EZEKIEL 37: 1-14 [HOPE FOR LIFE Series]
A REVIVAL OF HOPE
[Psalm 119:25 / John 6:63 ]
Have you ever faced a seemingly hopeless situation? One where everything you did seemed to no avail? The odds were so against you that you wanted to give up? Ezekiel the prophet did. He wanted to see revival in the land but the people refused to repent, believe in and live for the Lord God. His ministry seemed for no good purpose so God lets Ezekiel know that one day there would be revival in the land. This message of future revival conveyed the hope and encouragement they all needed.
The chapters before our text have announced a future revival and restoration under the New Covenant. Now the glorious hope of the resurrection of the Lord's people to new life is presented to Ezekiel. The aim of the vision when it was originally given was to counteract the despair and pessimism which laid hold of Ezekiel and the despondent nation after captivity and the fall of Jerusalem. For some people today it is a message of political revival of a nation. For others it is a scene of the general resurrection of the dead on the last day. For others it is a resurrection of national life as inaugurated by the Lord at His Second Coming. For us today it is a message of hope. No matter how hopeless a situation might seem, there is a God who restores life (CIM). We have a God that can make even dry bones live again.
I. A HOPELESS VALLEY, 1-2.
II. A QUESTION OF LIFE, 3-6.
III. THE BREATH OF LIFE, 7-10.
IV. GOD’S SPIRIT CAUSES NEW LIFE, 11-14.
In verse 1 Ezekiel begins to report on a spiritual experience where God’s Spirit placed him in a valley [or plain] of dry bones. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones”
The hand of the Lord was upon me is Ezekiel's usual expression for a supernatural visionary experience (3:12-15; 8:3). It indicates a powerful prophetic awakening and inspiration. He was transported by the Spirit of the Lord into the middle of a valley [or plain; Hebrew, biqoh, 3:22, presumably the same place where Ezekiel saw his initial vision of God’s presence, 1:1-3:15] filled with human bones. These bones were dried, bleached, decayed and scattered. All about the prophet were dead bones and the total absence of life. [It represents the spiritual death of God’s people that lead to the death of the nation.]
[Israel was a defeated nation. It had been crushed militarily, its people had been separated from one another in exile, and it had suffered the inevitable result of its abandonment of the Lord. Alone, exhausted, discouraged, and impoverished, Israel was indeed as good as dead.
But God had other plans. The controller of history had something in mind for His people that they couldn’t have imagined possible, especially since most of them retained little knowledge of the promises of the Word of God that they would one day be brought back from exile by the mighty hand of God (e.g., Deut. 4:29–31; 30:1–10; Jer. ). It didn’t matter, though, if they had forgotten. God had not and would accomplish His purposes for His glory by reviving Israel. Stuart, Douglas. The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 20 : Ezekiel. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989, S. 332.]
God caused Ezekiel to inspect the bones in verse 2. “He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.”
God led Ezekiel on a tour around the bones that he might have a clearer view of them and see whether there was any life in them or not. So Ezekiel moves among the scattered bones. He's taken back at the number of bones lying on the surface of the valley and characterizes them as very dry, indicating that they had been dead for a long time. Any human suggestion that these bones could ever come to life again would be preposterous. There are situations which appear to be totally and absolutely hopeless to natural man. What is impossible to man though is possible with our supernatural God.
II. A QUESTION OF LIFE, 3-6.
God then asked the prophet a surprising question in verse 3. ‘He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know.”
As Ezekiel surveyed the scene in the valley in order to emphasize the total void of life apart from God, the Lord asks Ezekiel the question, "Can these bones live?" The prophet's answer was restrained and filled with the awareness of human helplessness in the face of death. Ezekiel's beloved wife had been taken from him (24:15-27) and the loss still pounded in his heart. But he also had respect for the unfathomable hidden power of God.
Was there potential for life in these lifeless frames? Ezekiel knew that humanly speaking it was impossible. Ezekiel's answer revealed that it would require a power beyond man's to bring about life. It was an answer of reverence realizing the omnipotent all powerfulness and all knowingness of God. It was not a positive or negative response. He knew that if these bones can live again it was a matter only God knew and that the giving of life was a deed only God could perform.
