Have a read of Ephesians chapter 2, and then browse through Ezekiel 37. Ephesians 2 is Saul of Tarsus aka Paul the Apostle, defining God’s saving dealings with humankind through Christ. Ezekiel 37 is Zeke’s famous chapter on the valley of dry bones.
The thrust of what Ezekiel writes is that Judah and Israel will become one under the divine leadership of a certain “David” (clearly a reference to Messiah. David had died 470 plus years previously), with God being loved and obeyed by what was a split and divided couple of Hebrew nations, restored into a single new nation. The restoration of the two nations (who truly should never have been split) is to be a miracle of God’s grace that will lead Israel to be fruitful and to take its place amongst the community of nations worldwide. The parallel thrust of Ephesians 2 is that Jewish and Gentile Christians have become one as a new creation, through the redemptive work of Christ. Ezekiel then foresees Israel walking in obedience to the law. Paul exhibits the redeemed created and motivated to walk in grace, with the Law superseded and transcended by life in the Spirit.
However, I promise you the parallels of these dual sections of scripture quilled by these two highly esteemed field marshals in the kingdom of God go much deeper than this opening cursory observation suggests and is truly quite astonishing.
As a by the way, for the uninitiated Ezekiel and Paul both lived with a 600 year gap between their lives. That is an important note on my thoughts. It hooks me in more firmly to wonder if Paul had any deliberate motive in paralleling Ezekiel 37 when he wrote what we refer to as Ephesians 2.
Ezekiel 37 is one of those well-known and intensely graphic passages of Hebrew scripture. If this writer had a five-pound note for every lecture and sermon, I have heard on “The Valley of Dry Bones,” I would be quite a wealthy man. The divided, dispersed, disconnected, destroyed and dissolved nation of Israel is predicted to expect a miraculous restoration in some future time. This restoration is portrayed in an excruciatingly vivid manner through Ezekiel’s awesome and terrible vision of the valley full of dry bones. The dreadful sight was a mass of separated and disconnected skeletal components representing the globally scattered and separated Jews. The opening vista of Ezekiel’s vision is of a demised and “lost cause.” Suddenly, after Ezekiel’s prophetic instruction to speak to the bones, however, they make a thunderous noise and begin to come together. Tendons and flesh appears on the reconstituted skeletal frames, and after Ezekiel calls for the “Ruach” of God to come from all corners, the breath of life enters into those regathered yet lifeless cadavers, still lying horizontally. Immediately a multitude of living breathing people, a veritable army of the reconstituted stood up before the prophet. He saw it he heard it and had spoken it into being. God then speaks and says that the image and allegory of Ezekiel’s vision was exactly how He would revive the nation of Israel and resurrect the entire race into statehood. Furthermore, the day of restoration would also be a day of reunification for Israel and Judah. A phenomenal prediction.
At the time Ezekiel delivered this message, Israel (as opposed to Judah) was scattered all around the Middle to Far East having been dispersed some 130-40 years earlier. Their whereabouts has always been a mystery, hence “the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” Judah, though only more recently dispersed into Babylonian exile by God’s judgement, were generally in a state of confusion, depression and despair trying to handle the seeming loss of the rationale for their very existence. Their exile seriously suggested that it was “the end of civilisation, as they knew it.”
Ezekiel then goes even further. There is God’s promise of cleansing, to be followed with the announcement of David’s heir as their king, obedience to God’s ordinances and statutes (37:24), and the establishing of “a covenant of peace” (37:26) as “an everlasting covenant” in a “sanctuary” (37:26, 28), which will be God’s “dwelling place” with them (37:27).
We are finally given a second striking graphic, the likes of which are rife and rampant throughout the whole book of Ezekiel. To illustrate the reunification of Israel, Yahweh told Ezekiel to take two sticks – one representing the northern kingdom of Israel and the other the southern kingdom of Judah. The prophet was instructed to hold them with the ends joined out of sight within his hand. By this “hands on” dramatic illustration came the word of the Lord. Yahweh was not only to bring the exiles of both Israel and Judah back to the land, but He would make them into one single and united kingdom again. He was also to raise up a new “son of David” (Messiah) to lead them and to establish a new covenant with them. Once more God would be visibly dwelling in the midst of the Jewish people as the nation of Israel.
So we have the prophetictic promise of 1. Resuscitation, 2. Resurrection, 3. Restoration, and 4. Reunification.
What I find incredible is that Ephesians 2 recounts an exactly parallel story, yet in a completely different context. The pattern of the writing of both chapters is so similar as to scream to the reader that Paul wrote it deliberately as a sort of applied commentary on Ezekiel’s thirty seventh chapter. Paul’s Ephesians 2 (Of course Paul did NOT separate his letters into chapters and verses) begins by describing the human condition as “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). People were cut off from hope, having no spiritual life. Image them as a world, instead of a valet, heaped to congestion with dry bones. “But God, who is rich in mercy, on account of his great love with which he loved” them, made them alive together with Christ. They were a global valley of dispersed dry bones of humanity, as dead in their sins as the Jews were in the statehood and unity. For it is by grace that they are saved, through faith, which is not of their own doing, but it is the gift of God. Undeserved and unasked for, Ezekiel spoke to the dry bones and gave them oneness, unity, breath and sinew and finally turned them into a fighting marching union of humanity. Ephesians 2 then moves on to speak of reconciliation, particularly the reconciliation of Gentiles. However, it does not stop at the coming together of gentiles into the kingdom of God. The enmity, and racial and religious separation of Jew and gentile has been completely broken down in Christ. Just as Israel and Judah were to be unified into one single state of Israel, so Jew and gentile are unified in Christ to be a reconciled body of Christ – the church of the first born from the dead. Jesus Christ has not only made peace, but he himself has become the substance of peace. Gentiles of faith are not without hope any longer. They are not strangers anymore. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are no longer two different peoples; they have become one new humanity in Christ, in whom they are “being built together into a dwelling of God” (Ephesians 2:22).
By these remarks the reader will understand the direction in which I am going. The ties that unite these two chapters, however, goes much further than the above. There are verbal and structural similarities of logic as well as the above mentioned conceptual and thematic narrative parallels.
Upon close examination, I find it remarkable to see that Paul uses exactly the same words in Ephesians 2 that are used in the Greek Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 37. To this writer this seems too amazing by far to be coincidence. I see in it a divinely created twinning in order for us to draw certain conclusions concerning the dynamics of God’s purposes and plans for redeemed humanity.