Lectionary Reflection for the Day of Pentecost

From Ezekiel (BTCB) by Robert W. Jenson, commenting on Ezekiel 37:1-14:

If then there is to be an eschatological resurrection of Israel, how are we to conceive it? Clearly, our passage intends a resurrection of the people as a single reality.

It speaks, however, of graves and their occupants in the plural, and there is a reason for this: at such an end as, for example, →7:1–9 describes, the only Israel available to be raised will be the ensemble of dead Israelites. At the absolute end, the distinction between national resurrection and individual resurrections must be moot.

Therefore we may conclude that this passage indeed envisions something like what later Judaism and Christianity conceive as a “resurrection of the dead.”

Thus a full version of the question the Lord put to Ezekiel would be: When the Lord comes to the end of his ways with his people—to an eschatological assembly at Zion and a universal gift of his own life-giving Spirit—will he raise the diachronic whole of his people into this new life?

It is this question that effectively concludes the dooms and promises given through Ezekiel. Christian faith and theology begin with the conviction that Jesus’s resurrection is God’s own answer (Jenson 1997–99: 1.4–5). The Lord spoke by Ezekiel, and in Christ’s resurrection he has acted on what he said (37:14).

There remains only a subordinate question: Who will be included in the Israel that will rise at the end? Gentile Christians, baptized into the body of Christ, cling to Paul’s image: by incorporation into Christ we have been grafted into Israel herself (Rom. 11:17).

Will there be a resurrection also of those who are neither of the original tree nor grafted-in branches? And if so, a resurrection to what?

Ezekiel’s vision does not reach so far.



©2009 by Robert Jenson. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Ezekiel (BTCB) by Robert W. Jenson, commenting on Ezekiel 34:

Here, in my view, is one of the places where we must allow ourselves some of the conceptual play that is both the delight and temptation of theology. As it happens, the same classic doctrine provides an answer to both of our questions.

First the major problem and its remarkably available resolution. For our whole passage to make straightforward sense, the Good Shepherd must be at once God and a descendent of David. And that, of course, is exactly what classical Christology says of Jesus the Christ.

In the traditional formulation: the hypostasis of God the Son is the hypostasis also of the human Davidic Messiah, Jesus. In more contemporary language: “God the Son is Jesus the Christ” is an identity statement. By either formulation of the rule: you cannot refer to God the Son without thereby referring to the man Jesus, and you cannot refer to the man Jesus without thereby referring to God the Son.

A development of this claim within classical Christology then provides the conceptual framework within which we may understand the text’s calling a descendent of David simply “David.” In the jargon of traditional theology this development is called “the communication of attributes”: if God the Son and Jesus are the same person, then what is true of the one must somehow be true of the other, divine and human attributes must somehow be mutually “communicated.”

One of the things true of God the Son is that he transcends the divisions of time; therefore Jesus must somehow transcend them and so indeed be able to sum up in himself the whole Davidic history, appearing as himself the paradigm of Davidic rule.

One unit of the composition (34:25–29) remains before the conclusion. Here we see nature itself transformed by the rule of the eschatological Good Shepherd—shepherds, after all, live with nature. Such marvels as are here promised did not appear in Ezekiel’s day, nor were they seen as the exiles returned. If they are to happen at all, they await the day when David’s shepherding will be universal and open for all to see, so that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

Finally the construction is rounded off and concluded by a version of Ezekiel’s regular finishing formula. Here the formula is completed by another and beautiful variant of the covenant promise: what the people will hear and learn when the Lord who is David takes over as shepherd is, “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God” (Ezek. 34:31).


©2006 by Robert W. Jenson. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

From Ezekiel (BTCB) by Robert W. Jenson, commenting on Ezekiel 37:1-14:

Ezekiel 37:1–14 is undoubtedly the most famous passage in Ezekiel’s book: besides inspiring a popular song, it is prominent in both Jewish and Christian iconography and has been endlessly debated in Jewish and Christian exegesis and speculation (Zimmerli 1983: 263–65).

I will declare my own enthusiasm immediately: the vision of Israel as dry bones and the promise of the bones’ resurrection are from a certain Christian point of view the effective culmination of Ezekiel’s prophecy and book, and indeed of the Old Testament.

For it has come to this: Israel as a whole and as such (37:11) is—as Ezekiel so often threatened—well and truly dead, a strewing of remains no longer even skeletal, so definitely of the past that the bones have separated and preserve no personal identities—no one can even point and say, “Alas, poor . . . I knew him well.”

The word of Gen. 2:17 has finally been fulfilled: the clash between God’s will for his human creatures, by which alone they live, and their refusal to follow that will, has been worked out in the history of Israel and has come to its inevitable conclusion.

Is then what the Lord here shows Ezekiel what it appears to be, the irreversible end of Israel’s history with the Lord? And that is, of the bearer of the Lord’s history with all humanity? Can Israel rise again? Indeed, can humanity, dependent for its specific being on the Lord’s presence in history, live as what it was created to be? The Lord puts the question to Ezekiel: “Son of a man, what do you think? Can the dead live again?”

Ezekiel has no answer; this knowledge is beyond a son of a man. But Ezekiel does know that the Lord is the giver of life; our passage is pervaded by reminiscence of the Lord’s first vivification of humankind (Gen. 2:7). And he knows that therefore the Lord can answer the question yes or no as he chooses. So he throws the question back.

For answer he receives an implicit yes: a command to prophesy life to the dead. Even in the nonbeing of death the bones can hear him, because the word given the prophet is the same word that gives being and life in the first place, that addresses precisely “things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:28).

Thus Ezekiel is to do nothing less than speak the dead back to life (Ezek. 37:4–6): we arrive at the extreme possibility of the prophets’ general assignment “to pluck up and to pull down, . . . to build and to plant” ( Jer. 1:9–10). In the vision, Ezekiel speaks as commanded and the dead are raised (Ezek. 37:7–10).


©2009 by Robert Jenson. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.