THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Lesson 13
Part IV: Oracles of Salvation and Promised Restoration
Chapter 36:16-38 ~ Oracle 5: Israel's Redemption for the sake of Yahweh's Holy Name
Chapter 37 ~ Vision of the Dry Bones in the Valley of Death and Oracle 6: Prophecy of the Reunification of Israel

Holy and Eternal Lord,
You gave Ezekiel the prophecy of the bodily resurrection of Your people. It is a prophecy that will come to fulfillment in the Second Advent of the Christ. Jesus was the "firstfruits" of the resurrection of the dead, and we have God's promise that the day will come when all the dead will arise "the righteous to eternal life and the wicked to eternal death. The first resurrection is our Christian Baptism. It is because of our washing with Your Spirit that we only die once unlike those who deny Christ who will die a second, spiritual death. Send Your Spirit to guide us in our lesson, Lord, as we study Your revelations to the prophet Ezekiel. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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Your dead will come back to life, your corpses will rise again.
Isaiah 26:19a

 

That is why it is said: Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Ephesians 5:14

In Chapter 34, God promised three kinds of divine activity to restore the exiled covenant people to the land of Israel:

  1. God will restore security by removing predatory animals from the land. This promise reverses the earlier curse-judgment where wild animals are named as agents of judgment (Dt 28:26; Ez 5:17; 14:15, 21; 33:27).
  2. God will restore security by blessing the land with rain and fruitfulness, repeating the covenant blessings of Deuteronomy 28:2-14. Famine will no longer ravage the land.
  3. God will restore security by removing the oppression of foreign enemies. The significance of this action is that it suggests the restoration of Israel's exiles as a "new Exodus." The allusion to the first Exodus is recognizable in two expressions in verse 34:27c where Yahweh promises, "I will break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the clutches [hands] of their slave-masters." Those expressions recall the summary of the covenant blessing in Leviticus 26:13 ~ I, Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you should be their slaves no longer, and who broke the bonds of your yoke and made you walk with head held high.

In Chapters 36:16 to 39:29, Yahweh continues giving Ezekiel His seven oracles of redemption for the covenant people and the amazing vision of the Bones in the Valley of Death:

Ezekiel 36:16-24 ~ Oracle 5: The Desecration of the Land and God's Name Profaned Among the Nations
16 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 17 "Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own territory, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions; to me their conduct was as unclean as a woman's menstruation. 18 I then vented my fury on them because of the blood they shed in the country and the foul idols with which they defiled it. 19 I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. 20 They have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, These are the people of Yahweh; they have been exiled from his land.' 21 But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone. 22 And so, say to the House of Israel, The Lord Yahweh says this: I am acting not for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I am going to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh, declares the Lord Yahweh, when in you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24 For I shall take you from among the nations and gather you back from all the countries, and bring you home to your own country.

Oracle 5 in 36:16-38 is in two parts:

  1. The desecration of the Promised Land and Profaning God's Name (verses 16-23).
  2. God's plan to restore His Name and Israel (verses 24-38).

The oracle recounts the bad present situation in two stages followed by God's remedy. The bad present situation:

  1. Israel's "conduct and actions" that brought about a defiling of the land and caused their expulsion among the nations (verses 17-19).
  2. Their expulsion caused a widespread desecration of God's "holy name" among the nations (verses 20-21).

The key phrases in this section are "among the nations," repeated six times (verses 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24) and "my holy name," repeated four times (verses 20, 21, 22, 23). The phrase "not for your sake" in 36:22 and 32 is the key to understanding God's motive for restoring Israel to the land. The restoration is not because of Israel's repentance or return to holiness.

Question: What is the reason God will restore Israel to the land? See verse 23.
Answer: Since they have profaned His Name among the nations, He will restore Israel for the sake of the holiness of His Divine Name recognized among the Gentile nations.

but they defiled it by their conduct and actions...
According to Ezekiel, the conduct and actions, or "ways and deeds" include idolatry (Ez 14:23; 20:43f) and bloodshed (Ez 24:14).

to me their conduct was as unclean as a woman's menstruation.
According to the Law of the Holiness Code, the menstruating woman is in an untouchable state of separation from society (Lev 15:19-27). The conduct of the people living in the Promised Land caused them to be in the same unclean state as a menstruating woman.

