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4. Restoration to the Promised Land 36:16-37:14
Having prepared the land for the Israelites (Ezekiel 35:1 to Ezekiel 36:15), the Lord would bring them back into it. This prophecy consists of four parts (Ezekiel 36:16-38, and Ezekiel 37:1-14).
The Lord lifted Ezekiel up by His Holy Spirit and transported him in a vision to the middle of a valley full of dry bones (cf. Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 8:1; Deuteronomy 28:25-26). This may have been the same valley (or plain, Heb. biq’a) in which Ezekiel saw his vision of God’s glory (cf. Ezekiel 3:22). In this vision, the prophet walked around among the many very dry bones that littered this valley. They represent the Israelites slain during the conquest of the land and now in exile for a very long time. [Note: Davidson, p. 267; Taylor, p. 234. Stuart, pp. 342-43, wrote a helpful description of ancient burial customs that illuminates this passage.]
An illustration of Israel’s restoration 37:1-14
This well-known apocalyptic vision of the valley of dry bones pictures the manner in which Yahweh would restore His people. [Note: For a review of apolcalyptic as a literary genre, of which this passage is an example, see the Introduction section of these notes, or Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 924.] This may be the best-known section of the Book of Ezekiel.
"Few other passages have suffered more from the extremes of interpreters who see either too much or too little in both meaning and application of the figures, symbols, and types." [Note: Cooper, p. 319.]
"The New Covenant involves a new heart and a new spirit, to be sure, but it is deeply rooted in history and land. The promise to Abraham was unconditional and included in its benefits a geographical inheritance-indeed, not just any territory but specifically the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15-17; Genesis 15:18-19; Genesis 17:8). It is that land that is in view throughout Ezekiel’s historical and eschatological purview, for unless that land is the focus of God’s covenant fulfillment the ancient promises lose their intended significance.
"The coalescence of the New Covenant and the renewed land is nowhere in the Old Testament better explicated than in Ezekiel 37." [Note: Merrill, p. 379.]
"On the surface, New Testament references to the realization of the new covenant in the present era are problematic, for Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of this covenant being made with Israel, not the Gentiles. Some argue that the church is the new ’Israel’ through which the Old Testament promise is fulfilled. Others, insisting on a sharp distinction between Israel and the church, propose that the new covenant mentioned in the New Testament is distinct from the one promised in the Old Testament. A better solution is to propose an ’already/not yet’ model, which sees a present realization of the promises in the church and a future fulfillment for ethnic Israel. Only this mediating view does justice to the language of both the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament. Just because the Hebrew prophets mention only Israel as the recipient of the covenant does not mean that others could not be recipients as well; just because the New Testament focuses on a present realization through the church does not preclude a future fulfillment for Israel." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., pp. 280-81.]
The Lord asked Ezekiel if the bones could live again. The prophet replied that only the Lord knew (cf. Revelation 7:14); He could make them live, Ezekiel believed, but he did not know if that is what God would do. The Lord also instructed Ezekiel to prophesy over the dry bones and to tell them to hear His word.
The Lord told the bones that He would cause breath (Heb. ruah, wind, spirit, Spirit) to enter them and they would come back to life (cf. Hosea 6:2). The various occurrences of the Hebrew word ruah in this pericope sometimes mean breath (Ezekiel 37:5-6; Ezekiel 37:8-10) or wind (Ezekiel 37:9) or spirit or Spirit (Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 37:14). Context determines meaning. [Note: For a similar use of the equivalent Greek word pneuma (wind or Spirit), see John 3:8.] He would also put sinews on the bones, make flesh grow back on them, cover them with skin, and put breath in them. They would come back to life and know that He is Yahweh.
Ezekiel spoke to the bones as the Lord had commanded him, and as he did he heard a rattling noise as the bones began to come together. The prophet saw sinew, flesh, and skin come back on them, but there was no breath in them; they were not yet alive.
The Lord then told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath and to command it in the name of the Lord to come from the four winds (i.e., every direction) and give life to the bones (cf. Isaiah 43:5-6; Jeremiah 31:8). Ezekiel followed the Lord’s instructions, and breath came into the corpses (cf. Genesis 2:7; Romans 8:1-17). They came to life, stood up, and formed a very large group of people, as large as an army.
"What is the significance of the two stages [Ezekiel 37:4-10]? The difference between them is surely to be found in the direction of Ezekiel’s prophesying; first to the bones, telling them to hear, and secondly to the spirit, invoking its inspiration. The first must have seemed to Ezekiel very much like his professional occupation, exhorting lifeless people to listen to God’s word. The effect was limited: true, something remarkable happened, but the hearers were still dead men. The second action was tantamount to praying, as Ezekiel besought the Spirit of God to effect the miracle of re-creation, to breathe into man’s nostrils the breath of life (cf. Genesis 2:7). This time the effect was devastating. What preaching by itself failed to achieve, prayer made a reality." [Note: Taylor, p. 235.]
The Lord explained to Ezekiel that the bones represented the whole house of Israel (cf. Ezekiel 36:10). The Israelites were saying that they were like dry bones: they had been dead for a very long time spiritually as well as physically. They had no hope of life in the future; they had lost all hope of becoming a nation again or of seeing God’s promises to them fulfilled literally. The Lord had cut them off completely; the bones were separated from each other, and the Israelites were scattered over the earth. Consequently, Ezekiel was to prophesy to them that the sovereign Lord would open their graves, cause them to come up out of their graves, and bring them back into the Promised Land. Then they would know that He is God.
"This chapter then does not deal with the doctrine of the personal bodily resurrection but with national resurrection." [Note: Kaiser, p. 243.]
