Summary: Only the Spirit of God can reverse the process of spiritual death and can make dry bones live.
This is a crazy time of year with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all stepping on each other’s toes. You have probably noticed the Halloween display at the corner of Elm and Metcalf with its grave stones and skeletons. According to Monday’s paper, the owner says she enjoys setting it up and makes no bones about it.
One of my favorite skeleton jokes is “Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road?” “He didn’t have the guts.” All of us understand how skeletons get that way. What we don’t understand is how that process can be reversed, but this morning I think I hear the rattling of bones.
Recently, Sue and I attended the 50-year reunion of our Iowa Mennonite School class. Our reunion was a three-day event with 75% attendance from as far away as Oregon and Florida.
I suppose reunions can seem long, but this was the most uplifting event we have attended in a long time. The noise level in the room was almost deafening. And it was amazing how mature everyone turned out to be!
As you can guess, in a class of 55 students, a few were rebellious back then, some were spiritually alive, and some were what we might call spiritually dead, but I heard the rattling of bones. I remember this fellow as a happy-go-lucky guy, not rebellious, but also not interested in spiritual things. It was this guy who caught my attention over breakfast, because it was obvious he had completely changed.
He worked at a big hospital as a psychiatric aid and always carried his New Testament with him. He didn’t tell patients that he was a Christian, but somehow they knew. Some asked to talk with him. He would step out on the veranda with them and minister to them there. Doctors told him that when these patients came in, their lives messed up, the doctors expected the patient to be there for months or even a year, but sometimes they were ready to go home in three days! They couldn’t figure it out. “I knew,” he said, but he never told the doctors.
So what changed him? He told us that at one point he had become so depressed, he knew he needed the power of God in his life, so he went to the Bible and started to pray about each part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, confessing where he knew he was falling short. His load began to lift, but finally, he realized that he needed to confess his root sin and give his life completely to God. And the Spirit of God changed his life.
Ezekiel 37 is not just about one person who is transformed by the Spirit of God, but about the whole nation, or today the whole church, if you will. Because of their disobedience to God, the Israelites had been taken into captivity and Jerusalem had been destroyed. They were crushed militarily, separated from each other, abandoned by the Lord, and as good as dead. (Douglas Stuart. The Preacher’s Commentary.)
But just a couple of chapters earlier we see promises of revival. In Chapter 34 God promises a new shepherd to lead his people. God says in 34:23, “I will set up over them one shepherd…and he shall feed them..”
In 36:8, God promises renewal, “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people.”
And later in Chapter 36, God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.”
So as we come to chapter 37, we anticipate the new life God has promised. When we see the words “the hand of the Lord came upon me,” in verse 1, we know that we are about to see the power of God. These words are only used about three prophets: Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel.
In Ezekiel’s vision the valley is strewn with bones –dry bones. Here is a fallen army, slain long ago, and never buried. They represent the death of Jerusalem. All Ezekiel could see were dry bones. As the old spiritual says, “Bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.” Verse 2 says they were very dry. That means that life is impossible. That is why when God asked the question, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel tossed the question back to him. And then God told Ezekiel to speak to those dry bones because God knew that in them is the possibility of resurrection. I hear the rattling of bones.
Note two things. In 37:1 God brought Ezekiel out to the valley by the spirit of the Lord. If anything is going to happen, it has to be by God’s spirit. Verse 14 says, “I will put my spirit within you and you shall live.” These two sentences form a kind of envelope for this passage about the bones. And in between, the word that is used for spirit is mentioned 8 more times. The word we read as spirit here can be translated as spirit, wind, and breath. So there is a play on words here in Hebrew which we have to explain in English. So, this power, this life force blows in from God. Has God’s power blown in over your life? Has his Spirit changed you and renewed you?