The covenant people defiled the Promised Land by many gross offenses listed in the Law, causing the pollution of the land. These offenses include:

The prophets regularly condemned fouling the land with idol worship (see Jer 2:7; Ez 5:11).

Question: What is the warning Yahweh gives for the offense of fouling the land with idol worship in Leviticus 18:25-28 that came true according to what verses in this passage?
Answer: He warned that the defiled land would vomit out its defilers. God repeats the fulfillment of the judgment in verses 18-19.

18 I then vented [poured out] my fury on them because of the blood they shed in the country [poured on the ground] and the foul idols with which they defiled it. [...] = literal Hebrew.
God "poured out" His fury on them because of the blood they "poured on the ground" and to the idols in which they poured out blood sacrifices. Blood was sacred. In Leviticus 17:11, God told the covenant people that blood was the life of a creature and only used in making expiation for sins. When blood was spilled in the countryside after killing an animal (as opposed to the Temple), the people were to cover the blood with dirt like a burial (Lev 17:13).

19 I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved.
Scattering the covenant people among the nations for polluting the Promised Land was the judgment in Leviticus 18:25-28.

20 They have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, These are the people of Yahweh; they have been exiled from his land.'
Instead of making God's Name holy among the Gentile people in their exile, they caused God's Name to be treated with irreverence and disrespect (see 39:7). Perhaps the intention here is that the exiles involuntarily caused the flouting of God's Name not by any act of defiance but by the way the exiles' condition reflects on the God of Israel. The nations accuse Israel's God of not having the strength and power to defend His people. The interpretation of God's punishment of His people as a negative example of Yahweh to the Gentile nations is an argument raised by Moses when he petitioned God not to destroy the Israelites after the sin of the Golden Calf in Exodus (Ex 32:11-14; 33:15-17).

21 But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone. 22 And so, say to the House of Israel, The Lord Yahweh says this: I am acting not for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I am going to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh, declares the Lord Yahweh, when in you I display my holiness before their eyes.
In verses 21-23, God reveals His plan to sanctify His Name among the nations by His mighty acts on behalf of Israel. The Gentiles will witness His mighty acts in the restoration of His people, and they will know that Yahweh is the powerful and holy God of Israel.

Ezekiel 36:25-33 ~ Yahweh's Plan for the Restoration of Israel
25 I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. 26 I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practice my judgements. 28 You will live in the country which I gave your ancestors. You will be my people and I shall be your God. 29 I shall save you from everything that defiles you, I shall summon the wheat and make it plentiful and impose no more famines on you. 30 I shall increase the yield of tree and field, so that you will never again bear the ignominy of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil conduct and actions. You will loathe yourselves for your guilt and your loathsome practices. 32 I assure you that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Lord Yahweh. Be ashamed and blush for your conduct, House of Israel. 33 The Lord Yahweh says this: On the day I cleanse you from all your guilt, I shall repopulate the cities and cause the ruins to be rebuilt. 34 Waste land, once desolate for every passer-by to see, will now be farmed again. 35 And people will say: This land, so recently a waste, is now like a garden of Eden, and the ruined cities once abandoned and levelled to the ground are now strongholds with people living in them. 36 And the nations left round you will know that I, Yahweh, have rebuilt what was levelled and replanted what was ruined. I, Yahweh, have spoken and shall do it. 37 The Lord Yahweh says this: As a further mark of favor, I shall let myself be consulted by the House of Israel; I shall increase their numbers like a human flock, 38 like a flock of sacrificial animals, like the flock in Jerusalem on her solemn feasts. So your ruined cities will be filled with human flocks, and they will know that I am Yahweh." '

God will act to restore Israel for the sole purpose of restoring His Name among the nations.
Question: How does God plan to restore Israel in verses 24-38?
Answer:

  1. He will gather them from among the nations and return them to their land (verse 24).
  2. He will pour cleans water over them to spiritually cleanse them of their guilt and the contamination by false idols (verses 25 and 33).
  3. He will give them a new heart and a new spirit. Their new hearts will give them the spiritual strength they need to demonstrate their obedience to God's judgments and commandments (verses 26-27).
  4. They will live in the land that is their ancestral heritage as God's covenant people (verse 28).
  5. He will give them everything they need to prosper in the land to include rebuilding and populating their cities (verses 29-30).

