Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentEZEKIEL 37
THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES;
THE RESTORATION AND REUNION OF JUDAH AND EPHRAIM UNDER MESSIAH
Here is a remarkable prophecy of the ingathering of scattered, discouraged, and disillusioned Israel from the nations to which they had been dispersed, the repatriation of them in their homeland, and also of the unification of Ephraim and Joseph under the benign government of the Lord Jesus Christ. "This is a plain forecast of the conversion of the Jews to Christ."F1
The first part of the chapter (Ezekiel 37:1-14) employs the vision of the valley of dry bones to teach the return of captive Israel to Palestine, an event which is appropriately illustrated here as a whole army which had been slain with their bones left to bleach in the sun, being suddenly raised to full life and strength! The return of any ethnic people from the borders of any conqueror who had captured and deported the whole people would have been viewed throughout the world of that era as a totally unimaginable and impossible happening. Under the will of God, however, it occurred; and nothing could have any more appropriately symbolized such a development than does this vision of the resurrection of a valley of dry bones.
The remainder of the chapter is devoted to a prophecy of the reunion of Judah and Ephraim under one king, called here "God's servant David," the scriptural name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
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. 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. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. 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.
THE VISION OF THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES (Ezekiel 37:1-6)
As we understand this, it was an experience that came to Ezekiel in an inspired vision. It is not necessary to suppose that there was actually a whole valley of bleaching, unburied bones. It was the picture that came to Ezekiel in this vision. As we learn from the divine interpretation given a little later, "This prophecy does not refer to a literal resurrection of dead Israelites, but to a revival of the dead nation."F2
"It almost surpassed conception in those days that a restoration of Israel was even possible."F3 Their state had been destroyed; their king had been captured, blinded and carried away to Babylon to die; countless thousands of the people had been slaughtered; the heart of the nation had been carried to captivity in Babylon; their beloved Jerusalem was destroyed; even the Holy Temple of God had been plundered and burned. No language could adequately describe how dead and hopeless were the peoples' dreams and ambitions.
The people themselves expressed this hopelessness, saying, "Our bones are dried; our hope is lost; we feel ourselves cut off." (Ezekiel 37:11). Skinner believed that this expression by the people might have suggested the figure of the valley of the dry bones.F4 Our own opinion is that God needed no help from the people in his choice of a metaphor.
Scholars are divided over the question of whether or not there are eschatological overtones here relating to the general resurrection at the end of time. Some believe that the meaning is limited to the resurrection and reconstituting of Israel as a unified and visible people.
It appears to this writer that the primary thrust of the passage regards the bringing of new hope and life to the discouraged and defeated Israel.
However, we strongly agree with Plumptre who stated that, "Even if the doctrine of a general resurrection had not been current in Ezekiel's times, this vision was enough to have called it into existence and to have lent strong probability to its truth."F5
It has seemed very strange to us that several scholars have gone out of their way to affirm that Ezekiel had no knowledge or conviction with reference to life after death. Daniel believed in a general resurrection, and he was contemporary with Ezekiel (Daniel 12:2-4). The ante-Nicene fathers, Tertullian particularly referred this passage to the final resurrection, as did also Jerome.
It has been affirmed, and we believe it, that no orthodox Hebrew ever lived who did not believe that God was able to raise the dead. Certainly Abraham believed it, as it is dogmatically declared in Heb. 11:19; and it appears to us extremely unlikely that the prophets of God would not also have believed it. In fact Isaiah eloquently confirmed faith in the resurrection of the dead in his great prophecy of Isa. 25:6-8. (See my comments on this in Vol. 1 of the Major Prophets, pp. 230, 231.) Also, Hos. 13:14 speaks of victory over death and the grave, a passage quoted by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:55.
It would therefore be an incredible mystery if Ezekiel had been ignorant of the writings of the other prophets, and of the conviction of his illustrious ancestor Abraham, and was himself without conviction regarding the resurrection. We cannot accept such a notion.
