We have been looking at the end of Ezekiel’s prophecy in which God is proclaiming what he is going to do for his people when the Spirit is poured out. The message began with the need for God himself to come and shepherd us so that we can have peace and rest (Ezekiel 34). Further, God will bring his people into the promised eternal inheritance (Ezekiel 35-36). Not only this, God is going to perform a heart surgery on his people so that they are radically transformed (Ezekiel 36). God will cleanse his people, remove their stubborn hearts and give them soft hearts so that they will be careful to obey his rules. How was God going to cause people to obey him? How was God going to swap stubborn hearts for repentant hearts in his people? The cross of Jesus would be the glorious event in which we see the loving kindness of God on full display. Paul described this as God pouring his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5-11). But there is more than God has in store for his people. In Ezekiel 37 God gives Ezekiel a vision to see what God will do next.
The Vision (37:1-10)
The vision of Ezekiel 37 is a prophecy that is easily misunderstood about what it is predicting. So we will carefully look at this vision for God’s message to his people. The Lord brings Ezekiel in vision to a valley that is full of dry bones. I want you to visualize canyon that you would see in the western part of the United States. In that canyon there are many human bones strewn all over. Now the Lord has a question for Ezekiel in verse 3. “Can this bones live?” Ezekiel leaves the answer in God’s hands. Only the Lord knows the answer to this (37:3).
Ezekiel is directed to give his prophecy to the dry bones in this vision. He is to tell the dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord (37:4). Now listen to verse 5. God says he will make breath enter into the bones so that they will live. Now there is a word play that exists in this prophecy. You will see the word “breath” and “spirit” throughout the prophecy. Both words are translating the same Hebrew word. So when God says he is putting his breath in them, he is putting his spirit in them. When God says he is putting his spirit in them, he is putting his breath in this. Verse 5 reminds us of the creation account in Genesis 2:7. There we read that the Lord God formed the man and then the breath of life was breathed into him. In doing so, the man became a living creature.
Not only is God saying that he will breathe life into these dry bones in this valley, but you will notice that it is a complete restoration of these bodies. Look at verse 6. The Lord will put tendons and skin over these bones. The bones are not merely coming to life. The person is coming to life. There is a full reanimation pictured. Bones, ligaments, tendons, and skin are all put back on these dead bodies. Then God says he will put his breath in them so that they will come to life.
In verse 7 Ezekiel does what he was commanded to do. He prophesies over these bones in this vision and as he does so, the bones start rattling. The bones start attaching to other bones. Then tendons and flesh appears on these bones. Then skin covers these bones. But there is a problem still in verse 8. There was no breath in them. These bodies look whole but they are not alive. Then Ezekiel is told to prophecy for the spirit (the breath) to come from the four winds and breathe on these slain so that they will live (37:9). Then Ezekiel sees the breath (the spirit) enter these bodies and they came to life, stood on their feet, and were an exceedingly great army (37:10).
The Message (37:11-14)
Now it is important that we read the next paragraph. Up to this point in the vision, we have not been told the meaning of this vision. We have just seen the impossible happen. Dry dead bones that were strewn across the valley have reconnected, reanimated, and been given new life by the power of God’s word spoken over them. What does this mean? Look at verse 11.
The bones represent the whole house of Israel. Notice what the people are saying. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off” (37:11). Now I want us to think about what the people are saying. I do not believe what they are saying is inaccurate. The northern nation of Israel has been scattered among the nations by Assyria. The southern nation of Judah has been invaded three times by the Babylon Empire, sending the people into exile. Remember that this is where Ezekiel is along with many other people. They are in exile in Babylon. Not only this, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, which was recorded in Ezekiel 33. Jerusalem has fallen. In the face of these events, the light bulb has come on for the people. We are truly cut off from God. We are cut off from life. Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We have nothing. There is no possible way for there to be any hope of restoration. That is what it looks like. The vision of dry bones represents what the people think about themselves. They are scattered and ruined. Their bones are dry and there is hope of life and no hope of return. They are cut off from the life of God. But remember the Lord did something in the vision. He asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Is all hope lost or can these bones live again? Is it over?
