Back from the Dead

February 29, 2024

In one of the most memorable and powerful prophecies of the revival of the nation of Israel, God shows Ezekiel a vision of dried bones. Not only are these bones dead, but they are also dried. In other words, they lack all moisture and vitality. All hope for renewal is lost.

Because we are fortunate enough to live in a time when the nation of Israel has been reborn, it is easy to lose perspective regarding the length and extent of the exile to which the Jewish people were subjected. But the vision of the dry bones reminds us that the chances of the Jewish people returning to our homeland and becoming “more numerous and more prosperous than our ancestors,” (Deuteronomy 30:4) were minuscule to the point of absurdity. 

Luther’s sarcastic remark

I am reminded of a fascinating quote from Martin Luther, who initiated and led the Protestant Reformation, the mass movement of Christians away from the Catholic church in the early 16th century. After Luther had translated the Bible into German and Christians began to read it for themselves, many Christians began to take on practices from the Biblical law of Moses. Before Luther’s translation, most Christians had not read the Hebrew Bible. They were largely unaware of the stories and legal portions that had been deliberately ignored and distorted by the church leadership. 

With their newfound freedom from the doctrines of the Catholic church, these Christians read about the covenant of Israel and the laws of the Five Books of Moses and wanted to practice them. Luther fought hard against this movement, pushing these Christian “Judaizers” to abandon the practice of the law. 

In his attempt to discourage this mimicking of Jewish practice among Christians, Luther wrote extensively about the idea that God’s covenant with the Jews was no longer in effect. God had abandoned the Jews. They would never be reconstituted as a nation in their homeland. Therefore, there is no reason to pay any mind to the covenant of the law. In one remarkable quote, Luther wrote:

“Let them go to the Land and to Jerusalem, build the Temple, raise up the priesthood, principality and Moses with his Law so that they again become Jews and possess the Land. If that happened they should soon see us on their heels and also become Jews.”  – (Heiko Augustinus Oberman, Wurzeln des Antisemitismus. Christenangst und Judenplage im Zeitalter von Humanismus und Reformation (Berlin: Severin und Siedler, 2. Auflage 1981), footnote 137)

We need not speculate whether Luther truly intended to become Jewish had the Jewish people returned to their land in his time. And that is exactly the point. From Luther’s perspective in the early 16th century, the return of the Jews to the land of Israel and their rebirth as a nation was absurd to the point of being impossible.

Luther made sense at the time

Before we shake our heads with disdain at Luther for thinking this way, we should remember that Martin Luther was a person of intense Biblical faith. This was not some atheist hyper-rationalist. We should humbly admit that anyone alive in the 16th century would have looked at the state of the Jewish people and arrived at the same conclusion. After all, the Jews had been scattered to the ends of the earth, powerless and impoverished, for over 1500 years at that point. There was no reason to believe that the Christian doctrine that asserted that God no longer considered the Jews to be His chosen people was incorrect. 

For all intents and purposes, the hope of the revival of the Jewish people as a nation in their land was dead. It was obvious that it was never going to happen.

Dry bones = impossible to revive

This is the meaning of the prophecy of Ezekiel.

It is worth noting that the “dry bones” prophecy in this chapter of Ezekiel begins with God bringing Ezekiel to a valley that was filled with bones. Notice that God did not tell Ezekiel to dig up bones from a grave. They were lying out in the open in the valley. 

In other words, the “death” of the hopes of the nation of Israel was not some hidden matter. It was plain for all to see. Anyone alive for most of the past 2000 years would have asserted, just as Martin Luther did, that the revival of the nation of Israel was simply impossible and never going to happen.

With this in mind, the fact that the Jews never lost faith, but stubbornly clung to the promises of God, believing all the time that eventually He would lead them back to their homeland, is astounding. If we take a moment to think about it, the faith of the Jews that they would one day be revived as a nation is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.

The “impossibility” of the rebirth of the nation of Israel after so many centuries of exile and dispersion causes us to marvel at the faith of the Jews. Their confidence in the promises of God is a message to us all. Are there still promises of God in the Bible that we think are impossible and will never be fulfilled?

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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