Things are about to get heavy…
Our reading today begins with perhaps the most well-known passage in the entire book of Ezekiel: the valley of dry bones. This cannot be disconnected from the previous chapter, though. There, God promised to give His people a new spirit (Hebrew: רוּחַ ruach) by putting His Spirit (ruach) in them (36:26-27). Here in chapter 37, God gives Ezekiel this vision as an act prophesy that God Himself performs.
Ezekiel sees the bones of dead people littering the valley (37:1). There were many “on the surface of the valley” (v. 2 – see 6:5, Jer 8:1-2). So God asks Ezekiel is these bones can live (v. 3). Think about that. These aren’t dying people. These are dead people. They have already decomposed. And God asks if they can yet live! And Ezekiel’s response “O Lord YHWH, You know” is not saying Ezekiel doesn’t know but trusts God does. It isn’t saying that Ezekiel does know but also knows God knows. He is saying that whether or not these bones live is completely in YHWH’s hands.
So God tells Ezekiel to prophecy to the bones – to dead people (v. 4)! And God says to the dead “I will cause breath (ruach) to enter you and you shall live” (v. 5). God will cause these dead to have the spirit/Spirit (ruach) He promised (36:26-27) to enter into them. And they will live, and they will know that He is YHWH (v. 6). God promises 23 times in the book of Ezekiel that “you shall know that I am YHWH.” He says it either as the result of judgment (17 times) to Israel and the nations (as in 6:7, 13). And six times He says it in terms of salvation (16:62 for those in the New Covenant, twice in 20:42-44 for those who repent and are forgiven of their sins, three times in this passage when the Spirit gives new life).
So Ezekiel prophesies over the bones, and the skeletons begin to reconnect (v. 7) and the bodies are reformed (v. 8). But there was no “breath” (ruach) in them. So God has Ezekiel prophecy to the ruach and say to the ruach “Come from the four winds (ruach), O breath (ruach)” to make the dead alive (v. 9 – see John 3:8). And Ezekiel does so, and the ruach enters them and they live. We can see a correlation between this and the creation of Adam (Gen 2:7). The verb “breathed” is the same there as it is in Ezekiel 37:9, but the word for “breath” is not ruach in Genesis. This giving of life in Ezekiel 37 by the Spirit is something completely different than the physical life given to man by God. This is spiritual life given to man by God.
And almost everyone agrees that this vision in the valley of dry bones points us to the new birth we receive when we place our faith in Christ. And it certainly does. But notice that this is tied in with those in the New Covenant (16:62 – see Luke 22:20) and to those who have received repentance and forgiveness of sins (20:42-44 – see Luke 24:47). This follows as a pointer to Christians. But we need to also acknowledge that this is expressly said to be the house of Israel (v. 11) who will be brought into the land of Israel (v. 12, 14). There is no clearer passage (except for possibly Jer 31:31-34 – see Heb 8) that shows that both “Israel” and the “land” are often used as spiritual references that apply to the church.
And this train of thought continues in verses 15-28. The combining of Israel and Judah together is a reference to the spiritual people of God. They will be gathered from “all around” (v. 21) and made one in the “land” that God calls “the mountains of Israel” (v. 22 – see below). Furthermore, they will be cleansed from their sin and made holy, and will be God’s people (v. 23). And David will be their King – their one Shepherd (v. 24). And they will live in the land with David as their King forever (v. 25 – see 2 Sam 7:12-13, Matt 1:1), and God will make an everlasting covenant of peace with them (v. 26 – see 16:60-62, 20:37, 37:26, Isa 55:3) and dwell in their midst (v. 27), and through them all the nations will know that He is YHWH, because they are His dwelling place (v. 28).
There are two interpretive options for Ezekiel 37. You can read it and say it all applies to physical Israel and Judah, which not many do, and which would be hard to defend since the Davidic line has never regained the physical throne. Or, you can read it and understand that spiritual “Israel” is the church (the elect of all time), that the spiritual “land” is the dwelling place of YHWH (the church in God’s presence), and “David” is Christ our King. You can’t apply some of this to the church and then say that Israel and Judah are the physical people without destroying the point of the passage (and you cannot with any integrity claim that as a “literal” interpretation).
Chapters 38 and 39 continue the vision. The rest of the book of Ezekiel, in fact, is part of the vision God gives the prophet. In chapter 37, we saw the salvation of God’s spiritual people – a salvation that will be completed at Christ’s Second Coming. Chapters 38 and 39 are about the judgment of the wicked at Christ’s Second Coming. Visions in the Bible tend to be highly symbolic. Ezekiel’s visions are the first time we have seen this (like in chapter 1). We will see this in the books of Daniel and Zechariah as well. They are intended to be highly symbolic.
