GOD WILL POWERFULLY WORK THROUGH REVIVAL AND REUNIFICATION TO ACCOMPLISH HIS ULTIMATE KINGDOM AGENDA FOR HIS ELECT NATION ISRAEL
Ezekiel interprets a powerful vision and a symbolic act to portray the important themes of revival and reunification as foundational for the future kingdom of Israel. This had to be a message of great hope for the exiles whose experience testified to the death and dispersion of the once glorious kingdom. The Spirit of God plays the central role in accomplishing God’s vindicating agenda. The blessings of the New Covenant, the covenant of peace, are reiterated with a focus on permanent and secure dwelling in the promised land in fellowship and covenant relationship with the sovereign God. The rulership of the messianic shepherd king fulfils the promises regarding the everlasting Davidic dynasty. These are important and broad-ranging promises about what God has in store for Israel in the future.
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel 37 easily may be divided into two sections by the introductory phrases “the hand of the Lord was upon me” in v. 1 and “the word of the Lord came to me” in v. 15. The vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1–10) followed by its interpretation (vv. 11–14) is the first message. The second complementary message concerned a symbolic action, binding two sticks together (vv. 15–17) with an interpretation in vv. 18–28. . .
God has not finished with Israel. He plans a permanent reunification and restoration of his people in his land (37:15–24). The realization of this promise was tied to the development of the messianic hope (37:25–28; cf. Rom 11:25–36).
Charles Dyer: Chapter 37 vividly illustrates the promise of chapter 36. God had just announced that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of David her king. However, this seemed remote in light of Israel’s present condition. She was “dead” as a nation – deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed impossible. So God gave two signs (37:1-14 and vv. 15-28) to Ezekiel to illustrate the fact of restoration and confirm the promises just made.
Merrill: 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 (Gen. 12:1, 7; 13:15-17; 15:18-19; 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.
John Taylor: If God’s purpose was to restore Israel, he would do it by however great a miracle. Both the vision and the oracle of the two sticks conveyed this message. In the case of the first (1–14), the nation was shown that God’s Spirit had the power to turn what looked like a host of skeletons into an effective army of men, a picture of Israel restored to life again and filled with the Spirit. In the second (15–28), Ezekiel shows that the old divisions between Israel and Judah will pass away: the new nation will unite the remnants of both peoples in one land under one king, and without their traditional animosity.
I. (:1-14) REVIVAL – THE VISION OF THE VALLEY OF THE DRY BONES
“The hand of the LORD was upon me,”
A. (:1b-10) Divine Accomplishment of Revival in Transforming Dry Bones into Great Army
1. (:1b-6) Means of Revival Commanded
a. (:1-2) New Vision of Dry Bones in the Valley =
Revival Needed Because of the Reality of Death
“and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD
and set me down in the middle of the valley;
and it was full of bones.
2 And He caused me to pass among them round about,
and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.”
Taylor: The valley is the same word as the ‘plain’ in Ezekiel 3:22 (Heb. biqa), and probably the same location is intended.
Constable: 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.
Daniel Block: The scene is striking in three respects.
– First, the circumstantial clause at the end of v. 1 and the phrase wĕhinnēh rabbôt mĕʾōd highlight Ezekiel’s amazement at the exceedingly high number of bones. The significance of their number will not become apparent until later (v. 10), but the sight suggests the remains of a major catastrophe.
– Second, the bones lay on the surface of the valley, like the remains of corpses denied a proper burial and left for scavenging buzzards. As an Israelite and especially as a priest, Ezekiel knew how important was the proper treatment of human corpses, and the altered image of graves in the interpretive comments of v. 12 would certainly have been more welcome for the prophet.
– Third, the prophet is surprised at the bones’ extreme dryness, which indicates that the people whose remains they represent have been dead for a long time. The image concretizes the hopelessness expressed in v. 11; no life force remains in them at all.
