1-3. What causes a change of mood among the Jews in Babylon? (See opening picture.)
HOW the mood among the Jews in Babylon has changed! For some five years, Ezekiel hammered at their armor of false hopes, but his efforts barely made a dent. No matter what signs he acted out, what illustrations he spoke, what messages he proclaimed, the exiles refused to believe that Jehovah would allow Jerusalem to be destroyed. Even when they learned that the city had come under siege by the Babylonian army, they were still confident that its inhabitants would be safe.
2 But now, two years after the start of the siege, a refugee from Jerusalem has just arrived in Babylon, bringing the report: “The city has been struck down!” That news devastates the exiles. They struggle to grasp its full significance: the beloved city, the holy temple, the cherished land—all gone! Their long-held hope gives way to despair.—Ezek. 21:7; 33:21.
3 However, at this moment of desperation, Ezekiel receives a powerful vision of hope. What message does the vision contain for the shattered exiles? How does this vision relate to God’s people today, and how can we personally benefit from it? To find out, let us examine what Jehovah reveals to Ezekiel.
“Prophesy Over These Bones” and “Prophesy to the Wind”
4. What stood out to Ezekiel in the vision he received?
4 Read Ezekiel 37:1-10. In a vision, Ezekiel is set down in a valley plain that is covered with bones. As if to make sure that Ezekiel felt the full impact of the vision, Jehovah ordered the prophet to “pass all around” those widely scattered bones. As Ezekiel walked on the valley plain, two things about the bones especially stood out to him: their number and their condition. “There were very many,” he observed, and “they were very dry.”
5. What two commands did Jehovah give to Ezekiel, and what happened after Ezekiel carried them out?
5 Then Jehovah gave Ezekiel two commands that would set in motion a progressive restoration. The first command was: “Prophesy over these bones,” telling them to “come to life.” (Ezek. 37:4-6) As soon as Ezekiel prophesied, “there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones began to come together,” after which “sinews and flesh” came on the bones, “and skin covered over them.” (Ezek. 37:7, 8) The second command was: “Prophesy to the wind,” telling it to “blow upon” the bodies. When Ezekiel prophesied, “breath came into them, and they began to live and to stand on their feet, an extremely large army.”—Ezek. 37:9, 10.
“Our Bones Are Dry, and Our Hope Has Perished”
6. What words of Jehovah helped Ezekiel to understand the vision?
6 Jehovah next revealed to Ezekiel how the vision was to be understood, saying: “These bones are the whole house of Israel.” Indeed, after the exiles had learned of Jerusalem’s destruction, they felt that they were as good as dead. Therefore, they lamented: “Our bones are dry, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.” (Ezek. 37:11; Jer. 34:20) Then in response to their lament, Jehovah revealed that this gloomy vision of bones actually contained a bright message of hope for Israel.
7. What did Jehovah reveal to Ezekiel, as recorded at Ezekiel 37:12-14, and what assurance did this give His exiled people?
7 Read Ezekiel 37:12-14. Through this vision, Jehovah assured the exiles that he would bring them to life, lead them back to their land, and let them settle there. Moreover, Jehovah addressed them again as “my people.” How uplifting those words must have been for the despondent exiles! Why could they be certain that this promise of restoration would come true? Because Jehovah himself stood behind it. He declared: “I myself, Jehovah, have spoken and I have done it.”
8. (a) How was “the whole house of Israel” in a deathlike condition? (b) How does Ezekiel 37:9 indicate the cause of Israel’s symbolic death? (See footnote.)
8 How had the ancient nation of Israel experienced the fulfillment of the gloomy part of this prophetic vision? The symbolic demise of Israel had already begun in 740 B.C.E. with the fall and exile of the ten-tribe kingdom. Some 130 years later, when the people of Judah were also deported, “the whole house of Israel” was in captivity. (Ezek. 37:11) Symbolically speaking, the whole group of exiles were then as dead as the bones seen in Ezekiel’s vision.a Also recall that Ezekiel saw not just bones but “very dry” bones, which indicated that their deathlike condition continued for a long time. And, indeed, for Israel and Judah combined, it lasted over 200 years, from 740 to 537 B.C.E.—Jer. 50:33.
9. What similarities are there between the experiences of ancient natural Israel and those of “the Israel of God”?
9 Restoration prophecies concerning Israel, such as the ones spoken by Ezekiel, have a larger fulfillment. (Acts 3:21) Just as the ancient nation of natural Israel was “killed” and remained symbolically dead for a considerable time, so “the Israel of God,” the anointed Christian congregation, was killed symbolically and experienced deathlike captivity for a long time. (Gal. 6:16) In fact, the captivity of the anointed congregation as a whole continued for so long that their spiritual condition could well be compared to that of bones that “were very dry.” (Ezek. 37:2) As explained in the preceding chapter, the captivity of the anointed Christian congregation began in the second century C.E. and lasted for many centuries, just as Jesus had indicated in his Kingdom illustration of the wheat and the weeds.—Matt. 13:24-30.
“Bones Began to Come Together”
10. (a) What development regarding God’s people was foretold at Ezekiel 37:7, 8? (b) What factors must have gradually restored the faith of God-fearing exiles?
