Friday, April 4, 2008

Strange Mark, Sure Message

by Shawn Brace

For centuries, students of the Bible have been debating the significance of a strange mark that shows up in the middle of Ezekiel’s book. As if Ezekiel wasn’t maligned enough, the prophet, who was a contemporary of Daniel and Jeremiah, has been called anything from schizophrenic, to psychopathic, to clairvoyant.[1] To be sure, the book leaves the reader baffled. We encounter such things as wheels with eyes, a valley full of dry bones, and a prophet who cannot grieve over his wife’s death.

But perhaps the most intriguing scene of all takes place when God instructs a man clothed in white linen to go around Jerusalem and place a mark on the foreheads of all those who cry over Judah’s abominations.[2] The imagery should sound familiar to us, of course—eager heralds of John’s apocalyptic message. But what is not entirely clear, however, is just what the mark signified. If one were to look in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, for example, it would become evident that the authors of that series conclude that this mark is the Sabbath—that most important sign which has epic meaning in the end times.

Fair enough. As faithful stewards of God’s Ten Commandments, we believe that the seventh-day Sabbath has unique and important significance in the latter days. There is little doubt that God has placed supreme value on this crowning achievement of His creation week.

Yet, as important as the Sabbath is, Ezekiel’s passage takes us another direction.

The Hebrew of the text literally has God instructing the man to “mark a taw” on people’s foreheads. Taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, would have been written a little differently in Ezekiel’s day than in ours. The Hebrew alphabet, as it is presently written, was not introduced until the third century BC, nearly 300 years after Ezekiel’s ministry. In his day they used an archaic script that is now labeled paleo-Hebrew.

And how would a taw have been written in paleo-Hebrew? As a cross. God’s people—even in Ezekiel’s day—were marked by the cross. Most scholars are fairly well agreed on this. (What they do not agree upon, of course, is its significance.)[3]

It would be hard to make the argument that Ezekiel understood the symbolism 600 years before Christ’s crucifixion. Who knows, maybe he did. But, as one author offers, “There can be little doubt that this is one of the many examples where the Hebrew prophets spoke better than they knew.”[4]

For those of us who live on the other side of Calvary’s glorious event, we can appreciate the reality of God’s burden for the cross. As important as the Sabbath is, as important as the health message is, or any other doctrinal pillar, these things are only an outworking of the reality of the cross in our lives—both on our foreheads and in our hearts.

The truth is, God is trying to mark all of us with His cross. He can’t wait for that grand event when He can show the whole universe a group of people who have finally allowed Him to make the cross a part of their lives. Well would it be for us to, as Ellen White encourages, “gather about the cross.”[5] I’m sure Ezekiel would agree with that.

[1] See E. C. Broome, “Ezekiel’s Abnormal Personality,” JBL 65 (1946): 277-92. Holding a high view of Scripture, we, of course, cannot conclude this.

[2] See Ezekiel 9:4.

[3] For a discussion of this, see Daniel I. Block, Ezekiel, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 307-314.

[4] H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 44, quoted in Daniel I. Block, Ezekiel, 313, n. 64.

[5] Ellen White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1956), 103, 104.

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