Can These Bones Live?

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

Have you ever found yourself saying this phrase?  “Boy, I would have loved to have been there!”  We’ve all probably had moments such as that.

They come in all different varieties.  Some of them could be personal, such as a story you might have heard from a friend or familiar member.

His or her experience might have been so incredible that you might have said, “I would have loved to have been there.”

 

There are others of those events that aren’t necessarily personal to you.  Perhaps the whole nation or even the whole world has heard of them.

Some of these events are exhilarating.  That’s the word that best describes what I have heard about the 1980 Winter Olympics.

I’m sure many of you remember the epic ice hockey battle between the Unites States and the Soviet Union, held in New York—more specifically, Lake Placid.

I was not quite two years old, so I remember nothing of it.  Oh, but I have heard plenty about it and seen plenty of replays.

The phrase, “Do you believe in miracles?” could be patented by Al Michaels.  I would have loved to have been able to watch that on television.

But, even better, I would have loved to have been there to watch that unfold.

 

Other events are downright terrifying.  And yet, we are still drawn to them—or at least, I am.  It reminds me of a story from my former church in Illinois.

It wasn’t so much a “I wish I could have been there” experience as a “what would it be like to see that happen” experience.  (Recount propane tank story.)

 

And then, we think of those other-worldly events.  I play the “I would have loved to have been there” game with many accounts in the Bible.

The supernatural nature of God draws all sorts of people.  In truth, everyone is drawn to the miraculous.  They just might attribute it to different sources.

Imagine being a fly on the wall inside the tomb where the crucified Christ was laid.

Imagine actually witnessing—with your own eyes—His resurrections.  Wow.

Or what about the ten plagues, found in the book of Exodus?  What about watching—from afar, I hope—as frogs or flies covered the land?

What about watching the Nile River turn from water into blood?  What about watching the hailstorm of God fall upon the land?

 

And we could name several others from the Bible.  But there’s a certain category within the Bible that might be the most intriguing of all.

Consider those visions from the Bible.  Consider John in the book of Revelation.

Think about those creatures with eyes all over their bodies.  Think about those part eagle, part lion, part other creature beings.  Could we even handle seeing those?

Can words do them justice?  How amazing would it be to have actually seen some of those visions recorded in the Bible?

 

Today’s passage includes such a vision.  It’s found in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37.

I invite you to turn there with me.  You are probably familiar with this particular passage.  In fact, as a child you might have sung a song based on this passage.

But whether or not you remember it—whether or not you are familiar with it—you might not be familiar with the message of the passage.

You also might not be familiar with the message, as it was meant for the prophet Ezekiel.  So let’s take a look.  I’ll begin with verse 1.  (Read Ezekiel 37:1-2.)

 

So before we jump too deep into this passage, let’s ask a question.  What do we know about Ezekiel?  First of all, he was a prophet.

The literal definition of a prophet is “mouthpiece of God”.  Prophets don’t necessarily predict the future, though that can be the case at times.

What prophets do is proclaim what God tells them to say.  In some instances, this could be on an individual basis.  Think about Nathan sharing with King David.

Often, though, these prophets proclaimed to larger groups and, in the case of Ezekiel, to entire nations.  His primary contemporary was Jeremiah.

 

Ezekiel was a prophet during a dark time in Israel’s history.  He prophesied during the time of the Babylonian Exile.

If you don’t know the background there, the Babylonian Empire—under King Nebuchadnezzar—was the nation God used to punish Judah.

The Northern Kingdom, Israel, had been ransacked and plundered by the Assyrians.

The Southern Kingdom, called Judah, held out longer because of God’s relationship with David.  But, eventually, their wickedness caused their downfall as well.

Babylon invaded, destroyed Jerusalem, and deported many of its people.  Ezekiel was one of those carried off into exile.

So Ezekiel’s prophecies must be understood within that context.  The people hearing his messages are in exile.  They are facing trying times.

