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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 37

 

 


Introduction

Chapter 37 The Valley of Dry Bones and The Uniting of Israel/Judah Under The Coming David.

The first part of the chapter (1-14) is a vivid description of the restoration of God’s people by the activity of His Spirit, as previously described in Ezekiel 36:26-27. The second part (15-28) is a promise of the restoration of God’s people under their Davidic king.


Verse 1-2

‘The hand of Yahweh was on me, and he carried me out in the Spirit of Yahweh and set me down in the midst of a valley (or ‘plain’), and it was full of bones. And he made me pass by around them and behold there were a great many in the open valley, and behold they were very dry.’

Once again Ezekiel experienced a remarkable vision, resulting from ‘the hand of Yahweh’ being on him, connected with the Spirit (compare Ezekiel 3:22-23; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 8:3). He was borne to a battlefield. We can possibly presume that it was one where many Israelites had died, although it may have been simply a visionary battlefield. The valley or plain was full of the remains of skeletons. And the bones were very dry. They represented a totally dead and desolate Israel, without a shred of life in it. It was a valley of hopelessness.


Verses 1-14

The Vision of The Valley Of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

This vision is not directly an illustration or promise of physical resurrection. Ezekiel nowhere gives any indication of expecting a resurrection of the dead. It is a pictorial representation of the coming spiritual revival of Israel, given to spur on the doubting, fearful and disillusioned people to whom Ezekiel was ministering..


Verse 3

‘And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord Yahweh, you know.”

Then God questioned Ezekiel as to whether he thought that anything could bring the skeletons to life. The reply would have seemed obvious. But Ezekiel had seen many wonders and was cautious. So he gave a humble and evasive reply. It was solely in the Lord Yahweh’s hands. (His guarded reply helps to demonstrate that he had no belief in a resurrection, otherwise he would have mentioned it).


Verses 4-6

‘Again he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh. Thus says the Lord Yahweh to these bones, Behold I will cause spirit (or ‘breath’) to enter into you and you will live. And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put spirit (or ‘breath’) in you, and you will live, and you will know that I am Yahweh.” ’

Ezekiel was then told to prophesy over the bones. God was telling him that this was his mission, to prophesy to the dried out house of Israel in exile. They were like these bones, dry and lifeless. And he had to proclaim to them that God was going to do all that was necessary to enable them to again enter the land, and that He would revive them spiritually.

We may well parallel this with Genesis 2 and see in this a new beginning, almost a new creation. But the parallel is not quite as clear as it seems, for different Hebrew words are used for ‘breath’ and the first man was made of dust of the ground.

‘And you will know that I am Yahweh.’ This may have been directed at Ezekiel, but more probably it was directed at the people Through what would happen they would recognise the living power of Yahweh.


Verse 7-8

‘So I prophesied as I was commanded, and as I prophesied there was a great noise, and behold an earthquake (or ‘shaking’ or ‘rattling’), and the bones came together, bone to his bone, and I beheld and lo, there were sinews on them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above. But there was no breath in them.’

Ezekiel did as he was bid and prophesied to the bones. The vision is vivid. There was an earthquake and the bones began to move as the earth moved, and each sought its companion forming a skeleton, and then sinews and flesh came on them, followed by the covering of skin. But they were still lifeless.

The message must have been somewhat discouraging to him. It was saying that although his preaching could lay a foundation ready for life, it would not give life. More would be needed.


Verse 9

‘Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the spirit (wind, breath), prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit (wind), Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Come from the four winds, O spirit, and breathe on these dead men that they may live.” ’

But then he was to call on the spirit/breath/wind calling it to breathe on the dead that they might live. There is a strong play on the different meanings of ruach, which can mean spirit, breath or wind. The winds are seen as providing lifegiving breath so that the corpses might live, but we must remember that Yahweh comes on the wings of the wind (Ezekiel 1:4; 2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10; Psalms 104:3). And the wind is elsewhere closely connected with the activity of the Spirit of God (2 Samuel 5:24; Acts 2:2), and thus it is clear that what happens here is the result of the work of God’s Spirit. It is like a new creation (Psalms 33:6).

So Ezekiel learned the important lesson that we must all learn, that His work manward must be paralleled by his looking Godward, and that without the latter the former will be useless.


Verse 10

‘So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet a huge army.’

Ezekiel fulfilled God’s commands. He prophesied to the spirit, and life came into that great army of men and they lived. Note the emphasis on the many, the ‘huge army’. It would be important in the interpretation to those who heard.


