I’ve already touched on Ezekiel chapter 37 in the earlier 4 chapter bundle (chapters 36-39). Again, there are just a few points I’d like to highlight for this chapter. First we have to address the obvious reference in the title of this entry. Yes, the famous spiritual song “Dem Bones” was inspired by Ezekiel chapter 37. (Please see this Wikipedia reference for detail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dem_Bones ).
This has undoubtedly made this chapter one of the more famous chapters of Ezekiel’s writings. What is interesting is that as a result of skipping the rest of the entire Book of Ezekiel and jumping to this chapter, some have taken the position that this chapter was intended to justify or validate the Christian theology of Life after Death. Afterall, the chapter describes dry bones – human remains – being reanimated back to life.
However, this brings me back to one of the fundamental principles of the analysis model I’m using to work through Ezekiel’s writings; it brings me to where the name of this blog actually comes from. I’m searching for free and open country, a place of thought that isn’t bound by assumptions arising from a pre-fabbed theological approach. Assuming that this major Prophet, one of the four major prophets, of the Old Testament was concerned with outside or external validation is a critical mistake for any reader of prophetic work.
Ezekiel himself had one, maybe two, purposes for most of what he wrote; to give his people hope while in bondage, and to encourage them to return to their true faith. This was not an exposition into resurrection theology as that was unknown to the Jews of that time period. It was not part of their religious world.
To presume the scope of this writing pertains to a religion other than that which Ezekiel was most familiar with (his own), would be in err. For instance, suppose we have a reader of this chapter who believes that anytime winds blow from all four directions at the same time that the beholder is about to receive good fortune. Then that reader comes across Ezekiel chapter 37 and reads the text about the winds breathing life back into the bones. That reader could suppose that his personal religious views had just been validated. A Christian reader would be dubious of that presumption. Even so, Christian readers must be careful not to presume the presence of their own theology.
Therefore, this passage about dry bones nothing to do with Christian theological views on the afterlife. It has much more to do with justice in the face of persecution, and the eventual restoration of Israel as a unified nation to its sacred ancestral place.
From a ‘return to faith’ perspective this vision reminds the captives in bondage of their origins, the story of Genesis (something that Priest of the Temple, like Ezekiel, would be trained to teach). In Genesis, it is the Breath of God, the wind entering the body formed of earth, which brings to life Adam. Similarly, it was the Breath of God, or the wind, which separated the waters of the Red Sea, thereby providing means of escape to the people of Israel and granting them life. So Ezekiel draws them back to a remembrance of the power of the Breath of God and how it might pertain to them.
Lets also look at where these bones are….in a valley. That is a very low place. That is where victorious armies throw the dead and vanquished – it’s not a place of honor. It’s not a battlefield. These bones are not an army waiting to be returned to life as one commentary stated. These are the bones of all who have been cast aside, those who have suffered from the injustices of the privileged elite of Jerusalem. These are the bones of all who were carried far from their homes and find themselves wanderers in a strange land.
Freeing Israel from the bonds of their captivity, the graves into which they have fallen in the distant lands of their exiles is a message of hope to his people, to his fellow captives. It tells them that not only redemption is possible, but that justice is an aspect of God whom they worship. If they would only return to their true faith, then these qualities would reappear in God. This is entirely consistent with Ezekiel’s overall purpose in writing from the very beginning of his book.
My last note for this chapters is that Ezekiel shows us pure nature of true prophecy: speaking the word of God, telling the mind of God. His examples do not include mystically venturing into forecasting remote events of far distant futures. Ezekiel’s exact descriptions of his process and of his visions negates most commentaries viewpoints on the following two chapters of Ezekiel 38 & 39. I say ‘negates most commentaries’ because most of the opinions I’ve read have focused on time periods wildly beyond the scope of all of the rest of Ezekiel’s. Ezekiel’s mission is that of a restorer of faith to a lost people – giving them something to believe in that affects their lives and the lives of their children.
More on this in the next chapter.