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The Dry Bones enemies in Super Mario Bros. pace back and forth to keep you from navigating your way to the boss in each castle. The skeletons in Minecraft will chase you down and shoot arrows at you. But in real life, dry bones aren’t going anywhere by themselves. They have no muscles, no brain, and no heart. Unless it’s kids in costume late in October, you’re not going to see a skeleton walking around your neighborhood. A skeleton may hang together on a stand in a high school anatomy class, but the bones have no power to move on their own.
That’s what makes the story we find in Ezekiel 37:1–14 so remarkable. God gives resurrection life and hope to dead bones and Israel’s dead circumstances. In doing so, he shows us that his Word of promise is our source of life and renewal.
Ezekiel’s Surprising Sermon
God’s Spirit took the prophet Ezekiel to a valley filled with dry bones and asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel was unsure: “O LORD God, you know” (v. 3). Then God commanded the prophet to preach to the bones:
Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin. . . . Then you will know that I am the LORD. (vv. 4–6, NIV)
As Ezekiel preached to the bones, they came together, and God clothed the skeletons in flesh. Then, Ezekiel preached to the wind, and the Lord breathed life into the dead bodies. Through the power of his Word, God made the dead skeletons live, “an exceedingly great army” (v. 10)!
Bones have no power to move on their own. That’s what makes the story we find in Ezekiel 37 so remarkable.
Life for Dead Souls
Over the centuries, theologians have seen a connection between Ezekiel’s prophetic vision and the nature of our salvation in Christ. Rightly so! The Bible teaches us that apart from God’s quickening work, we’re dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–3). Left on our own, no man or woman seeks God (Pss. 14:2–3; 53:2–3; Rom. 3:11–12). As the Canons of Dort say,
All men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God. (3/4:3)
Both the Bible and our Reformed forebears recognize that though people live, move, breathe, and exercise their wills, we all ultimately follow our sinful desires to their end in death. “Each of us has turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6, NIV). We’re unable to live lives that are alive to God, lives that please him.
Then God’s Word comes. We hear the good news through a friend or a preacher, and Christ by his Spirit says, “Live!” Suddenly, our stone-cold hearts begin to thaw and beat in rhythm with God’s decree. First, we see the peril and poison of our sin. Then the eyes of our hearts blink open and we wake up to the beauty and reality of Christ. It’s the resurrection of our souls we call regeneration. Praise God! We’re made alive by his amazing grace (Eph. 2:4–5).
Life for an Exiled Nation
Regeneration is a wonderful doctrine, but this reality isn’t the only truth we find in Ezekiel’s vision. In its original context, Ezekiel 37 wasn’t about personal salvation. The vision was first delivered to a nation in exile, to a people who said, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off” (v. 11). They were cut off because they’d been removed from the physical place where God had promised to pour out his covenant blessings.
Then God’s Word came. When God promised to put his Spirit within his people, he also promised, “I will place you in your own land” (vv. 12, 14). Ezekiel predicted Israel’s glorious return from exile and the restoration of Jerusalem under Cyrus in 539 BC. The prophet delivered a message of certain hope for a nation that was as good as dead. He gives a similar promise to us.
Life and Hope for Your Broken Situation
How is the promise of return from exile significant for Christians today? Because we also await our return to the place of blessing. On the day of our final resurrection, we’re also promised a restored place with our Savior. In the new heavens and new earth, every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more (Rev. 21:4).
The prophet delivered a message of certain hope for a nation that was as good as dead. He gives a similar promise to us.
We may be weary of a teenager’s rebellion. We may be tired from providing care for a family member with a disability. It may feel as if we’re cut off. In a skeptical world, we may even be tempted to live as if “dead bones” coming to life only takes place in fantasy or video games.
But the good news of Ezekiel 37 is that God’s good Word that brings life to dead bodies and dead nations will soon bring life to our dead world.
Christian, claim that promise. God once raised your soul from death by the power of his Word. There remains another quickening Word that will be spoken over the darkness and death that infects your broken circumstances. There remains a resurrecting speech act for the people of God. Put your hope in that good Word.