Verses 11-14

‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost. We are cut off for us (or ‘our thread of life has been cut off’).’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people, and I will bring you into the land of Israel, and you will know that I am Yahweh when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. And I will put my spirit within you, and you will live, and I will place you in your own land, and you will know that I Yahweh have spoken it and have performed it,’ says Yahweh.” ’

God explains the parable. The dry bones were the whole house of Israel, wherever they were. And they were in a state of despondency and hopelessness. They felt that they were like totally dried up skeletons. They had lost hope. They saw themselves as cut off from their land and cut off from God. They had lost any vision of life. They were in process of giving up. The destruction of Jerusalem had dashed their hopes completely.

But through Ezekiel God spoke to them and told them that they need not think like that, for it was as though He would raise their dead bodies from the grave. He would restore their spirits, and lift them out of the graves that they had dug for themselves in their minds, and give them life, and He would bring them back into their own land.

The context of these words and their connection with the prophesying of Ezekiel confirms that we are to see this picture as applying to the post-exilic people of God and not directly to some future age. It is they who would be restored and returned to their land, and would enjoy new life in the Spirit. And it was guaranteed by the word of Yahweh, and He would therefore certainly do it. They had His word for it. We must not underestimate the work of the Spirit in the people of God after the exile.

The picture can of course be applied spiritually to His people in every period. It is a picture of rebirth, of new life in the Spirit of God. But its essential message was to the people of Ezekiel’s day, and it reminds us that we do the words of Ezekiel an injustice when we do not recognise their application to his own day. It was, however, something that would in essence be repeated in the future, for God’s supposed people have often become like dry bones and spiritually dead, and have needed to be revived again.

‘We are cut off for us’ can be rendered ‘our thread of life has been cut off.’ The alternative rendering results from using the same Hebrew consonants but dividing them differently. (In ancient scripts there was no word division and almost no vowels).

The Uniting of the Nation and the Coming King (Ezekiel 37:15-28).

In this passage Ezekiel is shown that Judah and Joseph (Ephraim/Israel) will be made one and that David will arise to be their shepherd. This must be seen as confirming that Israelites will return from many lands, not only from Babylon, although not necessarily in large numbers, or else there would be no necessity for any mention of this. Those of Joseph who had lived in Jerusalem/Judah previously would probably already have been united. (However, it could be that strong feelings existed between different sections which were known to Ezekiel).

Israel had originally split into two in the days of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. That too was because of idolatry, and resulted in idolatry (1 Kings 11:30-39; 1 Kings 12:1-20; 1 Kings 12:28-31). Now this split was to be remedied.

The idea and emphasis is on the unity of God’s people. There is to be no distinction or separation, they are all to be one in the covenant. We can compare how this was Jesus’ emphasis for His people as well, that they might be one (John 17:20-23), and the emphasis of Paul that we might be one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). God’s constant purpose is oneness between His people.


Verses 15-17

The Two Sticks and The Uniting Of Israel.

‘The word of Yahweh came again to me saying, “And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions’. Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions’. And join them for yourself, one to another, into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.” ’

The wording on the sticks would seem to confirm that Israelites associated with Judah were included in the first stick, and therefore that the second included people of the northern kingdom scattered throughout the known world. However in Ezekiel the term ‘Israel’ is very flexible and also includes Judah so that we cannot be sure. The reference may be to the combination of tribes that originally made up Judah. But whichever is so the emphasis is on the necessity for the people of God to be one in heart, mind and spirit.

The sticks were presumably ‘joined’ in prophetic mime by the bottom end of one and the top end of the other being pushed into the closed fist so as to look one, a stick coming out from each side.


Verses 18-20

“And when the children of your people speak to you saying, ‘Will you not show what you mean by these?’, you say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Behold I will take the stick of Joseph which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in my hand.’ And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes.”

The sight of the two sticks ‘made one’ in their eyes was to be a vivid message. Just as the sticks were ‘made one’ in Ezekiel’s hand so Yahweh intended both peoples to be taken into His hand and become one. Tribal jealousies were to become a thing of the past. We can compare the similar idea in Zechariah 11:7-14, which was probably based on this prophecy, where the unity was broken because of sin.


Verse 21-22

“And say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land, and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king will be king to them all, and they will no more be two nations, nor will they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.”

The world had been divided at Babel (Babylon - Genesis 11:1-9). Then later God’s covenant people had been divided. Now the process of healing and restoration was to begin by their being restored to their land and cemented together as one nation in the land. Then they would come under one king, a son of David ruling over formerly divided Israel. Note the rare use of the word ‘king’ by Ezekiel in relation to the rulers of Israel. Elsewhere it is only used where captivity was in mind or where they are demeaned (Ezekiel 1:2; Ezekiel 7:27; Ezekiel 17:12-16; Ezekiel 43:7). For it was Yahweh and His chosen future representative who were truly king over Israel.

