Summary: God shows Ezekiel a valley of dry bones. And through his vision, we learn to not limit what God can do, to speak life into the lives of others, to allow God's Spirit to fill us, and to give God the glory when he replaces our hopelessness with hopefulness.
When There is No Hope
The prognosis is specific: there is no hope. The relationship is irreparably damaged: there is no hope. The depression wraps around you like a thick blanket of fog: there is no hope. Yet, today’s scripture suggests that, in the most hopeless of cases, God is still at work.
Over a hundred years earlier the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Now the Babylonians had done the unthinkable and destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah, to include Jerusalem and the beloved Temple, God’s home on earth. Now ten long years had passed, with the survivors living as POWs in a foreign land. No hope. And then God gives Ezekiel a vision.
The scene is a valley where a great battle must have taken place. Bodies lay everywhere. Well, not exactly bodies. Skeletons. Bones. Verse 2 notes that these bones were “very dry.” These folks had been dead a long time. All hope of life was gone. In verse 11 God says the bones represent Israel, who says in their captivity, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” They never expect to see their beloved homeland again. Yet, God says differently. As he brings the bones back to life and fills them with his breath, his spirit, so he says he will surely restore the nation of Israel. Like in the vision, the restoration is two-part: first, the nation is brought back to life; then it is filled with God’s very own breath or spirit.
We have already seen the first part take place in world history. The Persians later would allow the Israelites to return home. And then in modern history, the unthinkable happened on May 14, 1948, when Israel once again became a nation-state. This is probably the only time in history when a nation that had vanished into oblivion later reappeared on the world map. The book of Revelation describes the second part of Ezekiel’s vision, when God’s spirit will fill the nation of Israel once again, as Jews finally turn to their true Messiah in Jesus Christ. It will be a grand sight if we’re still here.
Often in apocalyptic literature, a prophecy will carry multiple levels of meaning. Ezekiel’s vision was first and foremost for the nation of Israel. But it is also for us, for believers everywhere. Every one of us has had moments when we felt all hope was lost. We’ve had a bad day or week or month or year, and we’ve been ready to give up, to throw in the towel, to just not try anymore. And yet, God says, “It’s not over until I say it’s over.” On the outline, I’ve shared some principles with you that jumped out at me from today’s story. The first is,
1. Don’t limit what God can do (v. 3)
So often we feel boxed in by our circumstances, and we see no way out. We may not say it aloud, but we think God is limited the way we are limited. In verse 3, God asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I might have responded, “No way! These bones have been dead for many, many years. They are very dry! There is no way they will ever live again!” Yet, Ezekiel is much wiser. He simply says, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” His title for God says it all. “Sovereign” means in control of all things. God is the one in charge, not business as usual. The nature of a miracle is such that it breaks the rules of nature.
When Jesus brought Lazarus out of the grave after four days, the four-day period was important. In Jewish thinking, the spirit might hover around the body for up to four days, with resuscitation possible. Yet, on the fourth day, all hope is gone. Death is final. So, just a week before his own death and resurrection, Jesus said, “Death is not final. Let me give you an illustration.”
Folks, don’t put limits on what God can do! Henry Blackaby illustrates this point in his excellent Bible study book, “Experiencing God.” He talks about the time when the disciples were out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a big storm came up. Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples all thought they were going to die. When a fisherman believes he’s going to die, you know it’s a bad storm! Well, they brought their impossible circumstances to Jesus, who is the way, the TRUTH, and the life. Blackaby quips that you don’t really know the TRUTH of your circumstances until you bring those circumstances to TRUTH himself. The disciples thought the truth was they were going to die. Yet, when they brought that to “TRUTH” himself, Jesus woke up, said, “Ye of little faith,” and immediately calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23-26, Mark 4:37-39). “No hope” was replaced with “hope.” Don’t ever limit what God can do. Secondly,