“Death and darkness have now left packing, nothing to man is now lacking. Satan’s triumphs have ended, what Adam marred is now mended.”[1]The fall plunged man into death and pain, but now through Christ, life eternal, we gain! “Pluck the harp and sound the horn, do you not know, tis Easter morn! Crowded may His worship be, praise the Holy Trinity! Hope has returned for man in his sinful plight, through Christ’s powerful resurrection might! “Where is hell’s once dreaded king? Where O death is your sting? Hallelujah’s to Christ we now sing!”[2]

Today is a grand day. A day for the Christian, no doubt, that stands above all other days in the calendar. To make much of this day we turn to Ezekiel 37 where we see a Vision of Resurrection.

Ezekiel was prophet to God’s people after he and they had been carried off in exile to Babylon. In the first 24 chapters of the book we see that judgment has come to the people of God for their own sin, and from chapters 25-32 we see that judgment has come to the nations around Israel for their sin as well. When we come to Ezekiel 33 God changes His tone. After pronouncing judgment on His own people and the nations surrounding them, we then see God promise restoration. Life will reign again where only death has been present. How does God show this to His people? He does it by giving Ezekiel a vision, which has become one of the most well known and familiar visions in all of the book of Ezekiel, the valley of dry bones.

The vision is in chapter 37:1-14, and it contains four parts. First the vision’s command (v1-6), second the vision’s resurrection (v7-10), third the vision’s interpretation (v11-14), and fourth the vision’s fulfillment.

The Vision’s Command (v1-6)

In v1 the vision begins. The hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel, and he says he was transported in the Spirit to a specific destination, a valley. After looking around he saw that the valley God brought him to was full of bones. In v2 God gives him a tour of the whole valley him and he concludes two things: in this valley there are many bones and these bones are very dry. He is aware that this is not just any ordinary valley, it appears to be nothing less than the valley of the shadow of death,[3]a place of total desolation. v9 will mention these people were slain at one time.[4]So Ezekiel probably wonders if there was there was a great battle in this valley, or if God has brought him to the Day of Judgment and is now seeing its results? It seems by the time he got here the vultures have torn joint from joint, and picked these bones clean. One thing is clear, there is no chance of resuscitation, there is no chance of life in this valley. God has not brought him to valley of slain corpses, but to a valley of dry skeletons. Only death, ruin, and destruction reign here.[5]

God then asks Ezekiel in v3, “Son of man, can these bones live?” With this question the main subject of the vision comes into view, life. We find the word ‘live’ not only here in v3, but also in v5, v6, v9, v10, and v14. With such desolation in view the answer to God’s question seems to be obvious. Life is the farthest thing in view here in this valley. But Ezekiel is unwilling to give a no for an answer. Why? Because he knows nothing is too hard for God to do. The real question then becomes, will God bring life to this death? So Ezekiel replies, “O Lord God, You know.” We then see the command given in v4-6, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 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.” If God Himself hadn’t asked this of Ezekiel, he surely would’ve concluded that such an act of preaching to dry bones would be pointless. But God, the Lord and Giver of life, has commanded and promised that through his preaching breath will re-enter the dead, life will return, flesh will once again cover them, and the knowledge of who ultimately did this resurrecting act will return to them. So Ezekiel will obey this command and trust that God can do in his preaching what he cannot, raise the dead.

The Vision’s Resurrection (v7-10)

We now read of the glorious resurrection that took place. In v7-8 we see the following, “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. 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.” At first it seems that God’s Word has failed, it seems that the bones were really to dry for life to return, and that his preaching had accomplished what it had time and time before, nothing among the people. But like God did in creation with Adam in the garden – creating him first and then secondly filling him with breath – God was about to do again in a kind of re-creation with these bones.[6]

v9-10 show it, “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.” 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.” This, for Ezekiel, probably led him to remember his own calling. In Ezekiel 1-3 God, in His majestic splendor, came to Ezekiel and twice left Ezekiel low and deconstructed in His presence. In that prostrate posture the Spirit of God entered Ezekiel and raised him back to his feet, and called him to preach to His people. So what had happened to this son of man in the past now happened to these dry bones in the present. Nothing but death had reigned in this valley of dry bones, but now by the power of God’s Word and Spirit there stands before Ezekiel a vast and great army ready to do the bidding of God. Conclusion? The prophet of God, obeyed the command of God, spoke the Word of God, and saw the power of God.

The Vision’ Interpretation (v11-14)

As you can imagine this chapter has been used and interpreted in thousands of ways over the years, but being good students of Scripture we must remember that God is His own interpreter so we must keep on reading. And when we do we find that in v11-14 God gives us the proper interpretation of this vision.[7]“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.’ 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. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O My people. 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.”

Now we see what this means. The valley full of dry bones is meant to vividly portray the condition of the house (or nation) of Israel. They’re in exile in Babylon, and it has become common to hear Israelites saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” They’re current condition is one of exile, death, and hopelessness, but even here God reminds them that they have a hopeful future not based on anything they can do for themselves but based on God’s resolve and power to save them.[8]They are dead, very dead, yet God will not only give them physical life, He will give them spiritual life too. The cemetery will be revived when God opens their graves, raises them to new life, gives them His Spirit, and brings them into their land once again. This means the great promise made one chapter earlier in 36:26-27 (of a new heart, new life, and new obedience) will come to pass even though their present condition seems to say otherwise. From all this resurrecting activity God says His people Israel will know (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that He is God. 

