37 The Eternal had a hold on me, and I couldn’t escape it. The divine wind of the Eternal One picked me up and set me down in the middle of the valley, but this time it was full of bones. 2 God led me through the bones. There were piles of bones everywhere in the valley—dry bones left unburied.
This oracle may be one of the best known in Ezekiel’s prophecy. God’s promise of a new heart and a new spirit echoes Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34). What God’s people need more than anything is for God to do a work of grace within them. Like other prophets of his day, Ezekiel is convinced that heaven must intervene in order to fix what is wrong on earth. It is not enough for people to try harder and do better. This work of grace begins with God cleansing His people with fresh water. Idolatry and various sins have made them impure and unclean, so before they can be restored, they must be made pure by the washing of water. Then, once God gives them a new heart, His people will become willing covenant partners; they will give up on their rebellious, hurtful ways and embrace God’s designs for their lives. With a new spirit—which seems to be nothing other than God’s Spirit living in and among them—they will have the desire and ability to live out God’s reasonable demands on them.
God insists that all He intends to do to save and redeem His people is not for their good; He is working to restore His good name. God’s covenant people have given Him a bad reputation among the nations, so God must act in His own interest to make sure His name is given the honor it is due.
Eternal One (to Ezekiel): 3 Son of man, do you think these bones can live?
Ezekiel: Eternal Lord, certainly You know the answer better than I do.
Eternal One: 4-5 Actually, I do. Prophesy to these bones. Tell them to listen to what the Eternal Lord says to them: “Dry bones, I will breathe breath into you, and you will come alive. 6 I will attach muscles and tendons to you, cause flesh to grow over them, and cover you with skin. I will breathe breath into you, and you will come alive. After this happens, you will know that I am the Eternal.”
God is not only the Creator of life, but He is also the Restorer of life.
7 So I did what God told me to do: I prophesied to the bones. As I was speaking, I heard a loud noise—a rattling sound—and all the bones began to come together and form complete skeletons. 8 I watched and saw muscles and tendons attach to the bones, flesh grow over them, and skin wrap itself around the reforming bodies. But there was still no breath in them.
Eternal One: 9 Prophesy to the breath. Speak, son of man, and tell them what the Eternal Lord has to say: “O sweet breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these who have been killed. Make these corpses come alive.”
10 So I did what God told me to do: I prophesied to the breath. As I was speaking, breath invaded the lifeless. The bodies came alive and stood on their feet. I realized then I was looking at a great army.
Eternal One: 11 Son of man, these bones are the entire community of Israel. They keep saying, “Our bones are dry now, picked clean by scavengers. All hope is gone. Our nation is lost.”
12-13 He told me to prophesy and tell them what He said.
Eternal One: Pay attention, My people! I am going to open your graves and bring you back to life! I will carry you straight back to the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Eternal One. 14 I will breathe My Spirit into you, and you will be alive once again. I will place you back in your own land. After that you will know I, the Eternal, have done what I said I would do.
So said the Eternal One.
15 Again the word of the Eternal came to me.
Eternal One: 16 Son of man, find a stick and write these words on it: “For Judah and the people of Israel associated with him.” Then go find another stick, and write these words on it: “For Joseph—the stick of Ephraim—and the entire community of Israel associated with him.” 17 Now take both sticks and join them together in your hand as if they are one. 18 When your compatriots question you about what you are doing, asking, “Will you not tell us plainly what these actions mean?” 19 tell them I say, “Watch as I take Joseph’s stick (the one held by Ephraim) and the ten Israelite tribes of the North, your compatriots, and put it end to end with Judah’s stick. The two sticks will become one in My hand.” 20 Make sure the people are able to see what you have written on each stick. 21 Then tell them what I say: “Look! I’m gathering the Israelites up from the countries where they’ve been scattered and putting them back in their own land.” 22 I will form them into one nation upon Israel’s mountains, and they will live under the reign of one king. They will no longer live as two separate peoples, split into two different kingdoms. 23 From then on, they will not defile themselves with idols and abhorrent images and strange perversions. I will rescue them from all the places where they’ve lived and sinned. I will make them pure and clean again! They will be My people, and I will be their God.
24 My beloved servant, David, will be their king. They will all live peaceably under one shepherd. They will live according to My laws and obey My statutes and do them. 25 My people will dwell in the same land I gave to Jacob, My servant.
How could David be the king of Israel’s new nation? He died 500 years earlier! Certainly God does not mean that David comes back from the dead to reign; He means that David is the archetype for the eternal king. This new king will carry David’s name because He will be a descendant of David. He will rule a united kingdom just as David ruled a united Israel in his day. He, too, will be a shepherd of God’s people.
These hopes and aspirations will remain in the psyche of God’s people for hundreds of years. When Jesus begins His ministry, His followers will be certain they have found the good shepherd.
Eternal One: It will be the same land where your ancestors dwelled, but their past wickedness will be forgotten there. They, their children, and their children’s children will live there forever; and My servant David will be their prince forever. 26 I will establish a covenant of peace—an everlasting promise—with them. I will make them strong and numerous in the land I gave them. My sanctuary will be at the heart of their community forever. 27 I will make My home with them. I will be their God, and they will be My people.[a] 28 After all these things come to pass and My sanctuary is at the heart of their community forever, all the nations will know that I, the Eternal, am the One who makes Israel holy.