1. The view, that what the prophet beheld in vision was the final resurrection of mankind , though favored by Jerome, Calovius, and Kliefoth, must be abandoned, not because the doctrine of a general resurrection would not have been a powerful consolation to the pious-hearted in Israel, or because that doctrine was not then known, but because, in the prophet's own explanation, the bones are declared to be those, not of the whole family of man, but merely of the house of Israel. At the same time, those interpreters are right who, like Hengstenberg, Keil, and Plumptre, hold that, even if the doctrine of a general resurrection had not been current in Ezekiel's time, this vision was enough to call it into existence, and even to lend strong probability to its truth.
2. Accordingly, the view is commonly preferred that, while an objective reality to the prophet's mind, and by no means a mere rhetorical garb for its conceptions, the vision was designed as a symbolic representation of Israel ' s resuscitation; though here again opinions diverge both as to what formed the mental background for the prophet's use of such a symbol, and as to how it served to suggest the thought of Israel's revival. While some, like Jerome and Hengstenberg, as above indicated, regard "the doctrine of the proper resurrection" as "the presupposition of the expanded figurative representation," others, with Havernick, find its historical basis in such instances of raising from the dead as were performed by Elijah and Elisha, and perhaps also in such passages as Isaiah 26:19 . If Smend thinks the vision was intended to assist Israel merely by suggesting that "the unbelievable might happen," and Havernick that it was designed to inspire hope by presenting to the mind a lively picture of the creative, life-giving power of God, "which can raise even dead bones to life again," Ewald finds its chief power to console in the thought "that the nation or individual which does not despair of the Divine Spirit will not be forsaken of this Spirit in any situation, but will always be borne on by it to new life."
The "word" embodied in this section was probably communicated to the prophet at the close of the preceding vision. Its connection with this is apparent, treating as it does of the union of the then severed branches of the house of Israel, and of the subsequent prosperity which should attend united Israel under the rule of the Messianic King of the future. That this oracle, like the former, had only a temporary and partial accomplishment in the return from captivity is so obvious as to stand in no need of demonstration. Its true fulfillment must be sought in the future ingathering of Israel to the Christian Church.
explain how the unification of the two kingdoms should be brought about. The first step should be the bringing of the people home to their own land ( Ezekiel 37:21 , Ezekiel 37:22 ); the second, their purification from idolatry ( Ezekiel 37:23 ); the third, the installation over them, thus united and purified, of one King, the ideal David of the future, or the Messiah ( Ezekiel 37:24 , Ezekiel 37:25 ); the fourth, the establishment with them of Jehovah's covenant of peace ( Ezekiel 37:26 ), and the permanent erection amongst them of Jehovah's temple ( Ezekiel 37:27 , Ezekiel 37:28 ).
The phrase, my servant David (comp. Ezekiel 34:23 , Ezekiel 34:24 ; Jeremiah 33:21 , Jeremiah 33:22 , Jeremiah 33:26 ; Psalms 78:70 ; Psalms 89:3 , Psalms 89:20 ; Psalms 144:10 ), goes back to the Messianic promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16 , and cannot be satisfactorily explained as signifying the Davidic house (Smend), or as pointing to "a line of true rulers, each faithfully representing the ideal David as the faithful Ruler, the true Shepherd of his people" (Plumptre, on Ezekiel 34:23 ), inasmuch as Israel, after Ezekiel's day, never possessed any such line of rulers, and certainly no such line continued forever . The only feasible exegesis is that which understands Jehovah's servant David to be Messiah, or Jesus Christ, of whom the writer to the Hebrews ( Ezekiel 1:8 ) says. "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever."
Christ the King.
I. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS A GLORIOUS FACT . In Ezekiel it is only predicted. To Christians it is an accomplished fact. Christ has come and has realized the ideal of ancient prophecy.
1. He is of the line of David . He was welcomed as the Son of David ( Luke 18:38 ). He gathers up the old traditions of Israel's golden age, and lifts their promises to a higher fulfillment.
2. He is a Shepherd . Aristotle quoted Homer to show that the true king should be a shepherd. Christ rules tenderly and with regard to the welfare of his people, not like the cruel, selfish, despotic monarchs of heathen empires.
