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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Ezekiel 37

Verses 1-28

Vision of Dry Bones (37:1-28)

Two real-life problems which grew out of the Exile are met in this chapter. First, Judah was like a dead nation without future, bereft of hope. Second, the tragic rupture between Judah and Israel had not been healed but remained historically existent. These two problems form the background for chapter 37.

Like many of Ezekiel’s visions, it is possible that this one is a subconscious reflection of a conscious experience. He probably had seen on occasion the dry bones of those who, having fallen in battle, were left unburied. In vision he saw all of Judah and Jerusalem in the state of hopeless death. The Lord asks his prophet the perplexing question, "Son of man, can these bones live?" Ezekiel answers, "O Lord God, thou knowest." Only God could answer the question because in his hands alone are the powers of life and death.

Afterward the Almighty commands the prophet to prophesy over these bones and promises that he will reclothe them with flesh and give them breath. Man at creation, according to the Hebrew account, became a "living being" (truly man) when the "breath" of God was breathed into him. Until that moment man was an inert body fashioned from the dust of the earth. To Ezekiel the difference between true life and actual death was possession of God’s "breath" or "spirit."

In response to God’s command Ezekiel spoke the word of God. The Hebrews thought of God’s word as a creative agent working through his prophet. The word was more than a sound disturbing the tranquillity of the air; it carried with it the full power of the speaker. So God’s creative word re-created life where death had been. As the prophet spoke, the Spirit ("breath") of God possessed dry bones, making them into a mighty army (vss. 7-10). Life is meaningless existence until it is given meaning by the indwelling Spirit of God.

Ezekiel now relates the vision to a life situation, as must any prophet of God. "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off," was a byword at that time (vs. lib). God promises to open the graves of those who have died and make them live. This is not to be taken as a promise of general resurrection of the dead; on the contrary, it relates to those for whom existence has become for all intents and purposes a grave. To such folk who are now in the grave of exile the Almighty promises, "And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land" (vs. 14a).

In verses 15-23 there is a subsequent command from God to the prophet. He is to take two sticks; upon one he is to write the name "Judah" (the Southern Kingdom), and upon the other he is to write the name "Joseph" (Israel, or the Northern Kingdom). Then in dramatic act the prophet joins the sticks together as God commands him to do. Following the dramatic act, which probably took place before an audience in a public place, Ezekiel explains its meaning. Here is the same sequence of act and interpretation found in other parts of the book. Reunion of the disrupted kingdom of David is promised. The tragedy of separation had continued across the years with little hope for healing. Israel’s inhabitants had faded into the unnumbered and nameless multitudes of the earth or had become part of half-breed Samaria. But now God promises that the exiles of North and South shall be brought to their homeland, where once more one King shall rule over them. In this reunited land the old defilements and abominations shall no longer rise to bring disaster.

In a reunited kingdom, only one person could possibly rule and that would be David, who historically had created the kingdom (vss. 24-28). His, not Solomon’s, was the Golden Age which became a pattern for future hope. David, who has been previously identified as God’s shepherd over Israel, is once more so designated. Under his rule ordinances will be kept and statutes obeyed. The people will come back to the land once given to Jacob, the common father of both Israel and Judah — a reminder that the land belonged to them together. An everlasting Covenant of peace will be established with this restored and reunited people. The ideal Covenant relation is expressed as the prophet, speaking for God, says, "My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (vs. 27).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 37". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/ezekiel-37.html.