The Lord proclaims in verse 12 that it is not over. The Lord will open their graves and raise them to life. He will put his Spirit in them and they will in their inheritance (37:13-14). The Lord says that he will raise his people from dead and put his Spirit in them so that they will have new life. Unfortunately, this passage has been misinterpreted to be talking about the physical resurrection of the body at the final day of the Lord. While we believe in the physical resurrection of the body and there are many scriptures that speak to that truth like 1 Corinthians 15, that is not the point of this vision. Go back to verse 11. The problem God is addressing is that the people believe they are completely cut off from God and that there is no hope for restoration or reconciliation. The temple is destroyed. Jerusalem is a heap of rubble. The walls are torn down. The people have been ejected from land and lost their inheritance. These people are dead in their sins and cut off from the promises of God. Is there any hope for such people? They are spiritually dead. Can God give them life again?
The New Testament Hope
This is what the writers of the New Testament are using as their basis for understanding when they write about the hope we have in Christ for a new life. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2 that we were dead in our sins and children of wrath but God has made up alive and raised up with him, seating us in the heavenly places in Christ. Notice the resurrection language is the same as what Ezekiel prophesied regarding the dry bones. But there are many other passages of scripture that give a visualize of this hope or directly teach this hope.
Think about the resurrection of Lazarus that is recorded in John 11. The first picture that Jesus teaches is about the resurrection of the body. Jesus says this in John 11:25. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Martha also acknowledged and believed that Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection on the last day (John 11:24). But fast forward to the end of this scene when they go to the tomb of Lazarus. Remember that Martha tells Jesus that he has been dead for four days and now stinks. The point Martha is making is that it is too late. Lazarus is too dead, if you will. But Jesus is making a point with the resurrection of Lazarus. You are not “too dead” to be brought back to life. You are not too cut off. There is no point when your hope is so gone that God cannot bring you back to him. Now think about something very important in this scene. What gives Lazarus life again? Lazarus comes to life because of God’s word. God’s word gives life to Lazarus because he simply said, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). Jesus taught this very point earlier in John’s gospel account.
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63 NIV)
Notice what Jesus said. The Spirit gives life. What did we read in Ezekiel 37? The Spirit gives life. How did the Spirit give life to the dry bones? Ezekiel prophesied God’s word over the bones and they came to life. What does Jesus say here in John 6:63? Jesus said the words I have spoke are the Spirit and life. When we read about the Spirit, what we should immediately think about is life. Genesis 1 is the first encounter we read about the Spirit of God who was hovering over the face of the waters. Why is this happening? What is being pictured? Life is about to happen. Creation is about to happen. The Spirit is life. When the Spirit comes, then life comes. This is what the vision shows us in Ezekiel 37. God says that he will give his Spirit and that the dead bones will come to life. Those who are cut off from the Lord, dead in their sins, will now be given new life. God will speak the words of life, breathing into our bodies the Spirit of life so that we are no longer dead to God and alive to him. Listen to how the apostle Paul appears to give his exposition of Ezekiel 37 in Romans 8.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:5–11 ESV)
The Spirit makes us alive to God. We are radically transformed so that our minds are not set on the flesh, but set on the Spirit. We are transformed into a whole new way of life. This new life can only come through the Spirit of God. Jesus said in John 6:63 that the Spirit gives life, as we just read a moment ago. Then Jesus said that his words that he spoke are Spirit and life. Only God can give life to our dead bodies. Only God’s word can make us alive to him. When God speaks, life happens. God’s word is the power to give us life. New life and hope does not come through entertainment, games, food, fun, cute stories, programs, or cute preaching. The proclaiming of God’s word is the only way to have life, to have our dead souls risen from their graves to new life. This is why Jesus is called the word of life in 1 John 1:1. This is why the apostle Paul tells us to hold fast to the word of life in Philippians 2:16.
Israel was helpless and hopeless. They were completely cut off from God and dead in their sins. But God has the power to give life to the dead. God has proven in Jesus that he can give life to the dead. You are not too dead in your sins for life to be given to you. You are not too far from God that you cannot be risen from your spiritual grave to new life and seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
Do you think what Israel thought? Our hope is gone. God’s answer is that it is not. Your hope is not gone. God can reanimate the deadest soul and bring it to life. It is stunning to see what God can do to give life to a dead world. What is impossible for us, starting over clean and new, is possible with God. The coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 indicated that all who came to Jesus could enjoy this very gift (Acts 2:38-39). The promise is to you and your children and those who are afar off, as many as the Lord will call to himself. New life in the kingdom of God is available to you.