Evaluating Walton and Barnes
This interpretation, which sees the man clothed in linen as representing Jesus Christ and the six men with smashing weapons as angels accompanying Christ, is one that aligns with a symbolic and prophetic understanding of the text. It does, however, require a careful analysis within the context of Ezekiel’s vision and the broader theological narrative of Scripture.
The description provided for the scribe’s inkhorn is detailed and fits well with the historical context of the ancient Near East, giving a tangible picture of the equipment a scribe of Ezekiel’s time might carry. This kind of historical detail helps to paint a vivid image for readers and grounds the vision in a real-world setting.
Identifying the man in linen as the Angel of the Covenant and connecting this figure with attributes of Jesus Christ is a theological interpretation that some scholars and believers have made. This view is often supported by looking to other scriptural passages where similar imagery is used, such as Daniel 10:5 and Revelation 1:13, which describe a figure in linen who is often interpreted as a divine messenger or as Christ himself.
Similarly, the six men with weapons being interpreted as angels of wrath fits within a common framework for understanding divine judgment as executed by angelic beings. These figures being described as coming from the north, a direction often associated with invasion and judgment in the Hebrew Bible, supports this interpretation.
The number seven, as mentioned, is frequently seen in the Bible as symbolizing completion or divine perfection, which would reinforce the idea of a complete and divinely ordained judgment in this passage.
In biblical prophecy, the use of metaphorical language is common, and the concept of a book of life is a well-established metaphor for God’s remembrance of those who are His. The inkhorn, therefore, as a tool for inscription, would naturally lend itself to the metaphor of registering the faithful for preservation.
When weaving these interpretations into an article, it is important to clarify that such views are theological in nature and represent one way of understanding the text among various scholarly opinions. This perspective is deeply rooted in the historical-grammatical approach to biblical interpretation, respecting the original context and language while also considering the theological implications that conservative scholars have drawn over centuries.
In all, the proposed analysis provides a comprehensive and historically informed understanding of Ezekiel 9:2-3, 11, aligning with a conservative theological interpretation that sees these figures as representative of divine judgment and salvation.