In the Valley of Dry Bones

“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, 2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. 4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8 And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezek. 37:1-10).

He was only 25 years of age when tragedy struck his nation, and his own life was changed forever.  The year was 597 BC and the great Babylonian empire, led by Nebuchadnezzar, was flexing its mighty international muscles. Like the Assyrian rulers before him, Nebuchadnezzar was determined to enjoy world conquest.  His armies marched westward and southward into the land of Palestine. The divided kingdom of Israel could not withstand the power of this foreign invader. The southern kingdom of Judah fell. From the capitol of Jerusalem, leading citizens were taken into captivity.  Young Ezekiel, son of Buzi (Ezek. 1:3), member of a priestly family, was among those deported.

The experience was devastating. The people wept as they were separated from their loved ones, and made to march into a foreign land. By the rivers of Babylon, they sat and wept. 

But even in exile the Lord remembered His people. After five years, the prophetic word of the Lord came to Ezekiel. It happened while he was dwelling near the River Chebar at Tel Abib.  It may sound exciting to receive the Word of God in a special revelation.  It is a great honor.  But it can also be a heavy burden, as Ezekiel discovered.  On the very day he received his Divine revelation, Ezekiel’s wife died.  As the armies of Babylon laid siege against the holy city of Jerusalem, death visited those in exile as well.  The wife of the prophet was the desire of his eyes (Ezek. 24:16). Ezekiel loved her with all his heart but love could not chase away the Grim Reaper, and Ezekiel wanted to mourn. In his mourning the prophet would become a picture of God who also wanted to weep over the death of His own beloved in the city of Jerusalem. 

In real, but symbolic imagery, the young prophet’s sadness at the death of his wife, was designed to demonstrate the grief of God at the sin of the nation of Israel. The ravaging effect of sin is something to be wept over.

  • Sin is why the holy city was being conquered.
  • Sin was why the City of Peace was dying.
  • Sin had caused the people to rebel against the will and ways of the Lord.
  • Sin brought forth political, economic, and religious chaos and death. For the “The wages of sin is death.” 

From a human perspective, Jerusalem was simply another object to dispose of on the march by the armies of Babylon to Egypt led by the great king Nebuchadnezzar.  But from a Divine point of view, God was judging His people.  No earthly monarch could have touched the apple of His eye apart from His divine permission.

Man may boast of his great military powers, but God sovereignly controls the affairs of this world, and He can overrule the decisions of men.  The Lord can humble the mightiest of armies, as He has done so often in history, and as He did recently to the army of Iraq.

God can also use the natural ambitions of men to serve His own purposes. God was using the army of Babylon as a rod of divine judgment against Israel, and he did so without mercy. The strength of judgment must be equal to the strength of sin. And when sin is judged, it should be rejoiced in, not wept over. It was for this reason the Lord instructed Ezekiel not to grieve over the death of his wife.

That was an unusual commandment, and difficult to obey, because Ezekiel loved his wife dearly.  Still, the prophet’s failure to display normal grief would serve to illustrate that God had prepared Himself for the death of His beloved city (Ezek. 24:15-22).  God would shed no tears in the day of divine visitation, but would rejoice in the administration of justice.

Concerning all of this, one Bible commentator notes, “Perhaps no other event in the lives of the Old Testament prophets is as touching as this.  The harshness of God’s command to His prophet emphasizes the Lord’s grief over the fate and sufferings of His rebellious people…. In the sufferings of Ezekiel, we learn something of the suffering of God Himself” (Nelson’s Bible Dictionary). And, we learn something of His holiness.

While his wife lay dying, the full revelation of what was going to happen to Jerusalem was given to Ezekiel. According to Ezekiel 3:22, the Lord took Ezekiel to a Valley. In a vision, the normal faculties of the body are suspended, and time moves rapidly forward.  Ezekiel saw what was going to happen to Jerusalem.  In the Valley of Vision, Ezekiel saw ahead of time the great Babylonian army gathered with a multitude of foot soldiers, and numerous chariots with specially designed war machines made for breaching and scaling cities with walls.

Ezekiel heard the battle cries, as commands were given to conquer the city. Ladders were forced against the giant city walls on every side. Breeches were made, and soldiers swarmed through the gaping holes like ants coming out a mound of dirt that has been disrupted. Fireballs were hurled into the city streets. Buildings began to burn. Women screamed. Babies cried. Men cursed and died a violent bloody death. Sharp swords wielded by battle hardened soldiers hacked and cut and slashed bodies into shreds. Blood flowed freely.

