Maybe you are in the living room, sitting in your armchair and your wife enters. She looks you, opens her mouth, and tells you the hot water heater is flooding the basement. But you’re focused on the Michigan game, so you nod your head ‘Yes,’ acting as though you recognize her concern when in reality you did not pay attention to anything she said. Perhaps your child frantically dashes into the kitchen. Their sibling biked into some bushes and is bleeding everywhere and needs your help. But you are busy making sure dinner doesn’t splatter everywhere. So, you smile, nod your head, and continue stirring the skillet without taking any action. Or your friend at the center explains how he will leave for home soon in order to avoid the approaching blizzard. But you are so focused on your euchre hand that you nod your head, giving the impression that you are listening, but you did not take his concern to heart. You see a mouth opening, you hear a noise coming out, but you are not listening to those words, taking them to heart, and acting on them. You make up your own conclusion that everything is fine.
Really, we could call this “apathy.” Instead of paying attention to the important message shared with you, you disregard it. You fixate on another message you want to hear (be it your own thoughts or the television or dinner preparation or game strategies). You are telling yourself that everything is just fine. Disregarding something important can bring devastating results.
That is why God brings you to the valley of dry bones. The destruction before your eyes gives you a chance to evaluate just how carefully you listen to his Word. “Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the LORD!” Do not be cut off. Rather, Receive the breath of life.
That is really what is missing in this vision, right? Life. Imagine standing on James Hill and looking south (to Clare). You tower hundreds of feet above the flat valley below you. Yet, instead looking down on lush, green farm fields, you see heaping piles of human bones covering every single square inch of the ground. Understand, these are not skeletons; these are bones. Arm bones and leg bones, hip bones and rib bones, skulls and vertebrae randomly scattered all over this valley. The scorching sun has baked them so long they crack open, reminding you of those dried out cow-skulls from your old Western movies.
So, when God asks Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?” you expect to hear: ‘No!’ “God, these are bones! Nothing remains— no skin, no flesh, no ligaments, no tendons! They are dried up and dried out. They’re lifeless.”
That’s true. These bones have no life. In verse 11, God tells you this bone-yard represents the whole house of Israel. God has spent four hundred years sending prophets like Ezekiel with the message: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). That is the purpose of God’s Word— to steer people away from eternal death and to fill them with eternal life!
When Israel sees these messengers, all they see is a mouth moving. Their minds have already determined how to live. The love of their heart now clings to sex gods, animal gods, and fertility gods. Their national security trusts alliances made with dishonest pagan nations. Yes, God’s temple is still there; the people bring offerings, but not because they want to. They go through the motions of worship because by doing so, they think God will be happy with them. When God looks down on his nation, he sees nothing but dead, lifeless bones. Yes, the people are alive, but spiritually speaking, they are as good as dead in God’s sight.
Not only are they spiritually dried up, but God very quickly allows them to be physically dried up. He withdraws his protecting hand from their borders and lets the powerhouse nation of Babylon crush their defensive walls. Soldiers rush in, seizing kings, mayors, homeowners, and business-owners and dragging them several hundred miles away to Babylon. The landmark of God’s temple— made of glistening white stone and inside gold-plated walls— is stripped bare, dismantled, and burned. Now, Israel sits in exile— living in someone else’s country, left to live under someone else’s government, feeling dried up and [their] hope gone; [they] are cut off.’”
They feel like nothing but dried up bones scattered across the valley’s floor. When you stop and look at this vision, you remember those bones are Israel. This is the nation God led out of Egyptian slavery with his powerful hand. This is the nation which received blueprints for God’s splendid temple. This is the nation whose sacrifices pointed forward to the sacrifice of their Savior! When the people listened to God, they had spiritual life! Now, cut off from this Word,
they are dried up, shriveled, and dead.
The striking image warns just how quickly sin (left untreated) can dry up your spiritual life. God has not hidden his Word from you. You live in a nation where you can freely choose to worship here. That means you have the freedom to immerse yourself in the Word. You can buy Bibles at bookstores and bring them home. That means you can read a chapter a day and (1) see how your are indeed forgiven and (2) why you live life shaped by God’s Word.