3. He is God's Servant . Therefore
II. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS A CENTER OF UNITY . "And they all shall have one Shepherd." Judah and Israel are to have but one King, and are to be united under the reign of this new David. "The envy also of Ephraim shall depart," etc. ( Isaiah 11:13 ) The supreme advantage of the institution of a monarchy is that it cements the people under it into a consolidated unity. Christ is the Head of the body, and as such he harmonizes the movements of all the limbs. It is strange that Christendom should be broken up into innumerable mutually antagonistic factions. But Christ is not responsible for those divisions. On the contrary, it is just the loss of Christ in the Churches that leads to their severance.
III. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS AN INSPIRATION FOR OBEDIENCE . "They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes to do them." It is more difficult to obey an abstract law than to serve a living person. Christianity by no means gives us a dispensation from the obligation of obedience. Our Lord expects his disciples to "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" ( Matthew 5:20 ), and it is possible to do this by his new method. No longer painfully toiling along the dreary road of formal legalism, Christians are inspired by an enthusiasm for their Master which fires their love and zeal to do or suffer on his behalf; and this glorious, loving service of Christ is just the obedience and righteousness transformed into a new and attractive shape.
IV. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS A FOUNDATION OF SOLID PROSPERITY . Under the new David the people will live at peace in the possession of their land. The service of Christ introduces all Christians to a splendid inheritance. The Christian life is not a wild knight-errantry. It is the enjoyment of a happy and peaceful kingdom. When Christ's reign is universal, society will be happy and prosperous. Even now inward peace and rich treasures of Divine grace are the portion of his people on earth, while they are cheered with the prospect of entering into a wonderful "inheritance of the saints in light" when the present life is over.
V. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS TO BE ETERNAL . "My Servant David shall be their Prince forever." The reign of Christ was never so widespread as it is in this nineteenth century. His sun dawned nearly two thousand years ago. It is still climbing to its meridian. Sunset Christ shall never have. The Light of the world is the light of the ages—"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever" ( Hebrews 13:8 ).
As in many other instances, so here Ezekiel propounds a great moral and prophetical lesson by means of symbol. The two sticks which he is directed to join one to another into one stick represent the two divisions, the two kingdoms, of Judah and of Northern Israel, and their union represents the abolition of the distinction, the schism, which had been so injurious to the national welfare, and the formation of one people, one in brotherly love, one in mutual helpfulness, one in the unity of national and political life, and one in religious faith, worship, and observance. This exhibition of the beauty and value of unity is worthy of the consideration of Christians in our own time, when divisions are so abundant and are thought of so lightly, whilst they are most injurious to the interests of Christianity and most pernicious in their influence upon the unbelieving world. General lessons underlie the special exhortations and promises of this passage of prophecy.
I. UNITY IS BROUGHT ABOUT BY GOD HIMSELF . He is the God of peace, and delights in peace. "I," says he, "will make them one nation in the land." The kind of unity which is effected by the action of common human sympathy or interest is neither valuable nor permanent. True unity needs a Divine basis.
II. UNITY IS MANIFEST IN BROTHERLY LOVE AND SYMPATHY . That is to say, it is, first of all, unity of heart. When the same Divine Spirit works in many natures he produces similar effects in all; and his handiwork is nowhere more evident than in the prevalence of mutual love. The members of the same body, being obedient to the one Head, render one to another the tribute of mutual interest and kindly willingness to serve and help.
III. UNITY CONSISTS IN COMMON SUBJECTION TO ONE KING . "One King shall be king to them all; My Servant David shall be King over them, and they shall all have one Shepherd." The political unity of the Jews seems lost sight of m the Messianic reference of the prediction. The Church of Christ is one because there is over it but one Head, even Christ himself. All true Christians, every true Christian community in every place, acknowledge his sole sovereignty and confess allegiance to his sole authority.
IV. UNITY IS DISPLAYED IN THE ABANDONMENT AND REPUDIATION OF ALL UNFAITHFULNESS . When some of the children of Israel worshipped Jehovah, and others some one or other of the various hateful deities of the heathen, it was impossible that there should be unity. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" There is thus a negative condition of spiritual oneness. The minds of men must be turned away from error and sin, in order that they may with one accord be turned Godwards and heavenwards. The unfaithful to God cannot be faithful one to another. They must have the same loathing and the same liking.
