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Bible Commentaries

Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Ezekiel 37

Verse 3


‘Can these bones live?’

Ezekiel 37:3

I need not dwell upon any description of the actual vision itself.

I. In the first place, under the figure of resurrection of dry bones, is foretold the general restoration of the Jews from their several dispersions.—I know that at the present time the Jews have become a byword amongst the nations. The Jewish people are scattered. They have no Temple: no altar of sacrifice, with its clouds of beautiful incense rising up towards heaven. In reality they possess no home. They are tolerated amongst the nations as strangers, and as aliens from the Christian Commonwealth of Israel. And whether we look at the indifferent, unbelieving, irreligious portion of their community, or at such as those true Jews, who, for instance, in the Wailing Place at Jerusalem, chant their pathetic Litanies as they bedew the old Temple stones with their tears—I say the sight of a Jew, whoever he may be, must kindle within a Christian’s heart a reverential flame; for he thinks of the answer which he, as a Bible student, must give with regard to them to the question which forms my text to-night—‘Can these bones live?” I won’t answer this question in my own words. Let the great Apostle of the Gentiles answer it, for his words are the words of inspiration which no man dare dispute. St. Paul in his 11th chapter of the Romans and the 25th and following verses, says—‘I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved.’

‘Can these dry bones live?” Yes! When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then ‘all Israel shall be saved.’ ‘O, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’

II. Now I apply my text in another way. ‘Can these bones live?’—We may speak of cities, and nations, and empires—places that, as we term it, ‘have had their day,’ and now are like dead bones lying on desert sand, bleaching in the sun. There was, for instance, Babylon—Babylon the great, the mighty—now no more! It has faded away out of the world’s vast history, and its ruins are to us to-day but as a wonderful fossil—a thing of a mighty past!

But take an instance still more familiar to us. Let us take Rome. What city could be compared to ‘dry bones’ better than the Rome of to-day! I think I know the present Rome well, for I have visited it four separate times. I look at Rome in a religious light. I think of her as she was in centuries long past by; when, as I may term it, she lived. I look at her now. A stranger, who in England hears her claims set forth by Ultramontane partisans and ‘verts’ who have lapsed from ‘the faith,’ would suppose the Rome of to-day to be the very centre of all religion, and what I may perhaps be allowed to call, for want of a better name, Churchism. But, speaking from actual experience, four times repeated, I know of no city so irreligious. Mahometan Cairo is a pattern of outward religious observance, as I have myself noticed, when compared with Rome. Its churches are deserted; its bishop is ridiculed in the very shop windows of its streets; and I know of no city across our ‘silver streak of sea’ in which a stranger spends a Sunday so bereft of religious opportunities of grace, and where his faith in religion is so terribly shaken.

But can these dry bones live? Yes! In the day of the restitution of all things, even Rome itself may live again; life may be breathed once more into its venerated ruins; and its glory will perhaps shine once more like stars in the firmament of heaven.

III. But while I speak to you of these things, there are, if I mistake not, other thoughts in many of your minds.—‘Can these bones live?’ What dry bones are these? Ah! the answer lives very near your own heart. It intertwines itself with the deepest love and affection in your soul. It is not of cities, with their gorgeous ruins and grand histories, that your heart is now thinking; nor, indeed, of that depressed Jewish nation, that was once the instrument to convey to Gentiles the everlasting truth; but when I speak of the dry bones living again, and the resurrection in the valley, your thoughts reach out to those loved ones who have gone before, whose dead bones are lying, so to speak, in the valley of the shadow of death, keeping Sabbath rest while the great world works on. Have we parted from our friends for ever, or is there before us a day of resurrection when the dry bones in the valley shall live again, and when the breath of God from the four winds shall breathe upon the slain and cause them once more to live?

Yes; through the Incarnation of Jesus, our separations and farewells are only transitory things. They are all to be healed again in the coming age. And this is why at the grave we commit our lost ones to the tomb ‘in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Yes; they shall live again in the day of the endless morning. There shall be, perhaps, not so far distant as some of us think, a shaking of the dry bones in earth’s deep valley. The four winds shall arise and breathe upon the slain once more, and they shall stand up an exceeding great army, Oh! what a day of reunions will that be! those whom death had separated, friendships which had been silenced by the grave, loves which had been removed by death, hopes which had fallen shattered in the tomb, will be brought together again, and reunited. It will be a general day of reunions. The mother will meet her child again; the father the wife; brother will meet brother; friend meet friend. The old familiar face will be recognised once more—the same well-remembered features, clearly unmarked by pain or ruffled by care. And then before us will lie an eternity in which farewells and partings are to be unknown. A great unending future—so calm, so full of peace—into which the hand of death shall never enter.

Rev. E. Husband.

Verse 9


‘Come from the four winds, O breath!’

Ezekiel 37:9

This majestic vision prefigured the restoration of the national life of Israel, the return from captivity, the revival of true and spiritual religion. Yet it serves also as the symbol of all real revival of individual and of social life, and of the Divine power and agency by which spiritual requickening is ever effected.

I. A picture of spiritual death.—This consists in, (1) Indifference to religion. (2) The substitution of formalism for vital piety. (3) The coldness and selfishness which accompany the loss of genuine piety, and (4) the prevalence of sin, error, and folly.

II. A symbol of the means of revival.—(1) The human means, i.e. prophecy, or the free and fearless publication of the words of the Eternal. The voice of the preacher is human, but the substance of his message is Divine and heavenly truth. (2) The Divine energy. The breath of God, the four winds of heaven, alone could make the dry bones live. This energy is (1) supernatural, (2) invisible and intangible, (3) Divine, and (4) powerful, as is manifest from its marvellous effects.

