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Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Background to the Book of Ezekiel
Literary:The Book of Ezekiel has been compiled in five main sections:
Ezek 1-3 - an account of the prophet's call

Ezek 4-24 - oracles of judgement against Judah set in the time before the fall of Jerusalem

Ezek 25-32 - oracles against foreign nations

Ezek 33-39 - oracles of hope for those in exile

Ezek 40-48 - vision of a renewed temple, temple regulations, distribution of land to tribes on return from exile

Some of the imagery and symbols are very colourful: one only has to read the first three chapters to see this. The author uses the metaphor of unfaithful women in Ezek 16 and 23 to convey his message that Israel has been unfaithful to Yahweh. However, this can cause pain to women who have suffered because of the sort of metaphors used to convey a biblical message. We live in a very different society to the world of Ezekiel. Symbolic actions appear both to point beyond themselves and also represent to the bystanders something which was of particular importance in connection with the total message of the prophet.

The style of the book can be quite repetitious, as in Ezek 20. The discourses can be long, chap 16 is longer than 6 of minor prophets (830 words). Besides his colourful language he uses unusual words, eg the verb ‘to profane’. According to scholars he uses a number of Akkadian based words/phrases, also some Aramaic forms. Missing are verbs/words like - trust, redeem, bless, curse, and references to salvation, grace, love, covenant faithfulness & fear. Furthermore, terms from the psalms are missing. Dependence on the Holiness code (Lev ) and other Priestly writings is almost universally accepted. He draws on language and stories from Jeremiah (foundling sisters) Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy-11 Kings), Isaiah, Zephaniah, Nahum. Nearly everything is set in the words and actions of Yahweh and Ezekiel is consistently addressed as 'ben-adam' (son of man). His visions can be read in Ezek1, 8-11, 37:1-14. 40-48. In 3 of them the glory of the Lord plays a significant role but not in 37. Nearly all the book is written in prose which is different from Jeremiah and Isaiah

The book makes extensive use of dates to mark important events and oracles, and these dates indicate that the book is organized chronologically. The book opens with the earliest event (ca. 593 B.C.), the prophet’s call (1:1-3; 3:16). The next dated event (592 B.C.) is the great Temple vision, which definitively explains to the prophet the fate of Jerusalem (8:1). The prophet’s important account of the history of Israel’s sin (20) is dated to 591 B.C. The beginning of Jerusalem’s siege (24:1) is dated in 588 B.C., while the various oracles against foreign nations (25-32) bear dates between 587 and 585. News of Jerusalem’s fall (33:21) is said to have reached Babylon in 585, and the eschatological vision of the restored Temple ( 40-48) is assigned a date of 573. This neat chronological arrangement is disturbed only by the later revision of an oracle against Tyre (29:17), which bears the date of 571.

This organization of the book according to content is not perfect. There are a few words of promise mixed in with the oracles of judgment in the first part of the book (11:14-21; 16:60-62; 17:22-24), and this section also contains calls for the people to repent (14:6; 18:30-32). Similarly, the words of promise in the latter part of the book are occasionally mixed with references to judgment (e.g., 34:1-10; 36:16-32). Nevertheless, readers are left with the overall impression that, up to the time of the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel spoke mainly words of judgment and that after the fall he switched to words of promise. The organization of the book thus reinforces two of the most prominent themes found in the individual oracles. First, Jerusalem is destined to be destroyed for its sin, and nothing can be done to save it. There can be no talk of salvation until after the judgment has occurred. Second, after Israel has been punished, God will be faithful to the promises made to David and will restore Jerusalem’s status as the eternal divine dwelling place. In spite of their severe punishment, both the people and the city remain God’s elect. Equally important from a theological standpoint are the three long vision reports, which are closely linked linguistically and thematically. The first vision describes the appearance of God’s glory in Babylon and provides the occasion for the prophet’s call (1-3). The second vision graphically portrays the judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple and the movement of the divine glory out of the sinful city ( 8-11). This vision serves as the introduction to the longest and most complex of Ezekiel’s oracles of judgment. Finally, the third vision ( 40-48) summarizes the oracles of promise and describes the return of the divine glory to a rebuilt and reconsecrated Temple. The various literary devices that have been used to structure the book reinforce each other, so that readers’ overall impression is one of unity. The book has been carefully organized at some stage of its compositional history, and that organization itself conveys part of the prophet’s message.

