Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones

Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones

Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones.

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.”  (Ezekiel 37:1).

PROPHETS. From Deborah to John the Baptist, prophets have been live wires for the Lord. They were unafraid to say and do things that gave a little jolt, and maybe even shocked, the sensibilities of others. With their engaging personalities and heightened imaginations, God’s mouthpieces were often called upon to be dramatic illustrations of the Word of the Lord. If a prophet was hanging around, the people may have ignored or even ridiculed the prophet, but they certainly heard and maybe even saw the Word. Through dramatic speech, street theater or show and tell, the prophets might even make fools of themselves. Being an imaginative eccentric himself, Ezekiel fit into this prophetic mold quite well.

EZEKIEL. He indeed was a holy fool, showing remarkable trust in the directions given by the Lord. He proved to be a faithful prophet as God asked him to do one outlandish thing after another. Ezekiel was tapped on the shoulder by the Lord to be a prophet, priest and street preacher in Babylon during the exile, which meant he was doing his job sometime between 586 BC – 538 B.C. God appointed him at the age of 30, and he continued in these assigned roles for about 22 years. God seemed to have a larger list of expectations for Ezekiel than most other prophets, and so Ezekiel had the widest spectrum of methods as he spoke and demonstrated what God had on His mind. You name a method and he did it: visual aid, demonstration, show and tell, poems, proverbs, parables, direct prophecies, and visions that were other-worldly and difficult to comprehend. Just some examples of what Ezekiel was told to do by the Lord… Lock yourself into your house and bind yourself together with ropes for about seven and a half years, remaining tongue-tied most of that time; lie on your  right side for 390 days, and then on your left side for another 40 days; while on your side, bake a special flat bread by baking it over a fire fueled by human excrement (thankfully, the Lord finally relented and allowed him to use cow dung); shave your head and your beard and walk around in  mourning, humiliated with your hairlessness, to represent God’s grief and man’s shame; pack a traveling sack with necessities, sneak through a hole in the wall in the middle of the night, and walk away for parts unknown for an uncertain amount of time. It appears that Ezekiel was a good sport through these attention-getting theatrics. Unfortunately, the people didn’t respond anyway. It helped that God showed a sense of humor when he told Ezekiel that He is going to make him just as stubborn as the Israelites, “I have made you as obstinate as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as granite. So don’t be afraid of them.” (Ezekiel 3:8).

VISION. God had a serious point to make, though, so He brought Ezekiel into a vision that proved to make a profound statement. This was not the first vision for Ezekiel. His visions were not literal experiences, but they were said to be dream-like, very realistic, and occurred in some unknown place… not heaven, not earth, but in some “third place”. This valley, which also could have been translated as “plain,” could have been in some extraterrestrial place during a prophetic ecstasy, or it could have been the same valley where he met the Lord in Ez. 3:22, “Then the Lord took hold of me and said, ‘Get up and go out into the valley and I will speak to you there.’ So I got up and went, and there I saw the glory of the Lord, just as I had seen in my first vision by the Kebar River. And I fell face down on the ground.”

CONTEXT. Ezekiel was called to be in exile with all the other Israelites in Babylon. They all felt abandoned, defeated, and hopeless. They were in enemy territory 600 miles from their homeland, and everything they once had was now gone…. the comforts of home, their close-knit families, their livelihoods, and most of all, the presence of God. The Israelites were cut off from their Temple, and they felt spiritually dead with no hope of recovery. They were beyond discouraged, for they had nothing  left that felt life-giving. They too were subdued with guilt, knowing that their Temple was desecrated by the Israelites before even the destruction of Jerusalem. God had abandoned their Temple even before they were exiled. As Ezekiel reported in chapters 10 and 11, the glory of the Lord left the Temple because of their desecration. Added to their sense of hopelessness and their shame, they had to endure for over 100 years the devastating fracture within  the house of Israel. There was the nation of  Israel in the north, and the nation of Judah in the south, a broken nation of God’s chosen people. And there was no hope of reunion any time soon.

HOPE. Just preceding Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, he spoke words of hope and consolation to the Israelites. He said that Israel would be restored as a nation one day, and the people would return  home (Ez. 36). The people probably found this hard to believe, since everything looked so hopeless. Ezekiel also spoke God’s promise to judge the nations who were used to punish Israel. But God didn’t stop with those hopeful words. Ezekiel went on to say that God would purify His people in a dramatically unique way. “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my teachings and be careful to obey my commands.” (Ez. 36:26-27). God promised to transform, renew, and empower His people to do His will. This promise reflects the New Covenant with Jesus and the Holy Spirit given to us by God. But at this time in Israel’s history, Ezekiel’s prophecy begs a number of questions: What will this look like? How will God perform these spiritual miracles? When will this transformation take place?

RUAH. There is extended use in this vision of the Hebrew word ruah, which can be translated as wind, breath or spirit. All three are similar in that they are invisible movements of God that are life-giving. Notice the uses of breath, wind and spirit in this vision, and remember that God is always the Source of ruah.

THE VISION. As if to answer those questions inspired by the prophecy of a new heart and spirit, Ezekiel experiences a vision that is like no other, and continues to capture the imagination of all Bible readers (Please read Ezekiel 37:1-14). God explained the meaning of this vision very clearly in the last paragraph (verses 11-14). There is a lot to unpack in this relatively short vision.