The narrative leaves no hint regarding whose bones these might be, but the picture is one of death in all its horror, intensity, and finality.
b. (:3) Impotence of Dead Bones = Revival Requires a Miracle
“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’
And I answered, ‘O Lord God, Thou knowest.’”
Leslie Allen: The visionary scene, a gruesome one, is gradually unfolded. First impressions of a grotesque mass of bones are reinforced as the prophet is taken round the site; he is made aware too that what were once corpses had long since rotted or been eaten away into fleshless bones. The divine question is a standard element in a vision, to wrest significance from the sight (cf. Jer 1:11, 13; Amos 7:8; 8:2; Zech 4:2, 5). It was a ridiculous question. A seeming corpse might be revived, but these pathetic piles of bones were hopelessly dead. Out of polite deference to his questioner the prophet leaves him to answer his own question. Yahweh knew the answer as well as he did.
Lamar Cooper: The question “Can these bones live?” was designed to show him the impotence of Israel during the exile. God made marvelous promises to the nation in chaps. 33–36, but the real issue was, “Can these bones live?” Can a dead and impotent nation in exile and under the control of a godless nation be resurrected and become a living, thriving kingdom once again?
Derek Thomas: How do these bones live again? God uses three means to accomplish it.
1. The preaching of the Word
Ezekiel is told to ‘prophesy’ (37:4; literally: ‘preach God’s Word’), and does as he is told (37:7).
2. The prayer of God’s servant
God urges Ezekiel to call upon the ‘breath’ to come and breathe into the slain (37:9).
3. The power of the Holy Spirit
These are the ingredients of any work of revival by God.
c. (:4-6a) Command to Prophesy of a Revival = Means of Revival Revealed
“Again He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones, Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. 6 And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive;’”
David Guzik: This was a work of revival; restoring life to something that at one time had life. This was not the creation of life from nothing; it was the restoration of life to something that had been long dead.
Feinberg: Nothing could be more emphatic than that the agency for effecting the purpose of God in the resurrection of the nation was the powerful word of God.
d. (:6b) Recognition Refrain = Purpose of Revival
“and you will know that I am the LORD.”
Daniel Block: As developed here, the process by which Yahweh will fulfill his promise involves four discrete stages: He will reconnect the bones with sinews, cover the bones with flesh, overlay the flesh with skin, and infuse them with breath. The sequence involving bones, sinews, flesh, and skin reflects an understanding of anatomy available to anyone who had witnessed the slaughter of an animal; it also reverses the decomposition process. The concluding recognition formula gives this segment the quality of a proof saying, highlighting that Yahweh’s goal in reviving these bones is not simply the biological-chemical reconstitution of the body or even the restoration of physical life. He desires spiritual revival: a new recognition of and relationship with himself.
2. (:7-10) Miraculous Stages of Revival
“So I prophesied as I was commanded;”
a. (:7b) Initial Stirring and Linkage of the Bones
“and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.”
b. (:8) Incremental Reconstitution into Bodies of Sinews, Flesh and Skin
“And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.”
Leslie Allen: So here separate acts take place because two miracles were necessary, to reconstitute the bones into bodies and to reanimate the bodies. There is also an element of drama in the double process. “One is reminded of the magician who invariably ‘fails’ once or twice in attempting his grand finale in order to intensify suspense and to focus attention on the climactic success to follow” (Fox, HUCA 51  11). The process accentuates the power of God even as it concedes the difficulty of the enterprise.
c. (:9-10) Inbreathing of the Spirit of Life to Animate the Bodies
1) (:9) Divine Activity = Life-giving Breath
“Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.’”
Peter Pett: 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 life-giving 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).
Daniel Block: The identification of the lifeless corpses as the slain corpses (hahărûgîm) offers the first clue to the identity of the deceased. The bones are the remains of victims of some enormous battle. While the oracle expresses no interest in which battle they might have fallen, Ezekiel would naturally have thought of his compatriots, casualties to Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah and Jerusalem (cf. v. 11).
