EZEKIEL CHAPTER 37
(Ezek 37:1 NASB) "The hand of the LORD was upon me, 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.

(Ezek 37:2 NASB) 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.

[BKC]:

"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.

Most Israelites may have doubted God's promise of restoration. Their present condition militated against the possibility of that being fulfilled. So God stressed the fact of His sovereign power and ability to carry out these remarkable promises. Their fulfillment depended on Him, not on circumstances. Ezekiel reported the vision (vv. 1-10) and then interpreted it (vv. 11-14)."

[EXPOSITOR'S]:

["1-2 This section provides the concluding illustration of this oracle on restoration that began at 36:16. Chapter 37 began without any transition, simply revealing the apocalyptic vision that concluded Ezekiel's message on Israel's future restoration. This vision pictures the manner in which the Lord would restore his people.

Apocalyptic literature is not familiar to most people. In Ezekiel's day the exiles would have been acquainted with the Mesopotamian dream-visions and their literary form. It seems that the Lord adapted this specific type of literature that was in vogue in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. in Mesopotamia and developed a new type of biblical literature known as apocalyptic (cf. Introduction: Literary Form and Structure). This literature is a symbolic visionary-prophetic literature, consisting of visions whose events are recorded exactly as they were seen by the author and are explained through a divine interpreter. The theological content is primarily eschatological. It is equally interesting that this type of biblical literature was normally composed during times when its recipients experienced oppressive conditions. All these elements are observed in the passage before us. Symbols were used, such as the bones. Ezekiel actually recounted what he saw in the vision. Certainly the vision was part of the prophetic message of Ezekiel. The theological emphasis of the vision was on future things that were to encourage the Judean exiles who were in oppressive conditions. A divine interpretation was supplied. Therefore Ezekiel used an apocalyptic vision to illustrate how God would restore Israel.

Apocalyptic literature has a simple twofold form: (1) the setting of the vision in which the recipient and the geographical location are identified, and (2) the vision per se with its divine interpretation. The setting is expressed in vv.1-2. Ezekiel was brought by the Lord into the valley (or plain), perhaps the same valley mentioned in chapter 1 where Ezekiel saw the visions of God. Ezekiel, as the recipient, saw the valley filled with innumerable bones that were extremely dry. The Spirit of the Lord led him around the valley, and he passed among these bones."

Notes

1-2 The definite article ‏הַ‎ (ha, "the") is used with the word "valley" in ‏הַבִּקְעָה‎ (habbiqah, "the valley") and refers to a specific valley, perhaps the one mentioned in ch. 1, where Ezekiel saw the visions of God."]

(Ezek 37:3 NASB) He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know."

(Ezek 37:4 NASB) Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'

(Ezek 37:5 NASB) Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.

(Ezek 37:6 NASB) 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; and you will know that I am the LORD.'"

(Ezek 37:7 NASB) So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

(Ezek 37:8 NASB) And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.

(Ezek 37:9 NASB) 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."'"

(Ezek 37:10 NASB) 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.

[BKC]:

"37:1-10. God transported Ezekiel by the Sprit (cf. 3:14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 43:5) to a valley... full of bones. There he noticed that the bones... were very dry, bleached and baked under the hot sun.
God asked the prophet a remarkable question: Son of man, can these bones live? Was there potential for life in these lifeless frames? Ezekiel knew that humanly speaking it was impossible, so his answer was somewhat guarded. O Sovereign Lord, You alone know. Only God can accomplish such a feat.
God then directed Ezekiel to prophesy to these bones. The content of his message was God's promised restoration: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. "Breath" (raḥ) could also be translated "wind" or "spirit." In 37:14 the same word is translated "Spirit." Possibly God had in mind Genesis 2:7. In creating man, He transformed Adam into a living being by breathing into his nostrils "the breath of life." Whether God was referring to wind, physical breath, the principle of life, or the Holy Spirit is uncertain. However, the results were obvious. God gave life to these dead bones. As Ezekiel was giving this prophecy, he saw a remarkable thing. The bones came together (Ezek. 37:7), flesh developed, skin covered them (v. 8), breath entered them, and they stood up (v. 10).

