are uncertain whether Ezekiel spoke and wrote only in Babylonia, or both
in Babylonia and Judah, or perhaps only in Judah. It is possible that he
was, for the period between 597 and 575 BC, the only human contact between
the Jewish exiles in Babylonia and the beleaguered remnant which survived
in the occupied territory around Jerusalem after the holocaust of 586.
But whether in person, or by letter, or by flights of the imagination, the prophet became the dynamic spokesman of hope for national revival through his famous vision of "the valley of dry bones." [Ezekiel 37:1-14] The exiles could not have survived spiritually without the kind of encouragement which Ezekiel voiced. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" [Psalm 137:4] they wept, as they sat by the rivers of Babylon and vowed never to forget Jerusalem. But without the hope of redemption , would they remember? While Ezekiel was as passionate as his fellow prophets in denouncing the immorality and faithlessness of the people, he believed firmly that God would raise the nation out of the dust of defeat and give it a new opportunity to live.
Ezekiel is portrayed as the central figure with face averted in shame and humiliation, hands bound together in helpless captivity. Beneath his feet are the bones of the victims of the destruction of Jerusalem and, by implication, of all the holocausts of Jewish history. Beside Ezekiel's face and body are heads which symbolize Jewish captives and refugees throughout the ages. The prophet's face gazes out pensively, sadly, thoughtfully: can Israel be reborn?
His vision answers with divine assurance. The dry bones piled up in the valley at the bottom represent the hopeless exiles who say: "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off." [37:11] But Ezekiel's prophetic word and God's intention proclaim that the "slain" will live again. "Behold, I will open your graves," the Lord says through His prophet, and (Hebrew: ) "1 will bring you back to the land of Israel." [37:12] Although the flames leap up from the destruction, the green growth of spring, of rebirth, of revival, rises higher.
Behind the head of the exiled Ezekial is an arch symbolic of both of the ruined Temple of Solomon and of the yet-to-be-rebuilt temple of the restoration which constitute so essential an object of Ezekiel's concern Rising above the head of the lonely prophetic spokesman are the sabra plant and the faces, bodies, arms and weapons the new State of Israel, the culmination o millenia of yearning for rebirth. Out of the ashes of the crematoria has arisen "an exceeding great host" who have returned to the land of Israel.