Christian exegetes have wrestled with the connection of Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones and the doctrine of the bodily resurrection since they first preached on Ezekiel 37 from the light of Christ’s own bodily resurrection. While early exegetes drew a very quick line from the resuscitation of the bones to our own bodily resurrection, some more modern biblical commentators insist that “serious, literal exegesis” allows no such connection.
On the one hand, I think that the early Church fathers could have done a better job connecting the dots; on the other hand, I think that modern exegetes sometimes forget Jesus’ insistence that the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms were written about him (Luke 24:44).
I was thankful, then, to find two stunning expositions on Ezekiel 37 that sees the connection, yet that does the work of connecting the dots. I quote them here for your edification:
[This text] functions as a very important link in a theological chain to which the full biblical hope of resurrection is anchored. At one end is the connection we have already noted between Ezekiel’s vision of God breathing life into the lifeless bodies of Israel’s defunct army and the Genesis tradition of God breathing the breath of life into the human-shaped pile of dust that then became a living human being. God’s renewal of Israel was like a rerun of creation. Or, to put it the other way round, what God was about to do for Israel would be like the first act in the renewal of humanity as a whole. Here again, as in so many ways, the links between Israel and humanity are apparent. Israel had been called in the first place, through Abraham, to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Their election and redemption were for the sake of the rest of humanity. Likewise, therefore, just as their sin and punishment mirrored the fallenness of the whole race, so too their restoration would prefigure God’s gracious purpose of redemption for humanity. Resurrection for Israel anticipated resurrection for all.
And at the centre of the chain stands Jesus himself….The most significant echo of Ezekiel 37 [in the life of Jesus] comes in a locked room on the very evening of his resurrection, when, we read, “he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” The Lord of life himself, freshly risen to his feet from where he had lain among the bones of the dead, adopts simultaneously the posture of Ezekiel in summoning the breath of God, and the posture of God himself in commanding the breath of the Spirit to come upon the disciples. (Christopher J. H. Wright, The Message of Ezekiel: A New Heart and a New Spirit (Bible Speaks Today) [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001], 310.)
And here is a biblical commentator from the 19th century:
The true restoration of Israel as the people of the Lord commenced with the founding of the new kingdom of God, the ‘kingdom of heaven,’ through the appearing of Christ upon the earth. But inasmuch as the Jewish nation as such, or in its entirety, did not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah foretold by the prophets and sent by God, but rejected its Saviour, there burst afresh upon Jerusalem and the Jewish nation the judgment of dispersion among the heathen; whereas the kingdom of God founded by Christ spread over the earth, through the entrance of believers from among the Gentiles. This judgment upon the Jewish people, which is hardened in unbelief, still continues, and will continue until the time when the full number of the Gentiles has entered into the kingdom of God, and Israel as a people shall also be converted to Christ, acknowledge the crucified One as its Saviour, and bow the knee before Him (Rom. xi. 25, 26). Then will ‘all Israel’ be raised up out of its graves, the graves of its political and spiritual death, and brought back into its own land, which will extend as far as the Israel of God inhabits the earth. Then also will the hour come in which all the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth out of their graves to the resurrection (Dan. xii. 2; John v. 25-29); when the Lord shall appear in His glory, and descend from heaven with the trump of God (1 Thess. iv. 13), to call all the dead to life, and through the judgment upon all the nations to perfect His kingdom in glory, and bring the righteous into the Canaan of the new earth, into the heavenly Jerusalem, to the imperishable life of everlasting blessedness. (C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, trans. James Martin [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960], 127-28)
And that, brothers and sisters, will preach.