Question: However, Yahweh says that He is not returning the descendants of the children of Israel to their ancestral land for their sake. What is His reason for their restoration? See verse 36.
Answer: When the other nations see the renewal and prosperity of the people and the land of Israel, they will no longer say Israel's God has abandoned them or that He is ineffective. They (the Jews and their neighbors) will know that He is Yahweh!

25 I shall pour [sprinkle] clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. 26 I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practice my judgements.
Christians see verses 25-27 as a foreshadowing of Christian Baptism. The word ruah translated "spirit" in verse 27 also means "breath" or "wind." The implication is that the spirit/breath of God which creates and gives life (as in Genesis 1:2 and 2:7) will come upon people to fill them with new life. The characteristic of the Messianic Age is this extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit of God (Zec 4:6; 6:8) on all peoples. The Spirit gives them graces that include a special inward renewal making possible a faithful observance of God's commandments and, according to Jeremiah's prophecy, inspiring a new covenant (Jer 31:31; Lk 22:20; Acts 2; 2 Cor 3:6). Like life-giving water that makes the earth fertile, God's spiritual cleansing will nourish the fruits of holiness which will guarantee the favor and protection of God (Ex 37:24; 39:29). The first recipient of this supernatural infusion of the Spirit will be the Davidic Messiah who will have the spiritual power and authority to accomplish His saving work in the world.

Chapter 37: Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (37:1-14) and Oracle 6 ~ Prophecy of the Reunification of Israel (37:15-28)

Yahweh will have you defeated by your enemies; you will advance on them from one direction and flee from them in seven; and you will be a terrifying object-lesson to all the kingdoms of the world. Your carcass will be carrion for all the wild birds and all wild animals, with no one to scare them away.
Deuteronomy 28:25-26

And on their way out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die nor their fire be put out, and they will be held in horror by all humanity.
Isaiah 66:24.

The vision of the bones in the Valley of Death is Ezekiel's third visionary experience. The first two visions were Yahweh's Chariot of Fire and the scroll (1:1-3:15) and the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple (8:1-11:13). As in the first two visionary experiences, the action of "the hand of Yahweh" which came upon Ezekiel announces the vision (1:3c; 8:1c; 37:1).

Ezekiel 37:1-14 ~ Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
1 The hand of Yahweh was on me; he carried me away by the spirit of Yahweh and set me down in the middle of the valley, a valley full of bones. 2 He made me walk up and down and all around among them. There were vast quantities of these bones on the floor of the valley; and they were completely dry. 3 He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "You know, Lord Yahweh." 4 He said, Prophesy over these bones. Say, Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh. 5 The Lord Yahweh says this to these bones: I am now going to make breath [ruah] enter you, and you will live. 6 I shall put sinews on you, I shall make flesh grow on you, I shall cover you with skin and give you breath [ruah], and you will live; and you will know that I am Yahweh.'" 7 I prophesied as I had been ordered. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a clattering sound; it was the bones coming together. 8 And as I looked, they were covered with sinews; flesh was growing on them and skin was covering them, yet there was no breath [ruah] in them. 9 He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath [ruah]; prophesy, son of man. Say to the breath [ruah], The Lord Yahweh says this: Come from the four winds, breath [ruah]; breathe [ruah] on these dead, so that they come to life!'" 10 I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath [ruah] entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army. 11 Then he said, Son of man, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They keep saying, Our bones are dry, our hope has gone; we are done for.' 12 So, prophesy. Say to them, The Lord Yahweh says this: I am now going to open your graves; I shall raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. 13 And you will know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people, 14 and put my spirit [ruah] in you, and you revive, and I resettle you on your own soil. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and done this, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"

The vision opens with "the hand of Yahweh" (also in the other two visions) on Ezekiel who is carried away by the spirit of God in verse 1 and concludes with the signature formula in verse 14. There is a break in verse 11 where the prophet's vision gives way to a series of interpretive comments. The vision divides into two parts:

The most significant keyword repeated nine times is ruah, a word that means "wind," "breath," or "spirit" (verses 5, 6, 8, 9 four times, 10, and 14). Therefore, verses 5-14 can also read, as translated in the Greek Septuagint (LXX), 5 The Lord Yahweh says this to these bones: I am now going to make breath [ruah] enter you, and you will live. 6 I shall put sinews on you, I shall make flesh grow on you, I shall cover you with skin and give you breath [ruah], and you will live; and you will know that I am Yahweh.'" 7 I prophesied as I had been ordered. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a clattering sound; it was the bones coming together. 8 And as I looked, they were covered with sinews; flesh was growing on them and skin was covering them, yet there was no breath [ruah] in them. 9 He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath [ruah]; prophesy, son of man. Say to the breath [ruah], The Lord Yahweh says this: Come from the four winds, breath [ruah]; breathe [ruah] on these dead, so that they come to life!'" 10 I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath [ruah] entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army... 14 and put my spirit [ruah] in you, and you revive, and I resettle you on your own soil. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and done this, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"

The other keyword in the passage is "life," repeated five times in verses 3, 5, 6, 9, and 10).