III. An illustration of the mighty effects of the reviving Spirit.—(1) These may be felt individually and experimentally, in the renewing of the Holy Ghost. (2) They may be traced historically, e.g. in the events of the day of Pentecost, in the first progress of the Gospel, in periods of reformation and revival. (3) They may be foreseen in the anticipations of faith. The world has yet to feel, and it will yet feel, the amazing power of the renewing and reviving grace of a merciful and mighty God!


(1) ‘The life of God can only come from God, it must be inbreathed by His Blessed Spirit, and anything short of this is failure. If you can do nothing else, prophesy to the Spirit, cry to the four winds, because He may come in the icy north wind of tribulation, or the warm west wind of prosperity; but speak with the certain assurance of, “Thus saith the Lord God, Come.” There is a sense in which the believer has the privilege of commanding the Spirit of God. “Concerning the works of my hands, command ye Me.” Even when you are speaking, let your heart be in the attitude of expectancy, and according to your faith it shall be done unto you.’

(2) ‘The state of sinners may well be described in the moving terms of the first of these visions. It seems as though the condition of many souls, and neighbourhoods, is comparable to the bleaching skeletons of a great battlefield. We may preach to them and effect an outward reformation, as when bone came to bone; but there will be no life until the Divine breath passes over them. Let us never hesitate to preach the Word, even to those dead in trespasses and sins; but let this be the prayer: “Breathe on these slain, Thou Spirit of the Living God, that they may live!” ’

Verse 22


‘No more two nations.’

Ezekiel 37:22

Because they are ‘My people,’ Jehovah makes the leading out of exile and the return to Canaan to be prophesied to them.

I. In view of the Messiah, He promises them a united nationality, and the inhabiting of Canaan for ever, the peaceful possession of the land.—The promise here has nothing to do with individuals. After the people of Israel relinquished their claim to nationality in presence of the manifested Messiah, there can be no further talk of their conversion as a nation to Christ; and so much the less as the Kingdom of God over Israel, as a nation, has passed over for fulfilment to the idea of humanity given in Israel. In this last and at the same time highest respect, the unity and eternity, kingly and priestly, under the one shepherd, here prophesied, have in Christianity—alike as regards the kingship and as regards the sanctuary—their universal and also their progressive realisation.

II. The literally verbal interpretation of our prophet has been repeatedly spoken against.—For in whatever way the prophets may prophesy the glorious future of Israel, the popular form of their discourse, expressed in accordance with the times, must not keep out of view the eternal hope of Israel, the Spirit-anointed One. Since the beginning and the end of God’s march in history through the world is man, is humanity, it must seem childish to believe that the ‘millennial kingdom’ will be centralised at Jerusalem, that this will be its capital under the Jews brought back to Palestine, that the Lord will at His coming again dwell in a real Temple, and that the law of Moses, and even the ceremonial and the civil law of Moses, will be the law of the kingdom, etc. This is ‘realistic’ exposition indeed; and while people cross and bless themselves with it against ‘spiritualism,’ the thought never troubles them that they are borne along by the materialistic current of the age. The New Testament has not thus understood, not thus expounded the Old. From God’s covenant with Abraham onward, the development of Israel moves in the direction of the formation of a nation and the possession of a land, the land of Canaan. The prophets would have been unintelligible to Israel had they prophesied to it a future without regard to these two particulars. How far that which after the judgment of the exile was prophesied, as restitution of people, land, and cultus, had to serve the purpose of affording the historical nexus and point of departure for the Messiah—to what extent what was prophesied on these points would have political earthly reality, could be discerned from the very character of the coming Messianic kingdom. A kingdom which, according to the confession before Pilate, is not of this world, could not fail to show that the apparent sensuousness of the prophecies portraying the future of the people and land of Israel is in reality spiritual allegory. In the history of the nation, in its institutions, etc., the vessels were sufficiently well placed for types and symbols, in order in due time to change the water in them into the wine of Christ.

III. The two powers, which in the second section of our chapter are destined to realise the idea of the symbolised unity of the nation, are the royal power ( Ezekiel 37:22 ) and the sanctuary ( Ezekiel 37:26 ).—As these express that which from the commencement Israel was appointed to be ( Exodus 19:6), Israel’s destiny as a nation, they are the two pillars of its unity. When the kingdom was divided and the sanctuary was no longer the one sanctuary for all, then there came an end, first to Israel, and then to Judah. As without the raising up again of the kingdom of David, and without the restoration of the sanctuary of Jehovah, there can be no requickening, so there can be no reunion of Israel. That which the last destruction of the Temple, on the one hand, gives to the Jews to ponder to this very hour, Pilate on the other, by his question (St. John 19:15), laid on the consciences of their national representatives of that time, and in such a manner that we feel reminded of verses like John 19:22 and others here.


‘The promise can relate only to Christian Israel, for the Jewish nation either completed itself in the Messiah by receiving Christ, or deprived itself of Him, as may be read in St. John 19:15. Then with the perishing of its spirit, its flesh also perished; what still remained in form of Israel was therefore broken up by the false Messiahs, the Romans, etc. It is a fundamental mistake still to seek at the present day to see in the Jews a nation, especially when the remains of nationality—the offspring of pride—which still manifested themselves in the Middle Ages in the individual members of the race, are being ever more and more spiritualised, or even materialised, by the spirit of indifference, into cosmopolitanism.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.