The vision ended, and the reality began. History records that in 586 BC Jerusalem did fall to the forces of Babylon. The Holy Temple was looted and burned.  The area around Jerusalem became a massive graveyard.

Just as the Lord had said, just as Ezekiel predicted, the nation of Israel died a thousand deaths.

There was political death.  No longer would a king sit upon the throne. 

There was ceremonial death. No longer would the sacrifices be offered according to the dictates of the law in the beautiful Temple built by Solomon.

There was ecclesiastical death.The priests of the tribe of Levi would no longer minister to the people of God. The Bible would not be read nor taught. Death and destruction were everywhere. Those who would not repent and turn to the Lord in the midst of many prophetic warnings found they could not. The soul that sinneth shall die. Proverbs 2:22 “The wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.”

But the story does not end there. It could have. Divine justice had been satisfied.  God’s rebellious people had been dealt with. And yet, as God is a God of great severity, so He is a God of great grace. “Come, Ezekiel,” said the Lord one day to His prophet. “I have something else I want to show you.” The prophet recorded what happened next. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.”  This was the same Valley Ezekiel had been to before.  This was the Valley where the terrible scene was originally given of the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

Now, in a second vision, the Valley was being revisited. What Ezekiel saw was before tragic. What he would soon witness would be something triumphant. But it did not appear that way at first.

Initially Ezekiel saw a sad sight. The prophet beheld the results of the ravages of war’s bloodshed and human carnage. In this vision the mutilated bodies of fallen soldiers and civilians were gone except for the dry bones scattered upon the open ground.

The difference between the two scenes that Ezekiel saw may be compared to the difference of being on Normandy beach June 6, 1944, and being on the same beach June 6, 2004.  Being on the site one day was horrible. Being there on another day was only sad due to memories of what took place.

In this second vision, God has brought Ezekiel back to the Valley where he was told to walk around.  So, Ezekiel began to walk through the Valley.  The number of skeletons he saw impressed him.

“There were very many in the open Valley,” he wrote.  Each skeleton was once a human being. Each skeleton was once loved and cared for. Now, all that was left were the dry bones of precious humans.

While Ezekiel was looking at the skeletons in the Valley, the Lord suddenly asked the prophet a pointed question. “Ezekiel, Son of man, can these bones live?  Ezekiel, can they?” Now I have a question.

If God were to lift our hearts up by the Spirit, and carry us into a Valley of Vision and ask us a similar question, what would we answer?  In a way, God is asking the church this question, for if we will look around, we can perceive that we are in the midst of a Valley of Dry Bones. 

In some places, there is a stirring of religious activity.  Not all spiritual life is gone, and for any sign of religious affections there is cause for hope. But there is no doubt that, generally speaking, the church is in a Valley of dry bones. Like Christian in John Bunyan’s, Pilgrim’s Progress, we live in the City of Destruction.

Everywhere, souls are lost.  Many of the young people hang out on the street corners in towns and cities.  They gather early and stay late into the evening.  They are without a sense of direction.  They are spiritually dead.  They need the Lord. And their parents need the Lord.

Can the church see the spiritual corpses?  Satan has come with his battering rams to capture the City of Mansoul.  By cunning devises, he has laid siege to the hearts of people, and he has taken many captives at his will. Far too many people visit the various bars in the various communities. 

Whoever named such a place a bar named it well.
It is a bar to heaven but a gate to hell.
It is a bar to holiness but a gate to vice.
It is a bar to honor but a gate to shame.

“Of all the evils that have cursed mankind, crushed women’s hearts, sent youth to destruction, driven virtue to the haunts of shame and paved the pathway to hell, there is nothing that can compare with the evil of intoxicating drink [misused].” (A Victorian Preacher)

Now a bold question comes to the church, “Children of God, can these bones live?” The question is a thrilling question, for it stirs the imagination.

“Can the spiritually dead live?” “Can that which is now a corpse sit up and breath with spiritual life and vitality?” “Is it really possible?” It would be presumptuous to answer “Yes!” too quickly. It would be blatant unbelief to answer “No!” The questions of God demand a careful answer. Ezekiel gave such a response. “O Lord God,” he said.  “Thou knowest.”

The cautious response of Ezekiel the prophet can be appreciated, for care must be taken with holy matters especially when the repercussions of the answer are seriously considered.

The concept of God working miracles, and causing new spiritual life to come upon and into those who have fallen in divine judgment, is thrilling, but dangerous.