In verses 1-2, the "hand of God" comes upon Ezekiel and God's Divine Spirit catches him up and relocates him to a valley of death filled with dry bones. Scripture does not identify the location of the valley. The scene is unique in three aspects:

  1. Ezekiel's amazement at the very large number of bones suggests there was a huge catastrophe.
  2. The bones are on the surface of the valley like the remains of corpses that did not receive a proper burial according to the Law. As an Israelite who was a priest, Ezekiel knew how important it was to provide a proper burial for human remains (Num 5:1-3; 19:11-16; Ez 39:12-16).
  3. Ezekiel is surprised at the extreme dryness of the bones which indicates they have lain exposed for a long time. God commands him to walk up and down on them to emphasize the complete absence of a life force.

The description of the vision in verse 2 foreshadows the hopelessness expressed in verse 11. The picture is one of death in its most horrifying intensity and finality.

In verse 3, God's direct speech takes over from the narration in verses 1-2.
Question: While Ezekiel contemplates the vision, what question does God ask?
Answer: He asks Ezekiel if the dry bones he sees in the valley are capable of being restored to life.

Ezekiel knew of people coming back to life in cases of recent death as in the son of the widow of Zarephath raised to life by Elijah (1 Kng 17:17-24) and the son of the Shunem woman raised to life by Elisha (2 Kng 4:18-37). He also knew of the case when a recently deceased man was revived when his body was thrown on top of the bones of Elisha (2 Kng 13:21). But the bones in the valley were from those who died long ago, and any hope for them could only be tied to belief in an eschatological resurrection as foretold by the Prophet Daniel: Of those who are sleeping in the Land of Dust, many will awaken, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace (Dan 12:2).
Question: How does Ezekiel respond to God's question?
Answer: He is noncommittal and responds that only God knows the answer to His question.

In effect, he gives God a non-answer, neither rejecting the possibility since he knows God exercises control over life and death (Job 34:14-15; Ps 104:29-30) nor does he express disbelief since he knows God is capable of the impossible. Instead, he places himself entirely in the will and power of God. However, in verse 4 God responds by insisting that Ezekiel be personally involved in providing the answer.

Verses 4-10 divides into two parts:

The goal of the result is the infusion of God's ruah/breath/spirit in a spiritual revival. It is the recognition and relationship that Yahweh desires between the resurrected bodies and Himself.

Ezekiel does as God commands (verse 7), and as he is speaking, the reconstruction process proceeds rapidly, and the prophet is amazed. The predicted revival takes place as the bones arise, become connected and covered with flesh and skin, but at the critical moment, the process comes to a halt because "there was no breath (ruah/spirit) in the bodies (verse 8). The halting in the process prepares the way for the next phase of divine action in verses 9-10.

Question: What is Ezekiel told to do in verse 9 to bring the bodies of the dead to life? What does this action recall from Genesis 1:2 and 2:7 where you will find the word ruah?
Answer: He is told to call upon the ruah breath/spirit of God to fill the dead bodies and bring them to life. The divine ruah = wind/spirit/breath of God is His creative and life-giving power. It is what God did to bring about life on earth when His Spirit moved over the waters covering the earth in Genesis 1:2 and what He did to bring Adam to life in Genesis 2:7.

As you recall, ruah means breath, wind, and spirit. Now "the breath" (ha-ruah) is the divine wind that will blow on these bones and bring them to life.

Question: What is the source of "the breath" in verse 9?
Answer: The source of "the breath" is "the four winds."

The "four winds" means "the four directions. It is the divine wind that blows in every corner of the earth, giving life to all creatures. Yahweh tells Ezekiel that the climax of the vision will be when the bones "come to life," repeated five times (verses 3, 5, 6, 9, 10).

