It is a comfort to me when different passages of Scripture bear witness to the same truth, especially when the apostles echo the Lord Jesus (e.g., cf. Mt. 6:19-21 and 1 Tim. 6:17-19, Mk. 8:34-37 and Ph. 2:5-8, Lk. 6:27-36 and Rom. 12:14-21). Such unison gives strength to interpretation. As in court, so also in study, “Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor. 13:1). It is a delight to report that such confirmation recently happened to me in reading through Ezekiel.
In the apocalyptic visions of the opening chapters, the glory of the Lord is departing from the temple and the city of God is doomed to destruction. But before the Lord sends destruction, he sends a man through the city with a writing case. The Lord tells 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 abominations which are being committed in its midst” (Ezek. 9:4). In Hebrew, the words “sigh” and “groan” are actually a rhyme—something like moan and groan, as in Daniel Block’s commentary. Later in the book, these words, respectively, will refer to “a symptom of a broken heart and intense grief over an impending doom” (21:6-7) and to “the grief that Ezekiel expresses over the death of his wife” (24:17; Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, p. 307). Interestingly, the mark is simply the Hebrew letter taw, which served at times as a signature, like our letter “X”, but in shape it looked like our letter “T”—and providentially, like a cross.
Two things stood out to me through this passage. First, here is the God of Abraham, the Judge of all the earth, who will not treat the righteous the same as the wicked (Gen. 18:23-25). Unlike the hypocrites, who act as if there is no “God of justice” and who say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord” and “It is vain to serve God” (Mal. 2:17; 3:14), the prophets testify that God differentiates among people. He marks out His own and will save them in the day of wrath. From Noah in the flood and Lot in Sodom to the final generations of believers, who are marked and sealed in the book of Revelation, it is a truth, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pt. 2:9).
Second, the differentiating factor in God’s eyes is not simply what believers have done—they are said to be “righteous” in being God-centered in their deeds, although this does not justify them in the end, because only the blood of Jesus removes God’s wrath (cf. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 5:9-10)—what differentiates believers is how they responded to the wickedness around them. In Ezekiel, they moan and groan. In Amos, they feel “sick about” the “ruin of Joseph” (6:6; Shalom M. Paul, Amos, p. 209). And in Malachi, they talk among themselves about the irreverence of those who claim that God does not differentiate among people. God Himself pays attention and listens and has “a book of remembrance…written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” (3:16). Indeed, the Lord declares of such people, “They will be Mine…and I will spare them as a man spares his own son…;” therefore, the prophet concludes, “So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (3:17-18). Again, God differentiates.
Even the prophets themselves grieve over the coming destruction of the wicked. Ezekiel cries out, “Alas, Lord God! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem?” (9:8). Amos pleads, “Please pardon!” and “Please stop!” (7:2, 5). Is this our attitude toward the ruin of our culture and the coming destruction? If not, have we become callous or indifferent or even wishing for the day of wrath to come, so that others may see how right we have been? Where is the echo of God, who takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11)? Where are the tears of our Savior, who wept over Jerusalem? Have we no grief over the sinfulness of our culture, our church, our lives? Let us remember how blessed are those who mourn—and in the context of Jesus quoting and fulfilling Scripture, even this beatitude seems to come from the prophets, from the word about those who mourn over Jerusalem and are comforted (cf. Mt. 5:4; Isa. 66:10-13).
God still differentiates today. Whether we are like Lot, vexed in spirit by the abominations of our culture, or like those in Revelation, who keep their garments white in the midst of a dead church (2 Pt. 2:8; Rev. 3:1, 4; cf. Rev. 2:24), we will be spared in the Day of Wrath through the blood of Jesus. My concern here is for our heart. In seeing the evil around us, both in the culture and in the church, we must not become callous or indifferent. We must have the heart of the prophets and of those who grieved over Jerusalem. And in doing so, may our God also remember us and spare us. Oh Lord, “In wrath, remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2)!