Son of man, can these bones live
(Ezekiel 37:3)? This indicates that Ezekiel had learned a lesson which few learn. Situations such as this are better left to Yahweh's providence and knowledge.F6 This answer by Ezekiel implies that, according to human judgment, it was inconceivable that the dry bones could come to life again.F7 It is noteworthy that the apostle John when confronted with a question regarding his inspired vision in the Apocalypse responded in these same words (Revelation 7:14).
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. 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. 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. 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.
EZEKIEL PROPHESIES AS COMMANDED
There was no breath in them
(Ezekiel 37:8). Like the great miracle in God's creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7), this one also was in two phases; the breathing of the breath of life appears as a separate action in both instances.
Prophesy unto the wind
(Ezekiel 37:9). The Hebrew word [~ruwach] is translated `wind' (KJV), `spirit,' (Revised Standard Version margin), and `breath' (American Standard Version).F8
Come from the four winds, O breath
(Ezekiel 37:9). This expression goes back to an Akkadian idiom, also as `four wings of the earth,' standing also for the `four corners of the earth.'F9
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. 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. 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. 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.
GOD'S EXPLANATION OF THE VISION
Despite the powerful words here regarding "coming up out of graves," we must seek the meaning here as something that would result in people entering literal Canaan (Ezekiel 37:12,14). Long afterward Jesus Christ used almost the same words to speak of the general resurrection (John 5:27-29). However, almost in the same breath, and only a moment earlier, our Lord used nearly the same words to speak of the conversion of sinners through obedience to his word. As to the meaning here, Keil is correct in his declaration that, "All of this is nothing more than a pledge of the complete restoration of Israel"F10 as a viable people in Palestine.
The physical restoration that followed, however, was partial and incomplete due to the continued sins of Israel. True, a handful returned, and after many delays built a temple; but God's presence never entered it; they never regained their independence but remained subject to heathen powers, with by far the greater part of the nation remaining among the Gentiles where God had scattered them.
The true and complete restoration of Israel was scheduled for accomplishment in the First Advent of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of the Messiah. God sent John the Baptist to announce the forthcoming kingdom of God and to identify the Messiah, which he effectively did; but by far the greater part of Israel rejected the message of the Great Herald, who was murdered; nor did they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but rejected him, clamored for his crucifixion, and professed that they had "No king but Caesar!"
In that circumstance, the Christ pronounced the final sentence upon the doomed and hardened race of Israel, a judgment executed upon them by Vespasian and Titus in 70 A.D.
But God had not been defeated. That "righteous remnant," prophesied by Isaiah especially, rallied in love to the standard of the Resurrected Saviour, forming the nucleus of the New Israel of God, which under the leadership of the apostles spread the kingdom of God all over the world. All of the marvelous promises of the restoration and glorification of Israel were fulfilled in that New Israel and are still being fulfilled.
The explanation of this vision (Ezekiel 37:11) "Makes it self-evident and without need for interpretation."F11
(Ezekiel 37:13). The appearance of this word tempts us to see some kind of a literal resurrection here, but as Dummelow said, Still the reference is not to the graves of Israelites actually dead, but to the heathen world as the grave of God's scattered and discouraged people.F12
The word of Jehovah came again unto me, saying, 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: and join them for thee one to another into one stick, that they may become one in thy hand. And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not show us what thou meanest by these? 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.
ORACLE OF THE TWO JOINED STICKS
This was an enacted oracle, a kind of parable, in which the ultimate union of the two nations of ancient Israel was foretold. Ezekiel evidently prepared these two sticks and then united them in the presence of the people, who were of course accustomed to this type of symbolical behavior on the part of Ezekiel. This led to the question they immediately asked him.
We are not told how Ezekiel did this, whether by interlocking notches held together by cords, or by some kind of cement. No kind of miraculous joining of the sticks is indicated in the text.
