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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 37

Chapter 37

This contains a twofold prophetical word of comfort, the second separated from the first by the new beginning, “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying;” by the form—in the first a vision, in the second a symbolic action; and by the contents. Yet both stand in an inner connection, and present themselves as a pair. In the first ( Ezekiel 37:14), the restoration of Israel as a covenant people; in the second, the restoration of Israel as a brotherhood. The peculiarity of the first discourse [224] lies not in the dogmatic thought, but in this, that the restoration of Israel appears under the figure of the resurrection. Under this figure the removal of the afflictive condition is already presented in Hosea 6:2, where Israel, fallen into calamity, says, “After two days He will revive us, on the third day He will raise us up;” and even in Deuteronomy 32:39 we read, “I kill, and I make alive;” comp. 1 Samuel 2:6, Psalms 30:4. But the peculiarity here is the unfolding of what appears there only in germ.

[224] Comp. on this, Christol. ii. p. 587 f.

Our passage has often been referred to the real resurrection. But this discourse is thereby severed from the connection with all the other comforting words of the prophet, which are occupied with that which belongs to this world, and was soon to take its beginning (ch. Ezekiel 36:8), and in particular from the connection with the discourse in Ezekiel 37:15 f., which is united with it in one pair. The persons risen are those who are thus united. But the union is an event of this world. But decidedly against this view is Ezekiel 37:11. The dead are there introduced speaking: they lament that their bones are dried, and confess their despair of a restoration. Accordingly the passage cannot refer to the really dead, who cannot appear speaking, but to the living dead. The misery of Israel, which forms the starting-point for the prophetic discourse, refers, according to this verse, to the state of the people in exile. “Our bones are dried:” this is there explained by “Our hope is lost, we are cut off.” If death accordingly be a figurative designation of evil, of a sinful state, [225] the resurrection may also be only a figurative designation of the return to salvation. The same appears also from Ezekiel 37:12. According to this, the “slain” of Ezekiel 37:9 are in exile. The slaying can therefore only denote the national dissolution. The slain, in a literal sense, were in Canaan. That death is the state of exile, follows also from Ezekiel 37:14, according to which those raised from the graves are to be brought to Canaan. On the whole, the resurrection of Israel is three times put in connection with the return to his own land. This does not comport with a bodily resurrection.

[225] Venema: Israelitas hic repraesentari non naturaliter, sed civiliter et religiose mortui.

That the doctrine of the proper resurrection was already known in the time of the prophet, forms the presupposition of the so expanded figurative representation, and is attested by Isaiah 25:8, Isaiah 26:19, and especially by ch. Daniel 12:2 of Daniel, who was almost contemporary with our prophet. But not merely does the prophet set out from this doctrine, and use it as a means of representation: his figurative representation, and the historical confirmation which it received, must also have powerfully awakened the belief in the resurrection. If God proves Himself the master of death in a figurative sense, and delivers His people from eternal and spiritual misery, into which they had fallen by the exile, how should the death of the body set limits to His grace? Yet there is a still closer reference to the bodily resurrection. While we need not think immediately and exclusively of this, against which even this decides, that the dry bones—which according to this view, just as they are, would form the basis of the resurrection body, and only receive a new clothing of sinews and flesh—comport very badly with 1 Corinthians 15, the salvation here announced under the figure of the resurrection is completed in the resurrection; and if we look away from this, and rest merely in the region of the present, yet the word of the apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:19 will hold good.

The discourse falls into two parts: the symbol, Ezekiel 37:1-10; and the interpretation, Ezekiel 37:11-14. Whosoever feels himself constrained to conceive Ezekiel 37:11-14 not as an interpretation, even thereby expresses judgment concerning his view of Ezekiel 37:1-10. All analogies, especially in the prophets Daniel and Zechariah, standing so near the time of Ezekiel, and even in Ezekiel himself, lead to such a relation: it is a rule that the prophetic discourse, which follows the description of a vision, gives the interpretation of it, in accordance with the vocation of the prophets, who were not poets, but preachers for the people, and thus bound to furnish throughout the key to the meaning. But it is the less possible to conceive the relation otherwise, because in Ezekiel 37:11 it is expressly said that it is to be explained what “these bones,” of which it was spoken in Ezekiel 37:1-10, are to signify: they denote not the corporeally dead, but the house of Israel in its present desperate condition. “These bones:” this brings the two parts of the sections into the closest connection with one another. It is an unessential difference, that the prophet in the description of the scene ( Ezekiel 37:1) represents the bones as exposed to view; while, on the contrary, in Ezekiel 37:12, the graves are opened, and the slain brought from their graves. It is a vain effort to bring these two representations into accordance. The first representation belongs to the vision, as the survey of the condition of the people was to be afforded to the prophet. The interpretation is not an ordinary exegesis; it moves more freely. It introduces the new figure of the grave, in order to place in a clearer light the real state of the people. All the expositions in Scripture are of this kind: they always mingle new elements in the explanation.

