Saturday, June 3rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ ezekiel-37.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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This chapter embraces, in its earlier section (Ezekiel 37:1-14), the concluding portion of the "word of God" begun at Ezekiel 36:16; in its later section (Ezekiel 36:15-28), an additional "word," to which the former naturally leads. The earlier, under the figure of a resurrection of dry bones, beheld by the prophet in vision, describes the political and religious reawakening of Israel; in the later is depicted, by means of a symbolic action, the reunion of its two branches. The first divides itself into two parts—the vision (Ezekiel 36:1-10) and its interpretation (Ezekiel 36:11-14). The vision was to all appearance designed to meet the objections the preceding picture of Israel's future glory might naturally be expected to call forth. It was true that in the past Israel had often suffered a decline in her national life, and as often experienced a revival. But with the fall of her capital, the burning of her temple, the slaughter of her people, and the expatriation of her nobles, her life was henceforth extinct; and to speak of returning prosperity to her in such a condition was like talking of the restoration of vitality to withered bones. Besides, the exiles were, comparatively speaking, only a handful, and to picture Judah's waste cities as being filled with flocks of men was like mocking the dejected with hopes certain to be dashed to the ground. The Exposition will show how the vision was fitted to dispel such despondent reflections. Yet diversity of sentiment prevails as to whether the vision was intended to predict an actual resurrection of the physically dead at the end of time, or merely to symbolize an ideal resurrection of Israel, then nationally dead.
1. The view, that what the prophet beheld in vision was the final resurrection of mankind, though favored by Jerome, Calovius, and Kliefoth, must be abandoned, not because the doctrine of a general resurrection would not have been a powerful consolation to the pious-hearted in Israel, or because that doctrine was not then known, but because, in the prophet's own explanation, the bones are declared to be those, not of the whole family of man, but merely of the house of Israel. At the same time, those interpreters are right who, like Hengstenberg, Keil, and Plumptre, hold that, even if the doctrine of a general resurrection had not been current in Ezekiel's time, this vision was enough to call it into existence, and even to lend strong probability to its truth.
2. Accordingly, the view is commonly preferred that, while an objective reality to the prophet's mind, and by no means a mere rhetorical garb for its conceptions, the vision was designed as a symbolic representation of Israel's resuscitation; though here again opinions diverge both as to what formed the mental background for the prophet's use of such a symbol, and as to how it served to suggest the thought of Israel's revival. While some, like Jerome and Hengstenberg, as above indicated, regard "the doctrine of the proper resurrection" as "the presupposition of the expanded figurative representation," others, with Havernick, find its historical basis in such instances of raising from the dead as were performed by Elijah and Elisha, and perhaps also in such passages as Isaiah 26:19. If Smend thinks the vision was intended to assist Israel merely by suggesting that "the unbelievable might happen," and Havernick that it was designed to inspire hope by presenting to the mind a lively picture of the creative, life-giving power of God, "which can raise even dead bones to life again," Ewald finds its chief power to console in the thought "that the nation or individual which does not despair of the Divine Spirit will not be forsaken of this Spirit in any situation, but will always be borne on by it to new life."
The hand of the Lord was upon me. The absence of the customary "and" (comp. Ezekiel 1:1, Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14, Ezekiel 3:22), wanting only once again (Ezekiel 40:1), appears to indicate something extraordinary and unusual in the prophet's experience. In the words of Ewald, such a never-beheld sight one sees freely (by itself) in a moment of higher inspiration or never;" and that in this whole vision the prophet was the subject of a special and intensified inspiration is evident, not alone from the contents of the vision, but also from the language in which it is recorded. And carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord. So the Vulgate and Hitzig—a translation which Smend thinks might be justified by an appeal to Ezekiel 11:24, in which the similar phrase, "Spirit of God (Elohim)," occurs; though, with Grotius, Havernick, Keil, and others, he prefers the rendering of the LXX; "And Jehovah carried me out in the Spirit." The Revised Version combines the two thus: "And he carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord." Keil suggests that the words, "of God," in Ezekiel 11:24, were omitted here because of the word "Jehovah" immediately following. And set me down in the midst of the valley. As the article indicates, the valley in the neighborhood of Tel-Abib, where the prophet received his first instructions concerning his mission (Ezekiel 3:22); although Hengstenberg holds, wrongly we think, that "the valley here has nothing to do with the valley in Ezekiel 3:22." Which (literally, and it) was full of bones; i.e. of men who had been slaughtered there (Ezekiel 3:9; comp. Ezekiel 39:11), and whose corpses had been left unburied upon the face of the plain (Ezekiel 3:3), so that they were seen by the prophet. Whether these bones were actually in the valley, or merely formed part of the vision, can only be conjectured, though the latter opinion seems the more probable. At the same time, such a plain as is here depicted may well have been a battle-ground on which Assyrian and Chaldean armies had often met.
And he caused me to pass by them round about. Not over, as Keil, Klie-foth, and Plumptre translate, but round about them, so as to view them from every side. The result of the prophet's inspection of the bones was to excite within him a feeling of surprise which expressed itself in a twofold behold; the first occasioned by a contemplation of their number, very many, and their situation, in the open valley, literally, upon the face of the valley; i.e. not underground, where they could not have been seen, but upon the surface of the soil, and not piled up in heaps, but scattered over the ground; and the second by a discernment of their condition as very dry, so bleached and withered as to foreclose, not the possibility alone, but also the thought of their resuscitation.
Son of man, can these bones live? Whether or not this question was directed, as Plumptre surmises, to meet despairing thoughts which had arisen in the prophet's own mind, it seems reasonable to hold, with Havernick, that the question was addressed to him as representing "ever against God the people, and certainly as to this point the natural and purely human consciousness of the same," to which Israel's restoration appeared as unlikely an occurrence as the reanimation of the withered bones that lay around. The extreme improbability, if not absolute impossibility, of the occurrence, at least to human reason and power, is perhaps pointed at in the designation "Son of man" here given to the prophet. The prophet's answer, O Lord God, thou knowest, is not to be interpreted as proving that to the prophet hitherto the thought of a resurrection had been unfamiliar, if not completely absent, or as giving a direct reply either affirmative or negative to the question proposed to him, but merely as expressing the prophet's sense of the greatness of the wonder suggested to his mind, with perhaps a latent acknowledgment that God alone had the power by which such a wonder could, and therefore alone also the knowledge whether it would, be accomplished (comp. Revelation 7:14).
Prophesy upon (or, over) then bones. This instruction—which shows Jehovah regarded the prophet's answer as equivalent to an admission that the revivification of the bones lay within his (Jehovah's) power—was not a mere command to predict, as in Ezekiel 6:2 and Ezekiel 11:4, but an injunction to utter the Divine word through which the miracle (of creation, as it really was) should be performed. "The significance of the command lies in the fact that it taught the prophet that he was himself to be instrumental in the great work of resuscitation. He who had been so often troubled with the sense of impotence and failure, who had heard the people say of him, 'Both he not speak parables?' who had been to them as the lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and nothing more than that, was at last to learn that the word of the Lord,' spoken by his lips, was mighty, and would not return to him void" (Plumptre).
I will cause breath to eater into you; literally, I am causing breath (or, spirit) to enter into you. The real agent, therefore, in the resuscitation of the bones was to be, not the prophet or the word, but Jehovah himself; and that the end aimed at by the Divine activity was "life" shows the breath spoken of (ruach) was not to be the wind, as in Ezekiel 37:9, or the Spirit, but the breath of life, as in Genesis 6:17 and Genesis 7:22 (comp. Genesis 2:7; Psalms 104:30; Isaiah 26:19).
The process of revivification is now divided into two stages—a preliminary stage which should effect the reconstruction of the external skeleton, by bringing together its different parts and clothing them with sinews, flesh, and skin (comp. Job 10:11); and a finishing stage, which should consist in animating, or "putting breath in" the reconstructed skeleton; corresponding so the two stages into which the process of man's original creation was divided (Genesis 2:7). The result would be that the resurrected and reanimated bones, like newly made man, would know the Lord.
Ezekiel 37:7, Ezekiel 37:8
So I prophesied as I was commanded. The words uttered were without doubt those of Ezekiel 37:4-6. The effect produced is depicted in its various steps. First, there resulted a noise—literally, a voice—which the Revisers take to have been "a thundering;" and Havernick, Keil, Smend, and others, "a sound" in general; but which Ewald, Hengstenberg, and Schroder, with more propriety, regard as having been an audible voice, if not, as Kliefoth supposes, the trumpet-blast or "voice of God," which, according to certain New Testament passages, shall precede the resurrection and awaken the dead (John 5:25, John 5:28; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16); perhaps, as Plumptre suggests, the "counterpart" thereof. Next, a shaking, σεισμὸς (LXX.); which the Revisers, following Kliefoth, understand to have been an earthquake, as in 1 Kings 19:11; Amos 1:1; Zechariah 1:1; Zechariah 14:5 (comp. Matthew 27:51), and Ewald explains as "a peal of thunder running through the entire announcement," as in Ezekiel 3:12, Ezekiel 3:13 and Ezekiel 38:19, Ezekiel 38:20; but which is better interpreted by Keil, Smend, and others as a rustling proceeding from a movement among the bones. Thirdly, the bones came together in the body as a whole, and in particular bone to his bone; i.e. each bone to the bone with which it was designed to be united, as e.g. "the upper to the lower part of the arm" (Schroder). Lastly, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above; or, as in the Revised Version, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up and skin covered them above; precisely as Jehovah had announced to the prophet would take place (Ezekiel 38:6). Yet, though the external framework of the bodies was finished, there was no breath in them—ruach having still the same import as in Ezekiel 38:5. With this the preliminary stage in the reanimating process terminated.