[EXPOSITOR'S]:

["3-10 This apocalyptic vision has two distinct sections in the vision itself. First, Ezekiel recounted what he saw and did in vv.3-10. Then the vision closes with the interpretation in vv.11-14. As one reads an apocalyptic vision, he feels as if he is there, for the details are given in the first person by the recipient. The Lord asked Ezekiel whether these bones would live (v.3a). Ezekiel, acknowledging his lack of omniscience, replied that only the Lord knew (v.3b). A prophecy was then given to Ezekiel for the dry bones. The Lord would cause them to live. Tendons, flesh, skin, and breath would come on the bones so that live people would be formed. Then this "resurrected" people would know that God was the Lord (vv.4-6). So Ezekiel did exactly as the Lord commanded and proclaimed the Lord's words to the dead, dry bones. While he was speaking, all the bones came together and took on themselves tendons, flesh, and skin. But no breath was found in them (vv.7-8).

Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy again, this time to the breath to come from the four winds—probably indicating the full power of the entering breath (i.e., from every direction) to renew the bodies—and to breathe on these slain ones so that they might live (v.9). On doing so, Ezekiel saw this army of people come alive! Such was the vision itself.
The recovery of the bones to form bodies pictured Israel's ultimate national restoration (vv.4-8). Breath (wind or Spirit) entering these restored bodies portrayed spiritual renewal (vv.9-10). This imitated the sequence in chapter 36 (cf. John 3).

NOTES

5 ‏רוּחַ‎ (ruah, "wind," "breath," "spirit") has all three meanings in this chapter (cf. vv.9, 14) which is appropriate for the symbolic apocalyptic vision. The symbol of "wind" or "breath" is interpreted as "Spirit" (cf. TWOT, 2:836-37)."]

(Ezek 37:11 NASB) 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.'

(Ezek 37:12 NASB) 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.

(Ezek 37:13 NASB) 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.

(Ezek 37:14 NASB) I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.' "

[BKC]:

"37:11-14. To what did this vision refer? God said it was about the nation of Israel (the whole house of Israel) that was then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were pining away and saw no end to their judgment: Our hope is gone; we are cut off. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed. Israel had "died" in the flames of Babylon's attack, and had no hope of resurrection.
The reviving of the dry bones signified Israel's national restoration. The vision showed that Israel's new life depended on God's power, not outward circumstances: I will open your graves. I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Also when God restores Israel nationally, He will renew them spiritually. He will put His Spirit in Israel. The breath of life the corpses received symbolized the Holy Spirit, promised in Israel's New Covenant (cf. 36:24-28).

The Israelites residing in Palestine today are not the fulfillment of this prophecy. But it will be fulfilled when God regathers believing Israelites to the land (Jer. 31:33; 33:14-16), when Christ returns to establish His kingdom (cf. Matt. 24:30-31)."

[EXPOSITOR'S]:

["11-14 In interpreting apocalyptic visions, certain basic principles should be followed. The divine interpretation given within the vision should be followed carefully, neither adding to it nor elaborating on aspects of it. Apocalyptic visions were never meant to have every detail interpreted, only the major thrust of the vision was to be grasped.

As one examines the vision and its divine interpretation, several factors are noteworthy. The bones are identified as the whole house of Israel, the slain ones of v.9 (v.11; cf. 36:10). The bones (or entire house of Israel in that day) would declare three things about themselves (v.11; cf. Ps 6:2). First, they were dry, an obvious condition of bones from people who have been dead for a very long time. Though quantitative time may be implied by the dryness of the bones, the emphasis of the interpretation was on qualitative spiritual deadness—"our hope is gone" and "we are cut off" (v.11). Second, the bones (Israel) declared that their hope had perished. The people of Israel, having been deceased as a nation for so long, had lost all hope of becoming a nation again or of seeing God's covenants fulfilled. Third, the bones (Israel) said that they were separated from one another, i.e., the people would be separated and dispersed from one another immediately before their restoration. That was their current condition.

