Read This Page in My Language
Essentially, the Bible is a book of stories that all say the same thing. I said “essentially”. That means “at its core”. It’s not that the stories are all the same. They vary as much as the characters within them, but when taken all together, the Bible is a book about redemption. It is a book about salvation—from death to life, from the grave to glory, from the verdict of guilty to the most blessed declaration of all, not guilty.
Take, for example, what the Bible says about sin. It says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God …” (Isaiah 59:2). But then it says that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting their sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). To reconcile means to bring together. And so, whereas sin separates, forgiveness always unites. And whereas the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
Law and Gospel. Those are the two teachings of Scripture that are found in every single account. And that is what we have here in Ezekiel chapter 37.
The Law is found in that the Jews are separated from God because of their sins. How so? They were living as captives in Babylonia. So, it was not in a mere theoretical sense that they were separated from God. They were literally separated from God. God dwelled in his temple in Jerusalem. And these Jews of Ezekiel 37 were living a thousand miles to the East in Babylonia.
The problem with their current situation was that God’s forgiveness was attached to the temple in Jerusalem. That was the only place where sacrifice could be made to pay for an individual’s sin. And since the people were captives in Babylonia they couldn’t sacrifice. Which means they were still without God’s forgiveness. Which means the wages of their sin was still going to be their own death.
And the Jews knew it. They had lost hope of ever returning to Israel. They considered themselves completely cut off from the Lord’s goodness. Their hopes of a future Messiah and a glorious kingdom were as good as dead.
Hence the vision.
The reason God provides this vision is twofold. It is Law and Gospel. One the one hand it describes the current state of Israel. They’re dead. Verse 11: Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’
On the other hand, God provides this vision as a means of encouragement to the people. Verse 12: Therefore, prophesy and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, my people, and lead you into the land of Israel.’
In other words, God is saying to Israel, “Without me there is nothing but death. And yet even in death there is still hope with me. I am the God who makes the dead live. I am the God who gives life to dry bones. Turn to me and be saved!”
Now, this is just one of the most amazing stories in all of Scripture. Can the plight of Israel be any more dramatic? Can the reality of the Israel’s situation be any clearer?
Israel is dead, and it is dead because of its sin. It is not kind of-sort of-like dead. It is completely dead, for Ezekiel does not just see cadavers in the valley; he sees bones. They’re not even complete skeletons. They’re just bones, like the bones you think of in an old Western, where the cowboy rides his horse through a valley and sees the bones of dead animals. But he doesn’t see any vultures, for the carcasses have long been picked and cleaned. As Ezekiel says, “and they were very dry” (v. 2).
God speaks to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” To which Ezekiel replies, “LORD God only you know” (v. 3).
In other words, if anyone else had asked him, the answer would have been an obvious “no”. But God was asking him the question. And whereas giving life to the dead is impossible for man, nothing is impossible for God. God created mankind from the dust of the ground. God birthed Israel as a nation from the sterile womb of Sarah. So, Ezekiel isn’t about to say “no” to God. He answers, “Only you know.”
And then God shows Ezekiel why he alone is God. He tells Ezekiel, Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live (vv. 4, 5).
Now verses 7 and 8. So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
That is an important statement. It is very similar to way God gave life to Adam. First, he fashioned a body out of the dust of the ground. (By the way, that’s why Adam is named Adam. Adam means ground. You and I are descendants of Adam. You and I are “ground”.) But although there was a body, there was no life in it.
How did life get into Adam’s body? God breathed life into Adam. This is so important to understand. The Hebrew word for “breath” and for “Spirit” are the same word. So, God breathed. He put the Holy Spirit into Adam. And Adam became a living being.
Back to Ezekiel 37 and verse 9: He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: “This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain, so that they may live.” So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army (vv. 9,10).
Now, do we understand this truth of Scripture? There is no true life in us without the Holy Spirit. Why not? Because we’re just ground. Notice how God repeatedly refers to Ezekiel as “Son of man” in these verses. Why does he do that? Because he is emphasizing the great difference between God and Israel. Israel was just human. It was only man; it was “ground”. Now, Ezekiel understands this. It was pretty clear to him that the difference between he and God was as far as heaven from earth.
But the Israelites—this is what they never understood. Throughout their history they had always tried to bring God down from heaven and make him one of them. Why? So that they could be over him. That’s what they were doing with all their idols. The human knows the idol is nothing. The human controls the idol.
Well, what a horror that the Israelites thought they were over God! So, God has to cleanse them from this thinking. He has to remind them, “You are nothing without me. You are dead without me. There is no life in you without me.” So, he destroys their nation through the Babylonians and sends a remnant away into captivity.
Now they understood. Now they had repentant hearts. Now they were willing to bow down on the ground before God realizing, “This is my place before God.” And it is now that God acts to save.
This is our connection to Pentecost. Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit. Notice how the Holy Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost. There is wind. There is fire. And there is divine power in the Apostles’ speech.
Moreover, notice that their speaking did not result in mere understanding, but in the people’s conversion to Christ. The people were cut to the heart and asked Peter, “What shall we then do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:23).
There it is again! The words of God actually give what they promise! Ezekiel speaks God’s word to the dry bones. The dry bones come to life. The preacher speaks God’s Word to the people, and the Holy Spirit gives eternal life to the sinner.
Now let me finish.
God’s Spirit and his Word are inseparable. You cannot have God’s Spirit apart from his Word. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. How? Through their speech. Where is their speech? In the Bible. Do you see how we keep coming back to the same themes Sunday after Sunday? So, what are we saying?
Separated from God mankind is dead. Ephesians 2:1 plainly states: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world …”
Right? Every, single one of us was born without the Spirit. We were born spiritually dead. But the story continues! “4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!”
You see! God makes us alive. How? Through the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Nicodemus doesn’t understand that kind of verbiage so he asks, “How can one be born again when he is already old.” And Jesus tells him! “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, my people, and lead you into the land of Israel. 13 You will know that I am the LORD, my people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD. I have spoken, and I will do it. This is the declaration of the LORD.’”