Sunday School Lesson
Oct. 24, 2004
CREATING A NEW HOPE
Bible Background—EZEKIEL 37
Focal Verses—EZEKIEL 37:1-14
Devotional Reading—EZEKIEL 37:24-28
“And shall put MY SPIRIT, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:14).
Ezekiel’s prophecy of a valley of dry bones, which the LORD was going to bring back to life, was a message of hope that signified the renewal of the people of Israel. Israel was in what seemed like a hopeless situation in exile. The bones and flesh coming together to create bodies and life being breathed into the bodies echo GOD’S creation of Adam. This restoration of Israel is another re-creative act of GOD.
The name Ezekiel means “GOD strengthens.” Ezekiel was among the priests exiled to Babylon with King Jehoiachin (see 2 Kings 24:14-17). He is the son of Buzi, whose name appears in the opening lines of this, one of the major prophetic books. Ezekiel prophesied both in Jerusalem and while in exile.
Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. While Jeremiah ministered to the people still in Judah, Ezekiel prophesied to those already exiled to Babylon. Ezekiel and several other captives were taken in 597 BC. The book of Ezekiel was probably written around 597 BC in Babylon during the time of the exile.
The book records the prophet’s life and ministry, beginning with his call as a prophet and commissioning as a watchman for Israel (chapters1-3). The approaching siege and destruction of Jerusalem were recorded in the next section of the book (chapters 4-24). He, like Jeremiah and many other Old Testament prophets, makes it clear why GOD has to judge Judah. He focuses on Judah’s idolatrous behavior and also on GOD’S plans to judge the rebellion of the surrounding nations (chapters 25-32).
The book of Ezekiel ends with a message of hope. Ezekiel proclaims the faithfulness of GOD and foretells the future blessing for GOD’S people (chapters 33-48). The dry bone prophecy in chapter 37 communicates hope and offers promises of future blessings.
This section of Ezekiel does not have a heading or a date, yet its content was very important. For the sixth time in the book, the phrase “the hand of the LORD was upon me” was used (Ezekiel 37:1). This indicated specific message, usually communicated in the form of a vision, that GOD wanted Ezekiel to deliver to HIS people.
The vision of the dry bones concludes an oracle on future restoration of Israel that began at Ezekiel 36:16. Ezekiel 37:1-2 expresses the setting of the prophecy. The prophet saw the manner in which the prophecy unfolded as the SPIRIT of the LORD picked him up and transported him into the valley. The phrase “the hand of the LORD was upon me” describes the urgency and compulsion by which the prophet is overwhelmed. GOD’S hand is a manifestation of GOD’S POWER. The Hebrew word for “valley,” habbiq’ah, is prefixed with the definite article ha. There is no particular valley mentioned. The valley was “full of bones,” disjoined from one another and in an extreme state of deterioration. The vision illustrates the situation and condition of the people.
In this particular vision, GOD supernaturally transported Ezekiel from his own home to a valley full of dead men’s bones. The dry bones were a picture of the Jews in captivity—the 12 tribes all shattered and dead. GOD wanted to give them a visible picture of HIS PROMISE to bring new life and restoration to the nation, both physically and spiritually.
GOD took Ezekiel “round about” (v.2) and caused him to pass by the bones so he could have a clear vision of them. The bones were not under the ground nor piled up in a heap, but scattered over the ground, and they were very dry.
The description is intended to show how many bones there were and how long they had been lying there in the valley. Ezekiel was made to pass around the bones to impress upon him their vast quantity and extreme dryness, indicating that life had left them a long time ago. As the recipient of the vision and an agent and witness of GOD, Ezekiel saw the skeletons of slaughtered men. They were so thoroughly bleached and dried by long exposure to the atmosphere that all apparent capability of life had left them. The prophet was astonished by what he saw, as his audience will be astonished by what they hear.
After giving Ezekiel an aerial view of the bones, GOD asked him a question: “Can these bones live” Ezekiel answered, “LORD, YOU are the ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS.” Ezekiel’s response implied, according to human judgment that it was inconceivable that dry bones could live. Ezekiel knew the POWER OF GOD was essential to raise these very dry bones to life. GOD had declared it, and GOD would have to do it. GOD alone has the power to accomplish whatever HE PROMISES.