The vision itself is rather self-evident and needs no interpretation once the bones are identified. The vision dearly demonstrated the restoration to life of a people who had been dead for some time. It was in two stages: first physical (or national) restoration and then spiritual renewal (keeping in mind that the word for breath, wind, and spirit is the same in Hebrew). The creation of man followed a similar pattern: the body formed first, then the breath received (cf. Gen 2:7). This national and spiritual restoration is elaborated in the interpretation section through another figure, that of a resurrection from graves. Both the imagery of dry bones becoming live people and the figure of resurrection from a grave illustrate the same truth. Israel, who had been nonexistent as a people on their own land and scattered throughout the nations, would be brought back to life physically as a nation in their own land. Just as these events in the vision would be miraculous, so will be Israel's restoration. Once in the land they would be renewed spiritually when God placed his Spirit (identity of the breath or spirit in the vision) within them in keeping with the new covenant and the message just delivered in chapter 36 (v.14; cf. vv.9-10; 36:22-32; 37:15-28). The entire context of these six messages was future. The context of chapters 36-37, before and following this apocalyptic vision, indicates that Israel's national restoration in the end time was in view. It was not to be just a physical restoration nor only a spiritual restoration. A national regathering of Israel from among the nations in the end time (as seen from the context), a spiritual conversion of Israel, and a reestablishment of the nation in the land of promise are in view both in 36:16-38 and in this apocalyptic vision (vv.13-14). This is not a resurrection of all the descendants of Israel.

This could genuinely be termed a "rebirth" of the nation. Just as the necessary elements of a nation were essential to the initial formation of Israel in Genesis through Joshua—a people, a government, and a land—so God would provide all three essentials once again in this rebirth of Israel in the future. The people of that day are brought together through restoration in 36:16-37:28. The land is provided in the prophecy of 35:1-36:15. The government of renewed Israel would be given in Ezekiel's apocalyptic vision revealed in chapters 40-48. When Israel would be restored and become a nation once again, then the people would definitely know that the Lord did it and that he and none other was their God (vv.13-14)."

NOTES:

11 ‏נִגְזַרְנוּ לָנוּ‎ (nigzarnu lanu, "we are cut off") conveys the idea of the division of God's people into parts. The prepositional phrase lanu is a reflexive (ethical or commodi) dative that stresses the significance of the action in question for the subject (cf. GKC, par. 119s). In this verse the emphasis is on the division of the plural subject, Israel, into many parts."]

(Ezek 37:15 NASB) The word of the LORD came again to me saying,

(Ezek 37:16 NASB) 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.' "

(Ezek 37:17 NASB) Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.

[BKC]:

Ezekiel's second sign in this chapter visualized God's restoration of the nation. First the sign was given (vv. 15-17), then explained (vv. 18-28).

37:15-17. Ezekiel was told to take two sticks of wood and to write on one of them the name of Judah and on the other the names of Ephraim and Joseph. Ezekiel was then to hold them together like one stick.
Some have claimed that the two sticks represent the Bible (the stick of Judah) and the Book of Mormon (the stick of Joseph). However, this assertion ignores the clear interpretation in verses 18-28 and seeks to impose a foreign meaning on the sticks.

After Solomon died the nation of Israel split asunder, in 931 b.c. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah because Judah was its larger tribe and because the country was ruled by a king from that tribe (cf. 1 Kings 12:22-24). The Northern Kingdom was called Israel, or sometimes Ephraim (e.g., Hosea 5:3, 5, 11-14) either because Ephraim was the strongest and most influential tribe or because the first king of Israel, Jeroboam I, was an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26). Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 b.c., and Judah was taken into exile by Babylon in 605, 597, and 586 b.c."

