Ezekiel 37:1-28

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YHWH’s “hand” or power came to be operative on Ezekiel. By means of his spirit, YHWH brought him in vision out from his location and set him down “in the midst of the plain,” an area full of [human (LXX, but not in P967)] bones. (37:1; see the Notes section.) Then, by means of his spirit, YHWH led Ezekiel round about among the bones. The words “and look” served to focus attention on the bones. There were “very many” of them on the surface of the plain, and they were “very dry.” (37:2)

The question YHWH is quoted as having directed to Ezekiel, a “son of man” or a mortal in his service, was, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel personally did not know the answer but recognized YHWH as the one who did and replied, “Lord YHWH, you know [these things (LXX)].” (37:3) YHWH then said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy [or proclaim] over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of YHWH.” This indicated that the ones whom the bones represented should listen or pay attention to YHWH’s word regarding what he would be doing for them. (37:4) To the “these bones,” the Lord YHWH declared, “Look, I will cause spirit [a life breath (spirit of life [LXX]) to enter you, and you will live” or be restored to life. (37:5) YHWH promised that sinews and flesh would come to be upon the bones and that the reconstructed bodies would be covered with skin. He would put “spirit” (a life breath) into the reconstructed bodies, and they would live again. As fully restored persons from a condition comparable to dry bones, the individuals would “know” or recognize YHWH as the one who had accomplished this astonishing transformation. (37:6)

When Ezekiel prophesied or made the proclamation as he had been commanded to do, he heard a “noise.” It was a rattling sound, and bones for forming each respective skeleton came together, matching bone to matching bone. (37:7) As Ezekiel observed the developments, he saw that sinews and flesh had come to be on the reconstructed skeletons, and the reconstructed bodies were covered with skin. At the time, the bodies were not animated. There was no “spirit” or life breath in them. (37:8)

YHWH instructed Ezekiel to prophesy to the “spirit,” breath, or wind, and to say to it, “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Come from the four spirits [or winds (the four compass directions)], O spirit [breath or wind], and put spirit [or breathe] into these slain ones, that they may live” or be restored to life. (37:9) As YHWH had commanded him, Ezekiel prophesied or made a proclamation. Then “spirit” or breath came into the reconstructed bodies. They came to life and “stood upon their feet — a very, very great host [company or gathering (LXX)]) The formerly dry bones came to be restored individuals, standing like a strong army. (37:10)

Ezekiel was again addressed as “son of man,” a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH, and the dry bones in the plain were identified for him as being “all the house [or people] of Israel.” They are then quoted as saying about themselves, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope has vanished, and we are cut off,” “lost” (LXX), or doomed to have no future. In the estimation of the exiles, there appeared to be no possibility of their ever returning to their own land. (37:11) “Therefore” (in view of their discouragement and their having lost all hope), Ezekiel was to prophesy and tell the people, “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Look, I am opening your graves and will raise you from your graves, O my people, and I will bring you into the land of Israel.” In their state of exile, the people appeared to be like the deceased who had no possibility of being set free from the restraints of death. This condition was to end, for YHWH would make it possible for the people to return to their own land. (37:12) YHWH would open their graves and bring them up from their graves, freeing them from the restraints that had kept them in exile. Upon the fulfillment of this promise, the people would know or recognize YHWH as the God who had done this for them. (37:13) He would put his “spirit” into them, animating what had initially appeared to be mere dry bones in a plain. They would come to life, and YHWH would settle the restored people on their own land. The people would then “know” or recognize that YHWH had spoken and had done what he said he would. (37:14)

YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum]) again came to Ezekiel (37:15), addressing him as “son of man,” a mortal in his service, and telling him, “Take a stick and write on it, For Judah and the sons [or people] of Israel partnered with [attached to (LXX)] him. And take another stick and write on it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel partnered with [added to (LXX)] him.” The descendants of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, became the dominant tribe of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Therefore, the whole “house of Israel” became associated with Joseph through Ephraim. The stick for Judah represented the stick for the people of the former two-tribe kingdom of Judah, and the “stick of Ephraim” or the one for Joseph represented the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (37:16) The directive to Ezekiel was for him to join the two sticks, holding them together, so that they would come to be or appear to be like one stick in his hand. (37:17) After he had completed this symbolic act, the people would ask him, “Will you not tell us what these [actions mean] to you?” (37:18)

