The Greater Deliverance
Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel'" (Ezekiel 37:11,12).
This week's Haftarah, which is special for Passover, emphasizes the theme of freedom and deliverance. The prophet Ezekiel is speaking to yet another time when Israel was forced to live in a foreign land - Babylon in this case. Even though they were there because of their unfaithfulness to God, it was promised that they would one day return to their own land.
Through Ezekiel God reveals that their restoration to the Land would not only be a physical one, but also a spiritual one. Israel's receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai following the first Passover was not sufficient to equip them to live the kind of lives required by God. It would take a miraculous work of God to internalize his principles he had given them through Moses.
The Jewish prophets provide us with much detail as to the events surrounding this great restoration. Some people find it difficult to accept that the details are not clearly mapped out for us. In the Nevi'im (Prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures) are glimpses of the future. I believe if God wanted us to have all the details spelled out, he would have given it to us that way. But he didn't. We too often treat the Scriptures like a complex puzzle rather than the life-giving word of God that it really is.
I appreciate the analogy I once heard that compared the biblical predictions of the future to a distant mountain range. It is only once you get close up to the mountains that you can clearly see the heights of the various peaks and what lies between them. The mountains are really there, and whatever detail we see is real. But we are not able to comprehend what lies in between the individual mountains. From far away we can only get a broad perspective. To try to guess the details would be futile.
However, our lack of understanding of the detail takes nothing away from the impact of beholding the mountain range.
We are told in this week's portion that God would open our graves and bring us back to the land of Israel. Those familiar with the Scriptures know that they teach that a day is coming when the dead will come back to life. But a reading of the context suggests that Ezekiel is not primarily referring to that event. He is actually speaking in contrast to the people's lament over their desperate situation. Though they liken themselves to dry dead bones, God will bring them to life and restore them to their land.
One might think that according to Ezekiel the spiritual transformation occurs prior to the national one. Yet there are other passages that suggest the reverse. As I have explained, however, I don't think that the Scriptures are concerned about the sequence.
These passages are intended to encourage us. Instead of our being overwhelmed by current events in the Middle East, we can rest in the assurance of God's promises. The greater deliverance of Israel is coming no matter how desperate the situation may become.
Finally, let's also remember that the inevitability of the fulfillment of God's promises doesn't mean that we are not to be involved in the process. Far from it! Being aware of Israel's God-given destiny should prompt each one of us to discover our part in this process.
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