Most Israelites may have doubted God’s promise of restoration. Their present condition mitigated against the possibility of that being fulfilled. So God stressed the fact of His sovereign power and ability to carry out these remarkable promises. Their fulfillment depended on Him, not on circumstances.
Ezekiel knew that it was impossible for human power to revive those bones. As we come in contact with individuals today, we find it most discouraging to try to bring them to a saving knowledge of Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ. So utterly dead are they to the great truths of Scripture that it is only when the Spirit of God moves upon them can they grasp God's great truths.
Can they have spiritual life? Or can they be revived? O Sovereign Lord, You alone know. Only God can accomplish such a feat.
In verse 4 God directs Ezekiel to prophesy to these dry lifeless bones. “Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.”
God speaks to Ezekiel again and tells him to prophesy over these bones. Ezekiel must have felt many times in his ministry that he was preaching to the dead, but never so much as now when he actually was. The difference here is that unlike his preaching in Israel and to the Exiles, these bones would respond to the Word of the Lord. [“Prophesy” (Hebrew, hinnābē˒) means essentially “preach God’s Word.”]
He was told to address the dry bones and tell them to hear the word of the Lord. It is more than emphatic that the agency or way for effecting God's purpose concerning these dry bones is the Word of the Lord (Ps. 119:25, Jn. 6:63). God's Word is the means by which He raises to life and consecrates to service.
In verse 5 the other part of the formula for restoration of life to the dry bones is revealed. “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, "Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.”
The Word of the Lord was a promise to cause breath to enter into them that they might come to life. Breath“ (rûah) could also be translated “wind” or “spirit.” [Breath, wind and spirit are renderings of the same Hebrew word--ruah with the specific context deciding its translation. In 37:14 the same word is translated ”Spirit.“] This act of breathing the breath of life into man is reminiscent of the creation of man in Genesis 2:7. In creating man, God transformed Adam into a living being by breathing into his nostrils ”the breath of life” [and he became a living soul.]
Whether God was referring to wind, physical breath, the principle of life, or the Holy Spirit is uncertain. However, the intent is obvious. God is going to give life to these dead bones. God's Spirit was going to create life in these scattered dead bones.
The dry bones represented the people's spiritually dead condition. The church of a nation or your individual church may seem like a heap of dry bones to you, spiritually dead with no hope of vitality. But just as God here promised to restore His nation, He can restore any nation or church, no matter how dry or dead it may be. Rather than give up, pray for renewal, for God can restore it to life. The hope and prayer of every church should be that God will put His Spirit into it and restore it to vibrant spiritual life (37:14). In fact, God is at work calling His people back to Himself, in order to bring new life into spiritually dead people and churches.
After receiving the Word of God that precedes the reception of life [breath/wind/spirit], the bones would begin the reversal process toward life as verse 6 states. “I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”
God will cloth the bones with sinews, flesh and skin and put His spirit or breath [the Hebrew word rua[h], which is translated “breath,” “wind,” or “spirit”] in them. It was the spirit or breath that would animate them or give them life. When the life giving Word goes forth in the energy of the Holy Spirit even dry, dead bones will be revived and know that YAHWEH the Lord has spoken.
III. THE BREATH OF LIFE, 7-10.
Verse 7 records the remarkable results of Ezekiel’s life giving prophecy. “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.”
Though prophesying over dry bones would appear to an unbeliever as the height of folly, Ezekiel obeyed without comment or doubt. The results of the Word of God were startling. While Ezekiel was preaching a rumbling or shaking started all over the valley.
In the midst of the shaking or thundering the bones began to approach one another. It was as though they are being guided by an intelligent design. The bones came together in exactly the right way and proportion to form normal human bodies- skeletons. Though the bones had come together, they were not alive.
In verse 8 the rejoined bones become held together by cartilage and muscle, began to be fleshed out. “And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.”
As Ezekiel prophesied, the bones came together. The prophet then looked and beheld that the bones that had become skeletons were fitted with sinew and muscles and clothed with skin. They looked marvelous with their skeletal appearance gone but they were still dead (slain), there was no breath in them. Although the bones came together, Ezekiel wisely didn’t mistake commotion for regeneration. Even today, the flesh can generate activity, but true revival can’t take place without the Spirit.
