My Photo
Location: United States

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ruach/pneuma in the vision of dry bones Ezekiel 37:1-14

What is represented by ruach/pneuma (which might be translated breath, wind or spirit) in the vision of dry bones Ezekiel 37:1-14?

Two representative mid-twentieth century dispensationalists Charles L. Feinberg and Ralph H. Alexander both understand the second stage of the dry bones vision where the four winds are called to revive the lifeless bodies as a metaphor representing the spiritual renewal of Israel. The first stage of the vision, the reconstruction of the dead bodies from the dry bones, is understood as representing a return to the land in a state of unbelief. Ezekiel’s treatment of this theme in chapters 36-37 appears to lend some support to this view but it isn’t perfectly obvious. The terms ruach/pneuma (breath wind spirit) are used with what appears to be different referents in different places. Some places it appears to be a metaphor but not always the same metaphor. Other places it is not clear that the term is used as a metaphor.

Ezek. 36:24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.  25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

In Ezek. 36:26 we see “new spirit” in a parallel construction with “new heart” both of these appear to be metaphors. The heart metaphor is developed “heart of stone” … “heart of flesh” but in verse 27a the “new spirit” metaphor now becomes “my spirit.” The expression “my spirit” at first glance looks simple and lucid to a post-pentecost trinitarian, however, post-pentecost was not Ezekiel’s cognitive framework which chapter thirty-seven should demonstrate.  

Ezek. 37:1   The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD …

In Ezekiel 37:1b  there is a little problem with the syntax. Most English translations read  ruach  as a construct with the divine name “the Spirit of the LORD” but the LXX translator has kurios in the nominative case “the Lord brought me out in a spirit” NETS. This is not a really big deal but keep it in mind.

Ezekiel 37:8 RSV And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.  9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”  10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.

The word “breath” in the RSV renders ruach which appears to be a metaphor. The prophet is commanded to “Prophesy to the breath” and call the breath from the four winds [ruchot] to breathe on the lifeless bodies laying on the plain. When the breath responded the great host stood up. We are really deep into figurative language here. It is not safe to read ruach (breath spirit wind) here within a post-pentecost cognitive framework. The term ruach here appears to represent the principle element in life, that which makes alive but that doesn’t solve the problem.  The “exceedingly great host” being brought to life is itself a metaphor. The metaphor is partially explained in the text:  

Ezekiel 37:14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD.”

But this explanation “and you shall live” is not what the mid-twentieth century dispensationalists have in mind. They appear to be looking back at Ezek. 36:24-27 where “I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” demonstrates that “spiritual renewal” is the ultimate referent behind the layers of figurative language. 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home