V. UNITY IS DISPLAYED IN A COMMON AND CONJOINT OBEDIENCE . This is a positive condition of spiritual oneness. "They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes to do them." They who are one in heart will not find it difficult to be one in life. The laws are one, although the obedient are scattered far and wide, although the forms of obedience vary with varying circumstances.
VI. THE UNITY IS EVERLASTING . This can be true only of a unity which is Divine in its basis and its bonds. The language used in this portion of prophecy must refer to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. "David my Servant shall be their Prince forever; " "They shall dwell in the land for ever ;" " I will make an everlasting covenant with them;" "I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore ." Such expressions are true. and they are true only of the kingdom which is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." No national, probably no ecclesiastical, unity upon earth is permanent. But the Son of God is King forever, and the subjects of his spiritual empire are bound together by the common ties which unite them to their Lord—ties which time cannot weaken and death cannot dissolve.—T.
Union essential to highest prosperity.
It is clear that this series of prophecies had, at least, a twofold meaning. These predictions pointed to beneficial changes near, visible, temporal; they pointed also to grandee events more distant, more spiritual. The fulfillment of prophecy was also another prophecy. The immediate performance of God's promise was a type of larger performance. As each harvest is a prophecy of the next, so one fulfillment of God's covenant symbolizes a fulfillment on a larger and nobler scale. Time is a picture of eternity. What was really good in the past shall reappear in the future. Israel's passage through the Red Sea was a symbol of later deliverances. The royal life of David shall be reproduced. As the secret principle of David's power and David's prosperity was that he ruled by a spirit of love, which knit the people in unity; so David shall be the emblem of Messiah's person, and Messiah's gentle sway. The passage now under consideration refuses to be confined within a local application; it embraces the renovated race and the immortal King. To make this announcement the more impressive, it was attended by a significant action. It is a prophecy both spoken and acted. It was an ancient custom, prevalent still in the East, to write on fiat sticks, and these were sometimes tied together after the simplest fashion of a book. Discord and division had been the first step in Israel's retrogression and fall. Internal strife prepared the way for invasion and defeat. Now, reunion is a necessary step to the fulfillment of the Divine promise—the first step towards a new national life.
I. REAL UNION CAN ONLY BE EFFECTED BY INWARD RENOVATION . Hence the gracious promise is repeated, "I will save them out of their dwelling-places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them." This truth must be repeated times without number. So long as rebellion against God occupies the heart, so long there will be strife and hatred between man and man. Infidelity has always been hostile to society. But as men get nearer to God as their Center, the circumference diminishes, and they get nearer to each other. The uprooting of selfishness from the human heart is the removal of discord and war. If the fountain be made pure, pure will be the streams. Sin separates. Piety unites. After the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, men were fused in brotherhood, and did not even count their goods their own. New-felt love swallowed up every other sentiment. "They had all things common."
II. UNION AMONG THE PEOPLE IS CEMENTED BY ALLEGIANCE TO ONE KING . "David my servant shall be King over them, and they all shall have one Shepherd." The rivalry of opposing kings in Rehoboam's day had been the root of endless mischief. "Like king, like people." This new Monarch has such incomparable claims that a rival is out of the question. His august worth will win from his subjects intense loyalty and love; and in proportion to their intense love for him there will develop attachment to each other. In his pure presence mutual suspicion and distrust hide away abashed. It is a part of his royal mission to foster all right sympathies. To be like their King is the high ambition of each. To serve and please their King is the common purpose of every true Israelite. To love one another is but another form of loving him.
III. UNION IS FOSTERED BY DOING GOD 'S WILL . "They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes." They that walk in the same road usually become good companions. And these new subjects of Messiah delight in these paths. They speak to each other of their joy. They delight to encourage each other to surmount such obstacles as appear, and to press on in the royal way. Their understandings being divinely illumined, they see such excellence in God's will that their wills become conformed to his. So, in becoming conformed to God's will, they become like each other. Among the children a common likeness appears. Fellow-soldiers on the same battle* field become fast friends. Common service and exposure to common dangers form a strong bond of union. In serving God we also serve one another.