2) (:10) Divine Accomplishment = Large Revived Army
“So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
David Guzik: The bones were not revived to become a group of spectators or to live for their own comfort. They became an army, and an exceedingly great one. They lived to act under the orders of the one who gave them life.
Derek Thomas: The word ‘spirit’, in both Hebrew and Greek, is a picture word. It pictures breath breathed, or panted out, as when you blow out candles on a birthday cake or puff and blow as you run. Spirit, as J. I. Packer delightfully illustrates, ‘was what the big bad wolf was threatening the little pigs with when he told them, “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down!” The picture is of air made to move vigorously, even violently, and the thought that the picture expresses is of energy let loose, executive force invading, power in exercise, life demonstrated by activity.’1 When ‘Spirit’ is used of the Holy Spirit, it is meant to convey the powerful effect of his work.
B. (:11-14) Divine Interpretation of the Significance of this Vision of Revival
1. (:11-13) National Resurrection of Israel Rescues them from Hopelessness
a. (:11) Three Statements of Despairing Lament
“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 has perished.
We are completely cut off.’”
Peter Pett: 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.
b. (:12) Three Statements of Divine Reversal
“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
Behold, I will open your graves
and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people;
and I will bring you into the land of Israel.’”
Kaiser: “This chapter then does not deal with the doctrine of the personal bodily resurrection but with national resurrection.
c. (:13) Recognition Refrain
“Then you will know that I am the LORD,
when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.”
Iain Duguid: There is a sure and certain future based not on what Israel can do but on God’s determination to save his people. Twice, the Lord addresses them as “my people” (37:12–13). Though they are indeed dead, God can and will tear open their graves (shifting the metaphor slightly) and bring them up from the dead, giving them life through his Spirit and resettling them in their land (37:14). The promises of a new spirit and a return to the land made in Ezekiel 36:27–36 will indeed be fulfilled. Then they will know that the Lord not only speaks but acts, thus disproving the proverb of the skeptic, quoted in 12:22: “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing.” Ezekiel’s visions will come about, and the people will be restored to their land and revitalized, through the internal work of God’s Spirit.
2. (:14) New Covenant Relationship Ensures Secure Dwelling in the Land
a. Divine Activity
“And I will put My Spirit within you,
and you will come to life,
and I will place you on your own land.”
b. Recognition Refrain
“’Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,’ declares the LORD.”
II. (:15-28) REUNIFICATION — THE JOINING OF THE TWO STICKS
“The word of the LORD came again to me saying,”
A. (:16-23) Significance of the Joining of the Two Sticks
1. (:16-17) Instructions Regarding the Symbolic Action – Joining of Two Sticks
a. (:16) Naming the Two Sticks = Kingdom of Judah and of Israel
“And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’;
then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’”
David Guzik: The tribe of Ephraim was the largest and most influential tribe of the northern kingdom. Several times in the Old Testament the northern kingdom was called Ephraim.
Daniel Block: Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two dominant tribes in the northern kingdom. Of these two, Ephraim, the younger son, dominated northern politics from the beginning.
Leslie Allen: It begins with a command to perform a symbolic action (vv 16–17) and continues with a question and answer format that in Ezekiel is used to create a hinge between a symbolic action and its meaning.
b. (:17) Uniting the Two Sticks
“Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick,
that they may become one in your hand.”
Constable: 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.
Douglas Stuart: The north and the south of Israel had not been unified politically since the revolt of Jeroboam, after the death of Solomon in 931 b.c., nearly 350 years prior to this prophecy. Since 722 b.c., when the north lost its political identity and was annexed by the Assyrians, and especially since 586 b.c., when Judah had also fallen, the idea of a reunified Israel of the sort that David and Solomon had ruled over in the ninth century would have seemed ludicrous to any observer of international events in Ezekiel’s day.