The finishing stage began by the prophet receiving a command to prophesy unto the wind (better, breath, or spirit), and to summon it from the four "breaths," or "winds" (in this case the preferable rendering), that it might breathe upon the slain. "Four winds" are mentioned, as in Ezekiel 40:20, to indicate the four quarters of heaven (comp. Ezekiel 5:10, Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 12:14; Ezekiel 17:21), and perhaps also to suggest the immense quantity of vitalizing force demanded by the multitude of the dead (Smend), "the fullness and force of the Spirit's operations" (Hengstenberg), or the notion that the Spirit, in resuscitating Israel, would make use of all the varied forces that were then working in the world (Plumptre). The designation of the dead as slain reveals that the resurrection intended was not that of men in general, but of the nation of Israel.
An exceeding great army. This harmonizes with the feature in the vision which describes the bones as those of slain men, while also it may be viewed as foreshadowing the future destiny of Israel. "The bones of the slain on the field of battle, having been brought together, clothed with flesh, and a new life breathed into them, now they stand up, not as 'a mixed multitude,' but as 'an exceeding great army' prepared to take their part in the wars of Jehovah under new and happier conditions" (Plumptre). (On the phrase, "to stand upon the feet," comp. Ezekiel 2:1; Zechariah 14:12; Revelation 11:11.)
contain, according to most commentators, the Divine interpretation of the vision, Kliefoth alone contending that they furnish, not so much an exposition of the vision—which, he thinks, must be explained independently, and which he regards as teaching the future resurrection of God's people—as an application to Israel's ease of the doctrine contained in the vision.
These bones are the whole house of Israel. On the principle that "God is his own best interpreter," it should not be difficult to see that, whatever foreshadowings of the final resurrection of the just may be contained in the vision, its primary intention was to depict the political and national restoration of Israel (Ephraim and Judah) whose condition at the time the field of withered bones appropriately represented. That Hitzig errs in supposing the "bones" alluded to in this verse symbolized the portions of Ephraim and Judah then dead, instead of the portions still living (in exile), who considered themselves as practically dead, is apparent from the words that follow. Behold, they say. The complaint was manifestly taken from the popular sayings current among the people of the exile. Broken up, dispersed, expatriated, and despairing, the members of what had once been "the whole house of Israel" felt there was no hope more of recovering national life and unity. The cheerless character of the outlook they expressed by saying, Our bones (not the bones of the dead, but of the living) are dried—meaning, "The vital force of our nation is gone" (the bones being regarded in Scripture as the seat of the vital force comp. Psalms 32:3)—our hope is lost—our hope, i.e; of ever again returning to our own land or regaining national existence—and we are out off for our parts; literally, we are cut off for ourselves; which Gesenius explains to mean, "We are lost," taking לָנוּ as a dativus pleonastteus ; Hitzig, "We are reduced to ourselves;" Delitzsch and Keil, "We are cut off from the land of the living," i.e. it is all over with us; Hengstenberg, "We are cut off—a sad fact for us;" Revised Version, "We are clean cut off;" any one of which renders the force of the words (scrap. Lamentations 3:54).
I will open your graves. That this is not exact interpretation of the foregoing symbol may be argued from the fact that in the vision no mention is made of graves; yet the discrepancy to which it is supposed to point is more apparent than real. If the prophet was to see the bones, it was requisite that these should be above ground rather than beneath. On the other hand, when one speaks of a grave, it is not needful to always think of an underground tomb. To all intents and purposes a person is in his grave when, life being extinct, his body has returned to the dust. So, the opening of graves promised in Scripture is not so much, or always, the cleaving asunder of material sepulchers, as the bringing back to life of those whose bodies have returned to the dust. Hence the opening of Israel's graves could only signify the reawakening of the politically and religiously dead people to national and spiritual life. This was the first step in the restoration of the future held up before the minds of the despairing people. The second, indicated by the clause, and allah put my Spirit in you, pointed, as in Ezekiel 36:26, Ezekiel 36:27, to their future endowment with higher moral and spiritual life than they had previously possessed, and not merely, as in Ezekiel 36:5, Ezekiel 36:6, to their political and national resuscitation (Smend). The last step, the re-establishment of the reconstructed nation in Palestine, was guaranteed by the word, I will place you in your own land. The circumstance that this is twice repeated (Ezekiel 36:12, Ezekiel 36:14) shows that whatever view be entertained of the ultimate occupation of Canaan by Israel, this was the goal towards which the vision looked. That it received partial, limited, and temporary fulfillment of a literal kind in the restoration under Zerubbabel and Ezra, is undeniable; that it will ever obtain historical realization of a permanent sort is doubtful; that it will eventually find its highest significance when God's spiritual Israel, the Church of Christ, takes possession of the heavenly Canaan, is one of the clearest and surest announcements of Scripture.
NOTE.—On the above nine verses (6-14) Plumptre writes, "We can scarcely fail to find, in our Lord's words in John 5:1-47; something like an echo of Ezekiel's teaching. There also, though the truth of the general resurrection is declared more clearly, the primary thought is that of a spiritual resurrection. Further, we may note that the complement of Ezekiel's message is found in the language of Daniel 12:2. Taking the two together, we find both reproduced in the teaching of John 5:1-47." (manuscript notes).
The "word" embodied in this section was probably communicated to the prophet at the close of the preceding vision. Its connection with this is apparent, treating as it does of the union of the then severed branches of the house of Israel, and of the subsequent prosperity which should attend united Israel under the rule of the Messianic King of the future. That this oracle, like the former, had only a temporary and partial accomplishment in the return from captivity is so obvious as to stand in no need of demonstration. Its true fulfillment must be sought in the future ingathering of Israel to the Christian Church.
Take thee one stick, and write. The symbolic action thus prescribed to the prophet was manifestly based on the well-known historical fact that the tribes of Israel, in Mosaic times, had been represented by a rod, on which was inscribed the name of the tribe (Numbers 17:2); but whether the stick Ezekiel was instructed to take was a staff, ῥάβδος (LXX; Hirernick, Hitzig, Kliefoth, and Smend), or a block (Ewald), or simply a piece (Keil, Schroder) of wood on which a few words might be traced, cannot be decided. On the first stick the prophet was directed to write, For Judah, and the house of his companions; i.e. for the southern kingdom and those of the northern tribes who adhered to it, as e.g. Benjamin, Levi, and part of Simeon, with those devout Jehovah-worshippers who from time to time emigrated from other tribes and settled in the land of Judah (2 Chronicles 11:12-16; 2 Chronicles 15:9; 2 Chronicles 30:11, 2Ch 30:18, 31; 2 Chronicles 31:1; though by Wellhausen, Smend, and others, such passages are pronounced unhistorical). On the second stick also the prophet was directed to write; but whether For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and for (or, of) all the house of Israel his companions (Authorized and Revised Versions), or "For Joseph and the whole house of Israel" (Keil), or simply "For Joseph" (Ewald, Havernick, Smend), cannot be determined. Each interpretation can be supported by quite reasonable considerations. For the first may be pleaded that it best accords with the natural sense of the text; for the second, that the phrase, the stick of Ephraim, appears to be explanatory of and in opposition to "For Joseph;" for the third, that all the house of Israel stands, like "Ephraim," under the regimen of "stick." The introduction of Joseph as the representative of the northern kingdom rests, not on the fact that Joseph's was the most honorable name among the ten tribes (Havernick), but on the circumstance that the tribe of Joseph, as represented by Ephraim and Manasseh, constituted the main body of the northern kingdom. The addition of Ephraim's name is best accounted for by remembering that in his hand lay the hegemony of the kingdom. "All the house of Israel his companions" signified the rest of the ten tribes. That the two sticks, when joined together in the prophet's hand, were to become one cannot signify that they were then and there to be miraculously united.
Wilt thou not show us what thou meanest by these? literally, what these (two pieces of wood) are to thee. The suggestion that such a request would be preferred to Ezekiel makes it clear he was meant to perform the symbolic action in public. That his countrymen should fail to understand this action accorded with their proverbial dullness of apprehension (comp. Ezekiel 12:9; Ezekiel 24:19). In explanation, the prophet was enjoined to say unto them, while holding the sticks in his hand, that just as he had made the sticks one in his hand, so would God make one in his hand the two kingdoms symbolized by the sticks. The union of the sticks was to be Ezekiel's work (verse 17, "in thy hand"); the union of the kingdoms should be Jehovah's (verse 19, "in my hand"). The separation of the kingdoms had been Ephraim's doing ("in the hand of Ephraim"); their combination should be God's ("in my hand"). Their severance had been effected, on the part of Ephraim, by an unlawful breaking off from the house of Judah, and the establishment of an independent kingdom; their unification should be brought about by the putting down of Ephraim, and the confirming of the crown rights of Judah. The translation, And will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, signifying "And will put the tribes of Israel with him." i.e. the tribe of Judah, supported by the LXX; and preferred by Ewald, Smend, and others, is superior to that of the Revised Version margin, "And will put them together with it, unto [or, ' to be'] the stick of Judah." Keil s rendering, "I will take the stick of Joseph … and the tribes of Israel his companions, which I put thereon [literally, 'and I put them,' viz. the tribes, 'upon it,' i.e. the stick of Joseph] with the stick of Judah," is too involved.
explain how the unification of the two kingdoms should be brought about. The first step should be the bringing of the people home to their own land (Ezekiel 37:21, Ezekiel 37:22); the second, their purification from idolatry (Ezekiel 37:23); the third, the installation over them, thus united and purified, of one King, the ideal David of the future, or the Messiah (Ezekiel 37:24, Ezekiel 37:25); the fourth, the establishment with them of Jehovah's covenant of peace (Ezekiel 37:26), and the permanent erection amongst them of Jehovah's temple (Ezekiel 37:27, Ezekiel 37:28).
