Ezekiel wrote about a vision he had of a valley full of dry bones. The old song “Dem Bones” tells the story of the bones coming together and coming to life. It is a remarkable and captivating picture, and even more importantly, it carries a message of hope, restoration and life!
This message came from an extraordinary man.
Ezekiel was from the family of a priest named Buzi. (Ezekiel 1:3) He was born in or around Jerusalem, but the Babylonians took him captive around eight years after Daniel and his friends were taken captive. From that time on, he lived in the country of the Babylonians. Ezekiel prophesied to the exiled Jewish people living in Babylon for more than 22 years. (Compare Ezekiel 1:2 with Ezekiel 29:17-21) His ministry started during Zedekiah’s reign, at which time his contemporary, Jeremiah, would have been ministering in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel knew from the start that his message would not be received. In Ezekiel 3:7-9, God tells Ezekiel:
7”But the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn. 8But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. 9I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”
Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel brought a message of God’s judgment of evil. He said:
This message came to me from the LORD: 2“Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to Israel: “The end is here! Wherever you look—east, west, north, or south—your land is finished. 3No hope remains, for I will unleash my anger against you. I will call you to account for all your detestable sins.” (Ezekiel 7:1-3)
This message characterized the first seven years of his ministry. Then Jerusalem fell. After the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel’s message changed to one of consolation, comfort and hope. He tells of God’s glorious plans for the nation of Israel, the coming Messiah and the Millennial Kingdom.
The New Covenant, first announced by Jeremiah, is a strong part of Ezekiel’s message. He says:
24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.
25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And 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. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
28“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)
This message of hope, restoration and life is what the “Dry Bones” are about.
Ezekiel 37:1-3 says:
1The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
The valley filled with bones represents the nation of Israel. This is stated clearly in Ezekiel 37:11, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel.” The bones were dried out, representing the fact that the nation was completely dead, and had been for some time. They were scattered and disconnected, representing the fact that the nation was dispersed among the nations. This was the case for Israel for many centuries until May 14, 1948. For many centuries the answer the world gave to God’s question to Ezekiel was, “Nothing can bring these bones to life again.”
However, God is doing it.
Ezekiel 37:7-8 says:
7So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
The gathering of the bones together is a progressive thing. The bones come together to form a skeleton. In “Dem Bones:”
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
This progressive collecting and connecting represents what is happening today. Even the flesh and skin forming over the bones is taking place, but notice that according to Ezekiel the bodies still had no breath in them. This is the condition of the nation of Israel today. They exist as a nation, but they do not have the Son of David as their King. They do not have the Spirit of God in their hearts as Ezekiel and Jeremiah prophesied. This will continue to be their condition until the time of the Gentiles is full. (Luke 21:24) Romans 11:25 explains it this way:
I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ.
A time is coming when God will fulfill what remains of this vision. At that time, this is what Ezekiel says will happen:
23They will never again pollute themselves with their idols and vile images and rebellion, for I will save them from their sinful backsliding. I will cleanse them. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.
24“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. 25They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. (Ezekiel 37:23-25)
This is God’s plan for the nation of Israel.
However, this does have application for us as Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures tell us, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) Like the “dry bones,” we had no hope of being restored to life. According to the Scriptures, we were:
In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (Ephesians 2:12)
Our condition without Christ is described in Scripture in the darkest, bleakest terms possible. We were dead. We were in darkness. We lived in this world without God and without hope. If I may offer a word to those who do not know Christ, this is how God describes you.
However, it need not stay this way. Ephesians 2:5 tells us, “Even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.”
God has brought my broken and messed up “dry bones” back together and given me a new life. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
In fact, although we are not the nation of Israel, during the Church Age that we are living in, God treats Jew and Gentile the same. It says in Ephesians 2:19:
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family.
Galatians 3:28 echoes this statement when it says:
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
If I may quote one more passage, 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (ESV)[ii]
This valley of “dry bones” carries a message of hope for us.
No matter how hopeless it looks, God can piece your life back together. Will you, like the “dry bones,” hear the word of the Lord? Will you trust Him with your brokenness? Will you give Him the pieces of your life, and trust Him to put the pieces back together?
Listen to what the Lord says:
5This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:5-6)
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.