Ezekiel 37:1-14 is a prophecy. In this prophecy Ezekiel is taken to a valley in which he sees the skeleton remains of a fallen army that was slain long ago and never buried. This army represents the people of Israel after the fall of Jerusalem. What he sees happen is a source of great hope for God’s people. He sees in the resurrection of the bones the revival of God’s people. This passage looks forward to a day when God will gather the remnant of His people to Israel again. He will breath new life into them in such a way that the whole world will see the miraculous hand of God.
Ezekiel began his prophetic work around 591 BC, was taken into exile in Babylon in 587 BC, lived through the destruction of Jerusalem ten years later, and continued his work until at least 571 BC. He was designated as a sentinel and was commanded to warn people of the coming destruction. This visionary experience probably happened in 580 BC, when hope for the restoration of Israel was at a low ebb from a human point of view. Israel was defeated militarily, its people were taken into exile, and it suffered because it abandoned God. Israel was alone, exhausted, discouraged, impoverished, and as good as dead-but God had other plans.
Before we can understand the events in this passage and their symbolism, we have to understand how burials were done in ancient Israel, as well as how the people expected the resurrection of the dead to take place. When someone died, his or her body was placed in one of several chambers that lined the walls of a large family tomb, which was typically cut out of rock. The tomb was then sealed until another member of the family died. When the family reentered the tomb, they would find that the body had decayed, and the only part that was left intact was the skeleton. The skeleton was then taken from the chamber and placed in a common bone coffin in the middle of the tomb. This common coffin, called an ossuary, contained the bones of many family members. The bones were often separated from their usual skeletal positions in order to make the storage of bones more efficient. For example, a rib cage might be placed next to a foot. The purpose of the ossuary was to group everyone in the family together as they awaited the resurrection. The resurrection would take place in reverse order of the decay of the body. Instead of beginning with a full body of flesh and ending with bones, the resurrection would begin with bones and end with a full body of flesh.
The Israelites were like us. They were hostile to people who weren’t part of them, and we often show the same hostility. The Israelites were a special group, but they weren’t supposed to be special for themselves. They were to be special for the nations. God was going to make them a light to the nations so that all the nations would come to God and know His Name. The people thought that it was all about them, their land, their sanctuary, and their buildings. God told them to change their ways or they would be driven out, but they rejected Him and His Laws.
Sometimes we get transported into a valley. Perhaps there is a diagnosis of illness that leads to uncertainty. Perhaps relationships that were loving and tender become sour and argumentative. We lose a job, lose a loved one, lose our way in the world in which we thought we were living. Things are going well, and then all of a sudden we enter a valley. What do we find in the valley? Bones. What do our bones look like? Are they strong and solid, or frail and brittle? DO they hold us up or weigh us down.
There is a two-part formula for revival in this passage. The first ingredient is the preaching of the Word of God. Prophecy essentially means preaching God’s Word. The second ingredient is the Spirit of God. Only God can bring genuine life, and so these assembled bodies do not come alive until God places His own breath in them-much as Adam did not become a living soul until God breathed into him the breath of life. The appearance is there, the promise of life is there, but life does not come until God Himself breathes His own life into the slain.
God Himself interprets the vision for the people: “The whole house of Israel” had been ejected from its land and vast numbers of the people had died because of their rebellion, yet one day God would bring a remnant of His people back to the Promised Land. Then He would begin to prosper them, and finally He would bring about a nationwide revival in which He would restore their hearts to Himself.
God accomplished His plan through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to pay for human sin by giving up His own life and then rising from the dead. God’s Spirit came to breathe new life in us, guiding us to know the Lord and trust Him for forgiveness and salvation. Spiritual awakening is something that all Christians want to see take place. It doesn’t matter if this is in our own neighbourhood or throughout the world. We are going to ask God to do what He did in Ezekiel. For those who have no hope, or who are dead in their sins, their spiritual life can come back to life because of the power of Jesus. God’s breath can give them new life. They can be reborn because of Christ.
The Israelites thought of themselves as a dead people. They were dead for so long that they could not imagine any life coming back into them. They were dead politically, socially, and religiously. They weren’t united to their God, but that didn’t matter to God, because He had a plan to bring His people back from the dead. Ezekiel was given the task of proclaiming this plan to the people. He must do what He promised so everyone will know that He is Lord.