Now, this is very much a “big picture” prophecy. To understand this prophecy within the vision, we need to go back in time to what is known as the “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10. There are 70 sons/peoples listed in the chapter, all the offspring of the sons of Noah, which constitute the whole world population after the flood (Gen 10:32). It is these people who are judged at Babel and dispersed over the whole earth (v. 9). This is when God disinherits (forsakes) the Adamic race and turns them over to false gods (Deut 32:8), and then out of the world calls Abraham and makes Israel His (Gen 12, Deut 32:9). This is why their worship of false gods (see Deut 29:26) was punished so severely, and God rejected them (disinherited/forsook them) as His people (see Acts 7:42-43 and pretty much everything Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel say).
Here, Ezekiel prophesies against the “spritual” table of nations. When David (Christ) comes and calls His people (spiritual Israel), God will not longer call one physical people His. He will call one spiritual people His. At that time, God will no longer “overlook” the ignorance of the nations (Acts 17:30-31). It will now be about each person’s spiritual state. So Gog and Magog (and all the other nations named that correspond to Genesis 10) represent the spiritual nations – those not spiritually part of God’s chosen spiritual people. That is why God is against them (38:3). And He will gather them together (vv. 4-8) for battle (see Rev 16:12-16, 20:8) against His spiritual people – those who are gathered from “many peoples upon the mountains of Israel” (v. 8).
In verse 10 we have our “on that day.” This is the final judgment. The spiritual nations will devise evil against God’s people (vv. 10-13). But “on that day” spiritual Israel will be dwelling securely (our final salvation – v. 14). Coming from the “uttermost parts of the north” (v. 15) speaks of spiritual beings. Satan is part of this army of Gog, and many peoples – the spiritual nations – will be with him. And it will be God that brings them against “my land” (the church) so He can vindicate His holiness before the whole world (v. 16).
In verse 17, God asks (rhetorically) if you (singular) are he (singular) that the prophets of old kept prophesying about – who God would bring against Israel? The singular “you” is Satan, the king of this world. God is saying that the Babylonian event (siege and captivity) is a pointer to the final judgment, when Satan (from the north, like Babylon – see Jer 6:22) and the spiritual nations (the wicked) will come against spiritual Israel. God then predicts a great earthquake (v. 19 – see Rev 16:18) that will throw down the mountains (v. 20 – see Rev 16:20). He will punish the spiritual nations with hailstones (see Rev 16:21) and fire and sulfur (a symbol of judgment throughout the Bible) (v. 23).
Chapter 39 continues the prophecy. God in 39:1-2 repeats that He will gather the spiritual nations and the fallen angels (the “chief prince” represents Satan) and will sovereignly bring them against Him and His people. And then He will destroy them (vv. 3-6). And He will be finally and forever vindicated and will dwell with His people (v. 7). This is “the day” of which God has spoken (throughout the writings of the prophets) (v. 8).
The description of the scale of destruction in verses 9-16 symbolizes the complete destruction of a great multitude. These are the wicked – both man and angel. This is the cleansing of the land (v. 16), which is the removal of sin from the world. Verse 17 continues the picture of utter destruction, but describes it as a great victory for God’s people. It will be a great feast “on the mountains of Israel.” In verses 18, the princes of the earth refers to the fallen angels (see Eph 2:2).1 Their defeat will be our gain.
And God’s glory will fill the earth (v. 21 – see Num 14:21, Isa 60:1-3, Hab 2:14). And He will forever be the God of spiritual Israel, physically in their presence, and they will know Him like never before from that day forward (v. 22). And when this happens, everyone will understand what God’s purpose was for physical Israel, and why He forsook them (vv. 23-24). It was so He could call to Himself His spiritual people, for the sake of His own name (v. 25). Our sins will be forgotten and we will dwell with God forever (v. 26) – all who He gathers from the whole world and through their salvation will vindicate His own holiness (v. 27).
The “exile among the nations” refers back to the Babel event (see above) and the physical nations (v. 28). From them, God will call a spiritual people to dwell in His presence (v. 28). There will be none among the spiritual nations. And we will see Him face to face (see 1 Cor 13:12) when God gives us His Spirit, and completes our salvation (which the Spirit seals us for – see Eph 4:30) (v. 29). This brings us full circle back to our final salvation begun symbolically in chapter 37 by God through the Spirit. Our salvation and the judgment of the wicked will happen on that day that God has promised.
1 Bashan is where, according to Jewish tradition, the angels descended from the mountain of God (see Gen 6:1-4). This would be Mount Hermon, which is where I believe the Garden of Eden (where heaven first met earth – God’s first dwelling place with man) was (see Ps 68:15-16).