Verses 1-14

Ezekiel 37:1-14. The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley, [226] and it was full of bones. 2. And he led me by them round about: and, behold, they were very many on the face of the valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3. And he said to me, Son of man, will these bones live? And I said, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. 4. And he said to me. Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, Ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones. Behold, I will send spirit into you, and ye shall live. 6. And I will lay sinews upon you, and bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put spirit in you, and ye shall live: and ye shall know that I am the LORD. 7. And I prophesied as I was commanded: and there was a voice as I prophesied, and behold a noise, [227] and the bones approached, bone to his bone. 8. And I looked, and lo, sinews and flesh came up, and skin covered them above: and there was no spirit in them. 9. And he said unto me, Prophesy to the wind: prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Come from the four winds, O wind, and blow upon these slain, and they shall live. And I prophesied as he commanded me, and the spirit came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army. 11. And he said unto me. Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say. Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for us. 12. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you out of your graves, O my people, and bring you into the land of Israel: 13. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and when I bring you up out of your graves, O my people. 14. And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live; and I will place you in your land: and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken and done it, [228] saith the LORD.

[226] Luther, “a wide field.” But the valley is not characterized by its width, but by its depression.

[227] Luther, “And behold there was a rustling as I prophesied, and behold a moving.” He makes the voice as well as the rustling proceed from the bones, whereas the voice is that of God, and the rustling of the bones its consequence.

[228] Luther, “And ye shall know that I am the Lord, I speak it and do it also;” against 36:36, 17:24, 22:14, according to which “I the Lord “is connected with what follows.