 

Notice how our passage begins.  Ezekiel states that the hand of the Lord was on him.

In other words, God is controlling this.  He is the one producing a vision for Ezekiel.

We must understand that this is a vision.  There is no literal valley, full of dried bones, to where God whisked away Ezekiel.

Furthermore, notice the means by which God brought Ezekiel to this valley of vision.

He says it happened “by the Spirit of the Lord”.  Planes, trains, and automobiles can only take you so far—and only to certain places.

The Spirit of God can take us to spiritual experiences of which this world knows nothing.  That’s what happens to Ezekiel here.

 

Now, we must pay attention to the details of this valley imagery.  The scripture says that the valley was full of bones.  I’m not completely sure how to take that.

Does this mean that the valley was brimming to the top with crusty old bones?  Does it simply mean that the valley floor was covered, hiding the ground below?

Is it somewhere in between?  We don’t know for sure.  What we do know is that these bones were the dominant—perhaps the only –characteristic of the valley.

Moreover, Ezekiel was led back and forth across the valley.  Other translations say he “passed among them roundabout”.

What’s clear is that Ezekiel got a good look at this valley.  He got to see it from multiple perspectives. And still, all one would notice was the bones.

How do we know he got a good look?  He could tell that the bones were very dry.

They were old and dusty.  They were wind-and-weather-worn.  There had been no life attached to these bones for a long, long time.

Quite the vision, wouldn’t you say?  It’s morbid, to say the least.  It’s desolate and perhaps even unnerving, unless it was some Halloween prop.

As Ezekiel takes it all in, God speaks to him.  Look at verse 3.  (Read Ezekiel 37:3-6.)

 

So God and Ezekiel have a conversation.  God initiates with a question.  “Can these bones live?”  This is apparently a norm for God in regards to conversation.

You know how Jesus worked during His earthly ministry.  If you don’t know, Jesus made a habit of using questions in conversations.

He would initiate conversations with questions, much as God did here.  He would even answer questions with His own questions.

Now let’s revisit God’s question to Ezekiel.  “Can these bones live?”  In truth, it sounds as though it’s a rhetorical question.

Of course these bones can’t live.  First of all, bones don’t ever live by themselves.

Moreover, life has long gone from these bones.  Even taken in the metaphorical sense, resurrection from the dead was scarcely believed in during OT times.

Life is characterized by lushness, greenness, flowing, moving, and teeming.  These bones are stagnant, rust-colored, odious, and motionless.

 

And yet, Ezekiel knows better than to make such assumptions with God.  You see, we might ask pointless or obvious questions on a regular basis.

You walk in on your three-year-old coloring on the walls, and you might exclaim, “What are you doing?”  Well, you know what he’s doing.

Perhaps your child is ready to be out of the car, yet you are stuck at a stoplight.

“Just go!” they might persist.  “Can I just plow through all these cars in front of me?” you might respond.  Of course you can’t, and she knows it.

But there’s a difference between our asking those sorts of questions and God’s asking of those questions.

When He asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live,” the obvious and earthly answer is, “No.”  But our God isn’t always a God of the obvious or earthly.

That’s why Ezekiel’s response to God is really the only appropriate one.  “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”

 

We need to train ourselves in responding this way.  There are two components to this response from Ezekiel.  Firstly, there’s an understanding of God’s power.

God is omnipotent.  Now that’s a big church word that you probably won’t use in your everyday language and might confound your co-workers or classmates.

That means He is all-powerful.  Not only can He do anything, but He can also do things that our minds cannot conceive.

So, can these bones live?  Well, if God wants them to live, then they can.  Ezekiel seems to have a grasp of this.

But there’s also a second component.  Ezekiel also understands that God’s will is what rules.  Too often we are overly concerned with our own will, way, & purpose.

We want all the answers but, it seems, all we find are more questions.  But Ezekiel understands that God holds all the answers, and that’s enough for him.

