Ezekiel, regarded as one of the great prophets of Israel, was of the line of priests of that people, but was taken captive by order of King Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldeans, and went to live with the captive Israelites by the river Chebar, a tributary of the river Euphrates in a village called Tel Abib in 597 BC. He gives us the dates of his prophecies as from that year, so we calculate that they were made during 22 years, from 593 to 571 BC.
The prophecy of chapter 37 of his book in the Bible concerns the revival of Israel, which will take place before the millennium, where we see the action of the Holy Spirit to transform a remnant of this people without spiritual life, so that, gathered and quickened, it might again take its position as God's people on earth.
Ezekiel says, “the hand of the Lord was upon me," which we understand is a state of prophetic ecstasy in which he speaks in full consciousness, but under full control of the Holy Spirit. He uses this phrase several times as a sign of prophetic vision. In the revelation, he was transported, not physically, but in a vision to “the midst of the valley", referring to a valley already specified in chapter 3:22, where he had been transported by the hand of the Lord in another prophetic vision, where he saw the Glory of God. The valley was now full of bones.
This is a prophetic figure of the spiritual state of symbolic death in which the Israelites are. It has nothing to do with Gentiles, resurrection of the dead, or conversion of sinners in general or particular, but the prophecy illustrates the restoration of Israel as God's people in the world.
Ezekiel found that the bones were very numerous, all around the valley and they were very dry. The Lord asked him if the bones could live, but Ezequiel wisely and humbly answered, "O Lord God, You know." God is the Almighty. Then the Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones. They could hear, and He commanded Ezekiel to tell them to hear the Word of the Lord.
The Word of the Lord was a promise to the people of Israel, represented by the dry bones, declaring, "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live". It is a startling statement made to dry bones, unable even to breathe. Essentially, they lacked the vital organs to make this possible. The Lord continued, stating, "I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD."
Here we have four stages of the restoration of Israel, following a natural progression. It is not a resurrection, because this is always instantaneous. This restoration will result in life as a nation, and they will know that He is Lord.
In this vision, both re-joinings of the Israelites that the Bible speaks of symbolically are united. The first is when the Israelites spread out in disbelief re-join in preparation for the trials of the Great Tribulation. This will be followed by a second re-joining in faith in preparation for the blessing of the Messianic millennial kingdom. These few verses summarize and briefly describe the two re-joinings, and they are indispensable to each other.
The first re-joining is described in verses 7 to 10. Verse 7 reports that Ezekiel prophesied as he was commanded, and two things happened: there was a noise and rattling. The Hebrew word translated as "noise" means "sound" or "voice", and the word translated "rattling" means "trembling" or "shudder".
Then suddenly there was a sound or voice followed by a trembling (or shaking of the earth). This gave start to the four steps of the restoration: gathering of the bones of everyone, lining of nerves, growth of flesh and skin coverage. They still lacked the breath of life.
It is the description of an unregenerate state. We understand that this first phase has already been completed for the people of Israel:
The "voice" was fulfilled with the 1st World War, when the Zionist movement grew and was driven to wish for the recovery of the territory of Israel, to form and install its own nation in it;
The "commotion" happened with the 2nd World War, which set the stage for the world's nations to vote in favour of the State of Israel. The result was the world's first re-joining of the Israelites, in disbelief, preparing for the trials of the Great Tribulation.
The second re-joining is described in verses 9 and 10, and involves the input of the breath of life in the bones, which then lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceedingly great army in preparation for the blessing of Christ's Kingdom.
In verse 9, Ezekiel received another order: "Prophesy to the breath... Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’".
In verse 10, we read that Ezekiel did so, and “breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.” Here the Hebrew word “rauch” is translated as "wind" and "breath". This Hebrew word and its two translations are found in the Bible as symbols of the Holy Spirit.
Following the biblical chronology of the future of humanity, we know that the Lord Jesus will come soon to rapture His church, raising the dead and transforming the living, comprised of Israelites and Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17), before the " day of the Lord ." This will start after the Antichrist is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Without the church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Christianity will disappear from the earth (2 Thessalonians 2:7), and the seven-year tribulation will start, at the middle of which the Great Tribulation of Israel will take place. We believe it is in this second part of the tribulation that the prophecy of the second re-joining will be fulfilled.
It has nothing to do with a physical resurrection. Let us review the facts:
The dry bones scattered through the valley represent the dispersion of a spiritually dead Israel throughout the world.
The bones are the whole house of Israel, not only the righteous (verse 11).
Bones are able to talk to each other, proving that they are physically alive.
Israel is symbolized as being dry and useless among the Gentiles (verses 12-14).
Nowhere in the Bible do we find the resurrection of a person taking place in stages. However, the restoration of these bones is done progressively.
The Bible never speaks of a simultaneous general physical resurrection of all the dead. It clearly distinguishes the resurrection of the righteous dead (the so-called "first resurrection" done in groups at different times, not subject to judgement – John 3:18), from the later resurrection of the remainder, to be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:12).
The symbolism is confirmed in the context of this chapter, where we find another symbol, the two sticks representing the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The quickening of the bones is not a physical resurrection, but symbolizes the dispersion, re-joining and restoration of the nation of Israel in their own land.
Given this interpretation, we then understand that by the work of the Holy Spirit, the regeneration of Israel will be completed with spiritual life. The nation of Israel has died, but the Holy Spirit will revive it.
In verses 11 to 14, we find the interpretation given by God, as embodied in the story above. We note here that the prophecy was given in response to the complaint of the Israelites, who were scattered in exile, discouraged, hopeless, and cut off. God would take them out of the "graves" in which they were, as a sign that He was the Lord, bring them to their land, and put his Spirit in them to know that He keeps His Word.
We understand that during the tribulation period after the rapture of the church, there will be a great movement of the Holy Spirit, leading many Israelites to convert and to preach repentance and conversion to God throughout the world troubled by His wrath, multitudes will attend to their preaching and many will be martyred (Revelation 7). As a nation, Israel will cry out to God when their land is being invaded by the armies of the Antichrist, and then the Lord Jesus will return with His saints and His angels, freeing them from their enemies, and preparing the world for His Kingdom. We believe that this prophecy of Ezekiel will be fulfilled just before this outcome.
1 The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.
3 And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know."
4 Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.
6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD." ' "
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone.
8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
9 Also He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." ' "
10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!'
12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
13 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.' "