Lexical Analysis (Word Study)
The word “spirit” is used in the phrase “the Lord’s spirit” (Ezek. 37:1), and it is also related to the word “breath” that is used in verses 5, 6, 8, and the word “wind” that is used in verse 9. The reason is that these words are translations of one Hebrew term “ruah”, and this word is used to define the part of the Holy Spirit that gives life. The other meanings of the word are related to the definition of the human’s immortal part such as a soul. From this point, the word “spirit” can usually be used as a synonym to the word “soul” in the Biblical texts (Ryken, Wilhoit, & Longman, 2010, p. 391). However, in the context of Ezekiel’s message, the word “spirit” is directly related to God’s “breath” and “wind” that is not only the movement of the air created by God but also an invisible breath that can give life to everything because of having the specific energy associated with God’s powers (Unger, 2009, p. 78). Moreover, in the context of Ezekiel 37, the connection of “spirit” and “breath” is more obvious because winds in the desert are often hot and destructing in contrast to the spirit that can breathe life into dry bones, and the word “winds” are used in the text to denote the sides of the world (Ezek. 37:9).
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The word “prophesy” mentioned in the text is a verb in its imperative form that is used in the text four times, and it aims to proclaim God’s Word and declare God’s messages. In the Bible, prophets are those humans close to God who are directed by the Holy Spirit, and they can proclaim the messages of God, or prophesy while being ruled by God’s will (Unger, 2009, p. 345). “To prophesy” also means “to predict”, however, in the context of Ezekiel’s text, “to prophesy” means ‘to proclaim God’s will’ (Ryken et al., 2010, p. 670). When the verb is used in its imperative form, as it is in verses 4, 9, 12, it is appropriate to interpret the words as God’s commands. Thus, Ezekiel is commanded by God to proclaim His Holy Word and declare His will while letting the divine breath make the dry bones live.
“A covenant of peace”
The term “covenant” is often used to describe the transactions between men as well as between God and a man in terms of a testament. In covenants, people need to refer to certain conditions to receive the determined advantages (Unger, 2009, p. 89). However, when the covenant is made between God and a man, the main focus is on God’s promise and the man’s obedience, as it is in the text (Ryken et al., 2010, p. 8). “A covenant of peace” for the people of Israel is based on God’s promise to guarantee peace and protection and on the man’s faith and obedience to God’s will (Ezek. 37:26). As a result, the covenant can be working only when the people of Israel are obedient and trust their God.
The genre of Ezekiel 37 can be defined as the prophet’s oracle or judgment that also has the features of the message of deliverance. This genre is typical for the other prophetic books, including Major Prophets’ books and oracles written by Isaiah and Jeremiah. These prophecies of judgment are usually written in the first person, and they are autobiographical. Thus, Ezekiel 37 describes the vision of the prophet and his personal experience while referring to the oracle and the messages of deliverance. The text also includes the features of a lament in verse 11 that is used to demonstrate the pain of the people of Israel using the metaphorical image of dried bones. Judgment and messages of deliverance had a significant impact on the ancient readers because they demonstrated the people’s pain and God’s will, and they also provided the hope for salvation. Concerning Ezekiel 37, the final verses of the text are most influential because they declare the creation of the new covenant, and they provide the hope for salvation for the people of Israel, especially, while referring to the discussed resurrection of dead bones. In this context, the oracle is rather influential and promising for the people.
The meaning and mood of the prophecies presented in Ezekiel 37 can be explained with references to the content of the other chapters of the Book of Ezekiel. The large part of the book is related to the prophecies on Israel’s final restoration. In this context, Ezekiel 37 presents the vivid oracle that is full of images to discuss the restoration of the people of Israel who will receive the protection of God because of their new covenant of peace. From this point, Ezekiel declares the restoration of the land in preceding parts, proclaims the restoration of the people in Ezekiel 36 and 37, and points at the judgment of enemies in Ezekiel 38-39. As a result, the surrounding chapters and verses help understand that Ezekiel 37 presents the metaphor of dry bones to accentuate the hopelessness of the people of Israel and to state that they will be protected and restored according to God’s will and divine powers while following the covenant of peace.