In verse 9 Ezekiel is told to prophecy to the ruah -breath/wind/spirit- to inhabit the dead bones. “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 on these slain, that they come to life.’”
The creation of a physical body, yet it lying lifeless is again reminiscent of the two stages of the original creation of man in Genesis 2:7. The prophet is asked to prophesy to the breath of life, that divine breath which gives and sustains the life of all creation (Ps. 100:29-30). [If this prayer is directed to the Holy Spirit to the best of my knowledge it is rare for I cannot recall another in Scripture where a prayer is directed to the third person of the Trinity.] It was God's Spirit or wind or breath that was to give life to these corpses.
The four winds are winds from four directions: north, south, east and west. The reference to the rûah (breath/wind/spirit) as coming from “the four winds” (rûah, plural heightens the emphasis of the passage as it moves inevitably toward the importance of Israel’s having God’s Spirit. [It also alludes to God’s universal sovereignty. He was not merely the God of one nation and land, as so many, even among the Israelites, thought, but was the only God, the God of all the earth.]
Filled with God’s rûah, the bones can now come alive in verse 10. “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
Step by step as Ezekiel preached as God commanded, this massive grave yard of lifeless bodies came to life because “the breath” of the Divine Spirit came into them. What a dramatic transformation, death to life. [Here we have the idea of the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 54:13-17; 13:21; Isa. 25:8; 26:19; Dan. 12:2; Hosea 13:14).] God takes and turns a valley of dry bones into a living army. Such is the boundless power of the Word and Spirit of the Living God working together in His people!
Romans 8:10 declares that "...the Spirit is life..." Such life is what God wants to bring about today. He wants to breath His Divine Spirit into our lives and turn His Church into a living army that will go out and bring the victory of Christ to the world. A church that will receive the Lord's power in order to go out in that power can set the captive free, bind up the broken-hearted and lift up the down-trodden [Ezek. 34]. It will be an army that will proclaim that this is the acceptable year of the Lord - the year of His grace!
A.W. Tozer in "Born After Midnight" (Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 5.) wrote: “Religious instruction, however sound, is not enough by itself. It brings light, but it cannot impart sight. The assumption that light and sight are synonymous has brought spiritual tragedy to millions. The Pharisees looked straight at the Light of the World for three years, but not one ray of light reached their inner beings. Light is not enough. The inward operation of the Holy Spirit is necessary to saving faith. The gospel is light but only the Spirit can give sight.”
IV. GOD’S SPIRIT CAUSES NEW LIFE, 11-14.
Verse 11 relays that the dry bones that come to life are figurative of the resurrection of God’s people, the nation Israel. “Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off’.”
God interpreted the vision for Ezekiel. The vision was God's response to the people's sin and hopeless condition. There will come a time when they will see their destitute condition and confess our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off. These bones that wise up are the whole house of Israel (3:7; 5:4; 17:10; 20:40; 36:10; 37:16; 38:25; 45:6) meaning both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.
Yes, these bones can live again but unrepentant Israel was impotent to make it so. Only God could do so, and He would do so only based on the New Covenant promises made in chapters 33-36.
Since were are right here close, Let’s read God’s promise of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36:25-28. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.  “You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. “
Sin inbred in the heart of man had brought about the death of the nation of Israel. But there is hope for the hopeless! For God who gives life can, through His New Covenant produce [physical and/or] spiritual life to those who are [physically/]spiritually dead (37:5; Dan. 12:2).
Have you ever felt like your whole world is caving in around you and there is absolutely no hope. Your troubles seem to mount up insurmountably. Cheer up I have good news. In Christ, there is hope for the hopeless!
A man approached a little league BASEBALL GAME one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we’re behind." "Boy," said the spectator, "That’s discouraging." "Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!"
In verse 12 God promises to bring His people back from the dead into the land of the living. “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, "Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.’”
As a result of their confession of their hopeless condition and that their sin cut them off from God, God is now ready to move on their behalf. He is ready to restore life to a nation that is dead in their trespass and sins.
The opening of graves also calls attention to belief in life after death and in the resurrecting of the dead (Isa. 28:8; 26:19; Dan. 12:2). To the original reader this resurrection meant the nation of Israel. To us today we can see the general resurrection of all mankind as well as the resurrection of Israel as a nation.
