The imagery of this chapter is unsettling. In fact, some have taken this passage to signify the coming of yet another holocaust. I disagree.
But, let’s go through the chapter and see what it says.
1 The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
2 And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest.
The word picture here is powerful. Dry, sterile death. Hopelessness. Utter and absolute destruction, except for one thing…
There are at least bones, and these bones are not broken. There is a remnant of what once was, and that remnant still continues on. And God is going to use what is there (those dry bones) to build again.
Furthermore, to believe that this passage indicates a kind of holocaust would require us to throw out so much that is positive about the return of Israel to her land. Interpreting this passage as to referring directly to literal bones in a literal valley is not just ridiculous. It is wrong.
4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah.
5 Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.
6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.
God is going to take what is almost destroyed, almost eliminated and make something new. God is going to reanimate what was lifeless and scattered. And, He speaks to the lifeless, even though they cannot hear.
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8 And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.
Now, after Ezekiel speaks, we see the bones transformed. They are now recognizable as people. They are no longer dry and sterile. If we were looking out through Ezekiel’s eyes, they’d probably seem to be merely asleep.
9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
I don’t think that it’s an accident that the word for wind (ru-ach, pronounced with an ach like Bach) is the same word for spirit. God tells Ezekiel to tell el ruach to come from the four winds and give life to the bodies.
El ruach? God (el) of spirit (ruach)? Or, is el another way to say the. It is true that el is used throughout the bible as the definite article, the. But… it really COULD be referring to ‘God the Spirit’, or as we refer to Him – the Holy Spirit. We certainly know that there can be no spiritual life without the Holy Spirit. But, at the same time, I believe that it is wise to be cautious when addressing metaphors.
It is enough to know that the Holy Spirit enters in to this people, giving them spiritual life – and by extension eternal salvation.
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
11 Then he said unto 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 clean cut off.
12 Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: 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.
13 And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people.
14 And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.
We see graves mentioned – and an opportunity to take this passage far too literally. So, let’s look at these graves.
Are they real, honest-to-goodness graves?
They cannot possibly be real graves with dead people in them. This is a metaphor, one of many, many metaphors in the bible.
Let me make it more clear: God is not going to bring the Jews back to their land, only to kill them so that He can bring them back to life again. Nowhere else in the bible do we see God killing a bunch of people and bringing them back to life again just to prove how big a dude He is.
And, when we examine this chapter in context with what Chapter 36 says here:
36:24 For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.
36:25 And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them.
36:28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Well, when we read this passage alongside chapter 37, it’s clear that chapter 37 cannot be referring to another holocaust. It’s a metaphor.
To illustrate my point, look again at the verses above (Ezekiel 36:24-28). This also must be a metaphor, otherwise we’d have to say that when God brings the Jews back to Israel, they will all get rained on and have open-heart surgery.
If those verses are a metaphor, then the ‘dry bones’ on chapter 37 are a metaphor.
The fact is, the ‘Vision of the Dry Bones’ is a retelling of what happens in verses 24-28 of the previous chapter – except, in this case, God is emphasizing the CHARACTER of Israel’s exile.
These graves are Israel’s exile. And, God sent Israel into exile because, when they were given a choice between death and life, they chose death.
But here, in Ezekiel 37, they get a second chance.
Let’s continue with the rest of the chapter:
15 The word of Jehovah came again unto me, saying,
16 And thou, son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
17 and join them for thee one to another into one stick, that they may become one in thy hand.
18 And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not show us what thou meanest by these?
19 say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: 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 shall be one in my hand.
20 And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thy hand before their eyes.
21 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
22 and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all;
23 neither shall 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, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.
Does this sound like God bringing the Jews to Israel to die?
God is telling us that there will never again be a division among the Jews. They won’t know if they are of the tribe of Judah, Benjamin or Dan – although, it would make sense for some to know that they were of the tribe of Levi. (Certainly everyone with the last name Cohen, or Levi, are evidence of this.)
24 And my servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in mine ordinances, and observe my statutes, and do them.
And, I really, REALLY like this part.
Who is this David?
Is this literally King David?
This can no more be King David than the dry bones above could be literal dead people. King David was a man who died thousands of years ago, and is still dead.
However, it is easy to see that this could be referring to the THRONE of David, or more accurately, the one who rightfully sits on it.
Jesus Christ was of the direct lineage of King David. He rightfully could have claimed the throne of David while He was on this earth. And, in fact, He did acknowledge His Kingship of the Jewish people.
This David referred to in the passage above, can only be our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And no, THIS IS NOT THE MILLENIUM!
Again, if the ‘dry bones’ is a metaphor and the reference to David is a metaphor, then His kingship over Israel is ALSO a metaphor – a metaphor about a spiritual transformation in which the Mashiach, ben David (son of David) leads Israel.
25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children’s children, for ever: and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.
Again, how could David be the prince of Israel forever?
King David was a man who is recorded as having died of old age. How then could he be Israel’s prince forever?
Yes, you could do some complex acrobatics and try to say that this is a resurrected David and… he was given a new body that doesn’t die, etc.
But, you have to use some pretty complex logic to make that work, logic that we have no precedent or even hint of anywhere else in the bible.
What we DO have is a continual reference throughout the bible of Jesus’ royalty, and how He is the eternal king of Israel – and the world.
26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
27 My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
28 And the nations shall know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.
That reference to sanctuary and tabernacle is confusing. It might even suggest to some that the Law of Moses and the ordinances of sacrifice will return. But, I ask you whether the sacrifice of Christ, our Lord and Savior was eternal and sufficient, or not?
Read Hebrews chapter 10 and tell me whether God would be pleased with a return of the Mosaic Law.
I love these chapters in Ezekiel because they are filled with such good news about the future. It shows us that one day, the Jews and the Christians will once again be one family.