The identification of the corpses as "the slain" in verse 9c gives us the first clue as to the how the corpses came to be in the valley. They are those who died in battle when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. But why weren't they buried? The answer is in the covenant curse-judgments that fell upon an apostate covenant people: Yahweh will have you defeated by your enemies; you will advance on them from one direction and flee from them in seven; and you will be a terrifying object-lesson to all the kingdoms of the world. Your carcass will be carrion for all the wild birds and all wild animals, with no one to scare them away (Dt 28:25-26).1 Jeremiah predicted the curse-judgment in Jeremiah 34:17-20. Yahweh sending His breath/spirit/wind to enter the corpses announces the lifting of the curse-judgment. That the valley contains the bones of "the slain" means that the valley in question could not be the same valley mentioned in the first vision in 3:22-23 and mentioned in 8:4. It is likely the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. It became synonymous with a place of torment and suffering. A century before the fall of Jerusalem, Isaiah described it as a place where the bodies of the rebels against the Lord will be strewn: ... they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die nor their fire be put out, and they will be held in horror by all humanity.
(Is 66:24).2

10 I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath [ruah] entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army.
After completing Yahweh's command, Ezekiel witnesses the bodies coming to life and standing upon their feet. Ezekiel describes the extraordinary number of bodies that he sees as like an "immense army." Only by a specific act of God could the corpses be brought to life. The last Bible book records a similar event in Revelation 11:11 witnessed by St. John and using the same expression "stood up on their feet": ...God breathed life into them and they stood up on their feet, and everybody who saw it happen was terrified...
Another passage that recalls this miracle is in John 20:22 after Jesus' Resurrection when He breathed upon the Apostles, giving them the life of the Holy Spirit and the power to bring continual renewed life to the Church through the forgiveness of sins.

11 Then he said, Son of man, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They keep saying, Our bones are dry, our hope has gone; we are done for.'
Verse 11 is the transition verse in which God announces the significance of the bones by revealing their identity and the meaning of the vision. The revived bones represent the "whole House of Israel" as a united nation. That they are the "whole House of Israel" means they represent the dead from both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms that broke apart the United Kingdom in 930 BC to form two separate kingdoms (1 Kng 12). The vision is to answer the covenant people's despondency over the loss of their nation and encourage them to have hope.

12 So, prophesy. Say to them, The Lord Yahweh says this: I am now going to open your graves; I shall raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. 13 And you will know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people, 14 and put my spirit [ruah] in you, and you revive, and I resettle you on your own soil. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and done this, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
These verses are the climax of the oracle with the promise of the restoration of the covenant people to their land as one nation. The vision ends with the recognition formula (14b) and the suggestion of a new beginning.

Many Church Fathers saw this passage as a prophecy of the resurrection of the dead upon Christ's Second Coming. It is also an event that took place upon Jesus' resurrection when some saints who had recently died came out of their tombs (Mt 27:52-53). Early Jewish interpreters also understood the passage to represent a literal resurrection of the dead (Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, page 750). More recently, Jews have seen the vision as a metaphor for the restoration of the modern nation of Israel in 1947 and a metaphor for Israel's exodus from their exile in Gentile lands. They were like dry bones restored to life in the land of their ancestors.3

Ezekiel 37:15-28 ~ Oracle 6: Ezekiel's Prophetic Act Prophesising the Reunification of Israel
15 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 16 "Son of man, take a stick and write on it, Judah and those Israelites loyal to him.' Take another stick and write on it, Joseph (Ephraim's wood) and all the House of Israel loyal to him.' 17 "Join one to the other to make a single piece of wood, a single stick in your hand. 18 And when the members of your nation say, Will you not tell us what you mean?' 19 say, The Lord Yahweh says this: I am taking the stick of Joseph (now in Ephraim's hand) and those tribes of Israel loyal to him and shall join them to the stick of Judah. I shall make one stick out of the two, a single stick in my hand.' 20 "When the pieces of wood you have written on are in your hand in full sight of them, 21 say, The Lord Yahweh says this: I shall take the Israelites from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. 22 I shall make them into one nation in the country, on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their foul idols, their horrors and any of their crimes. I shall save them from the acts of infidelity which they have committed and shall cleanse them; they will be my people and I shall be their God. 24 My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my judgements, respect my laws and practice them. 25 They will live in the country which I gave to my servant Jacob, the country in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children's children, forever. David my servant is to be their prince forever. 26 I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and make them grow; I shall set my sanctuary among them forever. 27 I shall make my home above them; I shall be their God, and they will be my people. 28 And the nations will know that I am Yahweh the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them forever.'"

