By Sam Nadler
In Ezekiel 37:3, God asks the prophet Ezekiel a strange question: “Can these bones live?” For God to ask a man anything is strange, since God is omniscient. So when God asks a question, it isn’t to gain information, but to direct our attention to God’s priorities and interests (see Gen. 3:9; Ex. 4:2; Mt. 16: 13).
Oh, Them Dry Bones
The “bones” in Ezekiel 37 refer to “the whole house of Israel” (37:11), who because of their sins, would be exiled into the “graves” of the nations (37:12; Lev. 26:38). This has happened twice in Israel’s past history:
-The first exile occurred because of Israel’s national defiance toward God’s messengers, bringing about the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE (2 Chr. 36:11-21, Jer. 29:10);
-The second exile occurred because of Israel’s national unbelief in Messiah (see Luke 19:41-44), bringing about the last dispersion in 70 CE by the Roman Empire.
Would Israel live once again? Could the Jewish people come back to the land as a nation? Ezekiel answers honestly, humbly, “O Lord God, You alone know” (37:3). Exactly right! It would take a miracle to raise the ‘dead bones of Israel’ back to life. This would depend on God’s power alone.
God responds to the prophet by stating He will not only bring Ezekiel’s generation back to the land of Israel, but that there would be a future and greater regathering of Israel from all the nations (37:12). Why does He promise to do this? Three times God states, “that Israel might know that I am the LORD” (vv. 6, 13, 14). Israel’s return from exile was to be a testimony of God’s existence, and His priorities. Therefore since May 14, 1948, it is evident to the world that God is still at work among the Jewish people. And where God is at work, we should be at work as well.
Israel’s Restoration: In Stages
Perhaps the strangest verses of this section are found in Ezekiel 37:7-8: “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there ·was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together; bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew, and skin covered them; but there was no breath [spirit or ruach] in them.”
When we read these verses, it is important to understand that God speaks of Israel’s restoration occurring in stages. Therefore, they cannot refer to the “rapture of the saints” or the resurrection of dead saints spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:5. The Bible tells us these events will occur in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Rather than referring to the Body of Messiah, these bones refer to the Jewish people who are “the whole of the House of Israel” (vs. 11). This is a picture of God’s historical regathering of the nation of Israel from the nations, and as we shall see, predicts the future birth and progression of Zionism. God has worked throughout secular history to accomplish His will, even through pagan kings such as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus (Dan. 4:34, Isa. 45:1). However, this portion of Scripture demonstrates how He has worked through history to bring about the modern state of Israel.
An Amazing History!
Let’s take a look at the elements of Israel’s restoration outlined in Ezekiel 37 and put them in historical context:
“The Noise” 1840-1860 – During this period, a realistic discussion for a Jewish Homeland began. Worldwide Anti-Semitism brought prayer, and thus recognized the Jewish need for a homeland.
-During this time the Damascus Affair took place (1840), in which a monk accused the Jews of ritual murder.
-Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher and other rabbis’ preaching gave vision for resettlement of the Land.
-Moses Montefiore and Charles Netter started making the first attempts to colonize the Land.
“The Rattling” 1860s-1890 – Small movements among the Jewish people toward colonization.
-1862: Moses Hess urged the establishment of a Jewish state in his book, Rome and Jerusalem.
-1881-82: The First Russian Jewish Aliyah (‘going up to the Land’) commenced, along with the founding of the first pioneer town in Israel, Rishon Le Zion, meaning “First in Zion.”
-This period ended with the “Dreyfus Affair” in France in 1895. A French Jew named Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, but was later acquitted. This event demonstrated to Jews everywhere that even in ‘civilized’ Europe, there was little hope of Jewish acceptance.
-From 1860-1890, the Jewish population in the land reached 25,000.
“Bone to Bone” In the 1890’s-1914, the ‘skeletal’ structure for a Jewish Homeland was formed.
-1896, Theodor Hertzl, the visionary father of modern Zionism, wrote The Jewish State. This set the focus for both his generation and the next several generations to follow.
-1897, the Zionist Congress met in Basle, Switzerland. Here the vision of a homeland was developed as an international Jewish perspective and hope. Zionism now referred to the political movement for a Jewish Homeland.