The text of Ezekiel 37 was written by the prophet known as Ezekiel, who was the son of Buzi and served as a priest during the period of the Babylonian exile, 597-571 BC. The conclusions regarding the biographical information are made referring to the data provided in the first parts of the Book of Ezekiel. As a result, this information cannot be effectively proved. Furthermore, there are significant debates regarding the authorship because it is possible to assume that the large part of the book was written later, and Ezekiel can be regarded as an author of only a few verses (Ryken et al., 2010, p. 78). The purpose and mood of the book are correlated with the fact that Ezekiel prophesied to support the people of Israel during the Babylonian exile when the kings and leaders of Jerusalem and Judea were deported to Babylon (Unger, 2009, p. 112). During this period, the people of Israel suffered not only from the physical pain but also from the loss of hope and even faith. In this context, the text of Ezekiel 37 represents sufferings of the people with the help of the metaphorical image of the dried bones as well as with the focus on the words similar to the lament, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished” (Ezek. 37:11). Prophesying the resurrection from death, Ezekiel provides the hope for the people of Israel for the following restoration of the nation. Therefore, Ezekiel 37 is often discussed as having the purpose to comfort the people, with references to those people who suffered from the Babylonian exile.
Descriptive theological observations
It is important to discuss implicit and explicit theological questions in Ezekiel 37. If the discussion of the reunification of Israel’s people and kingdoms seems to be rather explicit, the metaphorical statements about the dry bones and declarations of the covenant are rather implicit. In this context, Ezekiel 37 seems to state that God is powerful, and His forces are enough not only to make the dead bones alive but also to restore the whole nation and make the people protected. In this case, the only condition is the focus on the “covenant of peace”. Thus, the phrase “It will be their covenant forever” can be interpreted as both related to the everlasting divine protection and the necessity of the people of Israel to focus on the covenant as an agreement to “increase” and develop in the future (Ezek. 37:25). Moreover, the prophet proclaims the restoration of Israel in terms of reunification of kingdoms, and this statement is important to explain how people need to interact with each other and with God. The people “will no longer defile themselves with their idols or their worthless things or with any of their rebellions”, and they will be “cleansed” (Ezek. 37:23). This verse is important to demonstrate the path for the nation that is following God’s Word and will. Therefore, the ancient community believed the text because it provided the hope for restoration and God’s protection.
While discussing the appropriateness of the text’s message for the modern community, it is important to focus on it as a statement of God’s powers, a message of hope, and as a statement of God’s laws. Modern people can be motivated to believe in the powers of God while referring to the idea that God’s forces and energy are enough to breathe life in dry bones and to resurrect the dead people. Concerning the message of hope, modern people can perceive the text as the statement of God’s love toward the people of Israel because God did not leave hopeless men who suffered from the Babylonian exile and who were like “dry bones”. Thus, people have the hope when God proclaims with the help of the prophet that “They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezek. 37:23). Nevertheless, the most important message is associated with the idea of a covenant described in Ezekiel 37. It is stated in the text that the united people of Israel will receive the protection and they will be discussed as the people of God forever, but it is important to follow God’s laws because it is noted in the text, “They will follow my case laws and carefully observe my regulations” (Ezek. 37:24). From this point, people are motivated to follow God’s prescriptions and laws to receive God’s protection, be restored, secured, and sheltered forever. The text teaches that only those nations who follow covenants with God can be completely protected.
Holy Bible: Common English Bible. (2012). Nashville, TN: Common English Bible.
Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., & Longman, T. (2010). Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. New York, NY: InterVarsity Press.
Unger, M. (2009). The new Unger’s Bible dictionary. New York, NY: Moody Publishers.