“Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold they say, Our bones are dried and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. . . . then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it and performed it saith the Lord. “
The valley was strewn with dry bones.
They were very dry.
The Prophet Ezekiel was led by the Spirit to observe them. God performed a mighty work upon them, He raised them up, so that they lived and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
This event had historical significance for Israel.
Ezekiel was a prophet of God sent to proclaim the good news of the gospel to the captives in Babylon. The Kingdom of Israel had already been taken captive. This had been followed shortly by an attack upon the cities of Judah under the leadership of the Assyrian captain, Sennacherib. In this assault, Sennacherib took about 200,000 of the inhabitants of Judah into Babylon. Among these captives were Ezekiel and Daniel. Daniel was taken to the capital city, Babylon, while Ezekiel was taken to the rural country in the vicinity of the River Chebar.
The first part of Ezekiel’s prophecy concerned itself with the warning that unless Judah repent from its sins of idolatry, God would surely send the enemy to destroy it. While Ezekiel was sounding forth this prophetic warning in Babylon, Jeremiah was proclaiming an identical gospel to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In fact, the first 32 chapters of Ezekiel are very similar to the prophecy of Jeremiah. Even as these servants of God had warned, Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem 11 years later and destroyed the city. Under his leadership the remainder of the Kingdom of Judah was laid waste and the people taken to Babylon.
The faithfulness of Jehovah to His faltering people is demonstrated so beautifully in the words of this text. It would seem that after such faithlessness, God’s word to Israel would be that of hopeless condemnation. Surely God could have sent the Prophet Ezekiel to declare, “I told you so! This is what you have coming, O Israel, now I will utterly destroy you from the face of the earth.” However, God is longsuffering toward His people. Therefore He sent the Prophet Ezekiel to bring another word to the captives, a gospel that concerned itself with the promise that God would accomplish His desired end through the way of captivity, He would lead His people to repentance and thus bring them back again to the promised land.
The vision of the dry bones demonstrated this so graphically.
The prophet was taken to a large open valley. Before him was the ghastly display of bones. Skeletons of fallen soldiers, disconnected bones were lying on the ground, exceeding dry. This was a picture of Israel. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel, behold they say, our bones are dried, our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” Israel, referred to here, is not to be distinguished from Judah, rather Israel here is the true seed of the woman, the true name of Jacob the father of the 12 tribes. He had declared, “I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.” These people of God were indeed troubled. They cast backward a haggard glance of despair. Jerusalem, the city set upon a hill, was destroyed. The gates were burned, the walls were broken down, the houses were plundered, the inhabitants taken away to a strange land. Still worse, the temple was destroyed. The Most Holy Place was profaned, for the treasures of the house of God fattened the coffers of infidels. These lonely saints sat upon the hills of Babylon filled with sorrow. The Babylonians taunted them by requesting them to sing some of Zion’s songs, but they answered, “How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land?” Their bones were dried up, the cause of the Lord seemed doomed, the seed of the woman was overcome, they pined beneath the oppressor’s heel. The hope of Israel seemed lost, for Christ could not be born in Babylon.
Yet, we must ask a penetrating question, why were they taken to Babylon? Surely it was not due to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had a stronger army than Israel, for had not the Lord fought the battles of Israel by few? Neither could the answer be that God had forsaken His people, for He is not a God like the idols of the heathen that may be pre-occupied or distracted thus allowing the surprise attack. His eyes are ever upon His own and His ears are open to their cries. The answer must be found in Israel, she had sinned! God was dealing with Israel in the way of correction. He had sent Nebuchadnezzar as the hand of chastisement which would lead Israel to spiritual renewal in the way of repentance of sin.
This God demonstrated to Ezekiel through the vision.
God resurrects sinners from the dead. He lifts them out of their spiritual graves and brings them to the promised land.
This is clearly shown by 3 distinct stages presented in the vision.
The first is described in verses l-3. Ezekiel had to observe that the valley was filled with bones of fallen soldiers. This portrayed the true spiritual condition of Israel as she is by nature and as God sees her. These very dry bones cry aloud the truth of total depravity and human inability to save. According to Malachi, “For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble and the day that cometh shall burn them up.” Ezekiel saw this very really, he saw the evidence of God’s wrath upon sin. This applies no less to this present dispensation. God has no mercy, love, or grace for the wicked. Even man’s great dreams and mighty attempts to establish a society of man gives evidence not of divine favor, but wrath. Before God, man is nothing more than dry bones, consumed by His wrath.
