Can dry bones hear?
The Lord took hold of Ezekiel and carried him off to a valley filled with bones.
This was all very real to Ezekiel. He does not say he had a vision, nor does he use any language suggesting that it only seemed that he was in a valley filled with bones. He was there – bones all around him. He could feel the hot sun on his back, and hear the drone of the lone fly buzzing around. He could hear the sounds of desert insects.
I remember those sounds. I grew up on the northern edge of the Great Basin Desert. According to Wikipedia, it covers much of, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California. Dry skeletons of cattle or coyotes were not that rare, but I never saw a human skeleton, let alone a whole valley full of them. I picture the dry sandy soil. I feel the hot dry air that must have surrounded Ezekiel.
Ezekiel is drawing a picture for us. Can you walk with Ezekiel as he looks around the valley? As he walked among the bones, Ezekiel observed that there were very many of them and they were very dry. They were human bones – a great army (verse 10).
Then the Lord asks Ezekiel a question.
“Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” (Ezekiel 37:3, NLT)
Literally translated, God asks, “Can these bones live? Humanly speaking the answer is an obvious, “No!” This is the point of the question. Once when Jesus was teaching His disciples about salvation they said, “Then who in the world can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25, NLT) Jesus answered:
“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26, NLT)
This is the point of the question. Humanly, there was no possible way those bones could live. This is an important point. God asks the question to point out this rather obvious point.
God is pointing to the nation of Israel, but the parallel to our salvation is clear. There is no possible way that we who were dead in our trespasses and sins could save ourselves.
Ezekiel responds, “Lord God, You know.” (Ezekiel 37:3, NASB)
Apparently, Ezekiel realized that God could do anything, and so avoided giving his human reaction of “No possible way!”
Next, God tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones, and say, “Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord.”
Talking to dry bones is a bit strange. However, it makes a point. The principle here is important. In Isaiah 55:11, God says:
…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (NIV)
Jesus also said:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35, NIV)
It was by the word of the Lord that the world came into existence. God’s word can accomplish anything because God can do anything He pleases. This is the true meaning of sovereignty. There are no limits on God. He does whatever pleases Him. What is the point of talking to dry bones? Can dry bones hear? If it is the word of the Lord to them, yes they can.
As Ezekiel spoke to the bones, they came back together. Then he prophesied to the wind and the freshly reassembled bodies came back to life. The word for wind and spirit are the same, so we can assume this is the working of the Spirit of God.
This prophecy has gained a lot of attention over the years. It is a fascinating picture and has been put to music, as you all know. The order in which the bodies come back together is rather gruesome if one thinks about it. However, the order is important and we will see why in a little while. The dry bones are obviously symbolic. However, the prophecy interprets the dry bones for us.
Ezekiel 37:11 says:
Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, 'We have become old, dry bones--all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.' (NLT)
The dry bones represent the nation of Israel.
In 70 A.D., Rome sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the nation of Israel. The Israel and Judaism Studies website says:
The dispersion of the Jewish people is traditionally dated from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE… The Roman historian Cassius Dio records that in a subsequent revolt in 135 CE some 580,000 Jewish soldiers were killed; and following that revolt the Emperor Hadrian decreed that the name "Judea" should be replaced by "Syria Palestina" - Philistine Syria or "Palestine".[i]
The fortunes of Palestine were not good. Just as the Lord had said through His prophets, the land became a wasteland. According to the website just quoted:
By the 19th century the population of Turkish Palestine had been reduced to less than 500,000, including about 25,000 Jews. The only fertile areas were in the narrow central plain. The north consisted of rocky hills and of valleys in which large regions had degenerated into malaria-ridden swampland, while the south was mostly desert.[ii]
The people of Israel were scattered throughout the world. There was no hope for the nation.
On November 2, 1917, the British government issued what is known as the Balfour Declaration. This declaration announced the support of the British for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Up to this point there did not seem to be any hope of Israel existing again as a nation. Then on May 14, 1948, Israel was declared and recognized as an independent, sovereign state by the international community. These are just two events in the long history of the Jewish people who lived for centuries without a homeland and yet never gave up their Jewish identity. The events of the last hundred years have seen a dead nation come back to life. The dry bones that Ezekiel spoke to heard the word of the Lord.
This is a direct fulfillment of Ezekiel 37:12-14, which says:
12Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’
God is bringing the people back to the land. Not all of this is completed. I do not believe that the Spirit of God is in them yet, and they do not yet recognize their Messiah. However, what could not be envisioned for almost 1900 years has come about. Every year the Jewish people continue to immigrate to Israel until the population is now over 8 million.
This also is consistent with the three-step process of the bodies being restored. First, the bones came together, then flesh covered the bones and then the Spirit was breathed into them.
First, the bones came together. This began when the Balfour Declaration started the immigration of the people of Israel back to their homeland. However, they were technically under British rule. They were not their own nation.
Then, in 1948, Israel was given her independence and recognized as a nation by the world. The bones now had flesh. Israel has a government, a constitution, laws and a parliament, but they are spiritually dead. If one moves from the Arab section of Jerusalem to the Jewish section, the spiritual darkness is the same. Both proclaim there is one God and both deny that Jesus is the Messiah.
Ezekiel 37:21 says:
Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. (ESV)
God has done this: dry bones.
Ezekiel 37:22 says:
And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. (ESV)
God has done this: flesh on the bones.
Ezekiel 37:22-24 says:
And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
24“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.
God has not done this yet. This is the third step in the process represented by the Spirit breathing life into the corpses. The title of this series is “What’s Next?” and this is the answer. This is what is next.
This breathing of life into Israel will be a traumatic time. Jesus spoke of the beginning of birth pangs that were not yet the end, but Jeremiah speaks of the birth pangs. Jeremiah 30:5-7 says:
5Thus says the LORD: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. 6Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale? 7Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. (ESV)
This is the time of trouble known as the Tribulation. Notice, verse 7 says it is a time of distress for Jacob. This is also spoken of as “Jacob’s travail” or “Jacob’s trouble.”
The Tribulation is not meant for the Church. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 gives us the encouragement that God has not destined us for wrath. Those seven years are what remains of Daniel’s seventy weeks and God’s promise to Israel to:
… finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. (Daniel 9:24, ESV)
This is the Spirit blowing life into the nation. Then as Ezekiel 37 and Jeremiah 30 say:
“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.” (Ezekiel 37:24, ESV)
These things are written for our encouragement. We do not need to despair like those who have no hope. We do not need to store up food for the seven years of trouble.
I want to close with a parable that Jesus gave:
11As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’” (Luke 19:11-13, ESV)
This is what we are to be doing until Jesus returns. We are to be engaged in business, Kingdom business -- not entangled in civilian affairs. (2 Timothy 2:4)
We have been given His Spirit to be His witnesses until He returns. These are the last days. The bones have come together. The flesh is on the bones. The wind is picking up.
[i] http://www.ijs.org.au/Historical-Background/default.aspx (Accessed October 27, 2017)