EZEKIEL. Having this fantastic vision was nothing new to Ezekiel, so he seems to take this extraordinary experience in stride. He wasn’t shocked, he wasn’t dismayed, he didn’t faint. When the Lord asked him at the start if these bones could come back to life, Ezekiel didn’t laugh, and he didn’t hesitate in his answer: “Only you know the answer to that, Lord.” He didn’t answer “Of course!” just to placate the Lord, and he didn’t answer “No way!” as if to reveal a lack of faith in God’s supernatural power. He answered the way we would hope to answer, “God only knows if these bones can come back to life.” If God’s question didn’t seem strange enough, God then asked him to talk to those dead bones, as if they could hear him prophecy to them. Dead bones are inanimate, and they don’t have ears to hear anything. But Ezekiel was nonplussed. We don’t know if he felt foolish doing this, or if maybe he questioned in his own mind if God knew what He was doing. But Ezekiel took the Lord at His word and spoke to those dead bones as if they had ears to hear. Ezekiel just goes with the flow of God’s instructions, no matter how foolish they seem. After speaking to the bones, God asked Ezekiel to speak to the wind, another impossible task. Once again, he didn’t hesitate to do what God asked. One wonders if these amazing things in the vision would have happened if Ezekiel hadn’t cooperated. Did God depend on Elijah to make all this happen, or did God just enjoy having Ezekiel a part of this process? We don’t know, but Ezekiel surely had a major hand in all that transpired in the vision.  By the end of the vision, Ezekiel surely agreed with the Lord… Yes, these dead bones are definitely like the Israelites, no responses by them to all these theatrics I go through, no signs of vitality at all. These Israelites really do seem as good as dead!

PROCESS. It’s interesting that there were many stages in this miracle with the bones. First, there was the stirring of the bones, the noticeable rattling. Then the bones somehow assembled themselves together to make a skeleton. Then there is the addition of the sinews and fleshy organs to the bones. Then there is the skin covering all the flesh. Then the breath of God gives life to those assembled bodies. One wonders if that was the order of events in the original creation of man in Genesis 1 and 2. Certainly in both cases, the creation of man and recreation of the bones, the breath of God is what gave life to the flesh and bones. And that very same breath gives life to all of us and to all creatures everywhere.

RESURRECTION. If nothing else, this vision was all about resurrection. There are hints throughout the Hebrew Bible of the resurrection, and this is another one. God here is putting an idea out there for the Israelites to consider: the resurrection of the body. There are other Scriptures in the Hebrew Bible that foreshadow or hint at the resurrection of the body:

  1. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8)
  2. “Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust.” (Isaiah 26:19).
  3. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2).
  4. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself.” (Job 19:25-26).
  5. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!”  (Hosea 13:14).

The early Church leaders and scholars saw in Ezekiel’s vision a glimpse of the general resurrection at the Last Day. The early Father St. Ambrose of Milan once said, “Great is the lovingkindness of the Lord, that the prophet is taken as a witness of the future resurrection, that we might see it with his eyes.” By the time of Jesus, the general resurrection was commonly accepted in Jewish circles, except for groups like the Sadducees. Any doubts on this would have been put to rest after Jesus the Messiah said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Those very words could have been spoken by Yahweh Himself at the valley of dry bones. This vision makes it easier for us to imagine the New Jerusalem, when God’s people will be resurrected one day at the Lord’s command.

PICTURES. Ezekiel wrote this extraordinary vision down and addressed it to the Jews in exile. They were the intended audience, and the vision was meant for them. This compelling story was not written to us, but very well was written for us. Paul tells us that various stories in the Hebrew Scriptures were written as examples, to “fit us for right action by good instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). Paul also told the Romans that “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by our steadfast and patient endurance and the encouragement drawn from Scriptures we might hold fast and cherish hope.” (Romans 15:4), Amplified bible). So what can we learn from Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones for our lives today? For one thing, we see a striking picture of how God is the source of life for us. We may have been dead in sin, but God is able to breathe into us through His Holy Spirit and restore us to life eternal. Our spiritual bones were bleached white with no sign of life, and God came to the rescue and breathed new life into us as individuals. We also see in this vision a startling picture of how God can revive a church body to new life. God can take a church that appears for all intents and purposes to be dead, and through His Spirit breathe new life into that church and faith community to bring a supernatural revival. God’s Spirit can make all things new and full of life, whether as individual believers or as a body of believers. Hear the Word of the Lord.

SONGS. An old gospel spiritual that has been enjoyed for a long time, almost a century, is the tune written about Ezekiel’s vision, “Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones.” It was written and composed by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), and was first recorded in 1928. The song ended up being a fun way for young kids to learn the bones of the body.

Fred Waring & his Pennsylvanians – Dry Bones (ca. 1947) – YouTube

The Prisoner – Dry Bones – The Four Lads – YouTube

Another song written about Ezekiel’s vision is a contemporary worship song called “Rattle.” Enjoy.

ZACH WILLIAMS + STEVEN FURTICK – RATTLE!: Lyric Video – YouTube

 

 

 

One Reply to “Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones”

  1. Steve – Loved this and learned so much! What a great reminder of the Spirit the Lord wants to breathe into all the ‘dead’ parts of our lives. Just led our small group last night in a study of Romans 4…the context of which Paul is grounding our salvation in terms of the original covenant…the covenant family. The verse that has always captured me is v.17 “God gives life to the dead & calls things that are not as though they were”. Like those dry bones! Thank you!

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