The fact that they were to be ‘gathered in from every side’ again confirms that Israelites were expected to return from many lands. And the purpose of this was that they may be made as one under one king. And when Jesus, the son of David, came, proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God this was His aim, ‘that they may be one even as we are’ (John 17:22).


Verse 23

“Nor will they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions, but I will save them out of all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. So will they be my people, and I will be their God.”

The verse has a twofold application. It firstly found fulfilment in the fact that when Israel came back to the land they were basically cured of idolatry. ‘Idols’, ‘detestable things’, ‘transgressions’ can all be taken as having idolatry, and what accompanied it, in mind, and their foreign dwelling places had witnessed their continued love of idols. Thus there was the promise that they would be fully cleansed from these and would worship God alone (this latter links back to Ezekiel 36:28).

It then found a second fulfilment at the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, when men of all nations turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from Heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

But it will find its greater fulfilment when all sin is done away and the greater Israel dwells in the presence of God and of the Lamb for ever (Revelation 21:3-4; Revelation 22:3-5). In the end Ezekiel was thinking of total purity.


Verse 24-25

The Future, Both Temporal and Eternal.

“And my servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will also walk in my judgments and observe my statutes, and do them. And they will dwell in the land which I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers dwelt. And they will dwell in it, they, and their children, and their children’s children, for ever. And David my servant will be their prince for ever.”

This verse is very important in determining our view of what exactly Ezekiel’s prophecy is all about and how to view it. It stresses that ‘they will dwell in the land which I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers dwelt’. This would seem to make crystal clear that it is speaking of the actual land of Israel. That was what was given to Jacob. Their fathers dwelt in it. So it might be asked, what could be clearer?

But then it goes on to say that they will dwell in it for ever, and that David will be their prince for ever. Now we can understand Ezekiel, with no concept of eternity, thinking in terms of everything going on without changing, into millennium after millenium, and never ceasing. (Although he certainly does not have in mind here a mere millennium). So we must either see this as teaching that this world will go on forever, unchanging, or we must recognise that there is here something here that goes beyond Ezekiel’s ability to conceive and which he can only express vaguely in idealistic terms. He knew that they would return to the land, and he knew that they would find everlasting rest. And he combined the two pictures together, because he had no other way of emphasising that God’s people would dwell in a place given to them by God for ever.

Thus from our viewpoint we must say that the first aspect will become literally true, they will return to the land, and the second aspect is his way of describing what is beyond his ability to conceive, the eternal future. He knows that God’s people will enjoy everlasting peace and rest, and that God will always have ‘a land’ available for His people.

So we would argue that it is quite clear that the near partial fulfilment of this took place when Israel were again gathered in Jerusalem with a temporal Davidic king over them (Zerubbabel), who was called ‘My servant’ (Haggai 2:23), and rejoiced in the triumph of God, the ‘day of small things’ (Zechariah 4:6-14), and when (for a time) they turned back to His ways. That it went on when Jesus, the son of David, became Shepherd of His people and led them into the ways of truth and righteousness and began to establish the Kingly Rule of God. And that it finally goes on to reveal that this will in the end result in a perfect existence in an eternal land, where God’s will will always be done and an eternal king will rule over them

For in the end it is quite clear that the everlasting kingdom is in mind here, the everlasting kingdom ruled over by an everlasting king, and resulting in everlasting obedience. Living in ‘the land’ has been changed into something idealised, something far better for them to enjoy; and it is eternal, as is David their prince. It is Ezekiel’s way of portraying the glory of ‘the new earth’ in the only terms available to him. They would be given all that God had promised, and more, under an eternal ruler, (compare Daniel 7:14. No earthly millennium could fulfil this promise). This is thus clearly an ‘idealistic future’, expressed in the terminology of his day, but awaiting further revelation.

We can compare here the words of the writer to the Hebrews about Abraham. He tells us that Abraham dwelt ‘in the land of promise’, but that he ‘looked for a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God’ (Hebrews 11:10). He is crystallising what was probably a vague thought in the mind of Abraham. There is the near view and the far view. It gives a more practical explanation of what Abraham vaguely looked for, a hope that he could not fully understand, and that he would have been totally unable to describe. On his part he just believed that God had a future for him, a future he could not put into words.

The portrayal of the coming eternal king as ‘my servant’ and ‘one shepherd’ portrayed the coming of God’s chosen one who was both faithful to God and would watch over His people.