The bones, which symbolized GOD’S chosen people, were slain or killed, not just dead (v.9). Those who remained in captivity in Babylon were hopeless and helpless. Their nation had been completely devastated, and many of the people were violently murdered.
GOD told Ezekiel to speak to the bones and say, “O ye dry bones, hear the WORD of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD GOD unto these bones, Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (vv.4-5). Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the dry bones and to proclaim GOD’S PURPOSE to endow them anew with powers and properties of life. The word was no sooner uttered than its effect took place. The prophecy was GOD’SWORD. Ezekiel was GOD’S SERVANT through whom hope and transformation would come to the people as GOD spoke. “I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (v.5) is a summary that anticipates the outcome. The LORD HIMSELF would cause the bones to live. Tendons, flesh, skin, and breath, in that order, would come on the bones so that living people would be formed. Then this “resurrected” people would know that GOD was their LORD.
The prophet did exactly as the LORD commanded and proclaimed the words of the LORD to the dead, dry bones. While he was speaking, Ezekiel heard the rushing sound of GOD’S mighty works and watched as the bones joined. Thus, when Ezekiel prophesied, a sound arose—rattling and shaking all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached to each other. While Ezekiel watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones, and skin covered them. The form was not complete, however; the bodies had no breath. GOD instructed Ezekiel to call to the wind and say, “Come from the four winds, O breath” (v.9). There takes place a reenactment of the act of creation, when GOD formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life (see Genesis 2:7). Ezekiel spoke to the winds and the bodies began breathing. They lived! Once the bodies got onto their feet, they formed a great army.
The bones coming up out of the graves symbolized GOD raising up the 112 tribes of Israel once again. GOD’S PROMISE here goes beyond merely the physical and geographical restoration of Israel. HE promises to breathe new spiritual life into HIS people so that their hearts and attitudes will be right with HIM and united with one another.
Verses 11-14 give the explanation of the vision. What at first appears to be an expression of hopelessness, destruction, and despair is in fact a vision of the re-gathering and spiritual restoration of the nation of Israel. The phrase “these bones are the whole house of Israel,” reveals that the vision does not describe the resurrection of individuals but the restoration of a nation. The Hebrew word for “graves” is qeber (keh’-ber), which means burying place, or tomb. The graves represent the foreign nations from which Israel would arise and return.
The experience of exile had left the nation devoid of hope, and the people regarded their exiled existence as an irretrievable end. Though addressed to Judah, the explanation of the vision refers to the whole house of Israel. The two warring nations (Israel and Judah) would become one under a new king. GOD would restore both life and unity.
Just as the dry bones could be restored into living beings only by the mighty act of GOD, only by GOD’S POWER. GOD PROMISES to breathe life into HIS PEOPLE and bring them back to their land. This spiritual and physical restoration is GOD’S PROMISE OF RICH BLESSING.
Thus, when Ezekiel spoke to the people, he felt he was speaking to the dead as he preached because they rarely responded to his message. In their hopelessness, the nation seemed dead; but these bones responded. Just as GOD brought life to the dead bones, he would bring life again to HIS SPIRITUALLY DEAD PEOPLE.
GOD would rescue HIS PEOPLE from captivity and exile in Babylon and restore them to their land. The same process is described throughout GOD’S WORD as the cleansing of our hearts by GOD’S SPIRIT. That which may be dead in us, such as our ability to resist a bad habit or a habitual sin, can come alive as GOD MINISTERS through us by the POWER OF HIS SPIRIT and under the DIRECTION OF HIS WORD.
Your church may seem like a heap of dried up bones to you—spiritually dead with no hope of vitality. But just as GOD promised to restore HIS nation, HE can restore ANY CHURCH, no matter how dry or dead it may be. Rather than give up, pray for renewal because GOD can restore it to life. The hope and prayer of every church should be that GOD would put HIS SPIRIT into it (see Ezekiel 37:14). In fact, GOD is at work calling HIS PEOPLE BACK TO HIMSELF and BRINGING LIFE INTO DEAD CHURCHES.
THINK ABOUT IT!!!!
Rev. Chris Lowe, Sr. DD
email Dr. Lowe
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