2. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter-weapon in his band; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brasen altar.
2. Et ecce sex viri venientes e via portae superioris quae est e regione aquilonis: et cuique instrumentum mallei sui in manu sua: et vir unus in medio ipsorum vestitus lineis, et atramentarium scribae in lumbis ejus: et venerunt, et steterunt e regione altaris aenei.
Now the Prophet writes that God's command was not vain or empty, because the effect appears directly by vision. Therefore six men offered themselves. Why again he names six, rather than more or fewer, I have not found out. For some cite the thirty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah, where eight leaders are referred to who were in Nebuchadnezzar's army, and had the chief authority; but first they vary in number, then they twist themselves in many ways. But I am not so anxiously curious, nor does it seem to me of any consequence, unless perhaps God wished to show his servant that a little band was sufficient, and that there was no need of a large army: or by six men he confusedly designated the whole army. It is certain indeed that Nebuchadnezzar came surrounded with a large force to destroy the city; but in the meantime God wished to destroy that pride and contumacy of the people, since he only shows to his servant six men who could destroy the whole city. He says therefore, that he came by the gate, or by way of a lofty gate, or higher one, which was towards the north, because Babylon lay towards that region with respect to Jerusalem. It appears therefore that the Chaldeans were here pointed out, to whom the way was direct through that gate, since it ascended from the north over against Jerusalem. He says, each man had an instrument of destruction, or of pounding. This word is derived from nphph, nephetz, which is to destroy and rub to pieces: therefore it can be taken as well for the mallet as for the act itself. There is no doubt that the Prophet meant that God's command should not be without immediate effect: because as soon as he cried out, six men were directly at hand for obeying him, which he afterwards expresses more clearly when he says that they stood near the altar For it was a sign of their readiness to obey God's commands when they placed themselves before the altar. But this passage is worthy of notice, because it shows us how anxiously we ought to give heed to God's threats, which are for the most part directed against us. In order that we may learn to rouse ourselves from our torpor, here as in a glass the conjunction of God's vengeance with his threats is proposed to us. For as soon as he had spoken, we see that there were six men armed and drawn up for destroying the city. But God wished to show his Prophet this vision, because his business was with a hard and stupid people, as we have already seen. God's voice was as it were their final doom: just as if a trumpet resounded, and announced that there was no hope of pardon unless the enemy gave himself up directly. So therefore God exclaimed with a loud voice, but this was no empty cause of fright, because he directly joined the execution of it, when six men appeared before the altar. But he calls the altar which Solomon had built of square stones brazen: even the brazen altar was not sufficient, but it looks to its first origin.
Now he says that there was among them, one man clothed with a linen garment (1 Kings 8:64.) He is not placed among the multitude, as one among the others, but he is separated, because his signification is distinct. This man then doubtless sustained the character of an angel, and it is sufficiently customary in Scripture that angels, when they take a visible form, should be called men: not because they are really men, but because God endues them with such forms as he sees fit. Some, whose opinion I do not altogether reject, restrict this to Christ. But because the Prophet adds no remarkable traits, I had rather receive it generally of any angel. He says therefore, that there was among the Chaldeans, who were prepared to execute God's vengeance, one man clad in a linen garment A distinct mark is sometimes given to angels which separates them from men. The linen garment was then a remarkable ornament. And the sacrificing Papists, as if they were apes, have imitated that custom in their garments called surplices. But since priests were accustomed to be clad in linen robes, here the angel was represented to the Prophet in this garb. Now let us go on, because in the next verse it will be evident why mention was made of that angel.