IV. UNION SECURES GOD 'S NEARER PRESENCE . "I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." If men feel that it is" good for brethren to dwell together in unity," God feels it still more to be both "good and pleasant." Our God is a God of order. Amid scenes of discord he will not abide. If men prefer his foe-the fomenter of hatreds—he will depart. But where true unity of spirit reins among men God will nearer come, wilt take up his abode, will make an everlasting covenant with them; his sanctuary is the sign of union and the security for union. Then the channel is open for the highest good to descend. God will become, in every practical respect, their God. His light shall be their light, his strength shall be their strength, his purity shall become their purity, his joy shall become theirs. God's fullness shall replenish their emptiness.
V. UNION IN THE TRUE ISRAEL SHALL PRODUCE A SALUTARY EFFECT UPON WORLD . "The heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel." Here is the germ of the truth which was fully expanded in the intercessory prayer of Christ, "That they all may be one, that the world may believe that thou didst send me ." It is little short of a miracle that the kingdom of our Lord should be maintained, much less grow, when so much division exists. That man contracts no light sin who uses his influence in keeping Christians apart. Real schism is a monstrous sin. And when the purity, the piety, the practical love, of the Church become eminent, these will produce a stupendous impression upon the world without. Holiness which is not austere, holiness expressed in its native form of sterling goodness, has an omnipotent charm which, once seen by men, fascinates all hearts. The love of money and of pleasure will fade and vanish when men discover the superior worth of true righteousness. God's manifest residence in the Church will win the homage of all the nations. "Then shall the heathen know," etc.—D.
The blessed kingdom.
Understanding this Divine promise to find its true and complete fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, we may recognize some of the features of that kingdom as it will one day be constituted.
I. ITS ONE ACKNOWLEDGED HEAD . The ideal " David " ( Ezekiel 37:24 , Ezekiel 37:25 ) is found, not in any future ruler like Judas Maccabaeus, but in Jesus Christ; in him who is exalted "to be a Prince and a Savior," the Lord and Sovereign of his people everywhere. A far Greater than David is he (see homily on Ezekiel 34:23 , Ezekiel 34:24 ). He will have no rival in the day of the Lord, when all the Churches of Christ shall know and love the truth, and exalt him in the eyes of the world.
II. ITS UNITY . ( Ezekiel 37:21 , Ezekiel 37:22 .) The time will come when the Divine Head of the Church will look down upon a united people. There may be a great variety of organizations, but there wilt be no discord or disunion; none, because, while there will be no uniformity of method, but every order of spiritual life, there will be everywhere prevalent the spirit of a benignant charity , of Christ-like confidence, and love; all Churches and air hearts owning one Savior, teaching one redeeming truth, breathing one spirit, living one life, moving towards one goal, and looking for one prize.
III. ITS HOLINESS . ( Ezekiel 37:23 .) There shall be nothing to defile. What the entire absence of idolatry signified in the case of Israel is realized by the Church in the absence of all worldliness and iniquity of every kind from its pale. It is "cleansed" by the truth and power of God, so that vice and violence, oppression and injustice, covetousness and selfishness, uncharitableness and inconsiderateness, are banished from its midst.
IV. ITS GLORIOUS MAGNITUDE . "I will multiply them." If the largest promises made to Israel had been fulfilled to the letter, that fulfillment would have been small and slight indeed when compared with the realization they have had in the establishment and the growth of the Church of Christ. And it is extending its borders still, indeed much more rapidly now than in any century but the first. It has attained to a noble magnitude, and wilt "multiply and still increase," until that little stone of Nebuchadnezzar's dream shall have rolled and grown till it "fills the whole earth."
V. ITS JOY IN GOD . God's "sanctuary is to be in the midst." His "tabernacle shall be with them." He will "be their God, and they shall be his people" ( Ezekiel 37:26 , Ezekiel 37:27 ). The picture is one of happy, holy converse between God and man. It is a great thing for a nation to rejoice because the Holy One is near, is known and felt to be near. In the "glorious future time," when the kingdom of Christ shall be established on the earth, it will be the very near presence of God that will be felt to be the source of the deepest satisfaction, of the largest and truest enrichment. To be with him, coming into his nearer presence in all the ordinances of religion, to live in the spirit and habitude of devotion, to walk with God all the day long, to be guests at his table, to lift up the face unto him as unto the heavenly Father, to lean on Christ as on the unfailing Friend of the heart and life,—this is the heritage of the good in the blessed kingdom of our Lord.—C.