Ezekiel 37:21, Ezekiel 37:22
I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen. That tills promise was intended to find an initial and partial fulfillment in the return from Babylon is undoubted. That it was also designed to look across the centuries towards the final ingathering of God's spiritual Israel into their permanent inheritance, the heavenly Canaan, an examination of its terms shows. These clearly presuppose a wider dispersion of Israel than had then, i.e. in Ezekiel's day, taken place; and that Israel has never yet been made one nation upon the mountains of Israel, is incontestable. Nor is there ground for expecting she ever will be. Not even after the exile closed did all Israel return to Palestine. Nor did it ever come true in their experience that one king was king to them all, since, in point of fact, they never afterwards had an earthly sore-reign at all who was properly independent. If, therefore, the prince who in the future should shepherd them was not to be a temporal monarch, but the Messiah, the probability is that the Israel he should shepherd was designed to be, not Israel after the flesh, but Israel after the spirit, who should walk in his judgments and observe his statutes, and who, in the fullness of the times, should develop out into the Christian Church. Hence it seems reasonable to conclude that their own land, into which they should eventually be brought, would be not so much the veritable soil from which their ancestors had been expelled, as the country or region in which the new, rejuvenated, reunited, and reformed Israel should dwell, which, again, should be n territory cleansed from sin and idolatry, so as to render it a fit abode for a people devoted to righteousness. Viewed in this light, their own land was first Canaan, in so far as after the exile it was cleansed from idolatry; now it is those portions of the earth in which the Christian Church has been planted, so far as these are influenced by the holy principles of religion; finally, it will be the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (scrap. Ezekiel 34:24; Ezekiel 36:24).
The dwelling-places wherein they have sinned, from which Jehovah premises to save them, are in accordance with the views expressed above, not, as Hengstenberg and Hitzig conjecture, the dwelling-places of the exile in which the people then were, but the dwelling-places in Canaan in which they had formerly transgressed, but would in future be preserved from transgressing. The idea is, as Schroder suggests, the localization of transgression which is viewed as proceeding from the dwelling-places in which it is committed; or, according to Plumptre, the conception is that, as their habitations had formerly been contaminated by their detestable things, "the worship of teraphim and such like, if not worse," so Jehovah would save them from that contamination. The proposal to alter the text by the transposition of a letter, converting moshbhothehem, "dwelling-places," into meshubhothehem," defections," as in Jeremiah 3:22 (comp. Ezekiel 36:29), though adopted by some ancient versions and favored by Ewald and Smend, is not necessary.
The phrase, my servant David (comp. Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24; Jeremiah 33:21, Jeremiah 33:22, Jeremiah 33:26; Psalms 78:70; Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:20; Psalms 144:10), goes back to the Messianic promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16, and cannot be satisfactorily explained as signifying the Davidic house (Smend), or as pointing to "a line of true rulers, each faithfully representing the ideal David as the faithful Ruler, the true Shepherd of his people" (Plumptre, on Ezekiel 34:23), inasmuch as Israel, after Ezekiel's day, never possessed any such line of rulers, and certainly no such line continued forever. The only feasible exegesis is that which understands Jehovah's servant David to be Messiah, or Jesus Christ, of whom the writer to the Hebrews (Ezekiel 1:8) says. "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever."
Ezekiel 37:26, Ezekiel 37:27
With the people thus gathered (Ezekiel 37:21), united (Ezekiel 37:22), purified (Ezekiel 37:23), and established under the rule of Messiah (Ezekiel 37:25), Jehovah makes a covenant of peace (see on Ezekiel 34:25; and comp. Psalms 89:3), further characterized as an everlasting covenant; or, covenant of eternity (see on Ezekiel 16:60; and comp. Genesis 17:7; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 32:40); which guarantees the continuance between him and them of undying friendship, conjoined with the bestowment on his part and the enjoyment on theirs of the highest social and religious blessings. First, national existence and secure possession of the soil. I will place (literally, give) them, either to their land, as in Ezekiel 17:22 (Smend), or to be a nation (Keil), or perhaps both (Kliefoth). Next, steady increase of population—I will multiply them (comp. Ezekiel 36:37; Le Ezekiel 26:9). Thirdly, perpetual residence of Jehovah amongst them, I will set (or, give) my sanctuary (mikdashi, conveying the idea of sanctity) in the midst of them for evermore (comp. Le Ezekiel 26:11); my tabernacle (mishkani, the idea being that of residence or dwelling) also shall be with them; or, over them—the figure being derived from the elevated site of the temple, which overhung the city (Psalms 69:29), and intended to suggest the idea of Jehovah's protecting grace. That this promise was in part implemented by the erection of the second temple in the days of Zerubbabel may be conceded, and also that Ezekiel himself may have looked forward to a literal restoration of the sanctuary; but its highest realization must be sought for, first in the Incarnation (John 1:14), next in God's inhabitation of the Church through the Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:16), and finally in his tabernacling with redeemed men in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:22). The last blessing specified is the intimate communion of God with his people, and of them with him—Yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. This, which formed the kernel of the old covenant with Israel (Le Ezekiel 26:12), became the essence of the new covenant with the Israel of the restoration (Ezekiel 11:20; Ezekiel 36:28; Jeremiah 30:22; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:38; Zechariah 8:8; Zechariah 13:9), but only attained to complete realization in the relation of Christian believers to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 6:16).
describes the effect which such a glorious transformation of Israel's character and condition, should produce upon the heathen world. They should recognize from his presence amongst his people, symbolized by the establishment in their midst of his sanctuary, that he had both the power and the will to sanctify them, by making them inwardly as well as outwardly holy; and, recognizing this, they would seek admittance to the congregation and fellowship of God's spiritual Israel.
The valley of dry bones.
I. A VISION OF RESTORATION. Undoubtedly, the restoration of Israel is the immediate thought in the mind of Ezekiel. He sees his people stricken to death. The nation is virtually dead. The exiled citizens of Jerusalem have lost all spirit and energy. But with the restoration will come a restored energy to the people. The nation also will once more rise up as from the dead. These resurrections of communities have been seen more than once in history; e.g. when papal Rome rose on the ashes of imperial Rome, when Germany was reunited under the Emperor William, when France astonished the world by her renewed strength and prosperity after the terrible invasion of 1870. But while this material form of national resurrection is not infrequent, a moral resurrection is more rare. Byron was enthusiastic for the liberation of Greece, and our age has witnessed the establishment of a free Greek kingdom at Athens. But it remains to be seen whether the genius of ancient Greece will ever return to its old seat. Athens may be rebuilt, and yet Athene (the goddess of intellect) may still slumber in the grave. A true national restoration is only possible as a work of God. Degenerate nations need more than liberation from external tyranny—they need national regeneration.
II. A VISION OF REDEMPTION. The people could not be truly restored unless they were reformed and renewed in heart and character. Hence the strange and striking form in which the promise of restoration is given. It appears as a resurrection. What happened to ancient Israel happens to all the people of God. They are restored to true life and prosperity by means of a spiritual resurrection. Souls are dead in sin. The world is like a valley of dry bones—ugly in its wickedness, helpless in its confusion, utterly unable to save itself. But Christ has come to give new life to the souls of men. His resurrection is a type of the soul's resurrection. St. Paul assumes that Christians are "risen with Christ" (Colossians 3:1). The gospel is thus supremely a message of life. It comes to us in our most degraded, desolate, despairing condition. It brings life and incorruptibility to light.
III. A VISION OF THE RESURRECTION. A fair reading of this passage will not permit us to take it as a promise of an individual resurrection after natural death. It is a parable of the restoration of Israel. The notion that the very bones of the dead are to be pieced together and clothed with flesh, that the scattered dust of corpses is to be gathered from the four quarters of the earth, that the very same animal organism that once lived and died and decayed or was devoured by worms shall be built up again, is a coarse, degrading idea. It gives no suggestion of a future exalted, spiritual life. It is beset with monstrous difficulties when we look at it in the light or' the facts of nature. If this old conception of the resurrection be set forth as the only Christian idea, men will not accept it, and the glorious hope of any resurrection or future life at all will be endangered. But this idea is quite contrary to the profound teaching of St. Paul, who says expressly, "Thou sowest not that body that shall be," and "Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:50). The Bible teaches the resurrection of the dead, but not the resurrection of flesh. The old, coarse, impossible notion has no support in the passage before us. We have here a symbolical vision, and it is no more to be taken literally than the illustration of the two sticks that follows (verse 16). Still, as a figure and an image it is strikingly suggestive of the future resurrection. He who restores nations and souls by quickening grace will also awaken them that sleep in Jesus, and raise them up, a glorious army redeemed from death.
Ezekiel 37:4, Ezekiel 37:9
Prophesying to the dry bones and to the wind.
I. PROPHESYING TO THE DRY BONES. Ezekiel beholds the dismal sight of a valley of dry bones. It is a scene of silent desolation. No picture of death could be more complete. The human remains are not even covered with flesh. He sees bones, not corpses. The bones are dry—the vultures have picked them clean, and they have been left to bleach in the sun. They are not even lying in their natural order as ranks of complete skeletons. They are scattered about. The unclean scavengers that have been at work among them have ruthlessly torn them joint from joint, and mixed them up in apparently hopeless confusion. Was there ever a scene of more perfect and utter deadness? Yet the prophet is required to preach to these dry bones! St. Peter preaching to the fishes and St. Francis preaching to the birds had at least living audiences, though soulless ones. But here we have a preacher to dry bones. What is most remarkable is that the preaching is effective. An awful scene is witnessed—the bones shake and move and fit themselves together, and flesh, sinews, and skin cover them. All this is illustrative of much preaching to men, and it contains a great encouragement for the preacher. Some audiences are almost like Ezekiel's valley. They are cold, dead, utterly indifferent. These people are, indeed, as so many dry bones. The preacher despairs of doing any good to them. So long as he despairs he will do no good. If Ezekiel had not had obedience, faith, and energy, he would not have taken the trouble to preach to the bones; and then the great resurrection would not have taken place. It is our duty to preach to aft, despairing of no one. We are to sow beside all waters. God can quicken the dead. Note that Ezekiel's preaching was prophesying, i.e; it was speaking as God's messenger and in his power. This is the only preaching that will succeed with the indifferent. The preacher to the godless must be a prophet. He must speak God's truth in God's strength. Mere reasoning or persuading is not sufficient. But prophesying does succeed again and again with the most obdurate. It stirs dry bones.
II. PROPHESYING TO THE WIND. Ezekiel had a measure of success—a wonderful success it appeared to be. The bones fitted themselves together and were clothed with flesh. Still they were not alive. All the result attained hitherto is that the scattered skeletons have become compact corpses. But this is but a valley of death. Now, the first preaching has done its work. It is useless merely to repeat it. A new thing must be tried. Ezekiel must prophesy to the wind to breathe on the slain, and make them live. When he does this the wind comes, and there stands up an exceeding great army of living men. The wind is here regarded as the power of life. It is typical of the Spirit of God (John 3:8). Life can only come from God's Spirit. The most stirring preaching will not create it. We may preach God's truth in God's strength, and good results may follow, but not the new birth of the Divine life unless the Spirit of God comes and produces it. Preaching does not regenerate. After prophesying to the bones Ezekiel must prophesy to the wind. Preaching must be followed by prayer. The preacher must call down the power of God to his aid if his work is to issue in living results. We need more prophesying to the wind. If life is to take possession of dead souls, we must pray more for the coming of the quickening Spirit. He does come in response to prayer. If the first kind of prophesying is not barren, assuredly the second will not be. When God's Spirit is invoked in the preaching of God's Word, exceeding great armies of souls may rise from the death of sin.
The two sticks.
Under the image of two sticks that are joined together, Ezekiel is to symbolize the reunion of Israel and Judah that is to take place in the great restoration. We may see here illustrated a great principle, viz. that reunion accompanies restoration. It was so as a fact in the history of Israel After the restoration we no longer meet with the rivalry of the two nations that made the previous history one long quarrel. The people return to their land as one nation, for no doubt there were representatives of the ten tribes (Luke 2:36) as well as people of Judah in the caravans that traveled back from the Captivity. This must have been understood in Christian times. Thus St. James writes to "the twelve tribes" (James 1:1; cf. also 1 Peter 1:1). Christ restores man to himself and to God. In doing go he reunites man to his fellow-men. Let us see how this happy result is brought about, observing some of its causes.
I. A COMMON SORROW. Here the foundation of the reunion was laid. Both of the rival nations were driven into captivity.
1. Sorrow should soften animosity. In our proud prosperity we may foolishly imagine that we can afford to quarrel. There then seems to be an immense reserve of resources, and we can be lavish in squandering what should be regarded as the riches of friendship. But in truth we need friends, and we desire to cherish them.
2. Trouble subdues pride.
3. Trouble elicits sympathy. They who have passed through the deep waters of affliction are usually most ready to sympathize with their sorrowing brethren. If we are "partners in distress," we are the more naturally drawn together. Perhaps this result will give us one explanation of the mystery of sorrow.
II. A COMMON BLESSING. The call to return is for all Israel. All men are called to share in the restoring mercies of Christ. Christians who have responded to the gracious invitation of the gospel and entered into the joy of the new life have all one experience in common. That was a happy day in which hearts leaped for joy when the beloved hills of Palestine came into sight in the blue distance. Surely all old feuds would be forgotten as the restored captives actually walked on their own land and built the cities and planted the vineyards while their gladness overflowed. "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion," they said, "we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad" (Psalms 126:1-3). That was no time for reviving old feuds. Sharing the common blessings of the gospel, we should forget our old quarrels.
III. A COMMON RELIGION. Religion, which should be the great bond of union, has become the great divider of men. People who could agree to live together peaceably on all other accounts fall out about their religion and stand apart in hopeless divisions on this one ground. Thus Israel and Judah were divided by their religion. Israel was jealous of the temple privileges of Jerusalem, and Judah was indignant at the calf-worship of Israel. But now the idolatry is over, and a new temple is to be built at which all parties can work. Christ is our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). He breaks down distinctions of race and party. It is the Christlessness of religion that makes religious differences. If we all had more of Christ we should all be more united; for he is the one center of union in the Christian Church.
The fascination of idolatry.
Idolatry was a besetting sin of Israel. No sooner were the people delivered from Egypt by the great unseen God than they made a golden calf. Intercourse with the Moabites led to idolatry in a later stage of the wilderness-wanderings (Numbers 25:2). The story of Micah and his god gives us a glimpse of the gross popular superstition that was to be found in Israel during the days of the judges (Judges 17:4) Solomon in all his glory was lured to idolatry by foreign heathenish wives (1 Kings 11:4). The separated northern tribes emphasized their schism by setting up calves at Dan and Bethel. The prophets were compelled to denounce idolatry, and the doom of the Captivity was largely earned by this sin (Ezekiel 14:7). What is its essential character? and whence does it draw its singular fascination?
I. THE SURVIVAL OF ANTIQUITY. Joshua reminded the people that their fathers worshipped "other gods" (Joshua 24:2). The Hebrews cannot be described as an originally and naturally monotheistic race. Monotheism does not seem to be innate in any branch of the Semitic family. On the contrary, it is much more readily traced in the early history of the Aryan races. The Semitic instinct rather points to cruel and lustful nature-worship, accompanied by gross idolatry, although by the inspiration of their prophets the Hebrews were called out of this low form of religion to the worship of the holy Jehovah. Superstitions of idolatry linger long after a more spiritual worship is established. This is seen in missionary lands; and even in Europe heathenish customs are mixed up with Christian belief. Much of the corruption of Christianity in Romanism is just the perpetuation of the old paganism under Christian names.
II. THE CONTAGION OF EXAMPLE. The Jews were surrounded by heathen peoples. They were called to a lonely destiny of separation. But they did not always realize their vocation. Their later idolatry was an importation from their neighbors. Men are much influenced in religion by what is called "the spirit of the times," by the fashion of the day, by the stream of prevalent customs. It is hard to make our religion a continual protest against popular ideas and practices.
III. THE CHARM OF THE SENSUOUS. Idols were visible, tangible objects. It was so much easier to offer worship to such things than to the unseen God of heaven. It is our perpetual temptation to neglect the spiritual for the material. We do not prostrate ourselves before calves of gold; but we are tempted to worship coins of gold. Our idol-temples are the marts of commerce. The British Parthenon is the Bank of England. The whole tendency of life is towards absorption in things temporal, concrete, visible—eating and drinking, clothing and building, merry-making and' amusements. Even in religion we tend to degenerate to the sensuous, and music and pageantry threaten to supersede worship and meditation. The visible ritual endangers the invisible devotion. All this is idolatry.
IV. THE COMFORT OF A LOW IDEAL. The intellectual strain of spiritual worship is not its most exacting characteristic. God is not only unseen; he is holy, and he can only be approached with clean hands and a pure heart. The religion of Israel was a religion of holiness. This was its most marked feature in contrast with heathenism. It was possible to satisfy all the demands of idolatry and yet to remain in sin. Nay, much of the monstrous ritual of idol-worship consisted in the indulgence of licentious passions. It was much easier to worship idols than to worship the holy God. A worldly life is compatible with a low moral standard. Hence the temptation to be satisfied with this life. But Christ calls us to the loftiest ideal and to a warfare against sin. We must take up the cross if we would follow him.
Ezekiel 37:24, Ezekiel 37:25
Christ the King.
I. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS A GLORIOUS FACT. In Ezekiel it is only predicted. To Christians it is an accomplished fact. Christ has come and has realized the ideal of ancient prophecy.
1. He is of the line of David. He was welcomed as the Son of David (Luke 18:38). He gathers up the old traditions of Israel's golden age, and lifts their promises to a higher fulfillment.
2. He is a Shepherd. Aristotle quoted Homer to show that the true king should be a shepherd. Christ rules tenderly and with regard to the welfare of his people, not like the cruel, selfish, despotic monarchs of heathen empires.
3. He is God's Servant. Therefore
(1) it is God's will that we should have Christ as our King, and
(2) Christ rules according to the will of God.
II. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS A CENTER OF UNITY. "And they all shall have one Shepherd." Judah and Israel are to have but one King, and are to be united under the reign of this new David. "The envy also of Ephraim shall depart," etc. (Isaiah 11:13) The supreme advantage of the institution of a monarchy is that it cements the people under it into a consolidated unity. Christ is the Head of the body, and as such he harmonizes the movements of all the limbs. It is strange that Christendom should be broken up into innumerable mutually antagonistic factions. But Christ is not responsible for those divisions. On the contrary, it is just the loss of Christ in the Churches that leads to their severance.
III. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS AN INSPIRATION FOR OBEDIENCE. "They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes to do them." It is more difficult to obey an abstract law than to serve a living person. Christianity by no means gives us a dispensation from the obligation of obedience. Our Lord expects his disciples to "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" (Matthew 5:20), and it is possible to do this by his new method. No longer painfully toiling along the dreary road of formal legalism, Christians are inspired by an enthusiasm for their Master which fires their love and zeal to do or suffer on his behalf; and this glorious, loving service of Christ is just the obedience and righteousness transformed into a new and attractive shape.
IV. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS A FOUNDATION OF SOLID PROSPERITY. Under the new David the people will live at peace in the possession of their land. The service of Christ introduces all Christians to a splendid inheritance. The Christian life is not a wild knight-errantry. It is the enjoyment of a happy and peaceful kingdom. When Christ's reign is universal, society will be happy and prosperous. Even now inward peace and rich treasures of Divine grace are the portion of his people on earth, while they are cheered with the prospect of entering into a wonderful "inheritance of the saints in light" when the present life is over.
V. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS TO BE ETERNAL. "My Servant David shall be their Prince forever." The reign of Christ was never so widespread as it is in this nineteenth century. His sun dawned nearly two thousand years ago. It is still climbing to its meridian. Sunset Christ shall never have. The Light of the world is the light of the ages—"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
I. GOD IS IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE. He is not a distant divinity seated on cloud-capped Olympus or hidden in remote heavenly regions. He visits the earth and even dwells there. We recognize his presence in the beauty of spring and the wealth of autumn; we hear his voice in the thunderstorm, and we see his glory in the sunshine. He haunts the cathedral aisles of the forest; he unveils his glory beneath the blue dome that covers the fair fields of nature. Assuredly he is in our homes shedding peace and love; he draws very near to our souls in the night of sorrow; and he smiles upon us in our innocent joys. Moreover, while God is thus universally present, he manifests himself especially to his people as he does not unto the world (John 14:22, John 14:23). This is not on account of any unreasonable partiality, any unfair favoritism. He says justly, "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me" (Proverbs 8:17).
II. GOD'S PRESENCE IS A PROTECTION FOR HIS PEOPLE. He says that his tabernacle shall be not merely "with them," but "over them," as the phrase should be rendered. We think of a sheltering tent protecting the people from the heat of the sun by day and from the frosts by night. In the olden times the tabernacle was planted in the midst of the camp, but the people generally were not admitted to its covered shrine, which was reserved for a privileged priesthood. Now, however, the veil is rent, and now all God's people are priests, as the apostle to the Jews declared (1 Peter 2:9). Now, therefore, God's tabernacle is not only in the midst of the camp, gazed at with admiration by a surrounding host. It is spread over the people of God, because they are allowed to enter its most holy place. Our safety lies in our nearness to God, and when we truly seek to enter into close communion with Heaven we find that there is a sense of security and peace that can be found in no other way.
1. God then protects from trouble, even when the blow falls, by strengthening us to bear it.
2. He protects from temptation by giving us a joy greater than that of the pleasures of sin.
3. He protects from the guilt of the past, by taking away our sins and giving free forgiveness.
4. He protects from the fear of the future, by assuring us that he will never leave us nor forsake us.
III. GOD'S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE SECURES THEIR UNION WITH HIM. "Yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people." It is difficult to love and trust an absent Being, but nearness stimulates affection and confidence.
1. The people own God. He is "their God." This signifies willing acceptance following deliberate choice. No man has a true experience of religion until he can say from his heart, "The Lord is my God."
2. God owns his people. They are his by right of creation; they are still more his by right of redemption—" bought with a price." God's ownership implies
(1) his right to do as he will with his people;
(2) his care to preserve his possession;
(3) his joy in dwelling among his children.
Observe, in conclusion:
1. Sin removes the tabernacle of God from our midst. When Israel sinned, the tabernacle was pitched outside the camp.
2. Christ brings Goal back into closest association with us. In Christ he "pitches his tent among us" (John 1:14).
The sanctification of the Church a gospel for the world.
I. THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE CHURCH.
1. Its form. Sanctification is essentially a being set apart for God. This involves two ideas.
(1) Separation. The Jews were separated from the heathen. Christians are called out from the world. Christ founded the Church partly in order that Christians might realize the brotherhood of a family within its borders, and partly that they might be divided from the heathenish world. The superficial Christianizing of the world, and the more than superficial worldliness of the Church, have combined to obscure the old lines of demarcation. But we cannot afford to neglect them.
(2) Dedication. The separated people are set apart for God, as young Samuel was separated from his house and given to the Lord. This is the explanation of the separation; here we see its purpose. The separation does not take place for the sake of making a difference, but in order that the people of God may wholly give themselves to his service.
2. Its character. Though the pure idea of sanctification is formal rather than moral, and means essentially a setting apart for God, it is only realized in the experience of personal holiness.
(1) We can only be separated from the world by giving up the sin of the world. The mark of separation is purity of character.
(2) We can only be devoted to God by purity of heart. Only thus can we see God (Matthew 5:8). Only thus can our service be acceptable in his sight. Thus sanctification comes to be equivalent to making pure and holy.
3. Its cause. God sanctifies his people. They must desire and seek the sanctification, but they cannot create it. Men may separate themselves from the world in external profession and habit, living as hermits in the wilderness, immuring themselves in cloistered monasteries, repudiating conventional manners with Puritan precision; and all the while they may remain worldly at heart. They may offer themselves formally for the service of God, and take office in the Church, and yet be only self-seekers and servants of sin. As purification is essential to sanctification, sanctification must be a Divine act. This is the great work of the Holy Spirit. God separates, consecrates, and purifies his people through the action of his Spirit in them.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE CHURCH ON THE WORLD. The heathen shall know that God sanctifies Israel. This fact will be a witness to the pagan world of the power and character of God. It will be a great sermon in history, a preaching in events. No preaching can be more powerful. The greatest hindrance to missionary work consists in the wicked conduct of persons from Christian lands who visit heathen countries. The example of the Christian life is its best help. Christ preached by his life more than by his words. His cross on Calvary is more eloquent than his Sermon on the Mount. If we desire to give a new impulse to missionary enterprises we must begin at home. We must first of all consecrate our own hearts and lives afresh to our Master; we must seek a new baptism of the Holy Ghost for the sanctification of the Church. The Pentecost that brought a spiritual blessing to the little company in the upper room at Jerusalem started the great evangelistic triumphs of the apostolic age. While it may be well to discuss missionary methods, we much more need to seek a spiritual revival of the home Churches, that a new impulse may be given to the most fruitful form of missionizing—the living influence of a consecrated people.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The valley of death.
The picture so impressively presented in these verses is a picture of the Israelitish people in their Eastern captivity. The national life is for a period suspended. The people are dead and dry as bones scattered upon the surface of an open valley which has been the scene of carnage in battle. Yet the description is always and justly held to portray the moral condition of our sinful humanity apart from the quickening interposition of the Lord and Giver of life.
I. SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT REVEALS WHAT IS REAL BENEATH WHAT IS APPARENT. To other eyes no such vision as that which broke upon the sight of the inspired prophet was accorded. On the contrary, men might have looked upon Israel—part of the people in captivity, and part still occupying the land of their fathers—and have seen nothing but such misfortune and calamity as are incident to human history. To the prophetic, quickened, illumined mind of Ezekiel the real state of the nation was manifest. In like manner, a superficial observer might direct his attention to the human race without apprehending its spiritual condition as one of deprivation, of gloom, of death; he might be dazzled by external splendor and prosperity, and it might not occur to him that beneath the fair and glittering outside there was concealed from his eyes what, after all, is the most important characteristic of humanity, regarded spiritually.
II. THE REALITY TO BE RECOGNIZED IS THE PRESENCE AND THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL DEATH.
1. The cause of this is sin. Life flows from communion with him who is the ever-living Fountain of life. Severed from God, the soul cannot live.
2. The effects and signs of this death are numerous and evident. Insensibility to Divine truth, to virtue, to immortality, may be mentioned as most impressively brought before us in the vision which Ezekiel saw. The dry bones lay scattered about the plain, insensible to everything, to every presence about them, neither affected by any occurrence nor initiating any movement. Such is the state of the spiritually dead—the "dead in trespasses and sins."
III. HOPELESSNESS DISTINGUISHES THE STATE OF THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD. "Son of man, can these bones live?" If the answer depended upon human sagacity, if the means to awaken life were such as are available to human wisdom alone, such as are known by human experience, there can be but one answer "Life is impossible! ' Who that locked upon pro-Christian society could cherish the hope that from that necropolis there could start into vitality and activity a host of living, consecrated beings, filled with the life of God, eager to do the work of God? Could the Church have grown out of the world? The supposition is an absurdity. The prophet's reply to the inquiry was the only reply that was reasonable. All depended upon God; man was powerless and hopeless for revival. "O Lord God, thou knowest!"—T.
The call to life.
The sublimity of this vision is the sublimity, not of imagination, but of truth. But it was truth that was not open to every mind; it was truth discerned by an intellect quickened into supernatural insight and comprehension by the Divine Source alike of truth and of life.
I. THE MINISTRY OF PROPHECY.
1. It presumes intelligent natures to which the appeal is made.
2. It presumes a Supreme Authority by which the prophet is selected, fitted, and guided in the discharge of his &rice.
3. It presumes a ministerial nature and character, on the one side open to communications from God, on the other side sympathetic with those for whose benefit such communications are vouchsafed.
4. It presumes an occasion and circumstances, suggesting the fulfillment of a spiritual mission.
II. THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF THE LIVING GOD ACCOMPANYING TRUE PROPHECY.
1. The prophet speaks at the Divine command. There are times when he is silent, and times when he utters the thoughts, the warnings, the exhortations, that are in him. When the command is given, then the silence is broken.
2. The prophet utters a Divine message. He speaks for God, and they who listen to him hear the voice of God.
3. His utterances are therefore altogether without regard to what men would call probabilities or even possibilities. Nothing could have been further from all human likelihood than that anything should follow upon such a ministry as that here described. The prophet was directed to address "dry bones," and to summon dry bones to "hear the word of the Lord!" Had he been other than a prophet, he would have deemed such a mission an absurdity. "God's ways are not our ways, neither our thoughts his thoughts."
4. A higher than human wisdom and might breathe in the utterances of the prophet. The dignity of his attitude, the sublimity of his thoughts, are not of this world. He must be either a pretender and a fanatic, or else a representative of God himself, who can make use of such language as Ezekiel records himself to have used: "Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live."
