Marking Those Who Sigh and Cry
AMONG the many prophetic pictures throwing light on the work Jehovah is now having done in the earth is the one found in the ninth chapter of Ezekiel. Briefly there we are told of a vision which Ezekiel saw of six men with battle-axes or slaughter weapons appearing from the north at the call of Jehovah’s messenger, and in whose midst was a man clothed in linen with a writer’s inkhorn at his side. This man was told to go through the city of Jerusalem and set a mark upon the foreheads of all those who sighed and cried because of the abominations that were being committed in the land. Then the six men were commanded to go after him and slay all who had not been marked by him, sparing neither men, women nor children.—Ezek. 9:1-8.
Since this prophecy is among the things that were written aforetime for our instruction, it must have a meaning for us. (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4, NW) What is it? What is pictured by Jerusalem? By the six men with slaughter weapons? Why six? Why did they come from the north? Who is pictured by the man in linen? Why was he clothed in linen? and what is pictured by his marking work? Who are the ones that today sigh and cry? and for what abominations? What is pictured by the destruction of all those not having the mark? and why were not only men and women but also children slain?
At the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy Jerusalem had become unfaithful. Isaiah’s words “How is the faithful city become an harlot!” applied with even more force then than when they were first uttered by Isaiah more than a hundred years previous. (Isa. 1:21) Jerusalem professed to be dedicated to the one true God, Jehovah. It had Jehovah’s temple, his priesthood and royal house; his Word consisting of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. However, in spite of all this, as indicated in the previous chapter of Ezekiel (8), all kinds of wickedness were being practiced in the land, the worship of the sun, of human creatures and of the lower animals taking the place of the worship of Jehovah God, not to say anything about the oppression of the weak and poor and the sexual immorality.
How like modern Christendom! She likewise professes to be dedicated to God, has many houses or temples of worship, has God’s Word in more than a thousand languages, and has taken upon herself the name of God’s Son, Christ, namely Christendom. Yet in spite of all these professions we find the worship of intellectuality and of religious organizations, we find the evolution theory preferred to the Bible and the United Nations to God’s kingdom; and we also find all manner of oppression and immorality. Truly unfaithful ancient Jerusalem finds her counterpart in modern faithless Christendom.
IDENTIFYING THE SEVEN MEN
In the vision, Ezekiel heard an angelic messenger call with a loud voice: “Come forward, you officers of the city, armed each with his weapon of destruction!” In response to that command Ezekiel saw ‘six men coming from the north, each having a slaughter weapon, a battle-axe, in his hand’. (Ezek. 9:1, 2, AT; AS, margin) The one issuing the call well pictures Christ Jesus, to whom all power and authority has been committed, while the “six men” would well represent the angelic hosts he will use in the execution of God’s judgments upon Christendom. Yes, the same ones who began the work of executing Jehovah’s judgments by the casting of Satan and his demons out of heaven will also complete it.—Rev. 12:1-12.
Why did these six men come from the north? Because in the Bible the north is pictured as the place of Jehovah’s habitation. Zion, which is spoken of as Jehovah’s dwelling place, is said to be situated on “the sides of the north”. Promotions come, we are told, not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south, “but God is the judge,” clearly implying that he resides in the north. Also we read that Satan the Devil was ambitious to exalt his throne to the sides of the north in his efforts to be like the Most High. (Ps. 48:1-3; 75:6, 7; Isa. 14:12-14) Coming from the north thus shows that these are God’s executioners.
But why only six men? Is not the number six a symbol of incompleteness? True, and that would indicate that the six men do not picture all of God’s servants; and such is the case. God’s servants on earth will not share in the destructive work, even though belonging to Jehovah’s organization, and so the six men with slaughter weapons would not also picture them. Are God’s servants on earth also foreshadowed in this prophetic picture? Yes, they are.
In times past it was thought that the man in linen with the writer’s inkhorn by his side pictured a certain individual in modern times. However, that does not appear to be reasonable in view of the fact that not even Peter, Paul or John were foretold in the Bible in spite of the prominent roles they played in the early Christian congregation. Such would be attaching too much importance to a man and would savor of creature worship. Rather, all the facts indicate that this man in linen with a writer’s inkhorn by his side pictures or represents the body of faithful anointed Christians working as a unit for the accomplishment of Jehovah’s purposes in the earth, and who are working together under divine direction as the “faithful and discreet slave”. Isaiah likewise referred to this class of people as God’s “servant”. (Isa. 43:10-12; 52:7; 61:1-3; Matt. 24:45-47, NW) So the six men with slaughter weapons, picturing God’s invisible servants, and the man in linen, picturing God’s anointed servants on earth, together total seven, well picturing all such of God’s servants. And the division of these, six of one and only one of the other, would well show that the angelic hosts under Christ Jesus that will do the work of destruction are far more numerous than are God’s servants on earth.
THE WORK OF THE MAN IN LINEN
Why are these earthly servants represented as being clothed in linen? Revelation 19:8 (NW) depicts God’s servants as having on fine linen, which “fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones”. This would show that their work is a righteous work and that they have God’s approval. Such, of course, would not be possible were it not for their faith in the blood of Christ which gives them a clean standing before God.—Rom. 5:1, 9; Rev. 7:14, NW.
The man in linen is described as having ‘the writing material by his side’. (Leeser) In ancient times (and even today in some parts of the Middle East) such men with pen and metal ink bottle hanging from the shoulder went about the city offering their services to those unable to write and who had need of a letter or some business document to be drawn up; illiteracy being quite common then even as it still is in some parts of those lands. This writing equipment would well represent the various means used today to make known the good news of God’s kingdom, chief of which is the printed page.
