Ezekiel 37 was written in the time of the destruction of the First Commonwealth of Israel in the Promised Land. This was concluded with the last Babylonian deportation and the destruction of Israel in 586 B.C. However, the situation of Israel after the “Shoah”, the destruction of European Jewry (1940-1945), more precisely fits the description in Ezekiel. The terrible circumstance of Israel the scene describes is only temporary. What follows is the redemption of Israel and the nations.
Note the contrast; Israel says of her condition: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone. We are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11).
But God says through the prophet: “Oh my people, I will open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel … I will make a covenant of peace with them, it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them. I will be their God and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I make Israel Holy” (Ezekiel 37:12, 26-28).
This is in the context of chapter 36 where God promises the Holy Spirit to Israel. It is a parallel passage to Jeremiah 31 where God promises to make a New Covenant with Israel and to write His Law upon their hearts. God promises that Israel will never again be removed from their land. The Jewish return after Babylon never attained what is promised here; for the greatest number was in the Diaspora from 586 B. C. until today. It is only now that we see the time approaching where the majority of Jews by Jewish community reckoning may soon be in Israel. Our Ezekiel passage promises both a great return to the Land and spiritual revival.
Is this Passage about the Episcopal Church?
Many Christians have used this passage in a replacement theology way as if it spoke of the renewal of their church body. In May, Canon Brian Cox, of the Christ the King Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California, gave a marvelous talk in Kenya. He emphasized that he had often preached this passage in his longing for the renewal of his denomination. Then the Lord opened his eyes to see that the prophet was not speaking about the Church, but Israel, the Jewish people. Yes, God may use this passage to speak about renewal in the Church, but this is not its contextual meaning. It is about the restoration of national-ethnic Israel!
Stages in Israel’s Restoration
Many have pointed out that this passage leads us to see Israel going through stages of dry bones being scattered, then connected together by sinews and tendons, then having flesh placed upon these bones, and finally being filled with the Spirit. The Spirit is first giving sufficient life to bring the bones together, but then at last fills the corporate army that is brought into being. This exactly fits the situation in Israel today. She is not yet a nation filled with the Spirit, but is in the process of having flesh placed upon her bones. Also in Zechariah 12:10, after Israel is mightily delivered, she “looks upon Me” whom she has pierced and “mourns for Him.” The great repentance takes place at the end of the process.
An Analogy for the Messianic Jewish Community in Israel
Patty and I have now been living in Israel long enough to have some sense of the condition of the Messianic Jewish community in Israel. A few days before writing this article, I was preparing a message. I sensed the Spirit speaking to me. I understood that Ezekiel 37 also provides us with an analogy of the situation of the Messianic Jewish community in Israel. I do not claim this as the contextual interpretation, but a fruitful prophetic analogy from the Spirit. In many ways the Messianic community in Israel is going through a similar pattern of development as described in Ezekiel 37.
My heart has been very warmed by the leaders of congregations in Israel. Most are leaders of real courage. To have survived the pressures of modern Israel, to have stood for Yeshua, and to have gathered a significant community of Jewish believers is an awesome accomplishment. I have been impressed by the quality of Israel’s Messianic Jewish leaders in integrity, grit, and personal discipline.
Separated Bones and a Corporate Body
Yet the condition of the Body reflects the limits of understanding at the present stage of development. Many hold to an independent ecclesiology or doctrine of congregational government where each gathering is completely autonomous. Linkage for mutual accountability, joint strategy, and even a joint recognized leadership is the exception. The bones now have life from the Spirit in them, but they have not yet come together, taken on flesh, and risen up to form one corporate Body. When we are asked by Church leaders to “Take us to your leaders in Israel,” we cannot respond. This is far different than the organic leadership that Yeshua provided by tying his Israeli believers together under the Apostles and the joint eldership of Jerusalem.
There is presently little understanding of five fold leadership and how apostles and prophets can provide linkage. There is little understanding of how functional unity can release people to greater effectiveness and need not stifle the creativity of each gathering under legitimate leadership. The question of government has not been studied with adequate seriousness. In addition, there is confusion about how to respond to the traditional Jewish heritage with some reacting with disdain and others becoming overly enamored. This will take maturing.
I do not know if there was any other choice for beginning the movement of Messianic Jews in Israel. Such were the circumstances in which men found themselves who were called to leadership. This was not a movement that was planned by human agency. We now find ourselves part of new significant gatherings for mutual up-building and prayer. Some leaders are beginning to ask, “Is there something more for us together?” What does John 17 and Yeshua’s prayer for unity mean for us in the Land?
What the Future Holds
I believe that the Lord is preparing to bring many of us together. He will join us together into a practical cooperative unity and mutual accountability under a five fold leadership. In addition, not only will we have His breath upon our bones, but the bones will come together, will become one corporate man, and will be filled with the Spirit in a mighty revival. As happy as we are to see growth in numbers of Messianic Jews in Israel, when God’s unity and his great outpouring comes, we will see a harvest that few can imagine. We will experience the reality of God’s dwelling in our midst and His amazing love and power in a way that will foreshadow the nation as a whole coming into the reality of his Spirit.