“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. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” Ezekiel 37:1-3
It must have been quite a sight looking over an entire valley filled with bones. Maybe it looked something like that picture, maybe not, but I don’t think I’d have wanted to see this vision with Ezekiel. Before we dive into this famous passage I want to take a brief look at its historical context. In the year 597 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar pillaged Jerusalem and its temple and took many prominent citizens (including Ezekiel) back to Babylon as captives. Ten years later he returns to Jerusalem destroying basically the entire city including its walls and the Jewish temple. The Jewish people are in disarray yet again, with even more taken as captives and completely hopeless because the holy city and Solomon’s temple are nothing more than piles of rubble, much like these dry bones.
So back to the vision. God has taken Ezekiel to a valley that is filled with bones and asks him a ridiculous question, whether or not these bones can be brought to life. Ezekiel had the good sense to not proclaim that this is obviously impossible; I know I would have. Maybe he had the eye to see that we all start there in that valley as nothing more than a pile of dead, dry bones. We have no form, no identity, and certainly no life. But God starts to work through His prophet, and something begins to stir:
“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’”…So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.” Ezekiel 37:4-7
And so with the promise of God and declaration of His prophet, dead, dry bones began to take on shape; but still they had no life. For me, this is the picture of my childhood. I was young when I started to get know God, but still dead in my trespasses. I heard the Word declared on Sundays, attended Wednesday night services, and memorized scripture. It began to take root and give shape to my beliefs, but I was not yet alive. The framework was in place, and I even believe I stood before God forgiven, but the breath had not yet come. Ezekiel continues:
“I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” Ezekiel 37:8
So muscles and tendons and skin began to appear on these bodies. Ezekiel is overlooking a valley of human bodies lying on the ground. They are beginning to appear more and more like what they are supposed to, and yet still they are missing an essential component; life. I have a feeling that I looked like the same way during my teenage years, continuing on into college. The tendons and muscles were being placed on me as I was going deeper into the things of the faith, and yet I didn’t look like I should have. I was full of pride, arrogance, and anger, and there was not yet any skin to hold it all in. I was demeaning, took joy in mocking and ridicule, sat idly by as I witnessed the cruelty of others. At times I even participated in it myself.
Thankfully this began to change as I entered college. The truth of the Bible was being made known to me and in me. Skin was placed over the work already started. Though saved, I was now being sanctified. The anger and the pride fell away. I appeared to have it together, but you can have the appearance of life and still be dead. I finally looked like I might be a Christian, and I believe I had been the entire time, but like those lifeless bodies the spark was still not in me.
“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.” Ezekiel 37:9-10
Then the breath came and entered me. Through reading the Bible and listening to the preaching and teaching of great men like A.W. Tozer, Joseph Prince, C.S. Lewis, Louie Giglio, and my college professors, God’s breath was infused with my soul. The spark of life that brings about the fruit of the Spirit: joy and peace and love had finally found a place within me. My heart of stone began to beat and bleed for the affliction and suffering of those around me. I started to experience the fullness of grace and forgiveness of the gospel, and so all that was left for me to do was to stand, just like those in the valley, proclaiming the great work that was happening in me. And that’s what I’m doing here, now.
Today you may be the picture of the dead, lifeless bones that I once was. Your life may have left you in disarray yet again, taken captive by your situation and struggles. You might feel completely devastated because, like Jerusalem, your life lies in shambles, a pile of rubble that you doubt can be rebuilt back into something worthwhile. Friend, today God is telling you through this testimony and through the vision of Ezekiel that He can make these dry bones live. He is able to take you, though dead and defeated, and transform you into His beloved son or daughter, giving hope and joy and peace and life.
You would not be alone in your journey. While before the restoration of a dead, lifeless valley seemed impossible to me, I am being proven wrong not only within myself but in others. People I had known in high school are coming to God. Long time friends are falling down before the beautiful the cross. Dry bones are being brought to life and I continue to be encouraged that this is happening not only in the lives of those I know, but in the lives of people all over the world. When these people begin stand together, brought alive by the breath of the God, we will become more than an old valley of dry bones, we will become an army.