-1900-1914: In The Second Russian Jewish Aliyah which was depicted in the closing scenes of the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, the Jews were forced out of Czarist Russia. Many went to ‘Palestine,’ as well as to the US (the Nadler family was one!)
-Jewish population in the Land grew to 90,000+.
“Sinews” 1917-1920’s – Sinews began to attach muscle to bones of the developing body, and political events further developed the infrastructure.
-November 2, 1917: British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour , wrote The Balfour Declaration to Lord Rothschild, President of the British Zionist Federation and, and endorsed “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people” in what was then known as ‘Palestine.’
-1922: The League of Nations ratified the British Mandate over the ‘Palestine’ area, and incorporated some provisions in the Balfour declaration for “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people.”
-1917-1920’s, the Jewish population reached 180,000.
“Flesh & Muscle” 1929-1940’s – During this time, power and strength applied to this developing entity.
-1929: The Jewish Agency coordinated the international affairs of the Jewish people inside and outside of what was then known as the ‘Palestine’ area.
-1930-1946: Jewish military units of Haganah, Irgum, Lochamei were developed to protect the Jewish settlers and kibbutz residents from Arab aggression. The 1960 movie Exodus, starring Paul Newman, depicted the struggles of the Jewish people during this time.
-Jewish population growth: 1929-1946: In 1935 – 300,000; in 1937: 430,000; in 1945: 500,000.
“Skin”: 1946-47: The appearance of national identification emerges.
-After the holocaust, worldwide sympathy for the Jewish People (sadly temporary) triggered international recognition of the need for a Jewish Homeland.
-11/9/47: In what seemed like a miracle in the eyes of many Jews and Bible-believing Christians, The UN passed the Partition Plan dividing “Palestine between Arabs and Jews.
-5/14/48: David Ben Gurion proclaimed the establishment of Israel. Surrounding Arab/Islamic nations (Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon & Syria) immediately declared war, and attacked Israel in overwhelming numbers. However, they were miraculously defeated.
-1947-48: population reached approx. 650,000. Today there are 6,450,000 Jews living in the Land, and the number keeps growing! (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel).
An amazing Mystery!
Though it may seem outlandish to imagine a people returning to a land nineteen centuries after their dispersion, God means what He says. This national return to the Land brings us to the Mystery of Zionism, for Ezekiel states that even with Israel’s national existence in the Land (“skin”), “there is no Spirit” (37:8b). Physical restoration to the Land is preparatory for a spiritual restoration to the Lord, and Ezekiel actually prophesies a two-fold return of Israel.
First, Israel would return to the land in unbelief in Messiah (37:6). That is why in the future, Israel will make a 7-year covenant with the evil ruler, the Anti-Messiah (Dan. 9:27, Rev. 11, 13). This seven-year period is what Scripture calls “The Great Tribulation” and “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Jer. 30:7). At the end of that time, national Israel will trust in Messiah and will receive the Spirit of God (Ez. 37:14).Second (and unfortunately), it will take the Tribulation to bring Israel to true faith, to cease from trusting in themselves and cry out to the Lord: “and they will look upon Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). It is clear to any visitor in modern Israel that as a nation, they are still in unbelief regarding Yeshua as Messiah. God wants Israel to have “life,” 37:6), real life, spiritual life (“I will put my Spirit in you“, 37:14). Life is found in the Lord, not in the Land, and until they are secure in the Lord, Israel will not be secure in the Land. There is no true peace without the Prince of Peace.
Now is the Time
Like Ezekiel, in our ministry to Jewish people we’re commanded to “speak to the bones” (37:4). We’re not to just speak about the bones, but we’re to speak to them. We are to bring God’s word of life to the Jewish people. Don’t be discouraged by the spiritual dryness of “the bones”, because God can still bring life and victory! That is why we must share the Good News of Messiah now, while we have the opportunity. And like Israel, regardless of all you may have attained, you’re simply ‘dry bones’ without the Spirit. So “if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
Israel Independence Day is celebrated this year beginning at sundown on May 1, 2017 (Iyyar 6 on the Jewish calendar). May this be a time to remember the Lord, who fulfills His promises, and may we be encouraged to work where He is at work, even among our Jewish people.