The second aspect of the vision is recorded in verses 4-6. Ezekiel as God’s agent was commanded to prophesy directly to the bones that they hear the word of the Lord. Upon hearing that word they suddenly began to move, each bone connecting to its proper counterpart, receiving muscles, flesh, and skin. At, this stage they were still lying down on the ground, for breath was not yet in them. They had the potential of life, but did not experience it. This conveys the beautiful truth that God is indeed the God of our salvation. By the wonder of His regeneration, He implants in each of His own children the principle of life. Regeneration is the placing of the seed of the new man in the hearts of the elect. By this act, God directly provides them with the potential of life which precedes the actual experience of it.
The final stage of the vision is described in verses 9 and 10. Here Ezekiel must prophesy to the wind to breathe upon these bodies and give them life, with the result that they arise upon their feet, ready to march. This portrays in the vision the actual call of God which brings the living response of faith. Through the preaching of the gospel God calls forth His own unto a living relationship of friendship with Him.
If we view this vision in its totality, we cannot help concluding that the grand theme is that God surely saves His people. Ezekiel must not be afraid that suddenly God has become helpless and that the cause of Israel is lost. Not in the least, for God saves and He does that sovereignly.
We learn from this vision that God performs His work in the hearts of each one of His own. This becomes plain from the relationship between the second and third stages in the vision. Regeneration precedes the calling. When Christ finished His mediatorial work and made complete satisfaction for the sins of His own, He ascended into heaven. Through His Spirit He directs the preaching of the gospel. It is His will that some reprobate do not even hear the word, it is also His will that some hear it and this hearing contributes to the development of their sin. Principally however, the preaching is directed to the elect and redeemed people of God. Now notice carefully that this word is not directed to the natural man who is yet in his sin; rather it is directed to the regenerated child of God who is prepared by God for the preaching of the gospel. Ezekiel had to prophesy to the wind to breathe in the nostrils of those bodies that were prepared for this breath. So Christ also directs the call of His gospel to His regenerated children. This tells us then that since the gospel is not directed to the natural man, the effectiveness of the gospel is not dependent upon natural means. It is not the logic of the gospel as it .appeals to natural man that brings about conversion. It is not the persuasiveness of argumentation that moves the will of the natural man. Nor is it the tempo of human emotionalism that activates the Christian to cry out, “I believe.” Rather, it is the work of Christ whereby He calls to conscious expression that which He already performed before the encounter of the preaching.
Scripture explains this beautifully. The preaching is described as the “sword of the Spirit.” When the word is preached, we read that hearts are “pricked.” This results in the “opening” of the heart. This is the mighty resurrection that transpires through the preaching. Christ by His Spirit pricks that heart which is regenerated and through this prick causes it to open up and thus emit the graces of God in Christ. The love of God, mercy of God, and power of God flow forth from the opened heart and this in turn affects the mind to assent to the truth, activates the will to desire to live the truth, and causes the child of God to respond in true joy of salvation.
This is God’s work. The Spirit asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” His answer, “Lord God, thou knowest.” From the point of view of Ezekiel the prophet, it was impossible. No minister can “win souls for Christ.” Did those bones cooperate in their resurrection? The thought is foolish. Likewise there is not and there can not be cooperation between Christ and the sinner in the salvation of his soul. Man at best is nothing but dry bones! The only life that can come forth from dry bones is the infused life from the living God through Christ who is THE Life.
This is the comfort for the church. Ezekiel must preach this gospel of peace. As far as Israel was concerned her cause appeared hopeless. Swallowed up in the obscure confines of Babylon, it seemed as if the cause of Christ was defeated. What alone could allay the fears of the people of God? This salvation is of the Lord! What He begins He also performs even unto the end. He resurrects from the dead and those whom He resurrects are surely made alive and kept alive unto the end.
Hence the assuring promise, “I will open your graves.” This means that God will surely give to His people the grace to repent of their sins and turn from them Ezekiel and the church of all ages must know that God changes stubborn hearts, and He will do that in all those who are precious in His sight. He will bring them to their knees and cause them to cry out for mercy.
In that way God also promised, “Ye shall know that I am the Lord.” Obviously this means not only that they know that God exists, not only that God is the only God, but especially that the God of all salvation is worthy to be feared! We must turn from our evil way and walk in His commandments for God’s sake, in order that the glory of our salvation will be His alone.
Then we can understand that these soldiers were ready to walk back to Canaan. This typically represented God’s elect returning to God’s place of fellowship which in the highest sense of the word is heaven.
Nothing can possibly keep God’s inheritance from that desired and promised end.
When the cause of the church appears dark, we, too, must remember that salvation is of the Lord; He shall surely perform it.
Nothing can frustrate that work.
To be saved is to be saved indeed. To God be the glory!