The meaning of the oracle is clear enough. It foretold the eventual reunion of Ephraim and Judah, the Northern Israel and the Southern Israel, Samaria and Jerusalem under one king, thus healing the long breach that had begun in the days of Rehoboam who succeeded Solomon.
Judah and the children of Israel his companions. and Ephraim and the tribes of Israel his companions ..
(Ezekiel 37:16,19). It is significant here that God through Ezekiel did not recognize Ephraim as the Israel of God, a title that Ephraim had arrogantly usurped for themselves. He appeared here in his true status as Ephraim with whom certain tribes of Israel were associated. Judah, through whom the great Davidic king would come, was always the true center of the ancient Israel, not Ephraim.
"Joseph cannot alone represent the Northern kingdom, so `the tribes associated with him' are also mentioned in the inscription on his stick, thus reserving the name `Israel' for the whole people of God."F13 It is also significant, in this connection, that, `In the hand of Ephraim,' (Ezekiel 37:19) indicates that certain tribes were controlled by Ephraim; but the oracle of the united two sticks points out that they shall not remain in the hand of Ephraim, because they are, "contrasted with `mine hand' (Ezekiel 37:19), that is, the hand of God."F14
And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thy hand before their eyes. 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: 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; 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.
GOD EXPLAINS THE MEANING
And one king shall be king to them all
(Ezekiel 37:22). What can this mean? The first phase of this was fulfilled when Israel came into Canaan as one people without distinction between Ephraim or Judah; and the final phase of it, their obedience to `one king,' is still future.F15 We can agree with Cook to the extent that the second phase has not been fulfilled in over two thousand years; but we cannot follow his additional comment that the complete fulfillment will come, When all Israel shall acknowledge the rule of Christ.F16 Our position is that All Israel has already acknowledged Christ and serve him continually. There is no Israel (in the sense of the true Israel) who are not following the Saviour, who alone is the True Vine, the real Israel; and there is no other!
Clarke has a wonderful comment on Ezek. 37:22 --
"One king shall be king to them all. Politically speaking, they never had a king from that day to this; and that grand government spoken of here must refer to some other time -- to that when they shall be brought into the Christian Church with the fullness of the Gentiles, when Jesus the King of Kings and Lord of Lords shall rule over them."F17
Like many other great students of God's Word, Clarke here overlooked the fact that Israel, as represented by the "righteous remnant,' the apostles of Jesus, the ingathering on Pentecost, etc. have already come into Christ who is now ruling over the true Israel of God, as seen in Matt. 19:28. Certainly that event must be associated with "the times of the regeneration," that is, the times of "the new birth," which by any logical interpretation must be identified with the current dispensation of the grace of God.
Some quote Paul from Rom. 11:26, "So all Israel shall be saved," as if it said "Then all Israel shall be saved," which, of course, it does not say. What is meant is that "In this manner," that is, by accepting and obeying Christ, and in no other way, but in this way alone, SO all Israel shall be saved. ("See our elaboration of this in Vol. 6 of our New Testament Series, in loco.")
One king shall be king to them all
(Ezekiel 37:22). This was not Zerubbabel, who was never a king, either in fact or in name, and who ruled over a very few Jews for a very few years; whereas the king here reigns forever. Messiah is meant. The union of Judah and Ephraim alike under one king is actually a reference to the union of Jews and Gentiles (with whom Ephraim and his tribes were at that phase of history identified) under the Messiah.F18
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 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. 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. My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the nations shall know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.
And my servant David shall be king over them. forever ..
