Israel and the Promised Land XI

December 28, 2010

In this post and the next, I am going to explore how two well-known passages relate to the promised land: 1) the “valley of dry bones” prophecy in Ezekiel 37; and 2) the great “70 weeks” prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27.  As will be seen, the relationship to the promised land is not only clear in both cases, but also quite significant.

I am handling Ezekiel 37 first because it was given first, time-wise.  Both the valley of dry bones vision and Ezekiel’s version of the New Covenant in ch. 36, which the valley of dry bones illustrates, probably date from around 570 BC.  Then, because of the historical information given at the beginning of Daniel 9, we can be confident that it was written in 539 B.C.

In general, the similarity in ideas and closeness time-wise between Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 makes it a virtual no-brainer that Ezekiel 36 is talking about the New Covenant, although that wording is not utilized in Ezekiel 36, as it is in Jeremiah 31:31.  In Ezekeil 36:24, in connection with the revelation of the New Covenant, the Lord promises the exiles “I will being you into your own land.”  Then, in verse 28, partially echoing Jeremiah 31:34, we read, “Then you will live in the land I have your fathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God” (HCSB).

Ezekiel 37 then illustrates how it come about that Israel will return to the promised land in the vision of the valley of dry bones.  Before proceeding further, let us again note that this passage is unequivocably talking about the Jewish people returning to the promised land.  Verse 12 gives the Lord’s summarized meaning of the vision: “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel” (HCSB).  However, there is more to this vision than just a repetition of the features of the new covenant stated in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.

You see, in its overall content, the valley of dry bones vision actually clarifies a three-step process in regard to its fulfillment: 1) the bodies would come together–bones, then tendons, then skin, which represents the miraculous “rebirth” of the nation previously known as Judah after the Babylonian Exile; 2) the return of the people to the promised land; and 3) the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the restored people, which is stated clearly in these words: “I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land” (Ezek. 37:14, HCSB). 

There is also one other detail that requires attention here: the statement in verse 10 that “the breath (Heb. ruach, which can be translated “breath,” “wind” or “spirit”) entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.”  In this case, the “breath” that animates the bodies of the vision is the Holy Spirit, as made clear in verse 14 (see above).  The problem here is with the wording “a vast army.”

Why is that a problem?  First, it’s problematic because the groups that returned to Palestine under Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1-2) and Ezra (chs. 7-8) were anything but “a vast army.”  If anything, they were a small faithful remnant.  Second, there is no sense of immediate fulfillment of the New Covenant at all.  It is about 600 years after the prophecies in Ezekiel 36-37 before Jesus proclaims “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood” (Lk. 22:20) in instituting the Lord’s Supper.  Related to that, Jesus’ wording in speaking to Nicodemus in John 3 probably is alluding to Ezekiel 37, given that the Greek pneuma has the same range of meaning as does the Hebrew ruach.  Even then, the wide-ranging fulfillment of the New Covenant promises could not begin until after the Cross, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.  However, given the expectation of “a vast army” of Spirit-indwelt Jews seen in Ezekiel 36-37, are the conversions of a few thousand inJerusalem in the early chapters of Acts the complete fulfillment of Step 3 in Ezekiel 37? 

That is a question with some serious wider theological ramifications, but the bottom line is: I seriously doubt it.  As I see it, Acts signals the Lord’s intention for the gospel to be spread far beyond Jerusalem in the power of the New Covenant-given Spirit (1:8), with the Gentiles, who will prove to be the primary responders in faith to the presentation of the gospel,  being grafted into the Covenant, even as Israel was, for the most part, spiritually hardened until very near the end of the age (Rom. 11). 

So, where in later Scripture do we see “a vast army” of Jews coming under the New Covenant?  My best guess is Revelation 7:1-8.  The primary reasons I take that view are: 1) in verses 4-8, there are 12 tribes mentioned, even as Ezekiel 37:15ff. emphasizes the unity of the entire nation, over 100 years after the 10 northern tribes of Israel were deported by the Assyrians, never to return; 2) verses 4-8 appear to depict the 12 tribes in military formation, much like at the beginning of Numbers, and thus as “a vast army”; and 3) both Ezekiel 37:9 and Revelation 7:1 refer to “the four winds,” likely meaning that Revelation 7:1 is consciously echoing Ezekiel 37.

If my above reasoning is correct, the final phase of the New Covenant predicted in Ezekiel 37 has only partly been fulfilled.  And–this is the direct relevance of this point for this series–if that is true, because the fulfillment of the New Covenant is said there to take place in the promised land, then there remains a New Covenant future for Israel in the promised land.


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