[EXPOSITOR'S]:

["15-17 Ezekiel used a symbolic act to demonstrate that the two previously divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah would once again be reunited into one nation when God brings his people back into their land. Israel would then be complete with all her covenants fulfilled.

Ezekiel took two sticks of wood (v.16). He wrote the names of Judah and her companions on one stick and those of Ephraim and her companions on the other, one stick representing the former kingdom of Judah, the other the previous kingdom of Israel. When Ezekiel put these two sticks together in his hand, they became one stick (v.17)."]

(Ezek 37:18 NASB) When the sons of your people speak to you saying, 'Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?'

(Ezek 37:19 NASB) 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."'

(Ezek 37:20 NASB) The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes.

(Ezek 37:21 NASB) Say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land;

(Ezek 37:22 NASB) 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 no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

(Ezek 37:23 NASB) 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. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

(Ezek 37:24 NASB) My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.

(Ezek 37:25 NASB) They will 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; and David My servant will be their prince forever.

(Ezek 37:26 NASB) I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.

(Ezek 37:27 NASB) My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.

(Ezek 37:28 NASB) And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.' " '''

[BKC]:

"37:18-28. The uniting of the sticks pictured God's restoring and reuniting His people in the land as a single nation (cf. Hosea 1:11). Cleansed from their backsliding... they will be My people, God said, and I will be their God (cf. Ezek. 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27).

When united, Israel will be led by King David himself (see comments on 34:23-24). As God's servant, he will be their one shepherd.
Then God repeated the blessings to be bestowed on the people in the land. They will have an eternal inheritance there and David... will be their prince. God's covenant of peace (cf. 36:15; Isa. 54:10) will be established with them, and His presence will remain with them forever (in contrast with the departing of His glory, Ezek. 9-11). The visible reminder of God's presence will be His sanctuary, His dwelling place. Then again God added, I will be their God, and they will be My people (cf. 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:23). These promises anticipate the detailed plans for God's new sanctuary (chaps. 40-43). This literal structure will serve as a visual object lesson to Israel and the nations of God's presence in the midst of His people."

[EXPOSITOR'S]:

["18-28 These verses give the interpretation of the symbolic act (v.18). The union of the two sticks into one portrayed the reunion of the nations of Judah and Israel into a united kingdom in the land promised in the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 19, 22-25 Gen 12:1-3, 7; 16:10; 17:7-9; 22:17-18; 28:4, 13-15). Never again would the nation be divided. The Messiah, David's greater Son, would be the only King, Shepherd, and Prince that Israel would ever have in accord with the Davidic covenant (vv.22b, 24a, 25b; cf. 34:10b-31; 2 Sam 7:13, 16). This united people of God would be cleansed from their former idolatry and transgressions through the complete forgiveness provided by the Messiah's death and the ministry of the Spirit promised in the new covenant (v.23a; 36:16-32; Jer 31:31-34). By accepting the new covenant, Israel would be enabled through the Holy Spirit to follow the righteous stipulations of the Mosaic covenant and to live by them (v.24b). Then Israel would finally be the unique, choice people that God had created for himself; and he would be their God—finally fulfilling the ideal of the Mosaic covenant (vv.23b, 27; cf. Exod 19:5-6; Lev 26:12; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:18-19; 27:9; Jer 30:22; 31:33; 32:38).

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).

When all Israel's covenants have been consummated, then the Lord will enact his peace covenant with Israel. She will dwell in peace forever under the rule of her king, the Messiah (34:25-29; 37:26; cf. 38:11).

Notes

23 The MT's ‏מֹושְׁבֹתֵיהֶם‎ (mosebotehem, "their dwellings") is changed to ‏מְשׁוּבֹתֵיהֶם‎ (mesubotehem, "their backsliding") in the LXX and in Symmachus (so NIV). The metathesis of the letters ‏ו‎ (w) and ‏שׁ‎ (s) could likely be a scribal error. The context favors "their backsliding."]