In Ezekiel’s hearing (literally, “in my ears”), YHWH called out with a loud voice, directing those who would be making a visitation of the city (a visitation for punitive action against Jerusalem) to draw near. Each one was equipped with a destroying implement or weapon in his hand. (9:1; see the Notes section.) From the direction of the upper temple gate, the gate facing north, six men came, each one with “his implement of slaughter in his hand.” The six men apparently represented the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar that invaded from the north and would devastate Jerusalem, including the temple. Among the six men was another man. He was dressed in linen clothing and had a scribe’s inkhorn or writing case at his waist. All seven men entered the inner court of the temple and then stood “beside the altar of copper” or bronze (the altar of burnt offering). (9:2; see the Notes section.)
The “glory of the God of Israel” had been above the “expanse,” firmament, or platform over the four living beings or cherubs. This “glory” or dazzling brilliance that appeared in the likeness of a man (1:26; 3:22, 23; 8:2, 4) moved to the threshold [inner court (LXX)] of the house” or temple, probably the threshold of the entrance into the Most Holy. From that position, YHWH is represented as calling out to the man dressed in linen clothing and with a scribe’s inkhorn or writing case at his waist (a “girdle on his waist” [LXX]). (9:3; see the Notes section.)
YHWH said to the man dressed in linen clothing, “Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark [sign (LXX)] on the foreheads of the men [or people] moaning and groaning over all the abominations [lawless deeds (LXX)] that are done in the midst of it.” Those who were sighing and groaning were persons who lived uprightly and were deeply distressed about the idolatrous practices, oppression, and injustices they witnessed among the people of Jerusalem. The word translated “mark” is the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, taw. In ancient times, the letter “taw” was written like an “X.” A number of modern translations reflect this in their renderings. “Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it.” (NAB, revised edition) “Mark with a cross the foreheads of those who groan and lament over all the abominations practised there.” (REB) “Mark a cross on the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over all the loathsome practices in it [Jerusalem].” (NJB) (9:4)
In his “ears” or in his hearing, Ezekiel heard YHWH tell the six men with the weapons, “Pass through the city after him [the man dressed in linen clothing] and strike. Your eye shall not have pity, and you shall not show compassion.” They were not to look with pity upon the people nor have any feeling of compassion for them. (9:5) The men with the weapons were to slay old men and young men, virgins, little children, and women. They, however, were not to go near anyone who had previously been marked. The men were instructed to begin the punitive action at the sanctuary. Their first victims were the old men in front of the temple (literally, “before the face of the house”). According to the Septuagint, the “men of the elders” were “inside, in the house,” which could mean inside the temple complex. (9:6)
The idolaters at the temple would not have considered their practices as disgusting and as polluting the sacred precincts. From YHWH’s standpoint, however, the temple was defiled, and his command to the six men with the weapons was to pollute it even more with dead bodies. They were to fill the temple courts with the slain. In response to the directive to go forth, they did so and began striking down the unmarked people “in the city,” Jerusalem. (9:7; see the Notes section.)
With the slaughter occurring all around him, Ezekiel finally found himself alone. He dropped to his knees, fell upon his face, and cried out, “Ah, Lord YHWH, are you destroying all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath upon Jerusalem?” The Targum refers to Ezekiel as making the plea, “Hear my petition.” (9:8)
In response to Ezekiel’s reaction to the slaughter conveyed to him in a vision, YHWH revealed why the punitive judgment was merited. The “guilt of the house [or people] of Israel and Judah” was “exceedingly great” (literally, “with muchness, muchness”). The “land” was “full of bloods,” with much innocent blood having been shed through acts of violence and judicial corruption, and the city, Jerusalem, was full of injustice. It appears that, because of not seeing any help coming from YHWH, the people said that he had “forsaken the land” (the “inhabitants” of the land [Targum]) and did not see, having no knowledge of what they were doing. (9:9; see the Notes section.)
YHWH was fully aware of everything that was taken place among the people. He determined that his “eye” would not have pity or look with any pity on the people during the time for the execution of punitive judgment nor would he show any compassion. The consequences for “their way” or their corrupt course of conduct would come upon “their head” as merited punishment. (9:10)
To report what he had accomplished, the man dressed in linen clothing and with a writer’s inkhorn at his waist said to YHWH, “I have done as you commanded me.” (9:11; see the Notes section.)
The Septuagint, in verse 1, indicates that the “judgment” of Jerusalem had drawn near.
In verse 2, the Septuagint says that one man was clothed with a robe (one that reached down to the feet) and had a “girdle of sapphire upon his waist.”
According to the interpretation of verse 3 in the Targum, the glory had been in the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy.
The rendering of verse 7 in the Septuagint is shorter than the wording of the Masoretic Text. “And he [God] said to them, “Pollute the house [the temple], and fill the ways with carcasses, [you], the ones going out, and strike” or slay.
Instead of being “full of bloods” (verse 9), the Targum says that the land was full of those who deserved to be slain. The Septuagint refers to the land as being filled with “many peoples.”
In verse 11, as in verse 3, the Septuagint says that the man was clothed with a robe and had a “girdle on his waist.”
The commission of the man dressed in linen clothing reveals the deep concern YHWH has for his devoted servants. It indicates that, regardless of how perilous circumstances may become, a remnant of godly persons will survive and benefit from his loving attention and care.