Four Branches – February 2021

Jump to:

Exegetical Theology: The Valley of Dry Bones – Part 3

In Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, God promised to give his exiled people new life as a nation (37:11-12). He also promised to renew them spiritually (37:14). Is Ezekiel 37:1-14 also a promise of the bodily resurrection?

There certainly is vivid imagery. God says to the bones: “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life” (Ezekiel 37:6; NIV). It is hard not to think of the bodily resurrection when we read Ezekiel’s description of what he saw: “I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them” (Ezekiel 37:8; NIV). Ezekiel then prophesied to the breath. Breath entered the bodies and they lived (Ezekiel 37:9-10).

Does this passage, then, explicitly teach the bodily resurrection? Some scholars, without denying that the Bible teaches the resurrection of the body in other passages, say that Ezekiel 37:1-14 is not referring to a general bodily resurrection. They say that the vision of the dry bones coming to life pictures Israel coming back to life as a nation and being renewed spiritually.[1]

Ezekiel 37:1-14 certainly teaches that and is the primary meaning of those verses. But does it also teach that the dead will be raised bodily on the last day? The Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Dogmatics notes mention Ezekiel 37:1-14 as a passage that teaches the bodily resurrection “by implication.”[2]

The Bible certainly does explicitly teach the bodily resurrection in other passages. The Old Testament believers had some of those explicit passages.[3] We who live in the New Testament live after the resurrection of Christ and have the many passages of the New Testament which explicitly teach the bodily resurrection. Therefore, it is natural for us to think of the bodily resurrection when we read Ezekiel 37:1-14, but the primary purpose of the author is to show the nation of Israel would rise and go back to the Promised Land.[4]

The vision of the valley of dry bones shows God’s amazing ability to give life. God raised Jesus bodily from the dead. On the last day, he will also bodily raise believers in Jesus to life everlasting. God’s blessings, brothers, as you proclaim the resurrection on Easter and throughout the year.

[1] For example, Iain Duguid, Ezekiel, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 428-429; C. F. Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel, in Commentary on the Old Testament by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Volume 9.2, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978 reprint), 119-128; N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 119-121.

[2] Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Dogmatics Notes, Volume 2e – Eschatology (II, 2, b, 2). Available online at

[3] Daniel 12:2-3 is often noted by commentators.  Horace Hummel notes that Ezekiel and Daniel both prophesied during the Babylonian exile. Hummel, Ezekiel 21-48, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007), 1077. For other Old Testament passages which teach the Resurrection, see the WLS Dogmatics Notes cited above.

[4] See the helpful comments in Hummel, Ezekiel 21-48, 1075-1079; Thomas Nass, End Times: Jesus is Coming Soon, People’s Bible Teachings (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 2011), 130.

For Further Reading

Block, Daniel. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. Pages 367-392.

Duguid, Iain. Ezekiel. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. Pages 425-433.

Hummel, Horace. Ezekiel 21-48. Concordia Commentary. St. Louis: Concordia, 2007. Pages 1074-1085.

Keil, C. F. Ezekiel, Daniel. Commentary on the Old Testament by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch. Volume 9.2. Translated by James Martin. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978 reprint. Pages 119-128.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Volume 3. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. Pages 119-121.

 Rev. Daniel Waldschmidt serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Burlington, WI. He recently accepted a call to be a professor of Greek at Martin Luther College.

Systematic Theology: PROPHETIC PRINCIPLES Part 3: Interpreting Prophecy

Almost 30 years ago, Pastor John Jeske delivered a paper entitled “The March of Prophecy” (you can find it in the seminary’s online essay file HERE). In it he walks through the different eras of history in which prophecy was prominent and ends the discussion with hermeneutical principles for understanding these prophecies. Below are the principles he outlines, hopefully as motivation to read his entire article on your own.

Principle #1: The Prophetic Word must be understood in the light of its historical context.

The famous prophecy of a virgin birth in Isaiah 7 takes on a different light when considered in the context of Ahaz’ disobedience. This gospel-centered one-liner also includes a strong shade of the law on those who reject God’s Word.

Principle #2: The Prophetic Word often had more than a single point of reference.

(Refer back to the first article in this series about this topic.) God’s promise to David that a son of his would sit on the throne and build a temple for his name is one of the classic prophecies in this category. 2 Samuel 7 records the words of God, 1 Kings 5 references Solomon, Psalm 72 describes David’s descendants after Solomon, and Jesus of course is the final fulfillment whose rule would last forever. I like to think of these prophecies as connecting flights on an airline: you will often have multiple stops before your final destination.

Principle #3: Some prophecies are conditional.

The predictions in Deuteronomy 11 & 28 as well as Jeremiah 18 are clear prophecies in this category.

Principle #4: The Prophetic Word may never be interpreted in such a way as to contradict a clear passage of the Scripture.

Under this principle, Professor Jeske also mentions the fact that figurative language should be identified and translated as such. For an example of that, look at Isaiah 11.