(Ezekiel 37:24,26). This can be no other than Christ, of whom it was said when he was brought into the world, `He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever' (Luke 1:33).F19
"The Messiah is here called `David,' because he shall be of the seed of David."F20 The first verse of the New Testament flatly declares that Jesus Christ is the seed of David and the seed of Abraham. "Son of David" was the universal title by which the Coming Messiah was identified in Israel in the times of Christ, not only among the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians (Matthew 22:42), but also by the blind men (Matthew 9:27), the common people (Matthew 12:23), and even the stranger from Tyre and Sidon, the Syro-Phoenician woman who came to Jesus on behalf of her daughter, even she addressed the Messiah as "Thou son of David" (Matthew 15:22). The whole world of that era knew this was the true title of the Coming Messiah of Israel. The problem was that the Jews of that generation did not want the kind of Messiah they knew Jesus to be; they rejected him and had him crucified. The Jewish leaders of that period in Jewish history passionately wanted, more than anything else in heaven or upon earth, a successful general, sitting on a white horse leading an army, who would chase the Romans out of their land and restore to them that dirty old Solomonic empire, which, when they had it, became the scandal of forty generations!
And they shall dwell in the land
(Ezekiel 37:25) Any fair reading of these verses indicates that God's promise actually meant that they would continue to live in Palestine generation after generation, children and children's children forever and ever under that Messianic king, the Son of David. Is it still going to happen? Why should it? Read Jer. 18:7-10 for the correct answer.
David shall be their prince forever
(Ezekiel 37:25). It should not be overlooked that, 'Prince' was Ezekiel's normal word for `King.'F21
And I will make a covenant of peace
(Ezekiel 37:26). We have already noted in earlier chapters that this `covenant of peace,' Is none other than the New Covenant of Jer. 31:31-34; it will be an everlasting covenant as well.F22 It will not be founded on national or racial considerations of any kind whatever. The whole thesis of Ezekiel is that God holds men accountable, individually, and not as nations or races.
I will. set my sanctuary in the midst of them. My tabernacle also shall be with them ..
(Ezekiel 37:26,27). Of course, such a thing as this never happened in post-exilic Israel; but the Lord did not intend this verse as a prophecy that it would happen. The thing promised is nothing less than the kingdom of God to be set up among them.F23 Did it happen? Most certainly it did. In the midst of them? Yes, in Jerusalem itself. On the Day of Pentecost, the word of the Lord went forth from Jerusalem, as the prophets had foretold.
It will shock some people that these marvelous prophecies are here presented as applicable solely to the reign of Jesus Christ the true Messiah and the kingdom which he established; but as Plumptre stated it: "The only feasible exegesis is that which understands Jehovah's servant David here to be the Messiah, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the writer of Hebrews said, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever (Hebrews 1:8)."F24
And the nations shall know that I am Jehovah
(Ezekiel 37:28). Although this came to pass in a very significant degree, it is regrettable that all nations did not become followers of Christ, a very regrettable fact, no doubt due in part, to the unwillingness of racial Israel to accept and fully discharge her mission of accepting the Dayspring when he entered our earth life and taking the lead in inviting all the world to worship and adore him. Contrary to this fundamental purpose in the very existence of Israel, they not only rejected him and shouted for his crucifixion, but they opposed the work of the apostles, threatened to exterminate all of them, and hounded the missionaries of Christ all over Europe, until God removed, absolutely, their ability to be any further hindrance. We pity the Bible students who suppose that God still owes racial Israel anything whatever, based solely upon their being the fleshly residue of the posterity of Abraham. Neither the Holy Scriptures nor the demands of eternal justice can be supposed to teach any such thing.
Footnotes for Ezekiel 37
1: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 305.
2: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 515.
3: John Skinner in the Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 342.
4: Ibid., p. 343,
5: E. H. Plumptre in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 263.
6: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 342.
7: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) Vol. 2, p. 116.
8: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 681.
9: International Critical Commentary, p. 400.
10: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 127.
11: RHA, p. 925.
12: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 515.
13: WE, p. 512.
14: B, p. 389.
17: Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. 5, p. 527.
18: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 611.
19: Matthew Henry Commentary (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell), p. 970.
20: International Critical Commentary, p. 402.
21: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 892.
22: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 216.
23: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 681.
24: E. H. Plumptre in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 268.