I will put my Spirit within you. 37:1-14
Following the prophecies against the Nations, chapters 25-32, Ezekiel presents a series of prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel, chapters 33-39. Our passage for study concerns national resurrection. Ezekiel's vision is of a slaughtered army whose bones lay bleached in the desert sun. "These slain" represent the "whole house of Israel", v11. From Eden, through the history of humanity, God's intention has been to gather to himself a people, a kingdom, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Now, with the rebellion of Israel, this hope lies dead, as dead as dry bones. Yet, throughout human history God has always maintained a remnant for himself, a people of promise, a people gathered by grace. So, just as John the Baptist once said that God could raise up a people to himself from stones, so Ezekiel sees Him doing it from a dead Israel. This will be a new creation of the living God.
v1-3. The vision is a hopeless one - a dead Israel.
v4-8. The prophetic word is as good as the doing. God does what he says he will do. There came a "rattling" (literally, an earthquake) and the word brought life.
v9-10. The "breath" is the prophesied word from God which comes from afar like the "four winds" (the four corners of the world).
v11-14. In typical apocalyptic fashion, having seen the vision, it is now explained to Ezekiel. In this passage the phrase "son of man" just means "man". This is not the Daniel "Son of Man", the heavenly man who is given dominion. So, Ezekiel ("man") is told of the vision's meaning. The bones represent a dead Israel, but the Lord is going to breathe life into the nation and restore it again so that it might "live" and possess its "own land." This is a reference to the promise made to Abraham. It is a promise for the restoration of the covenant.
This passage is often used as an Old Testament support for the resurrection of the dead. Of course, it has nothing to do with the notion of human resurrection. This passage concerns the restoration of Israel.
Another popular interpretation argues that it speaks of the restoration of the political and national aspirations of a new Jewish nation. A statement like "I will settle you in your own land" does seem very literal, but this is nothing more than prophetic language. The more we read of the restoration of Israel in the prophets, the more we realize that Israel's restoration concerns something other than the creation of a political entity. The prophets are concerned with a kingdom which "is not of this world."
We are best to use the Biblical theology of the kingdom of God to interpret this passage. Ezekiel writes from the vantage point of Israel's destruction. The historic kingdom of Israel is no more, but as Ezekiel views the expanse of history before him, he prophesies concerning the restoration of a spiritual Israel, a new and eternal Zion. In Christ, Ezekie's new Israel is realized and we share in its life today.
The eternal gathering|
The "set-apart" children of God, the children of promise, consist of a Godly remnant within the nation of Israel. Through this remnant-people God promised to gather to himself a kingdom of priests, a holy Nation. Having witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, along with its political and religious life, the people of Israel could only say "our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off." All seems lost. Yet, through the prophet God announces the restoration of the godly line, and thus, His people of promise. It will be like the resurrection of a dead army from the sands of the desert.
In like manner Jesus, the heavenly man, the Israel of God, began the journey from bondage to his "own land", yet this time, the one who journeyed is faithful and so enters his rest. Jesus, the true Israelite, the faithful remnant, resurrects the covenant hope: a land, a people and a blessing to the world. So it is that all who join him share in his glory, both Jew and Gentile. No longer by family ties do we claim the covenant inheritance, but rather as a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith in Jesus Christ. So the church, with Christ as the head, becomes "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God", 1Peter 2:9.
Yet today, as we move toward the last of the last days, we witness what is called "the great falling away." The church in the Western world struggles to survive. Strong Biblical ministries wane before more "relevant" styles of ministry. Success (growth), in the terms of the "secular city", is increasingly the desire of a people who chase after "peace, peace, when there is no peace". Like Israel, who turned to the fertility gods to possess abundance, many church leaders today turn to notions of progress through marketing and human management. Thus, we move toward the time of great tribulation, a dead army, a valley of dry bones.
Although we smell death about us, the remnant of God's faithful people in Christ still exist within the twitching giant of institutional Christianity. If we carefully listen we can hear the rumble, the sound of the archangel's horn, and can even now glimpse the raising of an army, gathered beside the glorious coming Son of Man. Eternity is before us, for "the Lord has spoken."
In light of Ezekiel 37, in what sense is Jesus "the resurrection and the life"?
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