2. (:18-19) Interpretation of the Meaning of the Action
“And when the sons of your people speak to you saying, ‘Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, 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, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.’”
3. (:20-23) Integrity of Revived National Identity
(:20) Irrefutable Public Display of Revived National Identity
“And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes.”
a. (:21a) Restoration of Israel’s Land Integrity
“And say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone,’”
b. (:21b) Restoration of Israel’s Ethnic Integrity
“and I will gather them from every side
and bring them into their own land;’”
MacArthur: God made 3 promises that summarized His future plans for Israel:
1) restoration, v. 21;
2) unification, v. 22; and
3) purification, v. 23.
These promises bring to fulfillment;
1) the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Ge 12);
2) the Davidic Covenant (2Sa 7); and
3) the New Covenant (cf. Jer 31), respectively.
c. (:22) Restoration of Israel’s Kingdom Integrity
“and I will make them one nation in the land,
on the mountains of Israel;
and one king will be king for all of them;
and they will no longer be two nations,
and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms.”
Peter Pett: 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.
d. (:23a) Restoration of Israel’s Spiritual Integrity
“And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols,
or with their detestable things,
or with any of their transgressions;
but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places
in which they have sinned,
and will cleanse them.”
Daniel Block: The process of purification envisioned involves two actions, in both of which Yahweh functions as the agent.
– First, Yahweh will rescue the Israelites from their apostasies. The verb hôšîaʿ, “to save,” usually envisions deliverance from external enemies (cf. 34:22), but like 36:29, the present usage envisions the people’s sin as the enslaving power.
– Second, Yahweh will cleanse or “purify” them. The verb tihar recalls 36:25–28, which, in offering a fuller description of the cleansing process, had associated the experience with a heart transplant and an infusion of Yahweh’s Spirit.
The link is confirmed by the reference to covenant renewal, expressed in both instances by citing the covenant formula. The declaration, “They will be my people, and I will be their God,” signals the full restoration of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. The present association of covenant renewal with the termination of idolatry, disgusting conduct, and rebellion is reminiscent of 14:11, and it intentionally announces the reversal of 5:11. Provoked by their defiling and abominable acts, Yahweh had abandoned his people. Now that he has purified them, he may return and normalize the covenant relationship with them.
e. (:23b) Restoration of Israel’s Covenant Integrity
“And they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
Lamar Cooper: There were thirteen promises made to Israel in 37:21–28 that illustrated God’s determination to revive, revitalize, restore, and reestablish the nation of Israel.
– First, God will personally find Israel and gather the people from among the nations (v. 21a).
– Second, God will bring them again into their land that will be restored to them (v. 21b).
– Third, God will make one nation of the two that had been in the land (v. 22a).
– Fourth, God will set one king over the nation (v. 22b, 24a).
– Fifth, God will insure the unity of the restored kingdom that will never again be divided (v. 22c).
– Sixth, God will insure that the people will never again serve idols (v. 23a).
– Seventh, God will save them, cleanse them, and establish an intimate personal relationship with them (v. 23b).
– Eighth, God will enable them to walk in obedience to his law (v. 24b).
– Ninth, God will establish them in their land forever (v. 25).
– Tenth, God will establish his new covenant of peace with them (v. 26a; cf. 34:25; Jer 31:31–34).
– Eleventh, God will multiply them in the land, and they will enjoy prosperity with peace (v. 26b).
– Twelfth, God will establish his sanctuary among them and personally dwell there forever (vv. 26c, 27).
– Thirteenth, God will make Israel a testimony to the nations of his saving grace (v. 28).
