Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 37 The People
The last step in the reconstruction of the new Israel is the resurrection of the people. The nation is dead, and its bones scattered and dry. But it shall rise from the dead; the bones shall come together and the spirit of life from Jehovah shall enter into them and they shall live. The passage has two parts:—
First, Ezekiel 37:1-14 the resurrection of the people Israel from death, and restoration to their own land.
Second, Ezekiel 37:15-28 the union of the two houses of Israel, Judah and Ephraim, when restored under one head, even David.
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,1. The hand of the Lord] The prophetic ecstasy from the Lord, ch. Ezekiel 1:3. On “spirit” of the Lord cf. Ezekiel 3:14, Ezekiel 8:3, Ezek. 9:24. The “valley” is probably that mentioned early in the Book, Ezekiel 3:22.
1–14. The vision of Israel’s resurrection from the dead
The vision seems suggested by the saying current among the people, “our bones are dried, our hope is lost; we are wholly cut off.” This idea and feeling of the people takes form in the vision which the prophet saw in the valley. The language of the people is figurative: they speak of the nationality, which is no more,—it is dead and its bones scattered and dry. And this idea regarding the nationality, figuratively expressed by the people, is embodied to the prophet in a vision. Hence the passage is not a literal prophecy of the resurrection of individual persons of the nation, dead or slain; it is a prophecy of the resurrection of the nation, whose condition is figuratively expressed by the people when they represent its bones as long scattered and dry. Perfect consistency is not maintained by the prophet: in Ezekiel 37:1-2 the dry bones are represented as lying on the face of the valley, very many and very dry; in Ezekiel 37:12 they are represented as buried and brought up out of their graves. Hosea had already used the figure of resurrection for the resuscitation of the nation (Ezekiel 6:2, Ezekiel 13:4); but, though the language used both here and by Hosea shews familiarity with the idea of the raising again of individuals, this is not what is prophesied. In Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12 the actual resurrection of individual members of Israel is predicted, cf. Job 14:13 seq.
And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.2. the often valley] lit. on the face of the valley. The bones were strewed over the valley in vast numbers, and they appeared bleached and dry. Their great number no doubt was suggested by the actual fact that vast multitudes of the people had been slain with the sword or had otherwise perished; and their “dryness” expresses at least the utter deadness of the nation and the apparent hopelessness of its revival, if not that it had been long dead (Ezekiel 37:11).
And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.3. To the question, Can these bones live? the prophet, looking at them, could not answer Yea (even to the Apostle attainment unto the resurrection of the dead was something ineffably lofty, Php 3:11), and yet in the presence of him who put the question he could not answer No (Romans 4:17-21; Hebrews 11:19). With reverence he answers, Thou knowest (Revelation 7:14).
Ezekiel 37:4-6. The prophet is bidden prophesy to the bones and promise them life from Jehovah.
Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:5. The act of putting breath within them, being the main and final step of giving them life, is mentioned first as if it embraced all.
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 the LORD.6. Then follow the details of their becoming actual men of flesh and blood.
Ezekiel 37:7-10. As the prophet spoke there was a great sound and the bones came together, bone to his bone, and they became clothed with flesh; but as yet there was no breath of life in them.
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.7. behold a shaking] The word is rendered “rushing” (Ezekiel 3:12). The noise is that occasioned by the rising and rushing of the bones together. The previous word “noise” is wanting in LXX., which reads simply: and it came to pass as I prophesied that behold a rushing.
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the 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 GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.9. The order described in the creation of man (Genesis 2) is observed here: first the body was formed and then the breath of life was breathed into it.
Prophesy unto the wind] Or, breath. In Heb. the same word means wind, breath and spirit. The sign of life, the breath, is seen to be identical with the wind or air, and by an intensification of meaning common to many languages the “breath” becomes the principle of life, or the living principle itself, the spirit. The poet truly says (etymologically) the spirit does but mean the breath; but though the words be identical the ideas are different. The breath needful to be life in the vast multitude now created must be furnished by wind coming from all quarters of the heavens.
upon these slain] Or, into the slain. What is needful to make living men of them is breath in their nostrils. That which God did himself to the individual man when created, even breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, is here accomplished by the wind from the four quarters of the heavens at his command breathing into the innumerable multitude. The wind from the four corners of the heavens is but a symbol of the universal life-giving spirit of God (Ezekiel 37:4).
Ezekiel 37:11-14. Explanation of the vision.
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.
Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.11. The whole house of Israel] viz. Judah and Ephraim.
our hope is lost] Those who speak are the living members of the nation, and it is of the nationality that they speak. The destruction and dissolution of the nation appeared to them final. It could no more be revived than the dry bones could be made to live. This feeling often appears in exile writings, e.g. Isaiah 40-56 (Isaiah 49:14 &c.) cf. the singular struggling against the idea, Lamentations 3:20 seq.
for our parts] A rendering of the ethical dat., which merely gives vividness to the words “we are cut off,” or expresses the feeling of those who speak by reflecting the action back upon the subject. The term “cut off” (otherwise uncommon) is used also of the servant of the Lord, Isaiah 53:8.
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.12. The figure is varied here, the people are regarded as dead and buried and their revival is an opening of their graves. The phrase “bring you into the land of Israel” shews, however, that the language is still used figuratively of the resuscitation of the dead nation and not literally of the resurrection of deceased individuals.
And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,
And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.14. The symbol of the wind breathing into the slain is here explained: it is the spirit of Jehovah that gives life, Psalm 104:30. The connexion shews that the spirit of the Lord here is merely the life-giving spirit, and not the regenerating spirit, as in Ezekiel 36:27—though the distinction is merely part of the figure. The resuscitation of the dead nation could come about only through their moral regeneration, and hence in Isaiah 40-56 this is part of the work of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:8-12; Isaiah 61:1).
The passage is of great interest, apart from its own beauty, as casting light upon the condition of the people’s mind. The prophet is fond of quoting expressions from the mouth of the people (e.g. Ezekiel 11:3, Ezekiel 12:22; Ezekiel 12:27, Ezekiel 16:44, Ezekiel 18:2; Ezekiel 18:25; Ezekiel 18:29, cf. Ezekiel 33:17; Ezekiel 33:20, Ezekiel 20:49, Ezekiel 36:20 &c.), and probably the words here used were actually heard. They shew a state of despondency quite natural and one no doubt greatly prevalent. Indeed in all the prophets of this age the hope that exists is hope only in Jehovah, which believes that in spite of past disasters their God will yet save the people. It is only by giving moral significance to Israel’s calamities on the one hand, and on the other by animating the revolutions and commotions among the nations with Jehovah’s purpose, that the faith of the prophets themselves is sustained. The prophetic hopes of this period are based on dogmatic presuppositions, e.g. that Jehovah is the true and living God and that there is none else; that Israel is his people and has his true revelation among them, which is imperishable and which must accomplish the purpose for which it was given and become effectual in making a true people of the Lord (Isaiah 55); and that the purpose of the one God must embrace all the nations of the earth, between whom and Jehovah Israel is the link of communication. The prophetic views as to how Jehovah shall use Israel to give the nations the knowledge of himself differ. In Isaiah 40 seq. Israel becomes the light of the nations—having the true knowledge of God it imparts it to the heathen. In Ezekiel it is their own observation and reflection on Israel’s history that reveals to the nations Jehovah’s true nature. In all, however, the work of redemption is the work of Jehovah. Here his restoration of Israel is reanimation of the dead through his life-giving spirit.
The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,15–28. Prophecy of the reunion of the restored Israel into one kingdom, ruled by one king, even David
(1) Ezekiel 37:15-23. Symbol of the union of Judah and Israel into one kingdom, with its explanation.
(2) Ezekiel 37:24-25. There shall be one king over the new nation, even David.
(3) Ezekiel 37:26-28. Jehovah’s covenant with the people shall be everlasting, and his presence will sanctify them.
Moreover, 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:16. one stick] i.e. staff, or rod, equivalent to sceptre, Numbers 17:2; so Ezekiel 37:17; Ezekiel 37:19-20.
children of Israel] After the fall of the northern kingdom the name Israel was often used of Judah, the only remaining part of it. Here Israel of the north is called Joseph or Ephraim.
And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?
Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.19. Explanation of the symbolical action.
put them with him] lit. join them unto it, even unto the stick of Judah. The construction is rather unnatural (for eth, cf. Ezekiel 14:22, Ezekiel 43:17, others would read el).
in mine hand] Vulg. reads in his hand (so Ew.), i.e. Judah’s, and LXX. actually in the hand of Judah. LXX. either read his hand and interpreted it of Judah, or took the final y of my hand as an abbreviation for Yehudah. On the one hand the united staff or sceptre might be given into the hand of Judah as the ruler of the one kingdom was to be David (Amos 9:11; Hosea 3:5). On the other hand there is no trace in the passage of any preeminence of Judah over Israel of the north.
