Revival in a Bone Yard, Ezekiel 37:1-14
With one puff of divine breath Israel’s lights went out. An entire nation had crossed the line one too many times. God says, “I’ve had it, you’re finished!” They had stoned one too many prophets, built one too many pagan temples, listened to one too many apostate priests, offered one too many of their children on a pagan altar. The defection was virtually complete. With few exceptions, everyone abandoned God and His temple. The priests and the Levites had become false shepherds. It is no wonder that God out put their lights!
Israel had it all and lost it all. The people sinned corporately and were judged corporately. Throughout their history, alien armies were recruited to scatter them across the pagan world. Finally, Babylonian captivity.
But God never completely gave up on His children. He sent prophets to call His wayward people back to Himself. When we come to Ezekiel 37, The children of Israel had just about lost all hope. They regarded themselves as a dead people. Verse 11 says, “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.’” Despair and pessimism filled the air. Some of the people of God who were in captivity were saying, “It's all over, there's no hope, God can't do anything for us, the end is come.”
The nation of Israel had separated into two states about 930 BC. The Northern Kingdom was known as Israel. The Southern Kingdom, Judah. Israel was destroyed as an independent state in 722 BC by the Assyrians. Judah held on for over one-hundred years. However, in 605 BC Jerusalem was attacked by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. At this time, some captives were taken to Babylon, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Foolishly, Judah rebelled and stopped sending tribute, so Nebuchadnezzar returned with his armies in 597 BC, At this time, thousands of captives were taken to Babylon and other cities of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire. Ezekiel was included in this group. Nebuchadnezzar left behind a puppet king, Zedekiah. Very unwisely, Zedekiah rebelled a few years later. Nebuchadnezzar returned for a third time, this time killing many, taking more captives, destroying Jerusalem and emptying the city. To the Jews, this seemed to be the end of their people and perhaps even their special relationship with God.
This passage in Ezekiel 37:1-14 is God’s way of telling His people that despite the terrible situation of their sin, He was still faithful and would raise up Jerusalem, literally from the ashes. He uses the imagery of dry bones being given flesh and living again. God tells us at the end of this prophecy, “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.” The encouraging thing about this passage is that God was true to his word. In 538 BC, God used Cyrus to overthrow the Babylonian Empire. Amazingly (by the providence of God) Cyrus allowed a large number of the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Eventually, one of his successors provided money to rebuild the city and its walls, in dramatic fulfillment of this amazing prophecy.
So God gives Ezekiel a vision of the nation. They are just dry bones. Is God trying to give His apostate people new hope? Is there a future for Israel? Is God promising that one day Israel will be restored? Yes! They will experience a resurrection, and the restoration of the temple. In the concluding chapters of the book of Ezekiel, God predicts that one day God's glory would return and would fill the temple and His glory and presence will be with the people again.
1. Picture The Scene (Verse 1). ”The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones… Ezekiel was carried off in the Spirit and taken to an obscure valley. The Promised Land is home to the lowest spot on earth. Located down below the Jordan Valley, near the Dead Sea, this valley is more than 1,300 feet below sea level. Perhaps Ezekiel was taken in vision down to this very low and very hot area, where Sodom and Gomorrah used to be. Everywhere, on every side, were dead men's bleached bones. Talk about Death Valley! In the vision Ezekiel was surrounded with a countless number of bleached bones.
2. Ezekiel is Commanded to Preach to the Bones (Verses 1-2).”’Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’”
What an appalling sight! Now I’ve preached to some dead audiences before but this is really dead.
Today we are so obsessed with numbers, we would be counting the bones. “How many bones did you have on Sunday,” would be the topic of conversation among pastors. Some would even form seminars on, “How possibility thinking affected a pile of dry bones.” You would promote yourself as “The man who raised the biggest pile of bones in history.” The ACLU would have filed a lawsuit because Ezekiel violated the rights of the bones to stay dead. Bones have rights too.
God could have brought this pile of bones back to life immediately, but it took several operations of the Spirit.
The vision of death. When Ezekiel saw this valley filled with bones, he said, “What’s wrong with this picture? There’s a problem here!” Nothing would have happened if the Prophet had not recognized the problem,
That’s one of the big problems in the church today. Either we can’t see the problem, won’t see the problem, or perhaps we just don’t care that there is spiritual death all around us. When we look at Christianity in America today, how can we not see the dry bones?
When some preachers see the problem, smell death and desire to breathe life back into the church, to try to raise the dead, and bring revival, they are labeled as “radical, lunatic fringe, Fundamentalists. It seems that the church is not looking for someone to raise the dead, but for a burial party.
Why can’t people see? Why is the church so blind? Why are we not weeping over the church in America? Andrew Bonner, (1810-1892 Glasgow Pastor) wrote, “Our eyes are dry because our hearts are dry.”
There are more than 450,000 pastors in America today, and an equal number of churches, yet there are 10,000 towns in our great nation without a Gospel preaching church of any denomination. There are almost 330 million people in America, 45% claim to be born again Christians, that’s approximately 148 million. Think of the impact on our nation if every one of us just won one other to Christ. Mind boggling, isn’t it?
3. The Task of the Preacher (Verses 3,4). “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: ‘surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.’ So I prophesied as I was commanded…”
Richard Baxter, English Puritan church leader said, “We preach as dying men to dying men.”
If you were to walk down the street one day and see a preacher standing on a box preaching to a skeleton, what would you think? You'd telephone the nearest mental hospital, wouldn't you? You'd assume that man was a menace to society.
Preaching to dry bones certainly would seem like a waste of time. A skeleton just can’t listen! But never forget the incredible power of God's Word. “The Word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12). If God can speak matter into existence with just a word, and if He can make a man out of clay, or a woman out of a rib, then it stands to reason He can also cause the spiritually dead to hear. So don't lose hope, especially those of you who are pastors and evangelists! You can preach to dry bones and see results. God's Word is so potent and so powerful that it infuses new life into that which appears to be dead.