B. (:24-28) Seven Descriptions of Revival Kingdom Blessings for the Nation of Israel
Daniel Block: The present description of Israel’s glorious hope breaks down on the basis of subjects of the verbs into three parts as follows:
(a) The Evidence of Israel’s Renaissance (vv. 24b–25)
(b) The Source/Cause of Israel’s Renaissance (vv. 26–27)
(c) The Impact of Israel’s Renaissance (v. 28)
1. (:24a) Messianic Shepherd King
“And My servant David will be king over them,
and they will all have one shepherd;”
Feinberg: Some have understood the words “David my servant” to mean David literally, but the consensus of prophetic testimony decides in favor of applying it to Christ alone. Apart from the fact that God would not design a culminating age with two supreme rulers on earth in a sort of coregency, a concept foreign to Old Testament prophecy and the repeated mention of the numeral “one” in connection with their final king, there is no inherent reason why David must rule again. There was no such implication in the original Davidic covenant of II Samuel 7. That unconditional promise stated only that David’s final Heir would rule forever, not that he himself would do so. Apart from the undisputed fact of the standing jealousy between Ephraim and Judah, the division of the kingdom came about because of the apostasy of Solomon, a son of David. This disruption can only be reversed by the righteous ruler of the Son of David, the Messiah.
2. (:24b) Covenant Obedience
“and they will walk in My ordinances,
and keep My statutes,
and observe them.”
Leslie Allen: The people’s obedience would make possible continued occupation of the promised land envisaged in 28:25–26 and 36:28. The disobedience that had been the cause of the exile would haunt them no longer.
3. (:25a) Permanent Occupation of the Promised Land
“And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant,
in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it,
they, and their sons, and their sons’ sons, forever;”
4. (:25b) Davidic Dynasty Guaranteed Forever
“and David My servant shall be their prince forever.”
5. (:26a) Everlasting Covenant of Peace
“And I will make a covenant of peace with them;
it will be an everlasting covenant with them.”
6. (:26b) Established, Multiplied and Consecrated
“And I will place them and multiply them,
and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.”
7. (:27) Covenant Relationship and Fellowship
“My dwelling place also will be with them;
and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”
Douglas Stuart: Disunity, disobedience, corrupt national leadership, and multiple sanctuary polytheism—these things that would be overturned by divine action in the future were what Israel and Judah had known throughout most of their history. They had their roots in the past, in the rivalry of Jacob’s children reported in Genesis, in the tendency to idolatry described in Exodus, in the warnings against the dangers of kingship in Deuteronomy, in the intertribal rivalries described in Judges, and so on. The point is that the Israelites had established a pattern. They were habituated to sin, just as all human institutions and people are. What they needed was a change of the nature and magnitude that they themselves could not possibly bring about by human effort. They needed the special grace of the Lord to help them, so that He would offer rescue, and they would need only to respond in faith. We know in retrospect that it was only the work of Christ that could provide for all that Ezekiel’s audience was hearing in chapter 37.
(:28) Recognition Refrain
“And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”
David Guzik: The promise of this sanctuary will be described in great detail in Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48. To Ezekiel and the Babylonian exiles, no restoration could be complete without some kind of temple.
John Taylor: The restoration of the temple is thus far more than simply a matter of repairing war-damage. It is God’s way of demonstrating that he is not dead and that Israel are still his people.
Leslie Allen: Emphasis is laid on the restored temple towering over the people as the capstone of the new divine-human constitution that time would not decay. It would be a material symbol to the world of the special relationship between God and the people consecrated to him (cf. Lev 20:26).
Ralph Alexander: The Lord would enact his peace covenant (cf. 34:25-29) with Israel at the time of her restoration to the land, when all her other covenants with God would be fulfilled (v. 26). Under this peace covenant Israel would be established in her land, her numbers would increase (cf. Gen 22:17-18), and the Lord would place his sanctuary — his dwelling place – among his people forever (vv. 26-27; cf. 40:5 – 43:9). Then all nations would see that it was the Lord who made Israel holy. She would be set apart from all nations as God’s special possession. No other nation would have the Lord dwelling in its sanctuary uniquely in its midst as would Israel (v. 28; cf. chs. 40-48).