10 In ancient times, Jehovah foretold that his people would experience a progressive restoration to life. (Ezek. 37:7, 8) So, what were some of the factors that gradually restored to God-fearing exiles the faith that their hope of returning to Israel would be fulfilled? One source of hope must have been the prophetic statements made by earlier prophets. For example, Isaiah had foretold that a remnant, “a holy seed,” would return to the land. (Isa. 6:13; Job 14:7-9) Also, the many prophecies of restoration that Ezekiel had written down no doubt kept that hope alive. Further, the presence in Babylon of such faithful men as the prophet Daniel—as well as the amazing fall of the city of Babylon in 539 B.C.E.—must have bolstered the exiles’ hope of return.
11 How did a similar gradual restoration occur among “the Israel of God,” the anointed Christian congregation? Many centuries into the long period of deathlike captivity, “a noise, a rattling sound,” was heard as God-fearing individuals rose up in behalf of true worship. For instance, in the 16th century, William Tyndale prepared a Bible translation in English. The Roman Catholic clergy were angered that the Bible could now be read by the common man. Tyndale was killed. Even so, other courageous individuals continued to produce Bible translations in additional languages, and spiritual light gradually spread throughout the dark world.
12 Later, when Charles T. Russell and his associates began to work zealously to restore Bible truths, it was as if “sinews and flesh” came on the bones. Zion’s Watch Tower and other publications helped honesthearted ones to discover spiritual truths, which moved them to join themselves to God’s anointed servants. In the early 1900’s, God’s anointed people were further energized by such tools as the “Photo-Drama of Creation” and the book The Finished Mystery. Shortly thereafter, God’s time came to make his people “stand on their feet.” (Ezek. 37:10) When and how did that occur? Events that took place in ancient Babylon help us to answer that question.
“They Began to Live and to Stand on Their Feet”
13 Beginning in 537 B.C.E., the Jews in Babylon saw the fulfillment of the vision. How? Jehovah brought them to life and made them “stand on their feet” by delivering them from captivity and letting them return to Israel. A group of 42,360 Israelites and some 7,000 non-Israelites left Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple and to settle on the soil of Israel. (Ezra 1:1-4; 2:64, 65; Ezek. 37:14) Then, some 70 years later, about 1,750 exiles joined Ezra when he returned to Jerusalem. (Ezra 8:1-20) So, in total, over 44,000 Jews returned—indeed, a “large army.” (Ezek. 37:10) In addition, God’s Word indicates that members of the ten-tribe kingdom, whose forefathers had been deported by the Assyrians during the eighth century B.C.E., also returned to Israel to assist in rebuilding the temple.—1 Chron. 9:3; Ezra 6:17; Jer. 33:7; Ezek. 36:10.
14. (a) How do the words at Ezekiel 37:24 help us to determine the time of the prophecy’s principal fulfillment? (b) What took place in 1919? (See also the box “‘Dry Bones’ and ‘Two Witnesses’—How Do They Relate?”)
14 How did this part of Ezekiel’s prophecy see a larger fulfillment? As Jehovah revealed to Ezekiel in a related prophecy, the principal fulfillment of this restoration prophecy would occur some time after the Greater David, Jesus Christ, began to rule as King.b (Ezek. 37:24) And indeed, in 1919, Jehovah put his spirit in his people. As a result, they came “to life” and were released from their captivity to Babylon the Great. (Isa. 66:8) After that, Jehovah allowed them to settle on their “land,” that is, in the spiritual paradise. How, though, have Jehovah’s modern-day people become a “large army”?
15, 16. (a) How have Jehovah’s modern-day people become a “large army”? (b) How does this prophecy of Ezekiel help us to cope with trialsome circumstances in life? (See the box “Help to Get Back on Our Feet.”)
15 Not long after Christ appointed the faithful slave in 1919, God’s servants began to experience what Zechariah, a prophet serving among the returned exiles, had foretold when he said: “Many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek Jehovah.” The prophet depicted those seekers of Jehovah as “ten men out of all the languages of the nations.” The men would take firm hold of “a Jew,” spiritual Israel, while saying: “We want to go with you, for we have heard that God is with you people.”—Zech. 8:20-23.
16 Today, those of spiritual Israel (the anointed remnant) and, by extension, the “ten men” (the other sheep) together do indeed form “an extremely large army,” numbering into the millions. (Ezek. 37:10) As soldiers of Christ in this ever-growing army, we closely follow our King, Jesus, onward to the blessings that lie ahead of us.—Ps. 37:29; Ezek. 37:24; Phil. 2:25; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17.
17. What will we consider in the following chapter?
17 This restoration of pure worship would bring on God’s people an important responsibility. What is it? To find the answer to that question, we need to go back and examine an assignment that Ezekiel received from Jehovah even before Jerusalem was destroyed. We will do that in the following chapter of this publication.
a The bones that Ezekiel saw in vision belonged, not to people who had died from natural causes, but to “people who were killed.” (Ezek. 37:9) “The whole house of Israel” was, indeed, killed symbolically when the inhabitants of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and those of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah were successively conquered, taken captive, and deported by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.