The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. The text is Ezekiel 37:1-14 and is quite familiar to our ears. The text is found in the “apocalyptic” section of Ezekiel and provides the interesting vision of the dry bones being brought to life. This has traditionally also been used as the text for Pentecost Sunday. The various uses of רוּח “spirit, breath, wind” remind us why.
The overall text is considered to be one of the few explicit bodily resurrection texts in the Old Testament. The idea of dead and dry bones being brought to life—or having life restored to them—is very death and resurrection orientated. Some would argue this is more a vision of the restoration of Israel as a nation. Certainly, this should be considered. However, the Hebrews, themselves, would not see the resurrection and the restoration of Israel as being mutually exclusive. In fact, an excellent Jewish scholar, Jon Levenson has written an intriguing book on this very topic: Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel. These two realities are so intertwined among the Hebrews that they cannot be separated!
As we read through the text, רוּח is used 10 times in the 14 verses. And, it appears to be used in 5 different ways: 1) breath, 2) spirit of life, 3) Spirit of the LORD, 4) my Spirit (Holy Spirit), 5) wind. Obviously, there are some significant overlaps of these terms.
Finally, as we look at verses 12-14 we see how this resurrection/restoration is connected to the covenant which the LORD God made with Israel. Remember, there is no life when one is separated from the Promised Land because that will be the place where God will send His Messiah. The people to whom Ezekiel is prophesying are in exile—separated from the Holy Land. To return to the land of Israel is to be resurrected to new life, to be restored. Thus, we see the intertwining of resurrection and restoration.
37:1 וַיּוֹצִאֵנִי (vai-yo-tzi-E-ni) root: יצא (yaw-tsaw) Hiphil: “to cause to be brought out.” The use of the hiphil here and following shows the hand of God at work. The LORD is the causing agent. Notice it was by the “Spirit of the LORD” that Ezekiel was brought out.
וַיְנִיחֵנִי (vay-ni-Che-ni) root: נוח (noo-akh) Hiphil: “to set down; to cause to be set down; to cause to rest”
הַבִּקְעָה (hab-bik-Ah) “valley; plain”
מְלֵאָה. (me-le-Ah) “full; full of”
37:2 וְהֶעֱבִירַנִי> (ve-he-e-vi-Ra-ni) root: עבר (aw-bar) Hiphil: “to lead; to cause to pass over” “He led me…”
סָבִיב סָבִיב (sa-Viv sa-Viv) “…around on all sides”
יְבֵשׁוֹת (ye-ve-Shot) “dry; dried up” The point being conveyed is that they were very dry—there was no life in them.
37:3 בֶּן-אָדָם, (ben a-Dam) “the son of man”
*This title is interesting. In Ezekiel, “son of man” is the title the LORD uses for Ezekiel the Prophet, but in Daniel “Son of Man” is a reference to the Divine. When Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of Man” it must have been confusing as to what He meant—perhaps on purpose.
37:4 הִנָּבֵא (hin-na-Ve) Niphal, imperative: “Prophesy”
שִׁמְעוּ (shim-U) Qal, imperative: “Hear”
37:5 מֵבִיא e (me-Vi) root: בוא (bo) Hiphil, participle: “to come” In this clause it should be translated as “I am about to…”
37:6 גִּידִים (gi-Dim) “tendons; sinews”
וְקָרַמְתִּי (ve-ka-ram-Ti) root: קרם (kaw-ram) Qal: “to cover; to spread” This verb is used only twice in the Old Testament—both times in Ezekiel. (37:8).
עוֹר (or) “skin (of a person)”
37:7 צֻוֵּיתִי (tzuv-Vei-ti) root: צוה (tsaw-vaw) Pual: “to be commanded”
כְּהִנָּבְאִי. (ke-hin-na-ve-I) root: נבא (naw-baw) Niphal, infinitive construct: “as I was prophesying”
רַעַשׁ (Ra-ash) “rustling noise; sound” This is often a sound related to an earthquake in Scripture.