Historical: (History within the text) xxxEzekiel, unlike Jeremiah who remained in Jerusalem, appeared to be part of the group which was deported first from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 BCE. He was a priest whose call took place beside the river Chebar in 593 BCE. His wife died during the fall of Jerusalem and his ministry was to those who were in exile with him. The purpose of his message in the early chapters of the Book was twofold. First, he gave the exiles hope by telling them his visions whereby the glory of the Lord left the temple and settled in Babylon (Chaldea). The people were assured that the presence of God was there in exile and had not remained behind in Jerusalem. Secondly, he emphasised that they were in exile because they had sinned even right back when they were in Egypt. The people could not blame God for the consequences of their behaviour. Initially, the exiles would have been devastated at their deportation: they lost their land and with it the promise to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), the loss of temple and Jerusalem, the loss of the Davidic kingship and any confidence that Yahweh had effective power compared with the Babylonian gods. The latter half of the book speaks about the promises of restoration. We don't know a great deal about the circumstances in which the exiles found themselves, but it seemed that many of the people settled and were able to live prosperous lives, some working within the Babylonian government.
Context of Ezek 37:1-14
This reading is part of the section Ezek 33-39 which has a focus on oracles of restoration. Ezek 33 acknowledges that the the people hear the words of the prophet, but fail to take them seriously. The leaders are condemned in the following chapter (Ezek 34) for their inability to act as responsible shepherds for their people and so God will be their shepherd who will take over as leader and rescue his sheep. The picture of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep is one picked up again in the NT. The chapter closes with a covenant of peace which includes an ideal picture of life in the new Israel. Ezek 35 condemns the Edomites for their treatment of Israel and the reverse of this is the salvation offered to Israel in Ezek 36. The imagery of hope is focused on creation - the mountains will hear the prophet's word which is quite unusual. It is because the land, the ravines, the hills and the valleys have suffered that they will now bloom and all the waste places will become fertile and reproduce. The Lord will bring this restoration about because he is concerned for his own name. It is an interesting theology which states that God will act for God's name and not for the sake of the people. Earlier, in Ezek 34 God acts because of concern for the people who are suffering from poor leadership. The covenant spoken of in Ezek 36 has similarities to the new covenant in Jer 31. The story of the dry bones in Ezek 37 is one of the more well known stories of the Old Testament and the second part of the chapter (Ezek37:15-28) uses a sign act to reiterate the message of restoration for the whole of Judah and Israel. The last two chapters of this section use the threat of an enemy to demonstrate the protection of Yahweh for Israel. These chapters interrupt the flow from the promise of a covenant of peace (Ezek 37:26) and the vision of the new temple (Ezek 40-48).
Insights/Message of Ezek 37:1-14
Literary structure:xxTThis is the third of Ezekiel's visionary reports, the others appear in 1:1-3:15, 8:1-11:25, 40:1-48:35 (Darr:1497). This is the only vision which is not dated and it may have dropped out. The opening phrase in these visionary reports, "the hand of the Lord came upon me", implies a compulsion in which Ezekiel has no choice. In the unit, Ezek 37:1-14, vv.1-10 are a description of the restoration of Israel using the imagery of dry bones and, vv.11-14 are a salvation oracle. If we look at the narrative flow with the dialogue: v.1-2 Yahweh initiates - takes and sets down, leads Ezek in the vision: v.3 - Yahweh speaks, asks ?: v.3- Ezek replies: vv.4-6 -Yahweh commands Ezek to prophecy: v.7 - Ezek now prophesies: vv.7b-8 - action occurs, bones rise: v.9 - Yahweh speaks and tells Ezek what to prophecy: v.10 Ezek does it: vv.11-14 - Yahweh speaks and tells what Ezek to say:

Behold (hinneh) is used twice in v.2 which declares that what Ezekiel is about to see will be extraordinary. When Ezekiel answers God's question in v.3 we are unsure of the inflection which the audience would have heard. Is it emphasising the conviction, 'you know' or is it resignation (Darr:1499)? I believe in the context it is reinforcing the power and all knowledgeable God. As the valleys and mountains were addressed in the previous chapter so the dry bones are addressed directly in Ezek 37. The word is effective as it was in creation - God speaks and it happens. The play on the Hebrew word 'ruah' which means, breath, wind or spirit is seen in v. 1 (spirit), v.5 (breath), v.6 (breath), v.8 (breath,) v.9 (breath x 4), v.10 (breath), and v.14 (spirit). One cannot but know by the end of the chapter God's intimately part of these people as was the case in creation. The promise to Abraham is being fulfilled a second time with the promise of return to the land in v.12. It is not until v.10 we find there is indeed a 'great host of them'. The use of this word supports the imagery that the bare bones and great desolation are the result of a great defeat which is now being turned around to victory by Yahweh's breath/spirit. V.14 repeats and summarises the previous thirteen verses: God's spirit will be in them, they will return to their own land, and because of these things they will know Yahweh. 'To know' as in a close relationship because if God's spirit is within they won't need the external commandments.
Resources/Worship for Ezek 37:1-14
Worship:xxxAgain I would make use of the Dramamtised Bible reading or it could make good drama, especially with young children

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.
Allen, L.C. Ezekiel 20-48. WBC, Dallas: Word Books, 1990.
Biggs, C.R. The Book of Ezekiel. London: Epworth Press, 1996
Blenkinsopp.J. Ezekiel. Int. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1990.
Block, Daniel.L. The Book of Ezekiel. NICOT. Mich.: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1997.
Block, Daniel.L. The Book of Ezekiel. NICOT. Mich.: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1998.
Brownlee,W.H. Ezekiel 1-19. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1986.
Darr, Kathryn Pfisterer. The Book of Ezekiel. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001, pp. 1073-1607
Cooke, G.A. Ezekiel. ICC. Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 1936.
Eichrodt.W. Ezekiel. OTL London: SCM Press, 1970.
Greenberg,M. Ezekiel 1-20. AB. Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1983.
Hals, R.M. Ezekiel. FOTL XIX. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1989.
May, H.G. Ezekiel. IB 6. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956.
Vawter, B. & Hoppe.L. T. Ezekiel: A New Heart. ITC. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1991.
Wevers.J. Ezekiel. NCB. London: Nelson/Oliphants, 1969.
Zimmerli.W. Ezekiel. Hermeneia Vol 1. (transl.R.E.Clements), London: Fortress Press, 1979
ײ Ezekiel. Hermeneia Vol 2. (transl J.D.Martin), London: SCM Press, 1983.
The Women’s Bible Commentary , edited by C.A.Newsom & S.H.Ringe, SPCK, London, 1992

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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