He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’ Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.’” 

—Ezekiel 37:3-6

Picking up where we left off in the first installment, Ezekiel has just surveyed the valley which we have seen to be filled with very dry bones. In the following paragraphs, we will look at vv. 3-6 wherein the prophet is directed by God to prophesy to the bones, and this command doubles as a promise which looks forward to the resurrection of God’s people. To Old Covenant Jewish ears, this would have sounded consistent with what God revealed to men like Job (Job 19:26), but it certainly would’ve still been mysterious and perhaps even cryptic for Ezekiel.

God’s Unthinkable Promise (vv. 3-6)

    1. Direct address from the Lord to the prophet
      • In v. 3, Ezekiel turns to record the words God spoke directly to Him. Interestingly, God presents the prophet with a question. “Can these bones live?” And he addresses Ezekiel as “Son of man,” which, of course, is a title used for Christ Himself (Lk. 5:24). Ezekiel replies by stating a biblical truth concerning the knowledge of God as it relates to real-world events. In Deuteronomy 32:39 God says, “It is I who put to death and give life,” and in 1 Samuel 2:6, it says, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.”
      • Ezekiel begins his conversation with God by being fundamentally correct in his theology. It could even be seen as a careful answer, one that assumes nothing about the creature or creaturely ability. It places the onus squarely on God with respects to the imponderable prospect of a physical resurrection.
    2. The mystery of the resurrection
      • In v. 4, God commands the prophet to do the impossible. Thought Ezekiel maintained a fervent trust in God, and probably truly believed in God’s power to raise the dead, the command must’ve shocked him. It would have been a strange thought, that from the midst of this hopelessness there could come something good, namely life. The God who created all things from nothing, ex nihilo, is promising to bring life from death, to animate humans from the depths of Sheol.
      • As I alluded to earlier, this must’ve been seen as an odd command. We do have good reason to believe the Old Testament saints had some idea of a future resurrection. Job, for example, says, “Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:26).” But up to this point, the doctrine of the resurrection, if there was any, would have been extremely mysterious. And here, God not only reveals an immediate hope the people of Israel have in national revival, but also an eschatological, or long-term, hope in the bodily resurrection of all those who believe in the eternal Davidic ruler.
    3. The breath of God
      1. The initial use of the word ‘breath’ in v. 5 merely seems to indicate the proper function of our lungs. But this word is being used as what we’d call a metonymy. Metonymies are words or phrases that are used for something other than their normal use, yet still related to that normal use. An example of this would be the “body and blood” of Christ. We know when Paul speaks of partaking of Christ’s body and blood he is referring to the Lord’s Supper, a sign of the true body and blood of our Lord. In this case, breath is being used to indicate not only the physical function of human lungs, but the Spirit of God. This will become evident in vv. 9-14.
    4. Brought to life in knowledge of the Lord
      1. After all is said and done, these people will know the Lord. That is the promise. This language harkens back to the first explicit mention of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31. There, Jeremiah records the Lord as saying, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (v. 34).’”

Again, we ought to have a two-fold understanding of this passage. Regeneration and covenantal inclusion is the meaning of this text. These people, being risen, know the Lord. Turn to v. 26 in the same chapter. It says, “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them.” The covenantal language in Jeremiah is repeated here. These people know God, they possess the Spirit of God, and they are part of a new, or everlasting, covenant with God.

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