Dry bones come to life. Two sticks become one. What is Ezekiel 37 talking about? Just as bone connects to bone and stick to stick, so we need to connect the latter part of the chapter to the bones and sticks prophecies. Some key expressions in 37:21-28:
“gather them on every side”;
“make them one nation in the land”;
“one king shall be king to them all”;
“will cleanse them”;
“David my servant shall be king over them”;
“they all shall have one shepherd”;
“make a covenant of peace with them… an everlasting covenant”;
“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Often the prophets move easily between predictions of return from Babylonian captivity and the Messianic Age, ignoring the centuries between the two events. A person may sometimes wonder if a particular verse refers to the return or to the Messianic Age, but some expressions are undeniably Messianic in scope.
It is important to realize that the return from captivity involved more than three or four returns as recorded in the OT. Acts 2:5 opens a window on what must have been happening for centuries: “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” After 400 years, Jerusalem was still a magnet, drawing believing Israelites from every corner of the earth, which amply fulfills the bones and sticks prophecies.
Then, toward the end of chapter 37, Ezekiel goes beyond the revival of the nation, the return to their own land, and the reuniting of Israel and Judah. He predicts “one king” and “one shepherd” over the reunited people. Who can deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the shepherd and king predicted? The bones and sticks predictions cannot be fully understood and appreciated without taking into account this Messianic connection.
Jesus proclaimed, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). The Holy Spirit, in Heb. 13:20, referred to “our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The shepherd with the “everlasting covenant,” exactly as Ezekiel predicted.
And king? It is unnecessary to quote multitudes of Scriptures upholding Jesus as King. Also, “Christ” (Messiah, anointed) includes being king. On the day of Pentecost, with Jews present from all over the world, Peter cried out: “let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Let Israel know that Jesus is Lord and Christ — the King predicted for Israel.
But Ezekiel said that David would be the king. Many other texts predict Messiah would be from the seed of David, which explains why Jesus was frequently called “the Son of David.” In prophecy, therefore, the Messiah sometimes is simply called “David,” just as John the Baptist was predicted under the name of Elijah. This is confirmed in 37:25, which says that “my servant David shall be their prince forever.” Prince forever and everlasting covenant can only refer to Jesus and the New Covenant.
Now compare Ezek. 37 with Heb. 8, which quotes Jer. 31. All three texts tell of a covenant to be made with both the houses of Israel and Judah. All three predict forgiveness. All three promise God will be their God and they will be his people. Hebrews ties all this into the new testament (covenant) of Jesus. These texts confirm that Ezekiel 37 climaxes with the first coming of Messiah. There is no room here for “lost tribes.” Rather, there is room for “found and saved tribes” — to the extent that individual members of the tribes turned in faith to their long-awaited Messiah. Oh yes, not ten, but twelve tribes were lost — in sin; but their King came “to seek and to save that which was lost.”