37:8 מִלְמָעְלָה (mil-Ma-e-lah) adverb: “from above; above”
37:9 וּפְחִי (u-fe-Chi) root: נפח (naw-fakh) Qal: “to breathe; to blow”
37:10 וְהִנַּבֵּאתִי (ve-hin-nab-Be-ti) root: נבא (naw-baw) Hithpael: “to prophesy” “So I prophesied” The expected ת of the hithpael has been assimilated into the נ
37:11 יָבְשׁו Qal: (ya-ve-Shu) “to be dry; dried up”
תִקְוָתֵנוּ (tik-va-Te-nu) “outcome; things hoped for; hope”
נִגְזַרְנוּ (nig-Zar-nu) root: גזר (gaw-zar) Niphal: “to be cut off; to be destroyed” The language of “cut off” reminds us of being cut off from the covenant—he who is not cut will be cut off. This sets up the covenantal language to follow.
37:12 פֹתֵחַ (fo-Te-ach) Qal, participle: “to open”
קִבְרוֹתֵיכֶםi מִקִּבְרוֹתֵיכֶם (mik-kiv-ro-tei-Chem kiv-ro-tei-Chem) from: קבר (keh-ber) “grave; tomb; your graves”
37:14 וְהִנַּחְתִּי (ve-hin-nach-Ti) root: נוח (new-akh) Hiphal: “to place; put; to settle”
I am including a short sermon I preached on this text some time ago:
TITLE: Revived Bones
Return to Eden! Back to the Garden! Thus the cry of the people of God; the cry through the centuries; the cry through the Church from age to age. Return to Eden! Back to the Garden! Return to the Promised Land! Hold to the narrow path and enter the everlasting gates! Return to Eden!
Ah, but the land lies desolate, barren in the desert winds. The streets of the city are no longer a habitat for humanity, rather, a home for wild beasts and the carrion birds of prey of the wilderness. The Holy Place is no more, not one stone left upon another. Brambles choke the street. Thorns and briars have overtaken the vineyard. Death and destruction are all around. Where is Eden? Where is the Garden? Where is the Holy City with the Holy Place? Where is the pleasant planting of the LORD?
The bones of the people litter the valley, dried up, lifeless in the scorching heat of the evil day. They are very dry. Can these bones live? Can life return to ones such as these? Can they be raised? Can they return to the Garden from which they were driven? They are very dry; there is no life in them. Can these bones live? O LORD God, You know!
Indeed, the LORD knows! He who created the life of man and blew His breath into his nostrils, He knows. He who speaks His Word and the wind and the waves obey, He knows. He who sends forth His Spirit to bring forth life, He knows. He who is the commander of life and death demands that these bones live! “Prophesy to the bones, send forth my Word, let my breath enter into them!” And the rattling together begins.
Though sin, death and Satan had sucked the life juices from us all and left us very dry; though the slings and arrows of the wicked one had driven us to the pit; though the torments of our flesh and blood and the drama of our godless world had despaired us of all hope, the Spirit still hovered over the deep waiting to bring life. And the LORD declares, “Let there be life!” “I will cause my breath to enter into you and you shall live.” Those who despaired of hope, who were clean cut off, are given new life. Those whose flesh has been destroyed shall now from their flesh see God. Life and its flesh and blood are restored by the sacrificed flesh and blood of the Holy One of God. Life and the Spirit breath are breathed into the dead as the Holy One breathes His last. Life and the hope it brings is restored by the One who is the hope of us all.
Life and its flesh and blood are restored by the sacrificed flesh and blood of the Holy One of God.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? His tomb was empty and we too shall be raised. The flesh of our Old Adam has been destroyed in the waters and the flesh of our New Adam has been raised up that we might see God. We, who once despaired of hope, are restored with the hope of the resurrection. We, who once were held captive behind the gates of hell, are freed to enter through the gates of everlasting life.
Go, preach, teach, baptize—the Spirit of the LORD has been poured out upon you; the Spirit of the LORD now dwells within you. Know that the LORD is God for He has opened your graves and raised you up, for just as Christ was raised from the dead, so you also shall rise. Your dry bones have been revived by the breath; the new life of the Spirit is yours. Return to Eden, for the gates of the Promised Land stand open before you; back to the Garden, for the flaming sword of the Cherubim has been quenched. Return to Eden for the Holy City is yours. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 37:1-14.