And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes.20. This symbolical action may have been actually performed, though the supposition is scarcely necessary, cf. Ezekiel 12:3.
And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be 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:22. This promise runs throughout all prophecy. The disruption of the state was felt even by Hosea, a native of the north, to have introduced a schism into the one kingdom of Jehovah, and to have broken the unity of the consciousness of the community, to which the consciousness of the one God corresponded. Hosea 1:11; Hosea 8:3-4; Isaiah 11:13; Jeremiah 3:18. The one God, the husband of the community, required that the community should also be one, with a single affection and service. Cf. Ezekiel 34:23-24.
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 dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.23. Cf. Ezekiel 36:25.
all their dwelling places] More probably: out of all their backslidings. So LXX., cf. Ezekiel 36:29.
And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.24. David my servant] Cf. Ezekiel 34:23-24. Here the term “king” is applied to the ruler of the future (Ezekiel 37:22); in other places “prince.” The words seem used indifferently, cf. Ezekiel 19:1, Ezekiel 22:25. Cf. Ezekiel 36:27.
And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.25. Cf. Ezekiel 36:28.
Jacob my servant] Jacob is here the patriarch himself, not as in Isaiah 40 seq. a name for the people. He is referred to as the ancestor cf Israel in Hosea 12:12, as Abraham in Isaiah 29:22. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 33:24; Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 51:2; Isaiah 63:16.
their prince for ever] It is not at all probable that “David my servant” means either the Davidic house or a line of kings. But possibly the point whether the king would be one person living for ever is not before the prophet’s mind. It is the quality of the new people and the new ruler that he specially refers to; the point whether generation after generation of the people shall dwell in the land and prince succeed prince is hardly in his mind. The unity of the people and the unity of the ruler, one such as David; the character of the people (Ezekiel 37:24) and their perpetual possession of the land—these are the elements of the prophet’s idea, and further questions are not touched. In Ezekiel 43:7, Ezekiel 45:8, a succession of princes appears presupposed, but the idea hardly belongs to the present passage.
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.26. a covenant of peace] Cf. Ezekiel 36:25; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 32:40.
my sanctuary] The name given by the prophet to the temple as the dwelling place of Jehovah (Ezekiel 37:27) and specially sanctified or made holy by his presence.
My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.27. My tabernacle also] And my dwelling place … and I will be. The words repeat the idea in Ezekiel 37:26. The last words of the Book are, “The Lord is there.” The phrase with them, i.e. by or beside them (cf. Ezekiel 2:6), might mean over them, reference being to the situation of the temple, high above the city (Ezekiel 40:2), but this has little probability. It would be more natural to take over in the ideal sense of a “protection” to them. The sanctuary, however, does not protect, it sanctifies, although being sanctified Jehovah will protect them (ch. 38–39). The expression “I will be their God” varies the idea of his dwelling place being with them, Ezekiel 11:20, Ezekiel 14:11, Ezekiel 36:28.
And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.28. The presence of Jehovah makes the house wherein he dwells a sanctuary (holy place), and the presence of his sanctuary (he being there, Ezekiel 48:35) among the people sanctifies them or makes them “holy”—a term which expresses two things: being the possession of Jehovah, and being in disposition and life all that the people of Jehovah must be. The idea that Jehovah’s presence “sanctifies” the people is common. Jehovah’s dwelling-place being among the people for ever the nations shall know that he “sanctifies” them. To sanctify is not to protect, it is to make the people his own and worthy of him, but this implies protection. Jeremiah 2:3, “Israel was a holy thing to the Lord, the first fruit of his increase, all that ate him up incurred guilt.” The ideas in this verse lead naturally over to the episode of Gog’s invasion, the issues of which so remarkably illustrate them.
The restoration of Israel includes the tribes of the north as well as Judah. All the prophets of this age regard the northern exiles as still existing, cf. Jeremiah 3:12-15 : Isaiah 49:5-6, and the strong passage Isaiah 43:5-7 “every one called by my name,” i.e. every member of the people of the Lord. Cf. the present prophet’s disposition of all the tribes in the holy land, ch. 48.
