Bible Passage: Ezekiel 37
37 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. 2 He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’
I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’
4 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’
7 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. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin 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 it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 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. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, 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 the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”’
15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 ‘Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.” Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, “Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.” 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.
18 ‘When your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?” 19 say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph – which is in Ephraim’s hand – and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.” 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offences, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
24 ‘“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there for ever, and David my servant will be their prince for ever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them for ever. 27 My dwelling-place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them for ever.”’
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
The very first human beings were warned that the consequence for rejecting and replacing God was death (Genesis 2:16-17). Ever since Adam and Eve, human beings have rejected and replaced God with their own cravings and so have been spiritually dead- cut off from God and unclean before him facing eternal death as his judgment (Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 6:23). But Jesus went to the cross to take the judgement for everything that makes us dead to God. And rose to life, ascended to heaven and poured out the Spirit of life (see Acts 2). The Spirit comes to bring us to new life – a new relationship with God -as we repent and trust in Jesus (Romans 8:1-5). This re-created life with God will continue into the new creation to come. When Jesus returns his re-created people will be given new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) and we’ll enjoy being in God’s presence forever (Revelation 21).
Brief note on context/key themes of book
Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:
God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness
his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed
only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.
Structure of the passage
This is the fourth of four passages about a great transformation promised by God, which encompasses a new leadership (ch.34), a new land (ch.35), a new heart (ch.36) and a new creation (ch.37).
Chapter 37 is divided into two parts- Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones and its meaning (v1-14) and the sign-act of the two sticks being brought together and its meaning (v15-28). For preaching and application purposes, we have divided v1-14 into two parts:
1) Do we realise we were spiritually dead? (1-3, v11)
This vision begins by showing us that we were irreversibly dead and unclean before God gave us spiritual life. The field of bones is a horrific vision which accurately portrays the spiritual state of the exiles (v11). The bones are very dry - there is no prospect for life for God’s people. And they are totally unclean before God. There’s no glorious vision of God and no prospect of his presence – they’re cut off from him. Chapters 1-33 have shown them that they have completely rejected God and his ways and he’s judged them. The Israelites’ hopelessness is realistic (v11). We were also spiritually dead before we were given new life through Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10). We had no relationship with God. We were unclean and so a God of goodness and life would have nothing to do with us. We didn’t just need a helping hand, we were bones that needed to be spiritually remade.
2) Do we have confidence God recreates through his word and Spirit? (v4-14)
The exiles were spiritually dead. They had no confidence in themselves. But they should have great confidence in God! He completely recreates the bones through his word and Spirit! As the words of God were prophesied, the bones came together. As the breath – Spirit – entered the bones, the bones came to life (the words spirit, breath and wind in this passage all translate one Hebrew word). This two-part process hints at Adam who was formed from the ground and then given the breath of life (Genesis 2). Like the first creation, God’s word and Spirit would bring the exiles to life from nothing. The exiles could be confident in God– there will be life where there was no possibility of life. They would be brought out of the spiritual grave into relationship with God. We can be confident because we have been recreated through his word and Spirit when we hear and believe the word about Jesus.
3) Do we appreciate our unity under the King? (v15-28)
In this sign-act Ezekiel is commanded to take two sticks representing the southern and northern kingdoms of Israel and bring them together in his hand. The kingdoms split from one another because of idolatry and pride (1 Kings 10). The southern kingdom (Judah) is where the exiles had come from. The northern kingdom (Israel, but here called Joseph/Ephraim) had been gone for centuries. Just as the people couldn’t give themselves spiritual life, the two kingdoms could never bring themselves together. But the scattered people will be regathered and made one nation held by the LORD. This is only possible because they’ll be brought together under the rule of God’s King, the heir of David (v25). Jesus is that king and he has begun to rule. Jesus unites us to God and to one another. Our unity together goes deeper because it’s based on us sharing a re-created life with God which will continue forever when Jesus returns.
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
Were we really so bad we’re spiritually dead?
We find this hard to believe. We’re used to having something to contribute. We live in a culture that tells us to believe in ourselves and see the good within. But the truth is that we were spiritually dead, following our own cravings – for respect, comfort, success, relationship – rather than God (Ephesians 2:1-10). And we couldn’t bring ourselves back to God because we didn’t want to and wouldn’t want to. There was nothing in us that could be grown or groomed into relationship with God. We needed a spiritual resurrection!
Isn’t this passage all about physical resurrection?
No, though a God who can re-create spiritually dead people and bring them into relationship with him can also bring the physically dead to life! V11 is the key here – this vision describes the Israelites. They are not physically dead but cut-off from God and unclean because they have replaced God with idols. After the judgement of chapter 33 (the fall of Jerusalem) all their self-confidence is gone. The question is: will God raise sinful people under his total judgement to spiritual life with him? Thankfully for us, the answer is yes!
What’s the focus of the land all about in v15-28?
Not the physical land of Israel itself. These promises of plenty, unity, obedience and peace with God were not fulfilled when the exiles returned and have not been fulfilled since. The promise of the land is only fulfilled under a forever King (v25), ultimately in the eternal presence of God (v26-28). Ezekiel 40-48 will show us more, but this is a picture of the new creation world when Jesus returns and God lives with his people (see Revelation 21).
Summary of author’s main point
The sovereign LORD will recreate his dead people by His Spirit and bring them together with every blessing under His King so that they will dwell with Him forever.
Purpose for original audience
Do not despair at being cut off for sin but have confidence in the Lord; trust that he will give you new life together under his king in his presence.
Purpose for us today
The LORD has re-created us by His Spirit and so brought us together under his King’s blessed rule: thank God as you trust the Spirit to bring life.
Key area of application
If we’ve not trusted in Jesus
Do we realise we’re spiritually dead?
Will we take the challenge and put ourselves in the way of the re-creator’s voice by reading the Bible?
If we’re trusting Jesus
How can I be cultivating thankfulness for my Spiritual re-creation?
Am I confident enough in the Spirit’s work to share Jesus with others?
How can I be leaning further into the unity I have with others?