III. THE MOVEMENT EFFECTED BY THE AGENCY OF PROPHECY. In this impressive vision the prophet witnessed the power of the words he was directed to utter. A thundering noise and an earthquake followed his prophesying, and to his own amazement he saw bones come together—bone to his bone; he saw the bones clothed with sinews, flesh, and skin. This marvelous transformation was still unaccompanied by life. Surely a revelation to us of the great things that may be and are effected through the instrumentality of a personal and spiritual agency, which yet fall short of the highest and most beautiful and blessed of all effects, viz. spiritual vitality itself. Is it not still and ever the case that by human agencies men are taught, admonished, trained to habits of rectitude, encouraged in a useful life, by a Divine Power indeed—for all good of every grade is from God—but by an exercise of power which is yet inferior to the highest of all?
IV. THE NEW LIFE WHICH IS, IN CONSONANCE WITH PROPHECY, BREATHED BY DIVINE SPIRIT. The result of the summons to the breath from the four winds was at once and most wonderfully apparent. The dry bones lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army! It is impossible to believe that the significance of this glorious conclusion to the vision is exhausted by the restoration of the sons of Israel to their native soil and ancient inheritance. We have the authority of the prophet himself for believing that in this event there was a fulfillment of the vision. And it probably seemed to many observers almost as incredible that the Jews should be bought back from their captivity and should as a nation again live and prosper, as that the bones of the dead, strewn upon a battle-field, should be restored to life and should become again an army of mighty warriors. To the mind that thinks deeply and justly it will seem still more surprising that our humanity, sunk in the slumber and the death of sin, should awake to newness of life, should receive the Spirit of God, and should become his living army of truth and righteousness. It was the purpose of Christ's coming that we might have life, and that in abundance. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. Thus it may be said that the production, fullness, and increase of spiritual life is the main result of the advent of the Savior and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
V. THE TRANSFORMATION AND CONTRAST BROUGHT ABOUT IN FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY. God speaks by his herald and representative, and his word is a word of power. The disjointed and sundered are united, the dry bones are clothed with flesh, the dead live, movement and the glad sound of life follow the stillness and the silence of the grave. An army of the living God is fashioned out of material the most unlikely. Thus the presence and operation of the Eternal is made manifest, the flagging faith of men is revived, and the future of humanity is irradiated with immortal hope.—T.
The Divine Restorer.
The interpretation of the vision of the valley of dry bones was given by the prophet himself. It was intended that the Israelites, when restored to their own land and to national unity and vigor, should discern in this restoration the hand of Divine Providence. A most unlikely event was about to happen, and Ezekiel desired that those in whose favor the great interposition was about to be wrought should be mindful, both of the condition of hopelessness into which they had been plunged by their own sins, and of the marvel of the Divine mercy to which they owed their deliverance, renewal, and revival.
I. THE DEATH AND DESPONDENCY OF THE CAPTIVITY. The Jewish people had endured many afflictions and chastisements; but the Captivity was the sorest disaster which had overtaken them, the profoundest humiliation into which they had been plunged. To so earnest a patriot as Ezekiel the case seemed, apart from Divine commiseration and help, one utterly depressing to contemplate. Human deliverer there was not; way of deliverance opened not up; the prospect was dark. The whole house of Israel, contemplating the situation, summed it up in the mournful exclamation, "Our hope is lost; we are clean cut off."
II. THE COMPASSIONATE INTERPOSITION OF THE DIVINE DELIVERER. When human help there was none, the Lord looked in pity upon his own. "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people." Their state was as that of those dead and buried out of men's sight. But with God nothing is impossible. His voice can summon even the dead to life. The hearts of kings and rulers are in his hands. He deviseth means whereby his banished ones may return.
III. THE SPIRITUAL ENERGY CONDITIONING THE RECOVERY AND RENEWAL. Providential intervention is not all that is necessary. An internal as well as an external condition is requisite. No great work on behalf of a nation can, any more than a great work on behalf of an individual, be effected apart from the state, the character, the purposes, the voluntary cooperation of those who are to be benefited. We have an intimation of this in the present case in the promise, "I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live." To put a people in their own territory would be of no avail to the national life were not the people gifted with a spirit of patriotism, of unity, of hopefulness, above all, of true religion. A restoration such as that effected for Israel, in order to be a real thing, must be accompanied by the new heart, the new national endeavor and patience, the new devotedness to the higher aims of social and political existence. God, who gives the boon, gives also the preparation by which the boon may be appropriated and used.
IV. THE RESTORATION ITSELF. This was mainly, at all events in the general apprehension, a political movement. The capital was reoccupied, the temple services were restored in something like their former dignity and beauty; the reputation of the nation was in some measure retrieved. But beyond all this, in the apprehension of the more thoughtful there was a religious reformation of greater interest and importance. The life from the dead was life unto Jehovah and unto his laws and ordinances—a life not ceremonial, but spiritual. Idolatry, at all events, was forever abandoned; many of the temptations of former times were for ever outgrown. Some good was thus effected, and good of such a nature as to confer a real service and blessing upon mankind.
V. THE GIVING OF GLORY TO WHOM IT WAS DUE. In two respects especially the Lord assured the Israelites, by his prophets, honor should accrue to himself through the return of his chosen people.
1. His power should be recognized as the true cause of the redemption.
2. His faithfulness should be adored by those to whom the promise had been given, and by whom the fulfillment of the promise was enjoyed.—T.
As in many other instances, so here Ezekiel propounds a great moral and prophetical lesson by means of symbol. The two sticks which he is directed to join one to another into one stick represent the two divisions, the two kingdoms, of Judah and of Northern Israel, and their union represents the abolition of the distinction, the schism, which had been so injurious to the national welfare, and the formation of one people, one in brotherly love, one in mutual helpfulness, one in the unity of national and political life, and one in religious faith, worship, and observance. This exhibition of the beauty and value of unity is worthy of the consideration of Christians in our own time, when divisions are so abundant and are thought of so lightly, whilst they are most injurious to the interests of Christianity and most pernicious in their influence upon the unbelieving world. General lessons underlie the special exhortations and promises of this passage of prophecy.
I. UNITY IS BROUGHT ABOUT BY GOD HIMSELF. He is the God of peace, and delights in peace. "I," says he, "will make them one nation in the land." The kind of unity which is effected by the action of common human sympathy or interest is neither valuable nor permanent. True unity needs a Divine basis.
II. UNITY IS MANIFEST IN BROTHERLY LOVE AND SYMPATHY. That is to say, it is, first of all, unity of heart. When the same Divine Spirit works in many natures he produces similar effects in all; and his handiwork is nowhere more evident than in the prevalence of mutual love. The members of the same body, being obedient to the one Head, render one to another the tribute of mutual interest and kindly willingness to serve and help.
III. UNITY CONSISTS IN COMMON SUBJECTION TO ONE KING. "One King shall be king to them all; My Servant David shall be King over them, and they shall all have one Shepherd." The political unity of the Jews seems lost sight of m the Messianic reference of the prediction. The Church of Christ is one because there is over it but one Head, even Christ himself. All true Christians, every true Christian community in every place, acknowledge his sole sovereignty and confess allegiance to his sole authority.
IV. UNITY IS DISPLAYED IN THE ABANDONMENT AND REPUDIATION OF ALL UNFAITHFULNESS. When some of the children of Israel worshipped Jehovah, and others some one or other of the various hateful deities of the heathen, it was impossible that there should be unity. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" There is thus a negative condition of spiritual oneness. The minds of men must be turned away from error and sin, in order that they may with one accord be turned Godwards and heavenwards. The unfaithful to God cannot be faithful one to another. They must have the same loathing and the same liking.
V. UNITY IS DISPLAYED IN A COMMON AND CONJOINT OBEDIENCE. This is a positive condition of spiritual oneness. "They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes to do them." They who are one in heart will not find it difficult to be one in life. The laws are one, although the obedient are scattered far and wide, although the forms of obedience vary with varying circumstances.
VI. THE UNITY IS EVERLASTING. This can be true only of a unity which is Divine in its basis and its bonds. The language used in this portion of prophecy must refer to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. "David my Servant shall be their Prince forever;" "They shall dwell in the land for ever;" "I will make an everlasting covenant with them;" "I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." Such expressions are true. and they are true only of the kingdom which is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." No national, probably no ecclesiastical, unity upon earth is permanent. But the Son of God is King forever, and the subjects of his spiritual empire are bound together by the common ties which unite them to their Lord—ties which time cannot weaken and death cannot dissolve.—T.
The tabernacle of God with men.
There can be no question that one great purpose of the appointment, first of the tabernacle, and then of the temple, as the center of the national and religious life of Israel, was to familiarize the people with the thought of God's constant presence in the midst of them, as well as to provide means and opportunities for special intercommunion between the Divine King and his subjects. The coming of Christ whose body was the temple of Deity, the coming of the Holy Spirit whose abiding indwelling constitutes the temple, the Church, of God, did away with the necessity for a local and temporary dwelling-place of God upon earth, but secured the permanent reality of the fellowship of which such a dwelling-place was the symbol and the means.
I. GOD'S TABERNACLE WITH MEN REMINDS US OF THE UNIVERSAL PRESENCE OF THE DEITY UPON EARTH THROUGHOUT ALL TIME.
II. AND OF HIS SPECIAL AND CONGENIAL PRESENCE AMONG AND WITH HIS OWN PEOPLE.
III. AND OF HIS GRACIOUS PURPOSE TO REVEAL UNTO THEM HIS OWN CHARACTER AND WILL.
IV. AND OF HIS CONSTANT WILLINGNESS TO RECEIVE THEIR WORSHIP AND HOMAGE.
V. AND OF HIS DESIRE TO MAINTAIN CLOSE AND UNBROKEN RELATIONS OF CORDIALITY AND KINDNESS WITH HIS PEOPLE.
APPLICATION. The privilege of fellowship with God should be reverently cherished, prized, and cultivated. The means and occasions of such fellowship should not be mistaken for the fellowship itself. The truest dignity and sacredness of this earthly life consists in the opportunity it offers of communion with the unseen but ever-present God and Savior. The strongest attraction of the life to come lies in the prospect of a closer approach to God, a more uninterrupted fellowship with God, and a nearer assimilation to his perfect and glorious character.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The vision of dry bones.