Ch. 38, 39 Invasion of the Restored Israel in the latter days by Gog and all the nations lying in the outskirts of the world, and Israel’s protection by Jehovah
These two chapters are closely connected with ch. Ezekiel 37:28, “the nations shall know that I Jehovah do sanctify” Israel. This recalls to the prophet’s mind the invasion of Gog, a great and final attack on Israel by the nations, and he introduces the description of it here, as it illustrates so conspicuously what is said in Ezekiel 37:21-28. For the invasion of Gog is an episode out of connexion with the restoration of the people, which has formed the theme of the preceding chapters (33–37). It lies far in the future (Ezekiel 37:8; Ezekiel 37:16), long after Israel has been restored, and when it has dwelt long in peace in its own land (Ezekiel 37:8; Ezekiel 37:11). The sedulous care with which the land is purified from the carcases of Gog’s host, every bone being carefully collected and the whole buried beyond the Jordan, is sufficient evidence of the holiness of Israel and the land at the time of Gog’s attack (Ezekiel 39:11-16).
The prophet is not the author of the idea of this invasion. It has been predicted of old by the prophets of Israel, prophesying over long periods (Ezekiel 38:17, Ezekiel 39:8). Neither is it probable that the idea was one read out of certain prophecies merely by Ezekiel. More likely it was an idea widely entertained. The former prophecies on which the belief was founded are not to be supposed to have contained the name of Gog, any more than the prophecies applied by the author of Isaiah 40 seq. to the career of Cyrus need have referred to him by name.
The conception is rather shadowy and vague. The time is indefinite, it is far into the years to come; the nations who cluster around the standard of Gog, himself a somewhat nebulous personage, are those lying in the uttermost regions of the world, which, had been heard of but never seen. The most distant north and the most distant south send their contingents to swell the innumerable host, and the far-off commercial peoples Sheba and Dedan and Tarshish follow his camp (Ezekiel 37:3; Ezekiel 37:5-6; Ezekiel 37:13). The description seems almost a creation, the embodiment of an idea—the idea of the irreconcilable hostility of the nations of the world to the religion of Jehovah, and the presentiment that this must yet be manifested on a grander scale than has ever yet been. Hence the supernatural magnitude of the outlines of the picture (Ezekiel 37:9; Ezekiel 37:16; Ezekiel 37:20). The main idea of the prophet, however, is quite perspicuous. With the exception of Ethiopia, a somewhat general name for the most distant south, none of the historical nations appear under Gog’s banner. These nations that came into connexion with Israel during her history have already learned to know Jehovah (ch. 25–32). They have not been exterminated, but his glory has been revealed to them and they no more trouble the peace of the restored Israel (Ezekiel 36:36). But the nations lying in the outskirts of the earth, as another prophet expresses it, “have not heard Jehovah’s fame neither have seen his glory” (Isaiah 66:19), and he who is God alone must reveal himself to all flesh, for he has sworn by himself that to him every knee shall bow (Isaiah 45:23). Such is the meaning of this last act in the drama of the world’s history. As it is Jehovah’s final revelation of himself to all the nations of the earth, it is accompanied by all those terrors and convulsions in nature which in earlier prophets usually signalize the day of the Lord (Ezekiel 38:19-23). This indeed is peculiar in Ezek. that he places Jehovah’s great and last revelation of himself after the restoration of his people to peace and felicity, while in the earlier prophets it precedes or accompanies their restoration; as it does even in prophets after him (Isaiah 40:5; Psalm 102:16). In this order he is followed by the Apocalypse (Revelation 19:11; Revelation 20:7). Besides the display of Jehovah’s might in the overthrow of Gog and in the terrible convulsions of nature, his moral being and rule is also revealed through his people, for his protection of them now that they are holy and true casts light to the nations on his former dispersion of them (Ezekiel 39:23).
Gog is styled prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, nations lying in the extremities of the north (Ezekiel 37:15). Other nations are joined to these, lying in the furthest south (Ezekiel 37:5). And in the train of these warriors come the hosts of far-off commercial peoples, camp followers intent on gain (Ezekiel 37:13). It is, therefore, self-evident that the Chaldeans are not represented under the name of Gog. The Chaldeans are Jehovah’s mandatories, commissioned to chastise his people, and humble the ungodly pride of such nations as Egypt and Phenicia, and Ezekiel’s prophecies contain no threats against Babylon. He intimates indeed that the supremacy of that power is but temporary, naming 40 years as the term when a new condition of the world will arise, which presupposes her decline and fall. But the invasion of Gog appears to him to be far away in the indefinite future, long after the promises of the Lord to his people have been fulfilled, and this fulfilment must be preceded by the overthrow of the Chaldean power.
The passage extends to ch. Ezekiel 39:24, where the prophet resumes the point of view occupied in ch. 33–7 prior to the Restoration of Israel.