The detached section, without and, in Ezekiel 37:1, points out that the fact here related is extraordinary, and out of connection with the usual prophetic activity. The hand of the Lord denotes the overruling divine influence. “In the Spirit:” this points to the communication being a vision. [229] The valley, in opposition to the mountain, is simply a valley. The valley denotes depression of state; comp. Ezekiel 17:22, where the mountain, high and eminent, denotes the state of exaltation. The valley here has nothing to do with the valley in ch. Ezekiel 3:22 f. The dry bones denote the collective misery of the state of exile, not merely the political, but also, and preeminently, the spiritual. This appears clearly from the following. The life which is there imparted to the bones is the spiritual life. The external restoration appears there only as the preliminary to reanimation. They were very dry ( Ezekiel 37:2): this denotes not so much the long duration of the condition, as rather the depth of the misery into which Israel had fallen. All is vanished that even only reminds of a former life. The question of the Lord, in Ezekiel 37:3, is only to call forth the answer of the prophet, and then append to this the revelation. The address as son of man is significant: as such, Ezekiel knows nothing of the matter; the secrets belong only to God, and to those to whom He will reveal them. In Ezekiel 37:5-6 the Lord gives, in the form of an address to the bones, the reason of the summons to be addressed to them by the prophet; or He imparts beforehand to the prophet what He will Himself afterwards say to the bones: comp. Amos 3:7, “The Lord will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret to His servants the prophets.” In fact, the two verses are connected with Ezekiel 37:4 by a for. “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah:” that is. Thus say I who am the Lord Jehovah. The noun is put instead of the pronoun, because in it lies the security for the reality of that which is to be revealed. The order in Ezekiel 37:5 is other than in the execution in Ezekiel 37:7 f. Here the quickening by the Spirit appears at the head as the chief thing, without which the remainder, the merely corporeal resurrection, is of no importance. There, on the other hand, the corporeal resurrection is the beginning, and the quickening by the Spirit follows. The same sequence presents itself also in Ezekiel 37:6. Yet it does not appear even there, as it is determined in Ezekiel 37:7-10 that the corporeal resurrection and the quickening by the Spirit are two different elements: we might suppose that both go immediately hand in hand with one another, and that the quickening refers only to the natural life—in fact, to the political restoration. Such a supposition is distinctly forbidden first by Ezekiel 37:7 f.—“I prophesied as I was commanded.” The prophesying limits itself to the summons, “Ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” All that the prophet as such has to speak in the ecstasy bears the character of prophecy. To prophesy is to speak in the Spirit. “And there was a voice:” the voice proceeds here, as in ch. Ezekiel 1:25, from God; comp. John 5:28. It expresses that which, designed for the bones, was already imparted to the prophet in Ezekiel 37:5-6. The noise (ch. Ezekiel 3:12), which immediately follows the voice that brings the announcement with it, can only proceed from the bones. It is thereby effected that they get into movement, and seek one another. “And there was no spirit in them:” this shows that the restoration was first pre-eminently an external, political one. There is a reference to the first creation of man. There also the lower element comes first into being, then the higher; or the difference of these two elements is represented under the form of a difference of time. For man created after the image of God, for the people of God, whose essence in connection with God consists in this, that His image is living in them, that they partake of His Spirit, the mere external restoration cannot suffice. The prophet is penetrated with the thought that the real misery of the people is the moral ruin, the revolt from God and His holy word, the dominion of sin. In the political disorder he sees only the reflection and the righteous punishment of sin. The remedy, therefore, cannot stop at the restoration of the civic state: were it so, the gift would be only a mockery, as the thing must have been instantly resumed. The main thing is a renewed outpouring of the Spirit, and the restoration of union with God thereby effected, which was originally accomplished by God breathing into man the breath of life. This outpouring of the Spirit had its prelude already in the return from the exile: that a spirit of awakening then ruled among the people is shown, for ex., by the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, and the Psalms belonging to this period. The proper fulfilment is to be sought in Christ; comp. John 7:39, “The Holy Spirit was not yet present, because Jesus was not yet glorified,” which points back to our passage. The detailed account in Ezekiel 37:9 points to the high importance and the decided significance of the fact which is here treated of. That the address is formally to the wind, and not to the Spirit, denoted in Hebrew by the same word, is shown by the phrase “from the four winds,” in place of which it is impossible to put the four spirits. Yet in point of fact the wind is identical with the Spirit: it comes into view only as a symbol of the Spirit, which is spoken of before and after, and which alone can evoke the effect here mentioned—the making alive; or the Spirit presents itself here under the symbol of the wind: comp. John 20:22, where Jesus breathed on the disciples, and thereby imparted to them the Holy Ghost. That the wind is to come from the four winds, from the four quarters from which the wind comes, indicates the fulness and force of the Spirit’s operations. Parallel is the phrase, “as of a rushing mighty wind” ( Acts 2:2). “Blow upon the slain:” this means not the individuals killed in the Chaldean catastrophe, but the whole people slain, robbed of their life by external violence. This follows from Ezekiel 37:11-12. According to these the slain are in exile, not in Canaan, where those slain in the literal sense are buried. The slain are further, according to Ezekiel 37:11, the whole house of Israel, not a separate part of it. Now, as all Israel had not submitted to death, we can only think of walking bodies. That the quickening of the slain by the Spirit refers to the higher life, the life in God, is shown by the distinction from the political restitution denoted by the corporeal restoration; and then the parallel passages, ch. Ezekiel 36:26-27, and Ezekiel 11:19, where the bestowment of a new heart is spoken of, and the Spirit produces a walking in the commandments of God. To the symbol is annexed, in Ezekiel 37:11-14, the interpretation. “The whole house of Israel” ( Ezekiel 37:11): not merely Judah, but the people of the ten tribes, which had yielded to death long before Judah. “We are cut off for us:” the for us points out how grievous the sad fact is for those concerned, how painfully they were affected by it. “My people” ( Ezekiel 37:12); that is, because ye are my people. Even in the interpretation the political and the spiritual restoration are clearly distinguished from each other. The words, “And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live” ( Ezekiel 37:14), even if their prelude was to be acknowledged before the restoration to their country—which, according to the whole tenor of Scripture, presupposes a certain quickening by the Spirit, whence it is also explained that here, otherwise than before, the restoration follows the quickening by the Spirit; still more, however, in the time soon after the return—yet found their true fulfilment only in the saving presentation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the whole people by Christ, and in the appropriation of this Spirit by the election, which formed the stock of the Christian church. Wherever within it a new state of death arises, there this prophecy always comes again into force, until at the end of days death be fully overcome. The rejection of the gift of the Spirit by the majority of the covenant people, and their continuance in the state of death, belong to the chapter “Ye would not,” and cannot diminish the glory of the gift of God. We need not extend our prophecy to the unbelieving Jewish people and their future conversion. It applies, as is expressly said in Ezekiel 37:12-13, only to Israel as the people of God, and the dispensation of grace grows out of this relation. Only in view of Romans 11:28 can we admit a certain by-reference to the Jews shut up in unbelief.