As an architect, before erecting a mansion, sketches accurately all his plan on paper—a guide to himself and to his co-workers—so, prior to God's resuscitation of Israel, he sketches out his plan before the mental eye of Ezekiel. By a mighty influence from God, the prophet is borne away in spirit to a great valley in Chaldea, devoted to the burial of Israel's dead. The spot possibly was sadly familiar to the prophet's eye. The loose sand had been swept aside by some violent tornado. The bones of the buried were exposed, and were dry and bleached by the tropical sun. It was a pitiable and repulsive spectacle. That such vestiges of human beings could be reclothed in flesh and raised again to life seemed, to human view, impossible; and Ezekiel did wisely to refer the matter back to God. The man of God is commanded to address these silent remnants of human nature, and to announce to them God's high design; and while he spake, lo! a noise, a movement, bone sought its fellow-bone. Flesh silently grew upon these skeletons, and a fair covering of skin veiled the rugged flesh. Still, it was a valley of death—a spectacle more revolting than before. Again Ezekiel is summoned to prophesy, and this time to prophesy to the winds. Then the breath of life passed into those ghastly forms; the dead stood erect and strong—an army of living men, a nation. Such was the vision—a vivid picture imprinted on the mind.
I. MARK ISRAEL'S DESPERATE CONDITION. Whatever may have been the fortunes of some individuals, as a nation their fortunes were deplorable. All that was distinctive about Israel had vanished. Tithings, temple ritual, priesthood, Passover, distinction in meats,—all had disappeared. They were fast becoming amalgamated, in language, habits, and occupation, with their conquerors. As a body, they were utterly dislocated. Their several orders had vanished. The organism was broken up. Their national life was destroyed. Their condition was deplorable, fitly symbolized by dry and dissevered bones. Prospect of restoration there was none. The faithful few were sinking into despair. Vivid picture this of human nature severed from the living God. Compared with the purity and nobleness that might be, the condition is aptly figured by death. Filial love and trust are dead. Conscience, the sense of right, is dead. Heavenly aspirations are dead. The hope of immortality is dead. Departing from God, men become "earthly, sensual, devilish." The captivity of the grave aptly symbolizes their estate. The high design of their being is frustrated. Severance from God is followed by the rupture of social ties, mutual discords, and mutual hate.
II. ISRAEL'S PROSPECT OF NEW ORGANIZATION. The prospect is due solely to the interposition of God. He proposes a tremendous question to his servant, "Can these bones live?" Devoutly the prophet refers the question back to God. By proposing difficult questions to his servants, God stimulates them to reflection, concentrates their attention upon salient points, teaches them a modest estimate of their powers.
1. In elevating mankind there is need for the prophet's mission. As the greatest enemy of mankind is man, so man can be a real friend and helper to his race. The world is deeply indebted to its teachers. All the ages are indebted to Moses, to Solon, to Socrates, and to St. Paul. The man who can lay his finger upon a plague-spot and. announce a remedy, the man who can lead a nation up to a higher level of life, is a benefactor to the face. Most of all, the man who can reveal to us God, who can unveil to us his character, his designs concerning us, our duty to him, he is of all men the most influential, the most kingly.
2. No real improvement in human nature can be achieved without God's power. Although the man of God was charged to prophesy, his message simply declared what God was about to do. "I will lay sinews upon you; I will bring up flesh upon you; I will cover you with skin," saith the Lord God. No amelioration is abiding that does not come from God. All political organization that is to produce benefit to a nation must be full of God. Every step in the process of moral elevation must have God in it. We can only act successfully while we act in the line of his Law, and have all the channels we create filled with a Divine force. God deigns to take a practical interest in the minutest affairs of men.
III. ORGANIZATION IS IMPOTENT WITHOUT LIFE. To the prophet's ecstatic vision the human organism was now complete. Every limb and member was articulated—was in its allotted place. But the great want was yet unmet. The highest endowment was lacking. Everything waited, in silent yearning, for life. Then the prophet is summoned to another duty. Having spoken to men, he must speak to God. He must invoke the vital breath of Heaven. For this great undertaking there is required all the fullness and force of the Divine Spirit. "Come from all quarters, O breath of life! Wind of the north, come and rouse men from their long slumber! Wind of the east, come and brace men's energies for new exertions. Wind of the west, come and bring fertilizing showers, that shall penetrate and soften the heart! Wind of the south, come, quicken the plants of grace and ripen the fruits of piety!" If only God be with us, the most difficult undertaking will succeed. If God did, at the first, create human nature out of nothing, the work of reconstruction cannot be more difficult. To God nothing is impossible. Omnipotence covers every task.
IV. A MAGNIFICENT RESULT. The prophet was not disobedient to the heavenly voice. As the echo responds to the speaker, so promptly did Divine influence attend the prophetic word. Under the direction and inspiration of God, human labor and prayer can produce prodigious effects. The scenes of death become scenes of life. A nation rises up as if out of its grave. By the manifested power of God's grace the highest personal life appears; the Church's life is created; national life is purged and elevated; and the resurrection to an imperishable life is assured. If God be on our side, no height of excellence is inaccessible; and if he has pledged his word, he will perform it in no stinted fashion. To have real childlike faith in God's word and in God's faithfulness brings the highest joy. To be in actual touch with God transfigures character and enriches human life. Heaven is begun on earth if we know God by personal and familiar experience. A grand climax of blessing is involved in the words, "Then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it."—D.
Union essential to highest prosperity.
It is clear that this series of prophecies had, at least, a twofold meaning. These predictions pointed to beneficial changes near, visible, temporal; they pointed also to grandee events more distant, more spiritual. The fulfillment of prophecy was also another prophecy. The immediate performance of God's promise was a type of larger performance. As each harvest is a prophecy of the next, so one fulfillment of God's covenant symbolizes a fulfillment on a larger and nobler scale. Time is a picture of eternity. What was really good in the past shall reappear in the future. Israel's passage through the Red Sea was a symbol of later deliverances. The royal life of David shall be reproduced. As the secret principle of David's power and David's prosperity was that he ruled by a spirit of love, which knit the people in unity; so David shall be the emblem of Messiah's person, and Messiah's gentle sway. The passage now under consideration refuses to be confined within a local application; it embraces the renovated race and the immortal King. To make this announcement the more impressive, it was attended by a significant action. It is a prophecy both spoken and acted. It was an ancient custom, prevalent still in the East, to write on fiat sticks, and these were sometimes tied together after the simplest fashion of a book. Discord and division had been the first step in Israel's retrogression and fall. Internal strife prepared the way for invasion and defeat. Now, reunion is a necessary step to the fulfillment of the Divine promise—the first step towards a new national life.
I. REAL UNION CAN ONLY BE EFFECTED BY INWARD RENOVATION. Hence the gracious promise is repeated, "I will save them out of their dwelling-places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them." This truth must be repeated times without number. So long as rebellion against God occupies the heart, so long there will be strife and hatred between man and man. Infidelity has always been hostile to society. But as men get nearer to God as their Center, the circumference diminishes, and they get nearer to each other. The uprooting of selfishness from the human heart is the removal of discord and war. If the fountain be made pure, pure will be the streams. Sin separates. Piety unites. After the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, men were fused in brotherhood, and did not even count their goods their own. New-felt love swallowed up every other sentiment. "They had all things common."
II. UNION AMONG THE PEOPLE IS CEMENTED BY ALLEGIANCE TO ONE KING. "David my servant shall be King over them, and they all shall have one Shepherd." The rivalry of opposing kings in Rehoboam's day had been the root of endless mischief. "Like king, like people." This new Monarch has such incomparable claims that a rival is out of the question. His august worth will win from his subjects intense loyalty and love; and in proportion to their intense love for him there will develop attachment to each other. In his pure presence mutual suspicion and distrust hide away abashed. It is a part of his royal mission to foster all right sympathies. To be like their King is the high ambition of each. To serve and please their King is the common purpose of every true Israelite. To love one another is but another form of loving him.
III. UNION IS FOSTERED BY DOING GOD'S WILL. "They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes." They that walk in the same road usually become good companions. And these new subjects of Messiah delight in these paths. They speak to each other of their joy. They delight to encourage each other to surmount such obstacles as appear, and to press on in the royal way. Their understandings being divinely illumined, they see such excellence in God's will that their wills become conformed to his. So, in becoming conformed to God's will, they become like each other. Among the children a common likeness appears. Fellow-soldiers on the same battle* field become fast friends. Common service and exposure to common dangers form a strong bond of union. In serving God we also serve one another.
IV. UNION SECURES GOD'S NEARER PRESENCE. "I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." If men feel that it is" good for brethren to dwell together in unity," God feels it still more to be both "good and pleasant." Our God is a God of order. Amid scenes of discord he will not abide. If men prefer his foe-the fomenter of hatreds—he will depart. But where true unity of spirit reins among men God will nearer come, wilt take up his abode, will make an everlasting covenant with them; his sanctuary is the sign of union and the security for union. Then the channel is open for the highest good to descend. God will become, in every practical respect, their God. His light shall be their light, his strength shall be their strength, his purity shall become their purity, his joy shall become theirs. God's fullness shall replenish their emptiness.
V. UNION IN THE TRUE ISRAEL SHALL PRODUCE A SALUTARY EFFECT UPON WORLD. "The heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel." Here is the germ of the truth which was fully expanded in the intercessory prayer of Christ, "That they all may be one, that the world may believe that thou didst send me." It is little short of a miracle that the kingdom of our Lord should be maintained, much less grow, when so much division exists. That man contracts no light sin who uses his influence in keeping Christians apart. Real schism is a monstrous sin. And when the purity, the piety, the practical love, of the Church become eminent, these will produce a stupendous impression upon the world without. Holiness which is not austere, holiness expressed in its native form of sterling goodness, has an omnipotent charm which, once seen by men, fascinates all hearts. The love of money and of pleasure will fade and vanish when men discover the superior worth of true righteousness. God's manifest residence in the Church will win the homage of all the nations. "Then shall the heathen know," etc.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
From death to life.
