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Can These Bones Live?

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Context

The relationship between God and his people is full of ups and downs. There are hilltop experiences where Israel experiences his deliverance and compassion and then periods of complete rebellion toward even the thought of God in their minds. A time where all men do as they see fit in their own eyes. They bend even the person of God and mould him into something of their own making. They make him out to be a God content to witness them make sacrifices of their children to idols one moment and then the same day come into his temple. The lists of sins and grievances are long.
Ezekiel is a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel. He was taken into captivity by the Babylonians after Jerusalem was sacked the first time by king Nebuchadnezzar. While Jeremiah’s ministry was with those left behind, Ezekiel’s ministry is to his fellow Exiles. He started after about 5 years in captivity. In approximately the 4th year of his ministry Ezekiel has the unenviable position of letting his fellow exiles know that Jerusalem has been sacked for a second time by Babylon.
A prophet is not a position that would have been eagerly sought. It is truly unenviable. God tells him his wife will die and that he is not to weep for her. This is a sign to his fellow exiles whose pride had been in their families and children that they too were not to mourn for their children. In essence he was telling them not to mourn, nor repent. The messages that Ezekiel was given for proclamation may be highlighted by a few of the chapter descriptions.
“The seige of Jerusalem Symbolized”, “Jerusalem Will Be Destroyed”, Judgement Against Idolatry”, The Day of the Wrath of the Lord”, “Abominations in the Temple”, Idolaters Killed”, and “The Glory of the Lord Leaves the Temple.” He goes on then too announce his judgment against the nations that took advantage or gloated in the face of Israel’s punishment.
Throughout though, and Taylor J.B. states it succinctly “Ezekiel had been promising his people a change in their fortunes: new leadership, a restored land, rebuilt cities, and many of the features of the Messianic era.”
Taylor, J. B. (1969). Ezekiel: an Introduction and commentary (Vol. 22, p. 228). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Now I have set the stage. Chapter 34 is the upswing and now we arrive at 37.

Hope in the Valley

Ezekiel 37:1-6
Ezekiel 37:1–6 ESV
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
First, I need to clarify that this is not an Old Testament teaching on bodily resurrection. The last section of verses will give full disclosure on the intent and purpose of the vision, in its context. This needs to be clarified because, if you remember last week I spoke about Lazarus.
This is a vision, prompted and carried out through the power of the Lord moving through Ezekiel’s life. We are told this in verse 1. So he was carried in the spirit and set down in the middle of a valley of completely filled with very dry bones. There is no evidence of life, these people, are long dead. Not a little dead, but all dead. Beyond hope of help. Long past decay, dry bones are all that fill the valley as confirmed by his little tour around the space.
The bones, as will be revealed later represent the nation of Israel. They have been in captivity now over a decade, they have received news about the destruction once again of Jerusalem and probably all who they knew or cared about. Their identity as a nation has been extinguished, their pride or hope in themselves, or their own ability and strength is gone. Their faith and religion, as confused and idolatrous as it was, now with the destruction of the temple has cut them off from any potential source of promise. In their minds, God’s done it, he’s finally cut them off.
Application:
1. Perhaps there is someone here today that feels their hope is gone? Faith and relationship is just a practice of going through the motions. When we’ve exhausted every avenue in our own strength, or our striving has continually failed to move us to that higher/deeper place of relationship or spirituality we may fall back into hopelessness at our continued failure, because striving has come from a place of mistaken identity. It has come from our tribe, or our denomination, our works or habits, hobbies, strength and ability, our idols. Perhaps we have allowed our religion to define us, our country, province, politics or even sexuality. The source of our strength has laid completely in the realm of our own power.
2. Hope for lost family and friends.
And then God asks Ezekiel the question: Can these bones live?
God always makes the first move. He first loved us. This vision God is showing Ezekiel is his own response to the sins of his people and the circumstances they have landed themselves through. It reveals his goodness and compassion.
Often I think in our state of despondency we feel that he is ignoring us or has forgotten us. That we have finally reached the limits of his goodness and grace and that His faithfulness, compassion and love no longer can touch us. From our point of view we are always asking and seeking him with limited or at best mixed results.
The obvious answer to God’s question is no. But Ezekiel believes and trusts in the Lord. It once again revealed humility, hope and even excitement about where the Lord was leading him with this question. ‘O Lord God, you know,’ submits and allows room for the working of the Lord by his spirit in this seemingly impossible situation. At the same time he is not willing to lead or try and dictate the direction God is going. He holds faith.
Then the Lord sets him a seemingly impossible task. He tells him to prophecy over the bones. While Ezekiel admits that anything is possible with God, and that whatever is worked or accomplished is done in God’s power, God still desires to involve Ezekiel in this process of renewal.
This is anything but a rapt audience. But he is instructed to prophesy life into the impossible circumstances of Israel’s spiritual depravity. I’m thinking that this probably felt a bit familiar to Ezekiel, considering his ministry over the past years.
Vs. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, ‘I will cause breath (this word, also interpreted as spirit is mentioned again in vs. 6, 9, 10) to enter you and you shall live.