‘My servant’ was a distinguished title and ever the description of the specially chosen of Yahweh. It was used:

· of Abraham in Genesis 26:24;

· of Moses in Numbers 12:7-8; Malachi 4:4; Joshua 1:2 and often as ‘the servant of Yahweh’ in Joshua, also in 2 Kings 18:12; 2 Chronicles 1:3; 2 Chronicles 24:6;

· of Caleb in Numbers 14:24;

· of Joshua (as ‘the servant of Yahweh’) in Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8;

· of David in Ezekiel 34:23-24; 2 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:8; 1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 11:32; 1 Kings 11:34; 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 11:38; 1 Kings 14:8; Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:20; Isaiah 37:5; Jeremiah 33:21; and often in Kings and Chronicles;

· of Job in Job 1:8; Job 2:3; Job 42:7-8;

· of Isaiah in Isaiah 20:3;

· of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah in Isaiah 22:20;

· of Israel as chosen witnesses in Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:19; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 49:6; Jeremiah 30:10; and often;

· of the Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 52:13;

· of ‘my servants the prophets’ in Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 26:5; and often; Ezekiel 38:37; Zechariah 1:6;

· of Zerubbabel in Haggai 2:23, where he is specifically stated to be the chosen of Yahweh;

· of ‘the Branch’ in Zechariah 3:8; compare Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15;

· and even (temporarily) of Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6 as the one chosen to bring His judgment on Jerusalem.

But only Moses and David were spoken of as ‘my servant’ after their deaths. They were seen as His servants par excellence, and they were the archetype of God’s perfect Servant (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). This ties in with the fact that another Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18) and another David (Ezekiel 34:23-24 compare 1 Kings 9:5; Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:1-5; Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Jeremiah 33:15; Jeremiah 33:17; Jeremiah 33:20-26; Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1) were expected to come in the future, a new lawgiver and a new king, a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The ‘one shepherd’ represents the new David (Ezekiel 34:23) acting in cooperation with Yahweh (Ezekiel 34:13-16; Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 40:11). The idea of a shepherd was regularly applied to Near Eastern kings (compare 1 Kings 22:17) who liked to see themselves as benefactors to their people, even when they were far from being so, and Yahweh described Cyrus as His shepherd because he would perform His pleasure as regards Israel (Isaiah 34:28). But the son of David would be the true shepherd, Yahweh’s shepherd (even though he would be smitten while caring for the sheep (Zechariah 13:7) and would care for them for ever.


Verses 26-28

“Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them. It will be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will give to them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also will be with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary will be in their midst for evermore.”

The vision of eternity continues. The setting up of the Sanctuary reminds us firstly that the Davidic king Zerubbabel did rebuild and establish the temple as God’s sanctuary, as a witness to the nations. But again that was but the earthly prototype of the heavenly reality. For what was to be finally established here is eternal, the sanctuary of God in Heaven (Revelation 8:3-5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:17; Revelation 15:5; Revelation 15:8; Revelation 16:1). Indeed finally God Himself will be their sanctuary (Revelation 21:22).

The covenant of peace was brought by Jesus the Messiah, the new covenant, and God did indeed ‘give to them’ and ‘multiply them’ as the Gospel went out to the world and the new Israel grew strong and numerous. He established His sanctuary among them because His people were His sanctuary (Ephesians 2:20-22). And God was with them and they were His people (2 Corinthians 6:17). The nations also saw and were amazed, and recognised the power of a God that they did not know. And He established an everlasting covenant of peace (Ephesians 2:14; Ephesians 2:17).

The ‘covenant of peace’ mentioned here had already been mentioned in Ezekiel 34:25, which emphasises that what we saw there as referring to the eternal future is in fact the correct interpretation. For here the covenant is eternal against an eternal background, eternal peace between God and His own. The result will be that He will reveal Himself as a giving God, will make them abound and will establish His permanent sanctuary with them eternally. Indeed God Himself will dwell (tabernacle) with them and be their God and they will be His people. This is expanded on in Revelation 21:3, which may well be based on this verse, and Revelation 21:22-24; Revelation 22:3-5 which reveal the same ideas.

‘And the nations will know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary will be in their midst for evermore.’ Many from the nations will recognise in the new Israel the ones who are sanctified by God, and will themselves learn to honour their God, for many of them too, having recognised that the true Israel was set apart by Yahweh for His own, and having been made a part of that Israel by faith, will walk in the light of God in eternity (Revelation 21:24). Thus will Israel’s responsibility towards them have been fulfilled through the witness of the Servant, the new Israel (Acts 13:47). There may also be here the further suggestion that even the nations who come under judgment will also be made aware at that judgment of what God has done for His people in giving them everlasting life (Matthew 25:31-46). Thus the earthly blessing for the people of God continues into the heavenly.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-37.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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