(38) Can these bones live? – Ezekiel 37:3

Despite being struck dumb for over seven years, Ezekiel, living among the exiles of Judah in Babylonia, continued to warn the Israelites and the other nations to turn from their sins. But after the city of Jerusalem falls to the Babylonians, Ezekiel’s message for the exiles changes. Having demonstrated that they must not mourn its loss by not mourning for his own wife, he is able to speak again and his words include words of hope for the future of the people of Israel. He condemns “the shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:2), the leaders of the people who have fed themselves at the expenses of their charges, and talks about the Lord searching for his sheep and rescuing them from exile. The Lord promises to set up “one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezekiel 34:23), who will feed them and be their shepherd, a promise fulfilled in Jesus who came as the Son of David (see Matthew 1:1 and 21:9) and called himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

In one of Ezekiel’s most well known visions the Lord takes him to a valley which was full of dry bones. The Lord asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” to which Ezekiel replies, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (Ezekiel 37:3). He is told to prophesy to them that they will live and the bones come together with a rattling sound into skeletons. Tendons and flesh then come on them and they are covered with skin. He is now standing among lifeless corpses, and again he is told to prophesy, this time to the breath, or wind (the same word has both meanings) to come on the dead bodies. He does as he is commanded and they come to life and stand up as a great army.

This vivid picture is of the people of Israel who are in exile and are like bones, spiritually dried up and without hope. God is promising to bring them up from the grave of exile and back to the land. He also says that he will “put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 37:14 – the word for Spirit is the same as the word for breath or wind), a promise that looks forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection.

Even though he can now speak, Ezekiel continues to use drama to illustrate his message. God tells him to take two sticks, representing the two nations of Judah and Israel and join them into one. This illustrates how God will make them one nation when they are restored to the land. This is fulfilled in that there is never any mention again of the two nations in the time after the exile.

As a priest the temple would have become the centre of Ezekiel’s life if he had not been taken into exile and his book ends with a long and detailed vision of a new temple, situated in the land and surrounded by “a sacred district” (Ezekiel 45:1). There is a river of water flowing out from the temple which brings life to the desert and supports trees for food and healing for the tribes of Israel settled in this idealised land. At the centre is a city which is called “The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Ezekiel is given a picture which is similar to the vision at the end of Revelation, the final restoration of God’s people to a land beyond this world where the Lord reigns forever.

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