“What if expectations are raised and nothing happens?” “What if something of a spiritual power is promised that is not manifested?” “What if God determines to test our faith, and we respond only with, worry, unbelief, and fear?” What if God asked the church, “Can these dry bones live?” and we answer too quickly or without conviction. Like Ezekiel, we want to be careful. We want to respond with Ezekiel’s answer which was the best possible one as he said, “O Lord God, thou knowest.”

That was true in the fifth century BC, and it is true today. Only God knows what He will do in the Valley of Dry Bones. But there are indications sometimes of what God might do. 

Generally, when God is going to work a work of grace in an area, He prepares His people with a spirit of expectancy. This spirit of expectancy cannot be artificially manufactured. In an authentic spiritual event only God can produce religious excitement in the hearts of His people so that souls can say, “heaven came down our souls to greet, And glory crowned the mercy seat.”

I suspect that in the heart of Ezekiel, there grew a religious excitement. The very question God asked raised his expectations. Why would God ask such a question if He did not plan to do something extra-ordinary? As the narrative continues, two truths are set forth,

First, God indicated what He was willing to do.

Second, God shared how He was willing to perform His great work. According to the Bible, what

God was willing to do was to make the dead live again.  Notice the words of Ezekiel 37:5-6: “Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”

And it all happened. When Ezekiel prophesied there arose a sound, and then a shaking, and bones approached one another, every bone to its own bone. 

The coming together of the bones was followed by their being clothed with sinews, flesh, and skin. 

What a vision that was. Bones coming together again. Bones which had been scattered, uniting for a common purpose.

As thrilling as that was, there was still something missing. There was not yet any breath in the bones (Ezek. 37:8). To give this vital “spark of life”, the Lord God commanded the prophet to prophesy again.

The Bible says that Ezekiel did prophesy again, and the spirit of the Living God came, and the dead lived again!  The breath of God came, and with God’s breath spiritual life.

Capture this moment in your heart, and believe what God can do. When God is pleased to create life and cause His people to live, the following spiritual dynamics will be displayed.

First, when God visits His people there will be a greater awareness of who He is. There will be a greater sense of His love, His judgment, His sweet presence, and His majestic greatness. In 1715 King Louis XIV of France died after a reign of 72 years. He had called himself “the Great,” and was the monarch who made the famous statement, “I am the state!”

His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin, to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.” 

Second, when God visits His people there will be a natural hatred for sin, and the soul will sing songs of wonder.

“Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
“For such a worm as I?

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!”

Third, when God visits His people there will be a deep conviction of sin, at times leading almost to despair.  John Newton wrote,

“My conscience felt and owned it guilt
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
And helped to nail Him there.”

Fourth, when God visits His people there will be physical manifestations and prostrations.  Men and women and young people, will fall down and worship God. The story is told that Lady Huntington wrote to George Whitefield who had removed those who cried out to God in his services. “You are making a great mistake,” she said.  “Do not be wiser than God. Let them cry out; it will do a great deal more good than your preaching.” 

Fifth, when God visits His people there will be a love for Christ and for His church. “Just as a lamb runs after the mother and not the mother after the lamb, the truly regenerate soul will seek after pastures where he can be fed.” (Duncan Campbell).  No spiritual mouth has ever been fed by the world. It is a sign of life eternal when the appetite for Christ and His church increases, and there is the desire to be together more, not less. 

Sixth, when God visits His people there will be a love for the Word of God. “I was never out of my Bible”, said John Bunyan. “I am a man of one Book” declared John Wesley.”

Seventh, when God visits His people there will be a great emphasis upon personal and spontaneous prayer. “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations, or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer” (E. M. Bounds) The ordained way that God has chosen to manifest His omnipotent power is through His Word. Ezekiel 37:7 “So I prophesied” said Ezekiel, “as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.”

As we prepare our hearts, as we ponder this great question of whether spiritual renewal can come to our Valley, and to our own congregation in particular, let us plead with God to come to us in the power of His word. “Speak Lord, and the dead shall live.”

It can happen, and if God so pleases, something will happen soon. I want to believe that something supernatural will happen. I want to believe in the power of God coming to give divine life. I want spiritual victories—and I hope you want all of this too.

During the South African War, the British forces were suffering from a series of setbacks.  A Minister of State visited Queen Victoria and made his complaints. Queen Victoria drew herself up and replied, “Sir, we are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; we are only interested in victory!”

Like Queen Victoria, let us be interested in spiritual victory for the glory of God, and for the good of His people. 

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