But it also speaks of a restoration to life. Just as it seems impossible to bring life to those dead, it seems impossible to bring spiritual life into a person, a church or a nation. Remember, God delights in doing the impossible! For “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).
When the seemly impossible happens as verse 13 records we will know that God did it. “Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.”
What a marvelous encouragement was this message of restoration to life. It encouraged both Ezekiel and the people in exile. If the prophet remained faithful to his call and proclaimed the Word of God, the ultimate consequence would be a life-transforming experience that would result in a national resurrection.
There is no finer illustration of the life-changing power of the preached word than what the prophet saw in his vision [Isa. 55:11]. The gospel has the power to transform those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-22) and make them new, living creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). God has always used the "foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). As Romans 10:17 says “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
[The “grave” here seems symbolic of life in exile or life in the flesh. When the people are brought again into covenant relationship they will have new life. God’s continuation of His program for Israel is based upon His faithfulness and His grace (36:22).]
Without God’s presence the nation was virtually dead. However, God promises to open these walking tombs by reanimate them with the divine Spirit. When that happens things will change.
Verse 14 promises the repentant regeneration by the Holy Spirit. “And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it," declares the Lord.”
It now is clear that the breath of life the corpses received symbolized the Holy Spirit, promised in Israel’s New Covenant (36:24-28). The work of regeneration is by the work and agency of the God’s Spirit.
Oh, the incredible life-giving capacity of God! To a people whose life seemed to be over, a declaration of new life is given.
Not only do we see in this passage the saving power of God’s Spirit but also the enabling power of the Holy Spirit is also portrayed. The Spirit empowered the dead, dry bones, and gave them life and animation. This abundant life was Paul's testimony. He realized that was unable to live the life of a believer (Rom. 7:13-25), faithful to the commands of God on his own. He needed the enabling power of God's Spirit (Rom. 8:1-17), and so do you, if you are going to live the Christian life. But that is another message [See Dennis Davidson’s SermonCentral Messages on Romans 7:15-25 & Romans 8:1-4]
It was the Word of God and the Spirit of God that made it all possible. As they work together in the life of a believer, they still do so today.
What a tremendous promise to the whole house of Israel. But nothing is guaranteed for time or eternity to Jews or Gentiles apart from simple faith in the atoning death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Can the dead bones live? By the power of God's Holy Spirit any who are dead in trespasses and sin can live through faith in the Life-giving One.
Yes we can perceive a contemporary significance for our day also. The valley of dry bones typifies the human race as a whole, exiled from God their Creator, and dead in their trespasses and sins. The proclamation of the prophetic Word can represent the proclamation of the gospel that will give man the breath of new life. To those cut off from God who have no hope we have the word of hope through belief in Jesus Christ.
Is this your experience? Were you once dead in trespasses and sin and when you cried out to God about your being cut off from Him and eternal life and asked for new life in Jesus' name--were you raised up to new life by the power of the resurrection? Has God ever breathed new life into your dry spiritual existence? If not, there is no better time than now. Will you come as the Spirit breathes His Word of promised new life to you?
Maybe you think your family or the people around you are dry bones who will never be able to live. But, as He did to Ezekiel, the Lord would say to you, “Prophesy to them.” As often as you can, share a verse with those who seem dead. If you think that seems silly, think of Ezekiel and be glad you don’t have to preach to bones! “My Word shall not return unto Me void,” the Lord declares (Isaiah 55:11). In other words, it will never fail to make an impact.
Dear reader, if you do not have a personal relationship with God; this prayer is for you:
Dear Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross to take the punishment that I deserve for my sins and that You were raised from the dead. Please forgive me of my sins and come into my heart and life as my Savior and Lord. From this day forward, please be glorified in and through me. Thank You for Your amazing grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
[PS: The Israelites residing in Palestine today are not the final fulfillment of this prophecy. But it will be fulfilled when God regathers believing Israelites to the land (Jer. 31:33; 33:14-16), when Christ returns to establish His kingdom (Mt. 24:30-31). [Walvoord, John & Zuck, Roy. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983, S. 1298]
When will that happen? After the Rapture of the church. When the church is taken to heaven, the Holy Spirit will begin to move in Israel in a powerful way and the entire nation shall be saved (Romans 11:26). Oh, what a day that will be!]