Ezekiel lived and preached God’s word among the Jews who had been taken captive to Babylon. In Ezekiel 37, we read of the prophet receiving a revelation from Jehovah which included some personal instructions for him. Part of that message included bones, a bunch of dry bones in a valley.
After Ezekiel received the word that Jerusalem had been captured (Ezekiel 33:21), his role took on a new aspect: now he needed to comfort the distraught Jews and show them hope for the future (chapters 34-48). Chapter 37 is part of that message of hope. Because the Old Testament was written for our learning, then God wants us to learn from all of this.
In this passage, we are reminded that when God explains something, His explanation is always right. The Lord brought Ezekiel in the Spirit to a valley, a valley in which there were a bunch of dry bones (37:1,2). God instructed the prophet, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!'” (37:4). What did these bones symbolize? God’s answer was, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” (37:11). There we have it from God’s own mouth: the bones somehow stood for the house of Israel. When God explains a symbol, we need to accept what He says.
God’s message to the dry, dead bones was, “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live” (37:4,5). Such reminds us that the Lord is the giver of life. From Genesis one, we learn that God is the source of life. From Acts 17:25, we learn that He gives life to all humans, and from 1 John 5:11,12 we learn that He gives us spiritual, eternal life in His Son. Thank God for His gifts.
Twice in Ezekiel 37:1-14 we see Ezekiel carrying out a charge that God gave him. First the Lord told him to preach to dead bones. God really expected him to do that? He sure did. Ezekiel wrote, “Again He said to me, Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!'” (37:4). Well, did Ezekiel do that? He did: “So I prophesied as I was commanded . . .” (37:7).
Next the Lord told Ezekiel, “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” (37:9). Before the instruction was to prophesy to bones; now God expects him to preach to breath? That is what He said. Again, Ezekiel fulfilled his responsibility, “So I prophesied as He commanded me . . .” (37:10). In both of these instances, Ezekiel did what God instructed him to do. It all sounds quite straightforward, but we should never overlook or downplay simple obedience. We recall that Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). We certainly respect and admire Ezekiel for his willingness to submit to instructions which were, to say the least, out of the ordinary. Preaching to bones and breath were not your everyday commands, but Ezekiel complied. That is what faithful servants do.
Another lesson of immense importance is the truth that God gives reason for hope when hope seems lost. The Jews were dearly disheartened after the final fall of Judah to the Babylonians. Their outlook was bleak. God said, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!'” (37:11). Just when His captive people in a distant land felt like there was no hope for them, the Lord sent the message that He would give them life and cause them to return to their homeland (37:12-14). Let us not forget that our God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13). When matters do not seem to be going our way, when the future looks dim, when we are tempted to throw in the towel, thinking that all is hopeless, let us remember that when God says there is reason to have hope, then there is reason to have hope! God’s people should be people of joy, hope, and optimism because our God is the God of hope.
In Ezekiel 37 we also see that the Lord brings people out of graves. God’s message to the dead bones was, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (37:12). In the case of the Jews of Ezekiel’s days, God would raise them up from the grave/pit of captivity. For those today who are dead in the grave of sin, God raises them up through Jesus when they obey the gospel (Ephesians 2:1,5; Romans 6:3-5). In like manner, our great God can raise men and women out of the grave of human philosophy (Colossians 2:8), pride (James 4:10), and lukewarmness (Revelation 3:16-18). Of course, just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11), we look forward to that time when He will raise up our bodies on the last day (1 Corinthians 15:20,23).
In our mind’s eye, we easily can picture a valley full of bones. We are amazed when those bones come together, the sinews and skin come back into place, life comes into the dead bodies, and they live again (37:7-10). In all of this, we are reminded that God has the whole world in His hands, He gives help to those who seek Him, and He gives hope to those who need it. And Ezekiel? There he was, doing what was “normal” for him. What was that? Repeatedly giving the same old message: “Thus saysthe Lord” (37:4,5,9,12). May God raise up teachers in the church who will stand on that same message.
— Roger D. Campbell