Mark it with a T
March 21, 2012

In Ezekiel 9, the Lord tells the prophet to mark everyone who mounrs over Jerusalem with a “sign” on the forehead. The word “sign” is not the typical word for “sign,” but rather the name of the letter taw , the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Daniel Block ( The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1?24 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament) ) explains:

“Those who exhibit [the proper] response are to be marked with a taw on the forehead. Taw is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the archaic cursive script it had the shape of an X or a cross, a form that remained essentially unchanged from the early stages of the evolution of the alphabet until the adoption of the square Aramic script. It is preserved to this day in Western scripts as T.” This was the basis for the church fathers concluding that the mark was the sign of a cross, and therefore a type pointing to those who are marked by Jesus. They drew liturgical conclusions from this as well; it is perhaps one of the sources for the widespread practice of signing the forehead with a cross at baptism.

Block goes on to link the sign on the forehead to the blood on the doorposts at Passover, the scarlet cord of Rahab, and the sign ( ‘ot ) that marked Cain on the forehead. In each case, the sign is protective against an “angel of death.” Block adds, “since in ancient custom the law also served as a mark of ownership, the possibility that this mark represented Yahweh’s signature, his claim on those who were citizens of the true kingdom of God, deserves consideration.” In a footnote, he points to Job 31:35, where taw “represents a shorthand symbol for one’s signature,” though he believes that by Ezekiel’s time the mark of ownership would have been a lamed , meaning “belonging to.”

Perhaps there’s more to the use of the taw symbol, though. Two possibilities suggest themselves. First, Block’s reference to Cain’s sign suggests one line of inquiry. “Sign” in Genesis 4:15 is ‘ot , aleph-waw-taw ; in Ezekiel 9:4, 6 taw is spelled out as taw-waw , reversing the last two letters of ‘ot . Those who mourn over the sins of Jerusalem are not marked Cains but anti-Cains, Abels marked not with an ‘ot but with a taw .

Second, the letter taw is the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus represents an endpoint, a final word, eschatology. Jesus is aleph and taw , alpha and omega, beginning and end. As the Word of God, He is the entire alphabet of the Father. The link between taw and completion, eschatology, is evident in Old Testament acrostic poems. Marking people with a taw indicates that they are the remnant, the people of the future, the last men who will stand after the storm has passed through.

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