Still, churches all across the nation are not packed full. Excuses are made to miss Bible class or Sunday School. Your Catechism learning can be shoved off on a dusty shelf. There is always a reason not to spend even ten short minutes in a quiet place meditating on a short, short portion of God’s Word. The truth is, if you are not filling up life with God’s Word, something else will take its place.
Maybe you start believing the lies of the world— that God must accept the morality you feel is fair and right. Maybe your heart finds more delight in the gods of vacation and sports and sleep. Perhaps your mind can make up reasons why God should overlook your secret habits. Cutting your heart off from hearing the Word of God or reading the Word will dry you up spiritually more and more. And yes, as Israel discovered, mindlessly sitting in a church building once a week does not automatically give eternal life. If your Dry Bones do not Hear the Word of the LORD, then you will be cut off forever!
If it sounds like a stern warning, that is because it is. God brings you to this vision so that you can avoid the devastation Israel brought upon themselves. God brings you to this vision so that you and I can marvel at something greater than dried up bones. We marvel at the breath of life.
Do you grasp what God is actually doing? It’s not: “Well, he brought people to life.” It is more than that. Here is a nation that turns its back on God, a nation that kills itself spiritually— and still God sends out his saving Word. He said to [Ezekiel], “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!… I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. In Hebrew, the word for “breath” and “Holy Spirit” are the same word. You must understand the context in order to know which definition to use. Here, God uses a play on words. The bones are without the “breath of life.” The reason is: they do not have the Spirit of God in them. No Holy Spirit, no spiritual life. No spiritual life, no eternal life.
So, God sends out the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit is spiritual life. With spiritual life is eternal life. This is message that brings spiritually dead people to life: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Life will not continue locked up in Babylon; Israel will return to their old homeland. More than that, God will remain faithful to his promise of a Savior. When the time is right, Israel holds the manger of Jesus. The nation holds the synagogue where Jesus shares the life-giving Word. Jesus lives in those borders teaching and healing. The nation is the place where Jesus’ cross is planted into the ground. There Jesus breathes his last breath so that you and I can have the breath of eternal life!
God has put [his] Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit gives you two kinds of life. The first is (1) spiritual life. By nature, God says we are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and enemies of God (Romans 8:7). That means you are those dry bones the very moment you are conceived. Dry bones do not have the power to gain life by working hard at it. Dry bones cannot choose to come to life. By nature, you and I are powerless to make any decision for Christ or to earn his love. God, in his mercy, uses people to share the Word; he allows you to read the Word. The breath of spiritual life comes from hearing the message (Romans 10:17).
The Word of God continues breathing life in you. As you Hear the Word of the Lord, you grow in the Word the Lord. Your heart will grow more appreciative of a God who forgives every sin—even for those times, like Israel, you may have run away from him. Remain in the Word, and you will never tire of studying more about who your God is. You will find reasons to continue reading through your Catechism book. You will get rid of excuses to stay out of worship. You are no longer dry bones; you are people of God!
That means, the Holy Spirit gives you the guarantee of (2) physical life. Jesus will raise you out of your grave— just like he did Lazarus. Dust will be restored to bone. Bone will reconnect to bone. Sinews will connect each bone. Flesh will wrap over the skeleton. Skin will envelope the body. Never again will you grow old, never again will you taste death. Rather, you will spend eternity with God forever!
Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the LORD! Its message is not just another mouth opening and plain noise coming out. The Word gushes the breath of spiritual life and eternal life!
Apathy will try to have you and I disregard it. You can always create another message you want to hear (be it your own thoughts or your own feelings). Yet, disregarding what God says bring devastating results.
That is why God brings you to the valley of dry bones. The destruction before your eyes gives you a chance to evaluate just how carefully you listen to his Word. Do not be cut off. Rather, Receive the breath of life. Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord!