Ezekiel and the Coming Restoration
Haftarat Vayigash, Ezekiel 37:15–28
Dr. Vered Hillel, Netanya, Israel
“Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.”
God answers this cry of the Jewish people in a vision of hope and restoration that illustrates what he will do to transform and give life to Israel. We are all familiar with the vision of the dry bones being joined into a body, receiving sinews and flesh and then receiving breath, which gave life (Ezek 37:1–14). This graphic vision, given to the whole house of Israel, both northern and southern kingdoms scattered throughout the nations, promises to reunite, give life and place them in their land again. There the Ruach will empower Israel to live in obedience to Hashem through the covenant. This vision is followed by the prophetic action, often called a sign-act, of Ezekiel joining two sticks into one as a visual prediction of hope and restoration. This prophetic action is the focus of the haftarah for Parashat VaYigash (Ezek 37:15–28), which describes Ezekiel acting out the scene before the people and then giving them the interpretation.
The people of Israel today are in much the same situation as Israel during the time of Ezekiel, except that a portion of the people has returned to the Land. The root cause of Israel’s exile, the northern kingdom (Joseph/Ephraim) in 722 BCE and the southern kingdom (Judah) in 586, was rebellion, sin, transgression, and defilement (1 Kings 11:9–13; 2 Kings 17:1–23), in short the consequences of disobedience to the covenant (2 Kings 17:7–17, Ezek 39:23–24; cf. Lev 26:14–39; Deut 28:15–68). As a whole Israel today continues in covenant disloyalty, and remains in the Land only because of Hashem’s grace and faithfulness to his covenant. Yet, there is hope. Ezekiel tells us of Hashem’s promise to reunite the two divided nations into one nation in their own land under one king of the Davidic line, the Messianic King, whom we recognize as Yeshua.
In the presence of the people, Ezekiel took two sticks and wrote on the first stick the name of Judah and the sons of Israel and on the other the name of Joseph and Ephraim and the house of Israel, and joined them “one to one” so that they would become one in his hand (Ezek 37:15–17). The two sticks in one hand are a prophetic symbol of Hashem taking the two nations and making them one in his hand (v. 19). Only Hashem is able to rejoin what has been separated. The “whole” house of Israel will be united as one nation in Hashem’s hand in a physical restoration in the land promised to Abraham. This corporal restoration includes becoming a single nation that focuses upon a united geopolitical existence with a Davidic king as the head.
However, any physical restoration must be accompanied by spiritual restoration for it to be lasting. Otherwise, the people will continually endure judgment for covenant disloyalty. In order for permanent restoration to occur, the divided nations must be unified and together restored to their land, and additionally their relationship with Hashem must be restored. This can only be done through circumcision of the heart as expounded in Ezekiel 11:19–20. In Ezekiel 36:24–32, Hashem promises to cleanse Israel and to give them a heart of flesh and to place his Ruach in them, causing them to walk in obedience. He states that he will save them from their uncleanness and they will no longer defile themselves. In 37:15–23, Hashem reiterates that he will cleanse Israel from their sin, and they will no longer (or never again) [lo . . . od] defile themselves (v. 23). He will give them a king and they will “walk,” “keep,” and “observe” his instructions (v. 24). Hashem goes on to say that he will save Israel and purify them. Never again (or no longer) [lo . . . od] will Israel be divided as a nation or separated from Hashem, for they will be his people and he will be their God.
This promised restoration exceeds anything Israel has experienced to this day. This restoration extends into the Messianic Age. Israel will no longer be divided, no longer rebellious, no longer exiled from the Land and no longer separated from the presence of Hashem. Instead Israel will be firmly planted in the Land as one unified nation with one Davidic king ruling over them for all time. They will forever walk in obedience and dwell with him in a covenant of shalom. Here we see one of Hashem’s great reversals; the cause of Israel’s exile, namely the failure to obey Hashem and keep the covenant, is reversed for all eternity.
Ezekiel’s sign-act and its interpretation applies first and foremost to Israel as a nation, but when we look at Parashat VaYigash, we see that the schism and the restoration originally occurred between Judah and Joseph. The conflict between Joseph and Judah began with Judah’s sale of Joseph into slavery, and ends with their reconciliation in this week’s parasha when Judah stands up before Joseph on behalf of all of his brothers, and subsequently restores the relationship between all of Jacob’s sons. This personal struggle foreshadows the separation of the two kingdoms after the death of Solomon, which comes to a final end when Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled. In the meantime, we continue to live with conflicts and broken relationships in our lives. And even though Messiah, the Davidic King, rules and reigns in our lives, we find ourselves like Israel and Rav Shaul (Rom 7:13–20) struggling to obey, and to do good and not evil.
This week’s haftarah encourages us to hope and trust in God. We can be confident that he will complete the work he has begun (Phil 1:6). Hashem is the only one who can bring permanent physical and spiritual restoration, and he will do it for Israel and for us individually through Messiah Yeshua.