In response to the people’s question, Ezekiel was to say, “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Look, I am taking the stick of Joseph that is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel partnered with him, and I will join them” with the “stick of Judah and make them one stick; and they will become one in my hand.” The word “look” served to focus attention on what YHWH would do. The stick of Joseph was represented as being in the “hand” or under the control of Ephraim, for Ephraim was the dominant tribe and the one from whom the first king of the ten-tribe kingdom came. According to the Septuagint rendering, the tribes of Israel (the ten tribes of the former kingdom of Israel) would become “one rod” in the hand of Judah, or would become a united realm under the rule of a king of the tribe of Judah. (37:19) Before the “eyes” or in full view of the people, Ezekiel would hold in his hand the two sticks on which he had written. (37:20)

The explanation of Ezekiel’s symbolic act followed. “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Look, I will take the sons [or people] of Israel from among the nations to which they have gone and will gather them from all sides and bring them to their [own] land.” (27:21) “I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and one king will be king over them all.” “They will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.” A remnant of the descendants of exiled Israelites from the tribes that constituted the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel did return to their land. In the centuries that passed, however, they did not have a king of the royal line of David from the tribe of Judah reigning over them. Therefore, this prophecy pointed forward to the time the future Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ would rule over a united people. This one appeared in the first century CE, bore the name Jesus, and was identified by his devoted followers as the “Son of God” and the “king of Israel” or the Messiah (27:22; Matthew 16:16; John 1:49)

As a restored people, the Israelites would no longer defile themselves with idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]), with their abominations, including such disgusting practices as child sacrifice and ceremonial prostitution, and with their transgressions. YHWH promised to deliver them in “all their dwellings [from their backslidings, according to another reading of the text (lawless deeds [LXX])] in which they sinned” and to “cleanse them.” They would then truly be his people, and he would be their God to whom they were exclusively devoted and who would care for them. Their being delivered would mean that they would be freed from condemnation for past sins, be forgiven, and would cease to stray from the course YHWH approved. They would be a cleansed people, no longer stained with transgressions. (37:23)

YHWH’s “servant David” would be king over the purified people. They would have only “one shepherd,” the one ruler in the person of the “servant David.” The people would then “walk” or conduct themselves according to YHWH’s judgments or his ordinances, and they would keep his statutes, faithfully conforming themselves to them. YHWH’s “servant David” is the Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ. Jesus, the unique Son of God, occupies this position as King of kings and Lord of lords.” (37:24; see the Notes section.)

The restored people would dwell in the land that YHWH had given to his “servant Jacob,” the forefather of the Israelites. It was the land where their “fathers” or ancestors had resided, and they and their “sons” or children and their grandsons or grand children would reside there for all time to come, and for all time to come YHWH’s “servant David” would be their prince or ruler. (37:25; see the Notes section.)

With his people, YHWH promised to make a “covenant of peace,” assuring them that they would have his attentive care and blessing as a people who had been reconciled to him. This covenant and its benefits would be permanent. The people would be firmly established in their realm and increase in number, and YHWH’s sanctuary would be in their midst for all time to come. From the first century CE onward, the members of the true Israel continued to increase in number, and they were under the attentive care of their king, YHWH’s “servant David.” Therefore, it could be said of them, that they were in a secure position in their land or realm. With his sanctuary being in their midst, the people would benefit from God’s presence at all times. They would never be without his care and aid. (37:26) YHWH’s dwelling place or his presence would be with his people. He would be their God, the God with whom they had an approved relationship and to whom they desired to be faithful, and they would be his people, enjoying his recognition as persons whom he approved. (37:27) When the evidence would be unmistakable that YHWH had sanctified his true people, “Israel,” making them holy or pure in his sight as persons forgiven of their sins, and that his sanctuary was in their midst permanently, people of the nations would “know” or come to recognize that YHWH was the one who had done this for them. (37:28)

Notes

In the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967), the words of chapter 37 appear after those of the concluding verse of chapter 39.

The prophet’s words of verse 24 pointed prophetically to Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. In the prophecy, the expressions are such as to suggest the restoration of an earthly kingdom under the rule of the Messiah, Jesus. Those who accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and the unique Son of God understood that his reign would not be of an earthly kind but would be heavenly. Therefore, the words that point to the uniting of Israelites from the northern kingdom of Israel with the people of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah may be understood to signify that all who come to recognize Jesus as their rightful king will form one united body, comparable to just one flock of sheep.

In view of the link of permanent residence in the land to YHWH’s “servant David,” the promised Messiah, the land may be understood to represent what the ultimate inheritance of all true Israelites will be. (Verse 25) According to Hebrews 11:16, this would be a better place, a “heavenly one.” It appears that the promise about residence in the land was expressed in language that accommodated the understanding of the people prior to the time the Messiah arrived.