The primary reference Of this prophecy is placed beyond all doubt by the passage itself (see Ezekiel 37:12).
1. Israel was in a forlorn and hopeless condition in her dispersion and captivity; she seemed to be irrecoverably lost; as a nation she was as one dead, if not buried.
2. But God had a gracious purpose concerning her. He intended to exercise his Divine power on her behalf; the dead should be revived; the lost should be found; the scattered should be restored and united.
3. That which seemed so hopeless is seen to be accomplished; instead of "a valley full of bones" (Ezekiel 37:1) is "an exceeding great army" (Ezekiel 37:10); instead of a "lost hope" (Ezekiel 37:4) is a revived, and recovered nation (Ezekiel 37:12). The true analogue to this vision of the prophet is the revival of the lost and dead human soul under the renewing and inspiring power of the Spirit of God. What is suggested here on this vital theme is—
I. THE FATAL AND HOPELESS CONDITION TO WHICH SIN REDUCES US. Could we see our sin-stricken humanity as it appears in the sight of God, then where now we look upon fair scenes and shows of beauty or activity, we should see a "valley full of dry bones"—a valley of death. Let "the dead bury their dead," said the Master. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth," said his apostle. To be separated from God in thought and sympathy; to be living in selfishness, in vanity, in sin; to be forfeiting our fair heritage of righteousness and holy service, and to lose our life in human gratifications or earthly acquisitions;—this is to be lost to God and wisdom; it is to have entered at least the outer shadows of the valley of death; and when sin has (tone its worst, when it has led the man or the community down to its nethermost abyss, then is he (or it) in such a state of spiritual deathfulness and hopelessness that all recovery seems impossible, as impossible as for a great mass of dry and disparted bones scattered on some broad valley to be readjusted and to be reanimated with life. "Can these bones live? No," human intelligence replies, "they are dead beyond all recovery." Yet is it well to remember that "the things which are impossible to man are possible with God;" and it is well to make reply, as in the text, "O Lord God, thou knowest." For God's reply is not in the negative. He summons to activity; and we have—
II. THE THREEFOLD AGENCY CALLED INTO EXERCISE.
1. The human teacher. "He said unto me, Prophesy," etc. (Ezekiel 37:4). "So I prophesied as I was commanded" (Ezekiel 37:7). It is the bounden duty, the sacred privilege, of the human teacher—in the house, in the sanctuary, in the school, in the street, anywhere and everywhere that men will listen—to summon the lost ones to return, the fallen to rise, the slumbering to awake and to return unto the Lord their God.
2. The sinful souls themselves. "As I prophesied there was a noise, and behold a shaking," etc. (Ezekiel 37:7). Men may seem as dead, and in a sadly serious sense they may be "dead in sin;" yet they are not so absolutely lifeless that there is no possible response in them when the word of Divine truth is spoken. On the contrary, they will respond; there is the spiritual movement which begins in being aroused, and which ends in the actual return of the heart unto its Divine Father, and its entrance into eternal life.
3. The Divine Spirit. "Prophesy unto the wind, breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (Ezekiel 37:9). What the breathing wind in the prophet's image wrought, that now works the Holy Spirit of God. Vain the words of the teacher, the movement of the fallen and lost spirit, without the renewing and reviving energy that comes from God. But that does come. God waits to work with us and for us; and when there is honest effort accompanied' with earnest prayer, the breath of the Divine Spirit is not wanting; then comes—
III. THE BLESSED ISSUE IN NEWNESS OF LIFE. "They lived, and stood up … an exceeding great army [or 'force']" (Ezekiel 37:10). The glorious issue of this agency, human and Divine, is
(1) life,—life in God's view, life in God, life unto God, life now and evermore with God; it is
(2) largely extended life,—an exceeding great army, innumerable, stretching over all lands and through all the centuries; it is
(3) powerful life,—the word translated army might be rendered force. The multitude of them that believe," and that have life by faith in Jesus Christ, should be a great force or power for good. If it did but realize its resources, and knew how strong it was in Christian truth and the power of God which is at command, it would do far "greater works" than any it has yet accomplished for its Master and for mankind.—C.
The cry of the hopeless.
"Our hope is lost: we are cut off to ourselves" (Fairbairn's translation); i.e. we are "cut off from the source of power and influence, and. abandoned to ourselves." Taking these words apart from their connection (though quite in accordance with their spirit and tenor), our attention is directed to—
I. THE HOPELESS, BECAUSE THE ABANDONED. Many are they who have had, or still have, occasion to utter this most sad exclamation. It has been:
1. The remnant of a moribund race; or a dishonored community (like Israel in Egypt or in Babylon); or a people held in hopeless slavery or a company of men and women doomed to lifelong exile (Cayenne or Siberia).
2. Individuals, or families, or small groups of those who have once cherished hopes, perhaps high hopes, of a happy life, but who find themselves hopeless, cut off, away from all their resources, abandoned to themselves, with nothing but misery and death in view; it may be the marooned or castaway, left on some lonely island to pine and die; or it may be the condemned felon when the last effort to obtain a reprieve has failed; or it may be the family in the great city allowed to perish for lack of food; or it may be the helpless straggler whom the army has left behind to fall into the hands of a barbarous enemy. Sad and pitiable in the last degree is the fate of those who have to lament that they are "cut off (and abandoned) to themselves." Distinguished from these are:
3. The spiritually hopeless. Those who are perplexed and distressed in heart, because
(1) they cannot satisfy their minds as to the reality of sacred truths, as to the soundness of Christian doctrine; or because
(2) they cannot find the peace and. rest of heart they have been long seeking; or because
(3) they fancy that they have sinned beyond forgiveness and restoration. These souls cannot find the help they need; it seems to them that "no man careth for their soul," or can enter into their feelings, or go down to the dark depths of their necessity. They do not know what to do in their extremity; everything and every one has failed them; their "hope is perished;" they are "cut off" and abandoned.
II. THEIR ONE RESOURCE. When man fails us, we can turn to God and trust in him. In him the helpless and the hopeless find their Refuge. "I am alone, and yet not alone, for the Father is with me," said our Lord. And many thousands of his disciples have gained relief where their Master sought and found it. The great and supreme fact that God "remembered us in our low estate;" that when we were as a race utterly undone, "cut off" from all resources, with no hope whatever in man, he had compassion on us, and stooped to save us;—this is the strong, unfailing assurance that God will not desert us, even though we abandon one another. However low be our condition, and in whatever sense we may be hopeless, we may confidently count upon
(1) the near presence of God;
(2) the tender sympathy of our Divine Friend;
(3) his gracious and timely succor.
His will come to us, indeed, in his own time and way, which may not be after our choice or according to our expectation. But it will come; for it is quite impossible that the eternal Father will abandon his children, that the once-crucified and now exalted Savior will leave to their fate those for whom he died, and who turn earnest eyes to him for help and for salvation.—C.
The blessed kingdom.
Understanding this Divine promise to find its true and complete fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, we may recognize some of the features of that kingdom as it will one day be constituted.
I. ITS ONE ACKNOWLEDGED HEAD. The ideal "David" (Ezekiel 37:24, Ezekiel 37:25) is found, not in any future ruler like Judas Maccabaeus, but in Jesus Christ; in him who is exalted "to be a Prince and a Savior," the Lord and Sovereign of his people everywhere. A far Greater than David is he (see homily on Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24). He will have no rival in the day of the Lord, when all the Churches of Christ shall know and love the truth, and exalt him in the eyes of the world.
II. ITS UNITY. (Ezekiel 37:21, Ezekiel 37:22.) The time will come when the Divine Head of the Church will look down upon a united people. There may be a great variety of organizations, but there wilt be no discord or disunion; none, because, while there will be no uniformity of method, but every order of spiritual life, there will be everywhere prevalent the spirit of a benignant charity, of Christ-like confidence, and love; all Churches and air hearts owning one Savior, teaching one redeeming truth, breathing one spirit, living one life, moving towards one goal, and looking for one prize.
III. ITS HOLINESS. (Ezekiel 37:23.) There shall be nothing to defile. What the entire absence of idolatry signified in the case of Israel is realized by the Church in the absence of all worldliness and iniquity of every kind from its pale. It is "cleansed" by the truth and power of God, so that vice and violence, oppression and injustice, covetousness and selfishness, uncharitableness and inconsiderateness, are banished from its midst.
IV. ITS GLORIOUS MAGNITUDE. "I will multiply them." If the largest promises made to Israel had been fulfilled to the letter, that fulfillment would have been small and slight indeed when compared with the realization they have had in the establishment and the growth of the Church of Christ. And it is extending its borders still, indeed much more rapidly now than in any century but the first. It has attained to a noble magnitude, and wilt "multiply and still increase," until that little stone of Nebuchadnezzar's dream shall have rolled and grown till it "fills the whole earth."
V. ITS JOY IN GOD. God's "sanctuary is to be in the midst." His "tabernacle shall be with them." He will "be their God, and they shall be his people" (Ezekiel 37:26, Ezekiel 37:27). The picture is one of happy, holy converse between God and man. It is a great thing for a nation to rejoice because the Holy One is near, is known and felt to be near. In the "glorious future time," when the kingdom of Christ shall be established on the earth, it will be the very near presence of God that will be felt to be the source of the deepest satisfaction, of the largest and truest enrichment. To be with him, coming into his nearer presence in all the ordinances of religion, to live in the spirit and habitude of devotion, to walk with God all the day long, to be guests at his table, to lift up the face unto him as unto the heavenly Father, to lean on Christ as on the unfailing Friend of the heart and life,—this is the heritage of the good in the blessed kingdom of our Lord.—C.