Life in the Valley

Life in the Valley

The Bones Raised

The Bones Raised

Ezekiel 37:
Ezekiel 37:7–11 ESV
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’
Ezekiel 7–10 ESV
The word of the Lord came to me: “And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord. “Thus says the Lord God: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes. “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. The time has come; the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For the vision concerns all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life. “They have blown the trumpet and made everything ready, but none goes to battle, for my wrath is upon all their multitude. The sword is without; pestilence and famine are within. He who is in the field dies by the sword, and him who is in the city famine and pestilence devour. And if any survivors escape, they will be on the mountains, like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, each one over his iniquity. All hands are feeble, and all knees turn to water. They put on sackcloth, and horror covers them. Shame is on all faces, and baldness on all their heads. They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them. And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it. “Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.” In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley. Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.” And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, “Son of man, dig in the wall.” So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’ ” He said also to me, “You will see still greater abominations that they commit.” Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.” And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.” So they went out and struck in the city. And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, “Ah, Lord God! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.” And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded me.” Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne. And he said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” And he went in before my eyes. Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. And when he commanded the man clothed in linen, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. And a cherub stretched out his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings. And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.” And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. And the cherubim mounted up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the Chebar canal. And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them. And when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels did not turn from beside them. When they stood still, these stood still, and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them. Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim. Each had four faces, and each four wings, and underneath their wings the likeness of human hands. And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the Chebar canal. Each one of them went straight forward.
Ezekiel 37:7–10 ESV
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Life in the Valley

The miracles that is performed here takes place in two parts. First he does as he was instructed and he prophesies to the bones. He starts preaching to the dry bones. Then something starts to happen. There was a rattling and this is either interpreted as the sound of thousands of bones snapping into place, or earthquake.
The bones form together to create individual bodies. Flesh starts to appear on the bones. This was progress, now he was standing in a valley of corpses. It was full of completely formed bodies that were never the less dead.
Ever feel like it needs to get worse before it gets better? What is more unsettling in your own mind? Standing in a valley of the long dead bones that have become so scattered and mixed that you can’t even tell in the mess of it all, what all belongs to what body. Or standing in a valley of cadavers.
Now he can see faces, suddenly its become more real. While it’s less of a mess, now he sees fully formed and lifeless individuals. He can distinguish individuals and features. It’s become more familiar. It’s become personal. They are no longer countless bones without a face.
But God is not finished.
Now he is commanded to prophesy to the breath, some translations have wind, but the word is Ru’ah and it is literally the spirit. He prophesied as commanded and this time, unlike before the miracle is complete and the lifeless come alive and stand on their feet and exceedingly great army. So in the first part he is preaching and directing his exhortation to the bones. Now he was praying.
The first must have seemed to Ezekiel very much like his professional occupation, exhorting lifeless people to listen to God’s word. The effect was limited: true, something remarkable happened, but the hearers were still dead men. The second action was tantamount to praying, as Ezekiel besought the Spirit of God to effect the miracle of re-creation, to breathe into man’s nostrils the breath of life (cf. ). This time the effect was devastating. What preaching by itself failed to achieve, prayer made a reality. Taylor, J. B. (1969). Ezekiel: an Introduction and commentary (Vol. 22, p. 229). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Application:
1. Last week I talked a bit about not being offended by God, in terms of how and when he chooses to act and move in our lives. We talked about healing or difficult circumstances. I’m going to address the elephant in the room if I may, and for me one of the greatest areas of struggle in not taking offense. Or in the very least, not letting it impact my peace and my joy.
Last week I talked a bit about not being offended by God, in terms of how and when he chooses to act and move in our lives. We talked about healing or difficult circumstances. I’m going to address the elephant in the room if I may, and for me one of the greatest areas of struggle in not taking offense. Or in the very least, not letting in impact my peace and my joy.
Lost family and friends. A few of you have known me since I was a boy. I’ve kind of always had a more somber personality. But I struggled, still struggle, with the reality of what people apart from Christ will face when they meet God.
I’ve deeply offended friends, but then had the opportunity to explain to them where my belief and faith comes from. It doesn’t bring me joy believing and knowing their trajectory. I don’t sit with smug superiority at the fact that they are destined for an eternity apart from God. It doesn’t bring God joy either.
Ezekiel 33:11 ESV
Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Ezekiel 33:
I had a friend in the military that was my roommate and didn’t know God. We had long and intense conversations the few years that I was there. In the end as I was about to leave military and go to Bible college. He was still hung up on my belief about where he was headed apart from Christ. I can’t remember precisely what I said. But, I looked him in the eye and told him to think about it this way. Knowing and believing what I do, do I love him more or less for warning him about the disaster he is headed for? He said he understood. Years later he called me, he had read the Bible and he had a few questions for me. He told me he isn’t a Christian yet, but that what I had said to him the years before made sense and aligned with what he read. He still isn’t as far as I know.
I had a friend in the military that was my roommate and didn’t know God. We had long and intense conversations the few years that I was there. In the end as I was about to leave military and go to Bible college. He was still hung up on my belief about where he was headed apart from Christ. I can’t remember precisely what I said. But, I looked him in the eye and told him to think about it this way. Knowing and believing what I do, do I love him more or less for warning him about the disaster he is headed for? He said he understood. Years later he called me, he had read the Bible and he had a few questions for me. He told me he isn’t a Christian yet, but that what I had said to him the years before made sense and aligned with what he read. He still isn’t as far as I know.
I still have family and then most of my extended family that will not acknowledge the Lord. We all do. Perhaps they seems so far, and so lost, that it is just impossible they will ever believe. In the natural we see them as they are, very dry bones. Maybe in prayer, it will get worse before it gets better. I want to encourage you today, even with these seemingly impossible loved ones, God would have us pray. Pray for their re-creation. Pray for their new life. All things are possible with God.
Can our loved ones live? Asks the Lord, and in faith my response, our response is, you know Lord!