The keyword in this passage is "forever," repeated four times in verses 25 twice, 26, and 28. After the word revelation formula that always signals a new oracle, The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, Yahweh orders Ezekiel to perform a symbolic act with two sticks.
Question: What do the two sticks represent? Why is the second stick called "Joseph" or "Ephraim's wood"? Gen 48:1-5; 1 Kng 11:26; 12:20.
Answer: The two sticks represent the division of the United Kingdom of Israel into the two kingdoms of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam, a descendant of Joseph son of Jacob-Israel from the tribe of Ephraim, founded the Northern Kingdom. Therefore the oracle refers to the second stick as "Joseph."

Question: What prophetic act does God command Ezekiel to perform?
Answer: He is to take two sticks, labeled Judah and Joseph, and put them together as one single stick.

When the people ask "what is the meaning of the act," he is to answer in two stages concerning the metaphorical image of the sticks:

  1. It is a metaphor representing God's intent to unite the remnants of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel scattered among the Gentile nations. In his explanation, Ezekiel is to present the united sticks to the sight of the people (verses 19-20).
  2. The metaphor demonstrates that God is not only going to gather back Israel's scattered sheep (37:21; previously promised in 34:11 and 36:24), but He will reconstitute them as a single Kingdom with a single king forever (verse 22).

Question: Who will be the King to rule over the restored Israel?
Answer: He will be the Davidic Messiah.

Verses 24-28 provide another Davidic Messiah prophecy and another prophecy of the future new and eternal covenant: I shall make an everlasting covenant with you in fulfillment of the favors promised to David (Is 55:3; also see Jer 31:31-34; 32:40; 50:5; Ez 16:60). From verse 25 to the end of the oracle each restored condition is to be eternal:

  1. They will live in the land forever (verse 25b).
  2. The Davidic Messiah will be their ruler forever (verse 25c).
  3. God will make an eternal covenant of peace with them (verse 26a).
  4. God will set His Sanctuary among them forever (verse 26c, 28).

The climax is in verse 26b-28 in which God promises His Sanctuary and His Divine Presence will dwell with His people forever in an eternal covenant. The Church sees these promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of David in His Kingdom of the Church and its new and eternal covenant (Heb 13:20; 2 Pt 1:11). On Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem, the Jews must have recalled this passage from Ezekiel among other Davidic prophesies because they called out to Jesus the traditional greeting for a Davidic king: Hosanna [save us] to the son of David! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna [save us] in the highest heavens! (Mt 21:9) and Hosanna [save us]! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel (Jn 12:13).

Questions for discussion or reflection:
How will Jesus fulfill Ezekiel's vision of the dead that returned fully to life, body and spirit, in His Second Advent? Is faith in the resurrection of the dead essential to the Christian faith? See Jn 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:13-14, 17-23, 35-50; Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thes 4:16-18; 5:23; and CCC 366, 991, 998-999, 1000-1001, 1038.

Endnotes:
1 In addition to the enactment of the covenant curse as a fulfillment of God's judgment on Judah, it was common for Gentile armies like the Babylonians to leave the bodies of the slain out in the open to be devoured by animals.

2. The Valley of Hinnom had a bad reputation as the location of an idolatrous cult that performed human sacrifices to Baal (2 Kng 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6). Jesus referred to "Gehenna," as the Hell of the damned, equating it with the visual image of the Valley of Hinnom, in Aramaic "Gehenna," where the Jerusalemites disposed of their rubbish in fires that burned continuously.

3. Jewish Synagogues have this passage read as the prophetic lesson (Haftarah) for the Sabbath of Passover week in which the congregation remembers the exodus out of Egyptian bondage. In the Catholic Church, we read this passage in association with Baptism at Lent and Easter as appropriate for celebrating redemption and new life.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
Ez 36:20-22 (CCC 2814), 36:20-21 (CCC 2812*), 36:25-28 (CCC 715*), 36:25-27 (CCC 1287*), 36:26-27 (CCC 1432*), 36:26 (CCC 368*)
Ez 37:1-14 (CCC 715*), 37:10 (CCC 703*)