[229] The second Jehovah is not the genitive, but the nominative, as the accents rightly indicate. The mere ברוח corresponds to the ברוח אלהים in 11:24; comp. ἐ?ν πνεύ?ματι , Matthew 22:43. The contrast is ἐ?ν σώ?ματι , 2 Corinthians 12:2.

Verses 15-28

Ezekiel 37:15-28. This sixth word of comfort is occupied with the union of the people, and the other benefits which are annexed to this under the great King of the future. The proper object of the prediction is, however, only the union—the removal of the former separation of Israel and Judah. This appears from the fact that to this only the opening symbolical action refers. Besides, in the remainder, only that which was already predicted is repeated, which receives a new significance only by the connection in which it stands with the union. The partial reference to the old covenant people is explained by the fact that this was at that time the suffering part. But the conclusion contains a reference to the participation of the heathen in the promised salvation. If the reality do not perfectly correspond with the image of the future, which the prophet here presents; if, in place of the separation, the removal of which the prophet here announces, after the coming of Christ a still worse took place, the separation between believers and unbelievers, this does not arrest the grace and gift of God, which the prophet here, where his mission was to comfort, is alone to paint. But, according to the New Testament, we may expect a time when the difference between the image of the future and the reality will stand out less sharply. But those of Israel who believe have no less, but receive more, than is here promised them. The church of which they were the stock, has by the calling of the heathen received a rich compensation for the unbelieving Jews; and instead of the possession of Canaan, has entered upon the lordship of the earth, which the Lord ( Matthew 5:5) has guaranteed to the meek.

Ezekiel 37:15. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 16. And thou, son of man, take to thee a stick, and write on it, For Judah, and for the sons of Israel and his companions; and take another stick, and write on it. For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of the whole house of Israel his companions. 17. And join them one to another for thee into one stick; and they shall be one in thy hand. 18. And when the sons of thy people shall say to thee thus. Wilt thou not show us what these are to thee? 19. Say to them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and lay them on it, the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. 20. And the sticks on which thou writest shall be in thy hand in their eyes. 21. And say to them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the heathen, whither they are gone, and gather them from around, and bring them to their land: 22. And I will make them one nation in the land on the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, and shall be no more divided into two kingdoms. 23. And they shall no more defile themselves with their abominations, and their detestable things, and all their transgressions; and I will save them out of all their dwellings where they have sinned, and cleanse them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 24. And my servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd shall be to them all; and they shall walk in my judgments, and keep my statutes, and do them. 25. And they shall sit in the land which I have given to my servant Jacob, in which your fathers sat; and they shall sit in it, they and their sons, and their sons’ sons, for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. 26. And I will make for them a covenant of peace; it shall be a perpetual covenant with them: and I will give them, and multiply them, and set my sanctuary in the midst of them for ever. 27. And my tent shall be over them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28. And the heathen shall know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for ever.

The beginning with and in Ezekiel 37:6 points to the connection of the symbolic action here with the vision in Ezekiel 37:1 f. The companions [230] of Judah are a small part of Benjamin, Simeon, and Levi, and the members of the former ten tribes, who had already attached themselves to Judah. Joseph is prefixed, because the honourable position of Ephraim, and his equality with Judah, rested on him. We see from the blessing of Jacob that this took its rise in Egypt. The stick is, however, ascribed to Ephraim, because he stood in reality at the head of the ten tribes. These sticks must have been so formed as to present a unity when combined, and therefore planed. Round staves, which some wish to take from Num 17:17 f., will scarcely suit the purpose. The stick belongs, according to Ezekiel 37:19, properly to Joseph, who was “crowned among his brethren” (Genesis 49); but it is in the hand of Ephraim, who actually stood at the head. It is said, “on it the stick Judah” (properly, “the stick of Judah,” I think), not simply, on the stick of Judah, to indicate that Judah is the proper stem of the people of God; and the rest is only of accessory importance. What is here announced was already prepared in the times before Christ. Judah was the central point for the whole people, and the temple in Jerusalem his spiritual abode. The confirmation of this preliminary unity, the prevention of new and mischievous divisions, was to take effect in Christ, who is introduced in the later development as the centre of the unity. But here the election only as yet has attained what is here held out to view. The great mass has by its guilt forfeited the gift of God. By the sad “Ye would not” the schism is not removed, but only increased; comp. Matthew 10:35. This takes place according to the rule which Ezekiel himself lays down in ch. Ezekiel 33:13. The promise is in itself not conditioned: the promised blessings must have been offered, and were offered to the whole people; but the participation of individuals in these blessings is of course connected with conditions; and where these conditions are not fulfilled, in the place of the blessing comes a deeper curse. Ezekiel himself has in ch. Ezekiel 33:23-29 intentionally prefixed to the announcement of salvation, a severe threatening against those who do not fulfil the conditions of salvation, and announced to them that the judgment on them will complete its course begun in the destruction of Jerusalem. In this threatening the announcement of salvation has its limits: the two run parallel; they have in the same way found their full realization. It was not the prophet’s fault, if those who stood under the threatening appropriated the promise.