Vision Explained

God in the Valley

Vision Explained

Ezekiel 37:11–14 ESV
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
The meaning and context of the passage is summarized for us. Again, it is not a doctrine on physical resurrection. It was an exhortation that for a hopeless people, God was going to not only return them hope arbitrarily, just a feeling that they would have, despite circumstances. He was going to restore their hope and God is going to firmly root that hope in a promise of circumstances made aright. God is going to renew his relationship with them. By his own power and his own action he is going to regenerate them spiritually and physically place them back in their own land. Israel would be restored from their exile and death in Babylon to new life, and be filled with his Spirit.
The meaning and context of the passage is summarized for us. Again, it is not a doctrine on physical resurrection. It was an exhortation that for a hopeless people, God was going to not only return them hope arbitrarily, just a feeling that they would have, despite circumstances. He was going to restore their hope and God is going to firmly root that hope in a promise of circumstances made aright.
The mixed metaphors serve to confirm not an explicit doctrine of bodily resurrection, but point to God’s plan in dealing with the nation of Israel. The rest of the chapter details what this restoration will look like, including a lot of messianic language. So it was prophetic for the nation of Israel in two ways. First it spoke to their hearts and circumstances. He knew their thoughts and desires to return home. And though they have not expressed much in the form of repentance, God making the first move, is declaring that he will place his Spirit in them, and they shall live. They will return to him, and know that he is the Lord.
But for time we would
Secondly it opens to the prophesy of the rule of Christ.
Ezekiel 37:24–25 ESV
“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.
Ezekiel 37:24
My servant David is a reference to Jesus. It is affirmed again in that he is going to be their shepherd. This will be a time when hearts and minds are devoted and fully in pursuit of the mind of Christ, meditating on his statutes. They and their children will dwell for how long? Forever, this is pointing again to a final future fulfillment.
Application:
Application:
God is going to renew his relationship with them. By his own power and his own action he is going to regenerate them spiritually and physically place them back in their own land. Israel would be restored and filled with his Spirit.
Through Christ we are included in this kingdom. We are now able to appropriate the promise of this passage over our lives.
The rest of the chapter details what this restoration will look like.
My prayer for you is that despite circumstances, despite the seeming hopelessness of dryness of unbelieving family/friends you will persevere in peace and joy. That the enemy would not rob or disturb it, by bringing false accusations against the goodness of God in your life. That we would all be open to the leading and guidance of his Spirit as we live in the fullness of Christ.
One thing that I have learned walking out this journey, of the tension between finding and accepting God’s goodness in my life, when I see so many other walking in defiance and enmity is to understand that I am not every thought and feeling that comes into my head.
Sometimes it is the enemy, bringing accusation. Sometimes it is myself, but maybe not in a state that I should acknowledge or rely on. Sometimes it is the Lord. Maybe you are feeling disturbed or a need to pray. Perhaps you feel sad, and you have no idea why. Be open to the Spirit. Ask him, what are you trying to say? Why do I feel this, who is it for, how can I pray? It may be the Spirit trying to get your attention, or alert you to someone else’s need.
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