The Vision’s Fulfillment

In summary then, this passage is first and foremost about God’s work recreating Israel as a nation through His Word and Spirit. What God did for Ezekiel personally in raising him to new life God now intends to do with His people nationally. And this God did do when He brought them out of exile back into their land. But even then they knew something was still amiss. So we interpret this vision as only partially being fulfilled in Israel’s time. Some say here that God is promising a coming day near the end of all things when the nation of Israel will be completely restored but I think this misses intended meaning of what’s in view here.

For the vision’s whole fulfillment we need look no further than Christ Himself.

You see, we too share the same spiritual state as the dead dry bones of Israel. Paul tells us that apart from Christ in our natural state we are not corpses in need resuscitation, but dry bones in need of resurrection. Ephesians 2 tells us this, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…and we’re by nature children of wrath…” So for us too the question is not ‘Can God raise these bones to new life?’ We know He can. The question, as with Ezekiel, then becomes ‘Will God raise these bones to new life?’ Praise be to God the answer was a resounding yes in the mind and heart of God! Not because anything in us, but because “…God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ!”

In this sense Ezekiel, the one whom God called ‘son of man’, foreshadows the greater Son of Man who is also the eternal Son of God. Ezekiel preached the Word of God and watched as the power of God raised the people of God to new life. So too, Jesus Christ, being the very Word of God come to the people of God, entered into the valley of dry bones on Good Friday, took up His own life on Easter Sunday, and brought all those who would ever believe in Him out of the grave into new life forming them into a greater and global spiritual army sending them out to preach the gospel of grace. And just as the result of Israel being so raised from death in v14 was that they knew that God was the Lord, so too, you formerly dead sinners, converted and raised to new life yourselves, do you not know – have you not learned – from being saved – that God is a God who saves?!

As it was with Israel then, so it is with us today. “…it is as we share an experience that Christ first experienced for us that we are brought from death to life.”[9]So the ultimate fulfillment in view is that in Christ a new Spirit-filled Israel of God takes shape, having an identity that is no longer governed by geo-political borders, ethnicity, or circumcision, but by faith!

Charles Spurgeon preaching on this passage similarly says, “We may with accuracy see here a vivid representation of the work of grace on the hearts of all those who are made alive into spiritual life by the power of divine grace. Men are by nature dead in sin till they hear the voice of God and feel the enlivening breath of the Spirit…what a feeling one has that there is a God when God has saved him! When he begins to dance for joy of heart because he is fully forgiven, then he knows Jehovah is God. He carries a demonstration of the truth within his own heart and tells of it to others with tearful eyes. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘there is no mistake about it. There is a merciful God, for I have obtained mercy. There is a refuge for sinners, for I have fled to it. There is pardon, for I have obtained it. There is rest, for I enjoy it. There is a heaven, for I begin to hear its bells ringing in my heart.”[10] 

Conclusion:

So Church, know this.[11]In an ancient, arid city, one singular event occurred this day, unleashing a movement so compelling, so enduring, so influential, so unstoppable that two thousand years and billions of adherents later, it still grows, faster than ever, while the mighty empire that witnessed its birth lays in ancient ruins. This movement has shaped nations, spanned oceans, birthed universities, launched hospitals, transformed tribal peoples in the world’s remotest places, and is now spoken, read, and sung about in more languages than any other religious movement on the planet by far. That singular event? The body of Jesus of Nazareth walked out of his tomb. So ended the single most important day in history. And so began the single most influential movement in history. Love it or hate it, the world has not seen nothing like it.

Some of you don’t believe this. I’m not unaware of you. Easter, like Christmas, is a time when many kinds of people come to church. I wonder, do you see the resurrection as a made up tale that a group of people manufactured to start a religion using Jesus’ teaching? Do you think the resurrection’s as fanciful a story as the Easter bunny? You may be among us as a guest, or you may be visiting for the first time yourself. Here is what I have to say to you now. Think on the resurrection honestly, thoughtfully, and try to answer one question: did Jesus really walk out of the tomb? The more you look at it, the more you’ll see the truth. That something astonishing really did happen that day, and that after every attempt to refute it or squash it, whatever it is, it is not the stuff of legends nor lies. It is historical objective fact witnessed first hand by many.[12]

Coming to this conclusion prompts a new thought, ‘Since Jesus did walk out of the tomb, everything He said must be true, and since everything He said was true, He must be who He said He was, and since He is who He said He was, I must no longer continue in unbelief, I must believe.’

The empty tomb, after all these years, is more influential than ever. It refuses to leave the stage of world attention. Ponder the angels’ words, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6).

 

 

Citations: 

[1]Henry Vaughan’s Easter Hymn, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book, page 120.

[2]Thomas Scott Angels, Roll the Rock Away, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book, page 118-119.

[3]Iain Duguid, Ezekiel – NIVAC, page 426.

[4]Ezekiel, The Pulpit Commentary – Vol. 2, page 265

[5]Ezekiel, The Pulpit Commentary – Vol. 2, page 264.

[6]Duguid, page 427.

[7]Ezekiel, The Pulpit Commentary – Vol. 2, page 265.

[8]Duguid, page 428.

[9]Duguid, page 431-432.

[10]Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Study Bible, page 1134.

[11]Jon Bloom, The Single Most Important Day in History, accessed via desiringgod.org, 4/31/18.

[12]I do believe this. Evidence abounds for the validity of the Resurrection, thus, our hope abounds as well.

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