Can preaching really change anything? Is it futile to preach? It seems like preaching today is trying to put out huge fires with squirt guns. Look at Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Paul, just to mention a few. Look at John the Baptist, sun-scorched, desert-bred, fire-baptized, with a face like judgment morning, the fire of God in his eyes, the authority of God in his voice, and a passion for God in his soul, and he came powerfully preaching repentance.
The task of every preacher is to preach God’s Word fearlessly, and without apology. God has given us the mandate to preach His word with power! Of whom are we afraid? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). “We are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “Preacher, brethren, this is the time to blush that we have no shame; the time to weep for our lack of tears; the time to bend low, that we have lost the humble touch of servants; the time to groan that we have no burden; the time to be angry with ourselves that we have no anger over the devil’s monopoly in this end time hour; the time to chastise ourselves that the world can get along so easily with us, and not attempt to chastise us.”
Too many of God’s preachers are hunting mice, while lions are devouring everything in sight!
4. The Bones Come to Life (Verses 7-10). “So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, (Oh, how we need a rattling in the church today!) and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin 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 it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
The reference here is to Israel, but I intend to draw some comparisons to the church. Spiritual defection is not just is not just an Old Testament phenomenon, of interest only to theologians, Bible scholars and historians. Paul uses the defection of Israel to warn the church. In 1 Corinthians 10:5-11, speaking of Israel, Paul writes, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them…(the Children of Israel) Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”
So what’s the lesson in this vision? These dry bones represent people. The Bible says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). If a person does not have Jesus, his bones are bleached white, and dry. Spiritually speaking, he is, “Dead in his trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1). If he has not dealt with the problem of original sin, then he is spiritually dead. We are like these dry bones.
“Therefore, just as through one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 NASB).
Just as water gives life to dry earth, God's Word and the Living Water of His Spirit will bring dry, dead souls new life. “You He has made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1). Isaiah 44:3 says, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour My Spirit upon your descendants, and My blessing upon your offspring.”
Things happen when God speaks! A bind man is sitting by the roadside, crying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” With just a word, he heals him (Mark 10:46-52). Christ said to the leper, “Be cleansed,” he was immediately clean (Mark 1:40-42). When Jesus said “Get up and walk” to a man who had not walked in 38 years, the man walked (John 5:5-9). There is power in the Word of God to do whatever He commands.
When God's people preach the truth, it's going to cause a rattling. Things are going to happen. Sometimes it brings revival. At other times it arouses opposition or persecution. Sometimes both! But I guarantee that when the truth is faithfully proclaimed, there's going to be a lot of shaking!
Imagine the prophet standing in this valley, ankle-deep in thousands of sun-bleached skeletons. After months of being ravaged by vultures and animals, these dry bones are been scattered all over the place. Then, as Ezekiel began to preach, there was a rattling. Suddenly as if drawn by some powerful unseen magnet, bones began to whiz and fly through the air, being pulled back to their original partners as God began the amazing process of reassembly.
Listen to the words of the old spiritual,
“Head bone connected to the neck bone.
Neck bone connected to the shoulder bone.
Shoulder bone connected to the back bone.
Back bone connected to the hip bone.
Hip bone connected to the thigh bone.
Thigh bone connected to the knee bone.
Knee bone connected to the shin bone.
Shin bone connected to the ankle bone.
Ankle bone connected to the heel bone.
Heel bone connected to the foot bone.
Foot bone connected to the toe bone.
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Now hear the word of the Lord.”
What God did for Israel, he will do for the church. We, like Israel, were once dead in our sins. We were living in a desolate land, and were in desperate need of God. God put new flesh on our spiritual bones. God raised us from the dead! God will give us new life through the blood of Jesus when ask Christ to be the Lord of our lives. The message of Ezekiel 37 is that God will save us from the devastation we bring into our lives, if we will turn to Him, He will give us new life. In fact, Ezekiel 37 reminds me of Revelation 3:19,20; “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him and he with me.”
Synopsis: Ezekiel lived in a time when all hope was gone: Jerusalem and the land of God's people were destroyed and the people had been sent into exile in foreign lands. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of a valley of dry bones. Suddenly, at the command of Ezekiel, the bones came together into skeletons, then sinew and connective tissue were added, and then they were covered with skin. But these bodies were not living bodies. They were lifeless and hopeless until God sent his Holy Breath, the Spirit, to bring them to life. Too often as God's people we forget in the middle of our struggles that the power to truly live comes from God's Spirit. God's Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and God's Spirit can bring life to us, our church, our friends under attack and persecution, and even those in hopeless situations. Let's pray for God's Spirit to move with power in our lives, the lives of those we love, and in God's people everywhere, especially those facing trials and persecutions.
Only our sovereign God can change your life. Only He can change your character; change your home; change your family; Only He can change your church! Only He can change our nation, and change our world.
“Oh, for a heart that is burdened. Infused with a passion to pray.
Oh, for a stirring within me. Oh, for His power each day.
Oh, or a heart like my Savior, who being in agony prayed.
Such caring for others Lord give me; on my heart let burdens be laid.
My Father, I long for this passion, to pour our myself for the lost.
To lay down my life to save others, to pray, whatever the cost.
Lord, teach me, oh teach me this secret, I’m hungry this lesson to learn,
This passionate passion for others, for this blessing dear Jesus, I yearn.
Father, this lesson I long for from Thee, oh let Thy Spirit reveal this to me.”
(Mary Warburton Booth)
“Breathe o me, breath of God, till I am wholly Thine.
Until this earthly part of me, glows with Thy fire divine.”
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