At other times, we may think we know all the answers.  Can these bones live?  Of course they cannot.  Common sense tells us that.

But we must catch ourselves, as Ezekiel did, and leave room for God’s answers and His working.  In truth, only He knows.

What this boils down to is a change in perspective.  Ezekiel is now in a place where he believes that, if God wills it, these bones might just be able to live.

 

Notice what happens when Ezekiel’s mind—his perspective—is in the right place.

God starts commanding.  The battle of obedience must first be won in the mind, before any orders can be carried out.

Think about it like this.  Suppose you are in a battle with your child, and he or she is openly defying you, complete with arched back and shaking fist.

If, in the midst of such rebellion, you command them to go to their room, pick up something, or turn off something, that command isn’t likely to be heeded.

They have to think right before they act right.  They have to be reminded that they are under your authority.  They have to see that, believe that, and understand that.

Well, Ezekiel is in that place of thinking right.  He sees, believes, and understands that God can do anything—even beyond what Ezekiel could imagine.

 

So God gives Ezekiel the command to proclaim news to the bones.  Once again, remember that we are in a vision.

And the news is good news!  Flesh, breath, and life are coming.  Ezekiel is to proclaim a promise from God.  Check it out.  (Read Ezekiel 37:7-8.)

Notice that Ezekiel is not responsible for the flesh and breath and life.  He will not be the one to make all that happen.  He is merely called to proclaim God’s promise.

We see in verse seven that Ezekiel obeys.  He says that he prophesied, as he was commanded.  And God immediately begins working.

Notice that God began working as Ezekiel spoke.  Sometimes—and I certainly don’t want to say ‘all the time’ because I don’t want to put God in a box—God doesn’t even wait for us to finish obeying.

 

In verse seven, Ezekiel said that things began to happen as he was prophesying. 

What sorts of things were happening?  Well, bones were coming together, connecting to other bones.  The rattling sound must have been enormous.

Tendons and flesh began appearing on these connected bones, almost as if growing out of nowhere.  A covering of skin grew over these now-linked bones.

I want us to get into the story now.  Close your eyes.  Be quiet now.  Listen to this account of Ezekiel’s vision.  Tell me if you can hear and see what’s going on.

(Read the account from Caleb’s Bible.)

 

It’s quite the scene, isn’t it?  And yet, there is still a problem with these bones.

At the end of verse eight, we read that there was no breath in them.  In a sense, they were nothing but shells—mannequins, you might say.

Let’s take a look at what happens next.  (Read Ezekiel 37:9-10.)

So, God and Ezekiel continue their dance, so to speak.  God commands Ezekiel to prophecy to the “breath”.  Now, what exactly was the breath?

Whether or not it was literal breath, or a spirit, or a life force, we don’t really know?

Remember that we are in a vision here, so things aren’t expected to go exactly as they go in the world we observe around us.

 

Whatever the breath might be, it might cause us to remember our earlier passage from the book of Genesis.  God breathed life into Adam.

Whatever this breath is, it has life in it.  And only God has the power to bring life to anyone or anything.  But check out something important.

Ezekiel is authorized to call forth this life.  He is not the source of the life.  He doesn’t have it naturally springing from within him.

But he is called to make it available to these lifeless bodies.  Similarly, you and I are not the source of life, but we can certainly make it available.

 

Ezekiel obeys, and the breath enters the bodies.  The bones live.  The bodies come to life and stand up.  And take note of how these bodies are described.

They are an army—a vast army.  Now, what do we know about an army?  First of all, an army is to be ready for action—even, of course, ready for battle.

So these bodies are not merely alive again.  They are alive with a purpose.  Our account wraps up as we read verse eleven.  (Read Ezekiel 37:11-14.)

 

And now God gets to the heart of the matter.  He offers Ezekiel—and his readers—and explanation of the vision he has just seen.

The bones are the whole house of Israel—both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  And notice the state of the house of Israel.

