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The theme of this chapter is the sure and certain hope of Israel’s recreation by the prophetic word and Spirit to be God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.
This chapter falls in the compositional unit, chs 33-37, which is introduced by the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem in ch. 33. It is precisely in this situation that the exiles would feel that all hope was gone and that Babylon was to be their grave (v. 11). So ch. 37 looks back to the fall of Jerusalem in ch. 33; but also looks forward to the climax of the book—especially in the closing verse of the chapter, ‘when my sanctuary is among them forevermore’ (v. 28). Chapters 38–39 come as a parenthesis before the fulfilment of this in chs. 40–48. Chapter 37 contributes to the balanced structure of the book by repeating, with significant variation, certain motifs and themes from the first part of the book. The symbolic actions of this chapter, signifying new life for the nation, balance the symbolic actions signifying the death of the nation in chs. 4 and 5. The scattered bones of 37:1 recall the scattered bones of 6:5. The valley where Ezekiel receives his vision in 37:1 is the same valley where he had received his commission in 3:22 (Biq v‰ in both cases), and the tumult (ravaH) of the bones coming together in 37:7 recalls the tumult (ravaH) of the heavenly chariot in 3:12. Finally, the death to life experience of the nation in ch. 37— the Spirit enters the bones and they stand up—recalls the same experience of Ezekiel himself in 2:2. Ezekiel’s own death and resurrection in chs 1–2 prefigures that of the nation.
There are two main sections to the chapter: vv. 1-14, and vv. 15-28 (the latter of which is introduced in the customary Ezekielian manner). The first contains a vision and its interpretation (the vision of the dry bones); 169 the second a symbolic act and its interpretation (the joining together of the two sticks). The theme of the first section is the reconstitution of Israel; the theme of the second the reunification of Israel. Both sections end with the recognition formula: then [someone] will know that I am Yahweh (or, that I have done it). In the first section it is Israel herself who knows that Yahweh has done it (v. 14); in the second it is the surrounding nations (v. 28). This highlights once again the concern of Yahweh for his name—so important in Ezekiel’s preaching (cf. 36:20-23). The first section has a number of puzzling features. For example, Ezekiel—acting strictly according to Yahweh’s instructions—first prophesies to the bones, and this results in their being reconstituted into bodies again, but they remain dead (vv. 4-8). He is then commanded to prophesy to the wind, and when he does so the wind enters into the reconstituted bodies and they come to life and stand up (vv. 9-10). Why this distinct twostage process? The second puzzling feature is that when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the exiles in vv. 1114 he uses a metaphor—the raising of the dead out of their graves—which does not correspond to the vision, in which the dry bones lie on the surface of the ground. This could be explained by assigning vv. 11-14 to a secondary stage in the development of the text—an expansion which betrays the hand of a second (but not-too-skilful) author or editor. 170 This would mean that in the original text the vision remained a private one, with no accompanying oracle; verses 11-14 were added to fill the gap. A certain lack of congruence between the vision and what follows must be acknowledged. It could be that the contents of the two sections were originally separate and have been brought together for thematic reasons in the formation of the book. But this does not mean that vv.11-14 must be assigned to someone other than Ezekiel. Furthermore the
matching recognition formulas in vv. 14 and 28 suggest an overall design to the chapter, implying that the person responsible for this arrangement of the material was purposeful and skilful rather than clumsy. The problem is eased slightly by the recognition that the oracle of vv. 11-14 is not strictly speaking an interpretation of the vision (which was given to Ezekiel alone) but a response to the complaint of the people in v. 11b: ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely’. The people themselves would thus perceive no inconsistency between the vision and the oracle. The oracle obviously relates in a general way to the content of the vision (both vision and oracle affirm the reconstitution of the nation) but the oracle is more a direct response to the people’s own perception of their condition than a direct interpretation of the vision (which they have not seen). If their perception of their condition is ‘We are dead and buried’, the response is ‘No, Yahweh will bring you up from your graves’. In the second part of the chapter the people actually see the symbolic action of the prophet, and the oracle which follows (19-28) is an explicit interpretation of this action. This oracle falls into three parts—the first and second being introduced by the same formula, ‘Say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD”’ (vv. 19, 21), and the second and third both ending (or nearly ending) in the same way; viz. with the covenant formula, ‘They shall be my people and I will be their God’ (vv. 23, 27). The final part of the oracle (vv. 2427), 171 dealing with a new David and a new sanctuary, is less obviously related to the symbolic action than the first two parts are, but is a natural development of the idea that Israel will be reconstituted as one nation. The one nation idea recalls the period of the united monarchy, when the symbols of Israel’s unity were the Davidic house and the temple.
Ezek. 37:1 The hand of the LORD was upon
me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, LORD. “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” Ezek. 37:7 So I prophesied as I was
commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked,
and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 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 may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and exceedingly great army. Ezek. 37:11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, the breath came into
them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an
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 to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
Ezek. 37:15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ they may become one in your hand. 17 And 18 And join them one to another into one stick, that when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the and make them one stick, stick of Judah, that they may be
one in my hand. 20 When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezek. 37:24 “My servant David shall be king one
over them, and they shall all have careful to obey my statutes. 25
shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my 27 My sanctuary in their midst forevermore.
dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”
Major Theological Themes
• Defilement and cleansing. Note again the priestly categories of Ezekiel’s thought. The most defiling thing for Ezekiel is pagan worship. It is from this that Israel will be cleansed under the new covenant (36:25). The goal towards which the book moves is pure worship. The only solution for the problem of sin in human hearts is radical surgery performed by God himself. Spiritual life comes only by the infusion of God’s Spirit.
Yahweh’s concern for his Name. This is the basis of his action towards both Israel and the nations (see 36:20-21, 22, 23, 31, 32). This emphasis is very strong in Ezekiel. As Block observes, God’s actions in human history are driven by revelatory aims: that his people and the world may know that he is Yahweh’ (p.366). The absolute reliability of God and his covenant promises. However things may have appeared to the exiles and the surrounding nations, God had not abrogated his covenant. Rather, his promises still stand and will be fulfilled.
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