1 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. 2 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. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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.”
7 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. 8 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. 9 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.” 10 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.
11 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.’ 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 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.” – Ezekiel 37:1-14 ESV
God has confirmed His plan to restore Israel to the land of promise, and He has revealed His intention to prepare them spiritually for that day.
“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT
Bringing impure and unholy people back into the land would accomplish little in the way of real change. Without a radical transformation of their hearts, they would only continue their centuries-long pattern of apostasy. So, God revealed to Ezekiel His future plans for bringing about the miraculous sanctification and justification of His chosen people. Israel’s divine metamorphosis from a nation of sinners to saints will be God’s doing, and not only will He give them new hearts and a new capacity to serve Him, but He will graciously forgive all their past sins (Ezekiel 36:33).
In chapter 37, Ezekiel records God’s graphic illustration of just how miraculous this eschatological transformation will be. He compares Israel’s current spiritual state to that of a valley filled with dry, discarded bones. Everywhere the prophet looks, he sees a stark landscape covered in human remains. But the bodies have been dead for so long that little remains but the carrion-stripped, sun-bleached bones that lie scattered as far as the eye can see.
This surrealistic scene must have disturbed Ezekiel greatly. There was little in the way of good news he could ascertain from this macabre vision. And when God asked him, “can these bones become living people again?” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT), Ezekiel simply replied, “O Sovereign Lord,…you alone know the answer to that” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT). The prophet knew it wasn’t a matter of if the bones could live again, but whether they would. For something like that to happen, it would have to be the work of God, and he was uncertain as to what God’s plan for this valley of bones might be.
But his reticence to commit himself to an answer was met with another word from God.
“Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 36:4-6 NLT
The prophet was told to prophesy over the bones. By this time, Ezekiel must have known that the vision was meant to symbolize the sad spiritual state of God’s chosen people. For years now, Ezekiel had been prophesying to a spiritually dead and lifeless people who were completely incapable of responding to his messages. They were like dry, disconnected bones scattered across a lifeless landscape and devoid of any capacity to do anything about their hopeless condition.
Yet, the message God gave Ezekiel to speak to the bones was not a command for them to do something, but a promise of something God was going to do for them. The Creator-God was going to revivify and reanimate that which was dead and lifeless. It was a promise of their future restoration by the hand of God, and it sounds similar to the message Paul gave the church in Ephesus regarding their miraculous transformation from death to life when they placed their faith in Christ.
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:1-6 NLT
Ezekiel is commanded to deliver this prophetic promise of God’s future restoration of His people. And as the words came out of his mouth, Ezekiel witnessed an amazing scene take place before his eyes.
…there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. – Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT
Stretched out before him was a valley filled with newly restored bodies, each of them covered in muscles, sinews, and flesh. But as impressive as this sight might have been, Ezekiel noticed that they lacked one thing: Life. They had “no breath in them.” So, God gave His prophet another message to deliver.
“Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” – Ezekiel 37:9 NLT
The anatomically restored bodies remained dead. They looked good but they were useless because they were lifeless, and they needed the one thing that only God could provide: the breath of life. And when Ezekiel called for the breath, it came, filling the lungs of each lifeless body and providing them with the power to stand on their own two feet – a great army.
This dramatic vision was intended to provide Ezekiel with a glimpse into God’s future plans for the people of Israel. He even provided the prophet with a not-so-subtle explanation as to the vision’s meaning.
“Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel.” – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT
Due to their sin, they were as good as dead to God. They had repeatedly violated His commands and turned their backs on Him, showering their affections on the many false gods of the Canaanites. And God’s judgment had scattered them to the four winds, leaving them in a lifeless and utterly hopeless state. And their abject condition had left them disheartened and demoralized.
“We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.” – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT
And they were right to feel defeated and discouraged. For generations, they had flaunted their disobedience in the face of God. He had repeatedly called them to repent and return to Him in contrition and humility, but they had refused. And now, they felt the full weight of His wrath and they despaired over their uncertain future. Yet, God wanted them to know that He was not done with them. He had great plans for them.
“I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:12-14 NLT
The exiles to whom Ezekiel ministered wanted to go home. They longed for the day when they might be restored to their proper place in the promised land. But God knew that a revitalized nation of Israel was not the answer to their problems. They needed spiritual revivification, not just national restoration. Returning to the land in their fallen condition would result in the same sinful behavior as before. So, God revealed His plans for a complete renovation of their hearts that would produce the capacity to live in perfect obedience to Him – for eternity.
“I, the Sovereign LORD, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.’
“When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” – Ezekiel 11:18-20 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.