The man with the writer’s equipment was commanded: “Pass through the city—through Jerusalem—and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst of it.” (Ezek. 9:4, AT) Do we see persons in Christendom sighing and crying because of the abominations in the land, the corruption, the juvenile and adult delinquency, the widespread immorality and lack of integrity in Christendom? We certainly do. In fact, all men of good will, all lovers of righteousness cannot do otherwise than mourn because of such conditions until they find out why God is permitting them and what the outcome will be. These are the ones whom Jesus termed “happy” because of being “conscious of their spiritual need”, and because of “hungering and thirsting for righteousness”; the ones “toiling and loaded down” to whom he offered refreshment.—Matt. 5:3, 6; 11:28-30, NW.
Particularly since 1918 has the man in linen been preaching a message of comfort for these who sigh and cry. In that year the good news “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” was first published in the form of public lectures, it later being printed in booklet form. At that time only a few thousand had a share in that publishing work; but the number of these has grown till at the present time about half a million ministers are assisting in this work of marking men of good will in their foreheads.
What is meant or pictured by such being marked in their foreheads? For one thing, the forehead is the seat of intelligence, and this publishing work of Jehovah’s witnesses is impressing the truth upon the minds of the people, is leaving its mark on men of good will. But more important still, by accepting this knowledge and making it their own and by dedicating themselves to the doing of God’s will, such are identifying themselves as being the slaves of Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, even as in ancient times, in the nation of Israel, slaves bore a mark that all could see.—Ex. 21:6; Deut. 15:17.
These are the ones addressed at Zephaniah 2:1-3 (AS): “Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation that hath no shame; before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of Jehovah come upon you, before the day of Jehovah’s anger come upon you. Seek ye Jehovah, all ye meek of the earth, that have kept his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye will be hid in the day of Jehovah’s anger.” Those heeding this injunction receive the mark upon their foreheads, thus having the assurance of being spared.
Does that mean that all who receive the mark now are assured of living on and through the expression of Jehovah’s anger against the present wicked system of things? Yes, with the exception of some who may die from natural causes before that time, and the possibility that some may die during that destruction because of not being able physically to stand the strain. Such are not considered as being destroyed by Jehovah’s executioners, and therefore will be resurrected and doubtless awaken early from the tomb.
After the man in linen was sent forth the six men with slaughter weapons were commanded: “Pass through the city after him, and slay without mercy or pity. Old men, young men and maidens, little children and women—strike them all dead! But touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary!” (Ezek. 9:5, 6, AT) This destructive work will be accomplished by the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at “the place that is called in Hebrew Har–Magedon”. (Rev. 16:14, 16, NW) That destruction will be world-wide, as Jeremiah foretold at Jeremiah 25:33.
But why are little children also to suffer the wrath of Jehovah’s executioners? Because the Bible shows that children who have not reached the age of accountability share the destiny of their parents. God did not spare babes or little children at the time of the flood; they perished with their parents. The same was true regarding Sodom and Gomorrah and the desolation of the Jewish nation A.D. 70. However, the converse is also true. The Bible assures us that the faithful course of the parents assures the protection of children under the age of accountability.
Note also that in obedience to instructions the slaughter began at God’s sanctuary: “So they began with the elders in front of the house. Then he said to them, ‘Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Then go out, and slay in the city!’” (Ezek. 9:6, 7, AT) This is in keeping with Jehovah’s rule to deal with those having the greatest accountability first, and therefore apostate Christianity will be the first to suffer Jehovah’s wrath. Godless elements of Christendom may feel inclined to exult over the downfall of the religious elements, but God warns them that their turn will be next: “For, lo, I begin to work evil at the city which is called by my name [modern Jerusalem, Christendom]; and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished; for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith Jehovah of hosts.”—Jer. 25:29, AS.
The servants of Jehovah will be privileged to see this destructive work from a place of safety, even as Noah and his family were at the time of the deluge. Lot and his daughters saw the results at the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, it will be a terrifying sight, even as it was to Ezekiel. “As they went on slaying, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried out, saying, ‘Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou destroy all that remains of Israel, in this outpouring of thy fury upon Jerusalem?’”—Ezek. 9:8, AT.
Ezekiel, however, was assured that the judgment was just: “So he said to me, ‘The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is immeasurable. The land is full of bloodshed, and the city is full of oppression; for they think, “The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see us.” Therefore I on my part will show no mercy or pity; I will requite their doings upon their heads.’” (Ezek. 9:9, 10, AT) How well those words describe the attitude taken by those of modern Christendom! Truly by their actions they betray that in their hearts they are saying “There is no God”, or that Jehovah has forsaken the land, he does not see, he does not care, he does not take note of what they are doing. In this they are sadly mistaken, for nothing escapes Jehovah and, because he is the Most High, because he is just and omnipotent, he is bound to destroy all the wicked.—Ps. 14:1; Ezek. 25:17; Heb. 4:13.
The vision concludes with the report of the man clothed in linen, “I have done as thou didst command me.” (Ezek. 9:11, AT) And so the class of Jehovah’s servants on earth today, pictured by the man in linen and assisted by the great crowd of marked ones, will continue to do the marking work by preaching the good news of the Kingdom until their work is completed. No need will there be for the stones to cry out, for the facts show that they are accomplishing the work Jehovah has given them to do. When Jehovah’s executioners, under the direction of his Field Marshal Christ Jesus, go into action against Christendom the marking work will have been finished.
Not that they will stop preaching then. No, it seems that they will keep on bearing witness after Armageddon begins as a testimony against the godless elements, even though no more marking work will be possible, until the “cities lie waste, without inhabitant, and houses without man”, yes, until all of Satan’s wicked organization on earth has been wiped out.—Isa. 6:11, AT.