Principle #5: The Prophetic Word can often be understood only when viewed from the prophet’s perspective.

This refers to the fact that prophets can sometimes predict future events of Christ as if there is not any time in between, like looking at a mountain range and not visibly recognizing the distance in between peaks. Joel 2:28-32 is given as an example where the prophet predicts the events of Pentecost and Judgment as happening back-to-back.

Principle #6: The Prophetic Word is often mysterious.
The end of the prophecy in Daniel 11 is hard to decipher. Most likely the fulfillment of those words has yet to occur. What exactly is it going to look like?As you continue to enjoy this “prophetic season” of the church year, take time to marvel at the beautiful promises of your Lord through these Old Testament prophets and the gospel truths they still proclaim today!

Rev. Matthew Frey serves Living Word Lutheran Church in Montrose, CO, and as chairman of the Colorado District Mission Board.

Historical Theology: A Lesson from the Society of Jesus?

After nearly dying from a wound sustained in battle, the nobleman Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) withdrew from secular life and founded the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus somewhat resembled other monastic orders, but Ignatius didn’t emphasize asceticism as many traditional monasteries did. Instead, Jesuits made their unique mission to promote and advance the papacy against the effects of the Reformation. As such, the Society of Jesus is typically not a hero in Lutheran stories. One of the more famous Jesuits, Robert Bellarmine, was the great Lutheran dogmatician Johann Gerhard’s frequent opponent.

One thing we may learn from the Society of Jesus, however, was their emphasis on education.   In 1548, the viceroy of Sicily asked the Jesuits to establish a school in Messina. Within a few years, one Jesuit observed, “All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world depends on the proper education of the youth.” Not only did Jesuits provide theological education, but they sought to provide their students the finest education in all fields – in foreign language, literature, mathematics, and science. For many years, Jesuits boasted having leading experts in academic fields of all kinds. Not surprisingly, Jesuit institutions quickly gained a reputation for academic excellence. By 1606, the Jesuits were running 293 schools across the globe. Nine years later, it was 370. As a result of this growth, not only did many Catholic youths attend Jesuit institutions, but many Lutheran and Reformed young people joined them as well in order to take advantage of the educational opportunities they afforded.

Education is always a timely topic, as parents are always concerned about their children’s education. No doubt the pandemic of this past year has heightened society’s awareness and sensitivity to educational opportunities.

Can we not learn from the Jesuits of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century? To be fair, education was always an emphasis among Lutherans as well, and Jesuit efforts were in large part a response to the fine education Lutherans provided their youth; nevertheless, the Jesuits can still teach us something by their example. The education programs of our churches and schools and synod are essential for the training up of our own youth. In addition, they offer wonderful opportunities to expose others in our society to the true faith. To best carry out both endeavors, it’s good and important to ensure that we are offering excellence on all fronts – both in spiritual matters and in the training necessary for a useful and beneficial life in this world.

Rev. Jacob Behnken serves as pastor of Good Shepherd in Midland, MI.

Practical Theology: Ministering to the Suffering  – The Grieving

My calendar notified me, “Today is Boaz and Ruth’s anniversary.” I picked up the phone, but it wasn’t to wish a happy anniversary. Months ago, Boaz had taken his seat at the wedding supper of the Lamb. Ruth pressed on through this veil of tears. The anniversary phone call was an opportunity to comfort a grieving widow on a meaningful day.

Our congregations are filled with grieving hearts in need of God’s timely comfort and continued care. Some of our members are grieving loss through death. We think of the widows who buried a spouse. We remember the parents and children who tearfully said goodbye to a beloved family member.

Other members are grieving loss through age. We think of those independent individuals upon whom so many had once depended, but now they are the ones depending on others. We remember those active lives and healthy bodies who are now shuffling slowly to the communion rail.

Still others are grieving the loss through change. We think of the athlete who grieves a lost season from a torn ACL. We remember the senior who grieves the loss of a “traditional graduation” after virus cancellations. We remember the child who grieves moving to a new neighborhood.

Grief abounds among the people we serve, but so does the comfort and hope we bring from Jesus! May it give you joy to share the Savior’s promise, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:20,22).

This article concludes the series calling attention to examples of suffering we might find among fellow members in the body of Christ with some final encouragement and resources as you minister to grieving souls.

An Encouragement – If you haven’t already done so, mark your calendar with reminders to call or visit grieving hearts on meaningful days. Listen to them. Pray with them. Share God’s promises and resurrection comfort with them. Also, keep your ears open to those grieving from aging or change.

Resources – God’s Word remains the supreme resource in preparing us and providing comfort to the grieving. But other resources may provide some help. I also reached out to a handful of pastors and counselors at Christian Family Solutions and asked them to share resources they found helpful in ministering to the grieving. You can find that compiled list here. In addition, one pastor[1] shared a handout he gives church members to equip them in ministering to their fellow church members. You can find that here.

Rev. Joel Russow serves Faith Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, FL

[1] Thank you, Rev. Thomas Spiegelberg II!