He promised again to put His Spirit within them, bring them back to life, and place them in their land (cf. Ezekiel 37:9-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; Ezekiel 36:22-32). This would teach them that He is God.
Notice that what God promised was both a spiritual and a physical restoration of the Israelites, and the end time is in view (cf. Matthew 24:30-31). So this is not a vision of the physical resurrection of all Israelites sometime in the future, nor is it a vision of the spiritual salvation of Jews and Gentiles in the future. [Note: See Cooper, pp. 319-22; Feinberg, p. 214; and Daniel I. Block, "Beyond the Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision of Death and the Afterlife," Bulletin of Biblical Research 2 (1992):112-41.] Old Testament passages teaching the resurrection of human beings include 1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4:13-37; 2 Kings 13:21; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; and Hosea 13:14.
"This could genuinely be termed a ’rebirth’ of the nation [cf. Romans 11:26-27]. Just as the necessary elements of a nation were essential to the initial formation of Israel in Genesis through Joshua-a people, a government, and a land-so God would provide all three essentials once again in this rebirth of Israel in the future. The people of that day are brought together through restoration in Ezekiel 36:16 to Ezekiel 37:28. The land is provided in the prophecy of Ezekiel 35:1 to Ezekiel 36:15. The government of renewed Israel would be given in Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision revealed in chapters 40-48." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 926.]
"There is no finer illustration of the life-changing power of the preached word than what the prophet saw in his vision. It has the power to transform those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-22) and make them new, living creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)." [Note: Cooper, p. 325. Italics mine.]
The Lord also commanded Ezekiel to take two sticks (or tablets; cf. Zechariah 11:7-14). He was to write on one of them "For Judah and for the sons of Israel, Judah’s companions." He was to write on the other stick "For Joseph and for the sons of Ephraim, Joseph’s companions." One stick represented the Jews of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the other the Jews of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ezekiel was then to join the two sticks together in his hand end to end so they appeared to be one stick. Mormonism teaches that the two sticks represent the Bible (the stick of Judah) and the Book of Mormon (the stick of Joseph), but the rest of the passage refutes this interpretation.
5. Reunification in the Promised Land 37:15-28
When Ezekiel’s audience asked him what his symbolic act represented (cf. Ezekiel 4:1; Ezekiel 5:1; Ezekiel 12:9; Ezekiel 17:12; Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 24:19), he was to tell them that the Lord said He would combine the two parts of Israel into one whole nation (cf. Isaiah 11:12-13; Jeremiah 3:18; Hosea 1:11). This promise refutes the teaching of British Israelism and other groups who hold that the 10 northern tribes were lost and later became some other national entity (cf. Isaiah 43:5-7; Isaiah 49:5-6; Jeremiah 3:12-15).
"We know comparatively little about the history of the exiled northerners, but there is no evidence of any return. There was Jewish awareness of northern tribes in Assyria: the apocryphal book of Tobit has such a setting." [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 195.]
The prophet was to hold these sticks, on which he had written what the Lord told him, in the sight of the exiles. He was to explain that Yahweh promised to bring exiles from both kingdoms back into the land. He would make one united kingdom of them again and set up one king over all of them (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 16:10; Genesis 17:7-9; Genesis 22:17-18; Genesis 28:4; Genesis 28:13-15). They would no longer be two nations, a divided kingdom.
These Jews would no longer defile themselves with idols, other detestable things, or transgressions of the Lord’s (Mosaic) covenant. The Lord promised to deliver them from the many places where they had gone and sinned and to cleanse them (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). Then they would enter into a proper relationship with Him. In the present State of Israel only about 5 percent of the population is actively "religious," and Jesus Christ is more firmly rejected there than almost anywhere else. [Note: Stuart, p. 347.]
"This verse addresses the fourth dimension of ancient perceptions of national identity-a healthy relationship between Israel and her patron deity." [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48, p. 414.]
Block called these four dimensions ethnic integrity (Ezekiel 37:21 a), territorial integrity (Ezekiel 37:21 b), political integrity (Ezekiel 37:22), and spiritual integrity (Ezekiel 37:23). [Note: Ibid., pp. 410-14.]
God’s servant David would rule over the Jews and be their king (Ezekiel 34:24; 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5). They would have only one king who would shepherd them so that they would follow the Lord faithfully (cf. Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 14:21; Deuteronomy 26:18-19; Deuteronomy 27:9; Jeremiah 30:22; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:38). They would live in the Promised Land forever, and the Lord’s servant David would be their appointed ruler forever. In view of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13, this must refer to the Son of David, Messiah. In sum, Israel will enjoy three new realities: a new commitment to Yahweh’s will (Ezekiel 37:24 b), occupation of her hereditary homeland forever (Ezekiel 37:25 a), and the rule of David forever (Ezekiel 37:25 b).
The Lord also promised to make a covenant of peace with His people (cf. Ezekiel 16:62; Ezekiel 20:37; Ezekiel 34:25). He would plant them securely in the land and multiply their numbers (cf. Genesis 22:17-18). He would also set His sanctuary in their midst forever (cf. Ezekiel 20:40; Ezekiel 40:5 to Ezekiel 43:9; Zechariah 6:12-13), not temporarily as He had done with the tabernacle and temple. His dwelling place would be with them forever, and He would also establish an intimate relationship with them. The people of the world would know that He is Yahweh who sets aside Israel as sacred for His glory and special purpose in the earth when He would set up His sanctuary in Israel’s midst forever (cf. Exodus 19:5-6).
The words "forever" and "everlasting" occur five times in Ezekiel 37:25-28. The reestablished Israelites would live in the land forever and would have an everlasting king, an everlasting covenant, and an everlasting sanctuary. There are also 13 promises in Ezekiel 37:15-28; Ezekiel 37:10 "I will" commitments.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19