[230] The reading attested by MSS.; the Kethib is the singular, his companion, the combination of the companions into an ideal unity, the companion for the company. Such combinations are quite frequent in Ezekiel.

After the symbolic action, and its interpretation, follows in Ezekiel 37:20-28 an explanation, in which the chief benefit of which the section treats—the union of the people—is connected with the other gifts which God will bestow on His people, especially with the already given promise of the one Shepherd and King of the family of David, and by this arrangement receives new light. On the one king, in Ezekiel 37:22, comp. Ezekiel 34:23. The statement, “They shall no more defile themselves with their abominations” ( Ezekiel 37:23), furnishes only the warrant for the rich offer of the means against sin to the whole people, and the use of these means by an election; but it does not offer, in contradiction to the spirit and letter of the whole Scripture from Genesis 2 down, a security to the whole mass against a relapse into sin, which would be a denial of the divine image created in man, wherewith the free moral decision is given. “I will save them out of all their dwellings, where they have sinned:” the dwellings are those of the exile, in which the people were at the starting-point, the time of the announcement. The former sins in Canaan do not come into account. They leave, as it were, their sins in the foreign land; they are presented with an opportunity, in quite new relations, of beginning a new life in righteousness, and leaving behind the old defilement. The phrase “for ever,” in Ezekiel 37:25, needs not be either weakened, or referred to a future possession of the land of Canaan, of which the whole New Testament knows and can know nothing, as blessings of this kind are nowhere presented in it. If the fulfilment be sought in the latter, the interruption of two thousand years is inconceivable, as a constant possession is here contemplated. With respect to the perpetual possession, we must rather look to Matthew 23:37: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, . . . and ye would not.” Already Moses lays it down as an inviolable rule: If ye are fit for nothing, the land will spue you, as it spued out the former inhabitants. That they are excluded from the holy land by their own guilt, the Jews themselves acknowledge, although their eyes are blinded so that they do not recognise the nature of their guilt—the rejection of the good Shepherd, who appears in Ezekiel as the channel of all divine blessings. As a supplement to Ezekiel, we have here Zechariah, one of his immediate successors, who soon after the return from the exile predicts (ch. Ezekiel 11) a desolation of the land in consequence of the rejection of the good Shepherd. The covenant of peace, Ezekiel 37:26, guarantees security against all hostile powers. As the basis of this covenant of peace, appears in Ezekiel 37:24 the walking in the commandments of God, to which this especially belongs, that they hearken to the great Prophet whom God will hereafter raise up (Deuteronomy 18). The expression “I will give them” denotes the removal to a certain condition, and of course an agreeable one; “and multiply them “gives a more exact description of this condition. It is not simply, I will make them more. The independent prefix, “I will give them,” intimates that the multiplying is not the, but a gift of God along with others; comp. Ezekiel 37:25, and the conclusion here. That the essence of the sanctuary is the presence of God among them, is shown by ch. Ezekiel 11:16, where the sanctuary stands in a purely spiritual sense. Whether this sanctuary will appear continually, as was of course soon to be the case, in the form of an external temple, is a question which Ezekiel leaves undecided. This depends on the conduct of the people. At all events, this promise is gloriously fulfilled to the election, which is the stem of the Christian church. It is again taken up in the words of Christ, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” “Over them” ( Ezekiel 37:27) refers to the protecting power which is afforded in the house of God; comp. Psalms 68:30. The heathen know that the Lord sanctifies Israel ( Ezekiel 37:28): this separation and preference, this marking off from the profane world, which constitutes the idea of sanctification, follows from this, that God’s sanctuary is in Israel, that He dwells among them with all the fulness of His blessings and gifts. The natural consequence of this recognition compelled by facts is, that they seek for admittance among this people; comp. Isaiah 44:5.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-37.html.