God’s people are hopeless, lifeless, and cut off from their source.  Just as the bones had no semblance of life in them, so God’s people were in the spiritual sense.

But God promises, in verse 12, that He will bring His people back from the dead.

We need to pause for a moment here and discuss true life and death—not merely in the physical sense but in the greater, spiritual sense.

 

This is not primarily a passage about the resurrection of physical bodies.  It’s about the restoration of God’s people—the nation of Israel.

It’s about God putting His people back in right standing with Him.  That’s what true life is all about.  True life is not health or wealth.

True life is not about all your desires and dreams coming true.  True life is about being in fellowship, stride-for-stride, with God.

True life is all about having such intimacy with God that you experience “Christ in you”—the power of God through the Holy Spirit, coursing through you.

That’s the sort of life that God brings.  That’s God’s message to Ezekiel here in the Valley of Dry Bones.

 

Now, notice in verse thirteen what will happen as a result of God raising His people.

They will know Who God really is.  That’s the first and foremost result of God restoring His people and setting things right.

They will know that He is the Lord—not merely that He is Creator God, but also that He is Lord of a personal Master-servant relationship.

This knowing or understanding is how the relationship will be established.  God speaks and acts, and the people respond in faith.

In other passages, God states that “you will be My people, and I will be Your God.”

 

And the source of this life-giving relationship?  We see that in verse fourteen.  God will put His Spirit in His people.

God’s Spirit is the source of true life.  Again, we saw that in Genesis as the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of the earth at the onset of creation.

And notice a significant little preposition with regard to how God’s Spirit interacts with the people.  He will not be “with” them, but rather in them.

This obviously anticipates the NT and the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts.

There is no salvation without the presence of God’s Spirit in a person.  We cannot be set right without God’s working in and through us, without His presence in us.

 

God tells Ezekiel that, once His Spirit indwells His people, they will live.  Furthermore, He will settle them in their own land.

There most certainly is a physical dimension to salvation.  In the earthly sense, the people will be brought back to the Promised Land.

In the heavenly sense, the new heavens and new earth will become available to all God’s children, and they will enjoy a feast in His presence.

 

God closes this passage with an important phrase in verse fourteen.  “Then you will know,” He states.  But what will the people know?

They will know that the Lord has spoken and that He has done it.  God promised and proclaimed it, and then He accomplished it.

When the bones come to life—when God’s people experience His restoration—there will be no question as to how it all came about.

His people will have no consideration that they accomplished any of it.  He promised it—and He did so throughout the scriptures.

Furthermore, He accomplished it—most dramatically and most significantly by sending His Son to die on the cross.

Yes, He came to save the entire world—for God so loved the entire world.  But even Jesus said that He was first sent to the house of Israel.

And it’s the house of Israel that is in mind here, in our passage from Ezekiel.  The nation of Israel was broken, but God would one day bring about restoration.

 

Though this passage refers to the people of Israel, it doesn’t mean it lacks anything for us.  Here’s the question for you today.  Are you “dry bones” this morning?

If so, here’s a word for you.  First and foremost, you need to know.  You need to know Who God really is.  You need the right perspective on Him.

He is Creator and Savior.  He is Lord and Master.  He holds the whole world in His hands.  There is nothing too small for Him.

Open your eyes to the wonder of God.  Don’t live squinty-eyed any longer, refusing to see God in any other way than the way in which you have painted Him.

And once you know—once you are overwhelmed and moved by the truth of Who God is and what He has done—you need to respond.

 

You need to ask Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit.

 

You need to ask for that resurrection—not so much the bodily one after you die, but the spiritual “new creation” that only God can bring about in you.

 

And, perhaps, you need to ask Jesus Christ to save you.  You need to entrust your life to Him.  You need to stop saying that He is Lord.  You need to start living like it.

 

Whatever the case may be—wherever you find yourself today—know that a mere touch from God can turn a pile of withered bones into a vibrant army.

Know that a touch from Him can turn your life around today.  (Pray.)