Spiritual dryness comes when we become too busy with life that we don’t take time to be alone with God. Sin is another reason we feel dry and distant from God. Yielding to sin and being too busy to worship God quickly lead to a divided mind and heart. If we continue along this track, we will begin to spend more and more time doing other things and less time in prayer with God. Before we know it, we will feel tired, drained of energy, and just plain worn out. That’s when the devil begins to tempt us with sin.
The physical return of the Israelite exiles to the Promised Land began with the decree of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror of Babylon, in 539 B.C., which was a few decades after Ezekiel preached hope to the exiles on the basis of this vision. The end of the Exile and the beginning of an orthodox community of faith signaled the dawn of a new age, whose brightness could be seen only when Christ arrived, and whose fullness is yet to come.
Perhaps you feel like the Israelites did. We are all just a pile of dry, dead bones until we receive the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you are alone, dejected, and watching a scene of physical or spiritual death unfold before you. Do not worry. If the God of Ezekiel is your God, then know that even the dry bones before you can live again. In His grace they can live and stand upon their feet. God’s Word from Ezekiel offers hope to everyone who has suffered terrible ordeals in their lives. The days we live in may be dark, but God will offer us comfort in these days. He will help our hurts to heal. All we have to do is ask God to breathe His Holy Spirit into us by remembering the words of the hymn “Breathe on Me, Breath of God:”
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love,
And do what thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God.
Until my heart is pure
Until my will is one with thine
To do and to endure
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly thine
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God.
So shall I never die,
But live with thee the perfect life.
Of thine eternity
God’s spirit can breathe new life into our bodies, minds, and dreams. God will give us the resources and chances to make the dreams He has given to us realities. We have to be still, pray, and watch God move in our lives. If we speak life, renewal, and provision for our dreams, we can know that God’s plans for our lives will take place with faith and hard work.
God has provided a way out of spiritual dryness, but we have to do our part:
- We must be willing to listen to the Word of God. When we are in a dry place with no hope and no apparent answer to our problems, we must accept God’s Word. It begins the process of deliverance from disorder.
- We must be willing to respond in obedience to the Word of God. It is our willingness to act on what is spoken by God that continues this deliverance from our “dry bones” state of existence.
- We must be sensitive to the movement of God’s Spirit. God’s Word gives us order, but the Spirit gives life. The Holy Spirit provides the power to bring the truth of God’s Word to fruition.
Unless we are ready to respond to the hand of God which would lead us to the bones and make us dwell among them, we are not prepared for the work of raising them to life. The work cannot be done at a distance. We have to preach the word of God to dry bones and to do this God will take us and push us, shake us, and place us in the middle of those valleys of dry bones and demand that we should preach His word to them.
The application of the vision involves the restoration of the nation of Israel, but it also refers to reality. God knows the location of every bone, every fragment, every molecule, and every grain of dust of all the saints of the ages. One day He will supernaturally bring our human bodies together, breath His Spirit into us, and equip us physically for eternal life. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the process of death will be reversed one day, and death will be swallowed up in victory.
Ezekiel has not interrupted a prayer service to tell the people God is rewarding them for their fidelity. This is a familiar story. God takes the initiative to come to a people in slavery, either because of a conquering nation, or by their own sins (which describes us today). God offers them and us a free gift of salvation, without prerequisite merits of their own. What must they do? It is the same thing we have to do today-accept God’s free offer and then live changed lives. Does that sound like Lent to us?
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1098)
- Stuart, D., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 20: Ezekiel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 331-336
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- Hatch, Edwin, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.” Printed in Common Praise (Toronto, ON: Anglican Book Centre; 2000)
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- The Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, “My Spirit Makes My People.” Retrieved from www.lutheranhour.org
- “Bible Pathway-Sept. 11, 2017.” Retrieved from www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/biblepathways/
- Pastor Victor Robert Farrell, “Dream Word-METTLE.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- “It’s Never Too Late to Dream.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- George Young, “With God’s Spirit in Us.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Emma Danzey, “A Prayer for Spiritual Awakening.” Retrieved from www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/
- Dr. David Jeremiah, “The Vision of Dry Bones.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Tony Evans, “Revival in the Valley of Dry Bones.” Retrieved from www.christianity.com/devotionals/alternative-view/
- “Prophesy to the Bones.” Retrieved from www.ucc.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, First Sunday of Lent (A), March 26, 2023.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org