Summary: Salvation will arise from the ashes of judgment. God--in His time--will breathe new life into us and revive us.
"Dry Bones", Ezekiel 37:1-14. Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Ezekiel has been given an unusual preaching assignment. He’s brought by God’s Spirit to a valley full of dry bones. It is a scene of desolation and death. The bones are a gruesome image of sin and despair, and a grim reminder of defeat. These bones represent the nation of Israel, carried off to Babylon in captivity. It was a humiliating desecration for the body of a dead Jew to not be given a decent burial. If you’ve been to Gettysburg battlefield you’ve see the dignified graves of soldiers along with monuments to the units that fought that epic battle. But here there are no grave markers. The fallen army is left on the battlefield, and their bones have bleached in the sun.
God tells Ezekiel to walk around this valley and get a good look. He then asks the prophet, “Can these bones live?” And Ezekiel, knowing that nothing is too hard for God wisely answers, “Lord, You alone know.” From a human point-of-view, the answer is obvious. But Ezekiel is not dealing with a limited deity. God tells him to “prophesy” to the bones, to proclaim a divine message…and he does. Nowhere do we see Ezekiel questioning God’s directive or thinking it odd. Ezekiel knows enough about to God to not second-guess Him. Nothing’s over till God says so…not even death.
Ezekiel preaches…You may recall the spiritual: “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord!” Ezekiel gets a response! The bones lament, they cry out, “our hope is gone; we are cut off” (verse 11). They’ve been separated from the life-giving presence of God. This aptly describes the human condition. The Apostle Paul tells us that apart from God we are spiritually “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1-2). We’re not merely sick, but dead. Only God can raise the dead. Paul assures us, “Though you were dead in your sins…God has made you alive with Christ” (Col 2:13). On the Cross our Savior took on our sins and was cut off for them, taking our punishment. And like those dry bones in the valley, Jesus burst forth from the tomb with resurrection power.
When we proclaim God’s word, anything is possible. The New Testament says that all Scripture is “living and powerful” (Heb 4:12); it imparts new life (I Pet 1:23). Jesus declared, “The words I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). We read the life-giving Word of God, not to stuff information into our brains, but to transform our lives. When was the last time the Bible made a difference in your life?
As Ezekiel preaches, the bones come together and take on flesh, yet without life. The bones are revived in two stages, similar to the creation of Adam in Genesis--first the body, then the breath. So Ezekiel next preaches to the wind. The “four winds” (verse 9) is an expression for the four corners of the world. Scientists say that, while the earth is round, there are four corners geographically. In this context, it means “from every direction.” The Spirit of God then enters these bodies, giving them life, raising them up.
The Hebrew word used here (ruah) can mean wind, breath, or spirit. In John’s Gospel, the words “spirit” and “wind” are interchangeable. In 3:8 Jesus says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has been called “the wind of God”. Here the Spirit restores life and hope. “The winds of the Spirit are always blowing. Some people put up windbreaks and others open up their windows” (Robert Hale). May our prayer be: “breathe on us, Breath of God.”
No matter how dire our situation, no matter how miserable we may feel, there is always hope. Refusal to hope is a decision to die; it’s sending our bodies a “die message” (Siegel). Despair is “a partial surrender to death” (Hutschnesker). It is giving up. Such fatalism can be fatal. On the other hand, in the face of uncertainty, there is no such thing as false hope. Choosing hope sends us a “live message.” Confidence in God brings life and serenity and the healing of our souls.
If death has the final word, death is supreme…but this vision clearly shows us that God is sovereign over death. Hope has the last word. If this world alone was the totality of human existence, death would be our greatest foe, but we have a living hope that gives us security and makes death a non-issue. We’ve nothing to fear; death is merely our transition to eternity with God. There are greater things ahead than any we leave behind.