Angelic Destroyers and Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Ezekiel 9


After showing his prophet the abominations being committed in Jerusalem and temple, the LORD pronounces his apocalyptic judgment. With a loud voice he summons his angelic executioners. Six are armed for slaughter; the seventh clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side. The LORD commands the seventh angel to go through the city and to mark those who have remained faithful to the Mosaic covenant with a tau , the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “It is impossible not to notice,” remarks Robert Jenson: “the angel is told to perform the very gesture of baptismal chrism and of Ash Wednesday’s marking with ashes” (Ezekiel, p. 84). The righteous are saved through the atoning death of Christ. The six are then ordered to slay everyone who has not received the mark of God’s favor, without exception: “slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women” (9:6). The divine retribution is implacable, pitiless, and collective in scope. As Walther Eichrodt comments: “The merciless law of the holy war in its most extreme form (cf. Josh. 6.17ff.; Judg. 20.48; I Sam. 15.3; Deut. 13.15ff.; 20.16ff.) is here enforced at the expense of Yahweh’s own people” (Ezekiel, p. 131).

The destroyers are instructed to first kill the worshippers of the sun (8:16) and then proceed throughout Jerusalem: “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain” (9:7). In his wrath the LORD commands the pollution of his temple so as to render it an abomination, a place unfit for the divine presence. The LORD is life and the giver of life, and death is the enemy. Death was not created by God. It does not belong in his good creation. It cannot be affirmed; it cannot be naturalized or sacralized: its touch only befouls. Here is the key difference between Israel and the nations of many gods: the religion of YHWH does not incorporate death into divinity. Life brooks no compromise with anti-life. Such is the underlying rationale for the purity laws of Torah: tumah (טומאה) separates from the sacred rituals that communicate life, thus necessitating ritual cleansing. “In Israel,” as Jenson explains,

all dealings with human death had therefore to be purged before approach­ing God, or approaching ther people in their cultic reality as God’s people. The miasma extended far: all that emerges from the human body and represents expended life … pollutes. As far as an actual corpse, even necessary and indeed divinely commanded contact with one requires ritual cleansing. (p. 61)

By commanding the shedding of blood within the temple, the LORD makes it a place of death and therefore a place where his Shekinah can no longer dwell:

The temple itself is to be polluted and rendered unfit for worship, for the destroyers are to begin with the unfaithful priests there in the court and to leave their bodies where they fall. It will therefore no longer be possible for the Lord to dwell in this temple, and the end of the drama will be his departure. If there is again to be worship of the Lord on Zion, it will be either in the open or in a new temple—and in the concluding vision of the book (Ezek. 40–48), the plan and location of that temple are detailed. (p. 84)

Ezekiel is horrified by the slaughter and cries out:

Ah Lord God! wilt thou destroy all that remains of Israel in the outpouring of thy wrath upon Jerusalem? (9:8)

The intensity of God’s righteous anger evokes from the prophet prophetic intercession. As Moses interceded on behalf of Israel and pleaded for mercy (Num 14:13-19), so now does Ezekiel. Yet the LORD remains unyielding in his condemnation. The sins of Israel are too great:

The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice; for they say, “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.” As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity, but I will requite their deeds upon their heads. (9:9-10)

Note that God indicts both Israel and Judah, even though the northern kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrians a century earlier. He treats the twelve tribes as one people and condemns them of capital crimes—“the land is full of blood.” But their greatest offence is one of distrust: they believe that the LORD has abandoned them and is therefore indiffer­ent to their idolatry and injustices. Jenson elaborates:

Indeed, the final gravamen is neither religious perversity nor crime for themselves, but their reason. Israel has fallen into particular transgressions because she has come to think two things: “The Lord has forsaken the land”; and, “The Lord does not see.” In the end, as we are told throughout scripture, “The righteous shall live by their faith” (Hab. 2:4); Israel, on the contrary, has lost trust in the Lord’s promises and fear of his judgments. In such comprehensive absence of faith, a human community must sooner or later fall into idolatry and mutual injustice, which is to be expected among the Gentiles but is terrible apostasy in Israel’s case. (p. 85)

That Israel no longer trusts in the LORD‘s covenant promises illuminates for us the apocalyptic severity of the divine judgment. It is no longer a matter of individual offenses that might be forgiven through repentance or ritual sacrifice. Radical distrust negates mercy, for it rejects its very possibility. Surely this is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of which Christ Jesus spoke (Mark 3:28-30). Radical distrust is death, and death cannot be forgiven; it can only be destroyed.

“Life is the only reality,” declares George MacDonald; “what men call death is but a shadow—a word for that which cannot be—a negation, owing the very idea of itself to that which it would deny.”

Only life and more life is the answer to nihilistic disbelief and the abomination of death. The old temple must be razed to the ground. We await the coming of the new.

L’Chaim!

(Go to “Temple and Cherubim”)

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1 Response to Angelic Destroyers and Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

  1. Grant says:

    Perhaps therefore instead it is the read it the other way around, particularly if we are to read this through Christ, and thinking on your linking this with both sin against the Holy Spirit, and combined with the judgements being a manifestation of, and conquest of death.

    This kind of radical distrust, and indeed rejection or resistance against Life Himself, of Existence itself, is to embrace death and non-being, to close oneself off from seeing and engaging God in Christ by the Spirit. It is to embrace the way of death rather than life, even as Life has shattered the bonds of death, and to be as St John said, to prefer and hide in the darkness because they are afraid of the Light and cannot even see it, They remain polluted and befouled areas that by their radical distrust and rejection hold off God’s healing, and place themselves under the powers of death, represented by the angels (since here they are bringers of death, they are the representatives of that effect and it’s deamonic slaves, those dark powers of St Paul), and thus under death and injustice, joining and subject to all these warping aspects of destruction. The other angel is baptism and freedom into Life, into Christ, for any and all who respond Life, cleansing and freeing from the destruction of death, as it is present the way remains always open.

    Death is defeated and only our distrust keeps us under it’s hold, seeing only the abandonment of God, of Life in the world, and twists our perception and understanding of creation and life at play, of seeing God’s Love and only seeing darkness and still bowing to it. To destroy ourselves and others and not respond in radical love to Christ and to those around us, to be instead as the Gentiles are, however as George MacDonald rightly death is not a thing, but requires that which it attempts to destroy to even be an effect at all. It cannot truly destroy, and the new Temple is already raised and present, rising and breaking it’s hold, and drawing all into it’s presence. And that Temple will swallow death up in Life, that no matter what death is defeated even over those who mistakenly cling to it and the warped ways it causes, and Light will remain and draw them on even for those who plunge into the deepest shadow of death, for shadows are nothing in the end, and their illusions will be increasingly dismissed and so Life shall destroy death and it’s effects, even as the broad way of death leads ever to destruction, it only ever finishes itself until even so exhausted such as the prodigal son will still ever anew see and all will find the narrow road before them, ultimately the only road that truly is. And even those still lost in shadow will run out of darkness and illusions and the confusions and see what they have been seeking and leave their distrust, as death and it’s frightening shadows are spent under it’s own nothingness before the Light (with the angel among them), and find that God and Life was before and with then all along, Love itself present even in their assumed abandonment and fear, and death faded and vanished before the Resurrection Light of the Second Adam and the restored Temple of the renewed humanity, until death is destroyed by Life and God is all in all.

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