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The text before us this morning (Ezekiel 37:1–14) may be the most familiar in the entire prophecy. It is the famed vision of the valley of dry bones. Familiarity has a way of robbing us of accurate interpretation, so we want to carefully consider the meaning of this text to understand it properly before we draw any devotional principles from it.

In his vision, Ezekiel was transported to a valley somewhere in the land of exile, which was filled with dry bones. The choice of a valley is perhaps significant in that it contrasts starkly with the glory of Mount Zion. When God later gives Ezekiel a vision of a restored temple, he sets the prophet on “a very high mountain” in “the land of Israel” (40:2). The contrast between a high mountain in the land of promise and a valley in the land of exile could not contrast more starkly. As Duguid observes, “The valley is the place of death, from which Israel must be delivered before they can be brought into the land of life.”

Everything in the valley stands opposed to life. Not only is it a place of death, but it is a place of bones. And not only is it a place of bones, but it is a place of dry bones. The prophets were familiar with God’s resurrecting power. Both Elijah and Elisha had performed miracles of resurrection on recently deceased bodies. But was there hope for bodies that had decomposed so thoroughly that the bones had dried in the beating Middle Eastern sun?

Seeing the situation before him, Ezekiel answered the Lord (“Son of man, can these bones live?”) by putting the question back on him, “O Lord GOD, you know” (v. 3). Not wanting to underestimate the power of God, but realising the gravity of the situation before him, Ezekiel did not want to presume. His theology told him, no doubt, that God could grant life to dry bones, but how could he know if God intended to do so?

God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy, and he obeyed. The familiar crooning of The Delta Rhythm Boys might be playing in your head right now: “Your toe bone connected to your foot bone, your foot bone connected to your heel bone—” As he prophesied, he heard a great rattling and witnessed bone connecting itself to bone as human skeletons were formed. He continued to watch as sinew and flesh were added to form human bodies—but still lifeless human bodies. Again, God commanded him to prophesy, and as he did so the breath of God entered the bodies and the corpses came to life.

Some have suggested that this is a picture of the future bodily resurrection. Others have made it a parable about the salvation of sinners. The real meaning of the text is explained in vv. 11–14. The bones represented the house of Israel, who lamented that their bones were dried up and that all hope was lost. Given the dreadful reality of the exile, this was an understandable lament. It may also be why Ezekiel was hesitant to answer the Lord’s question with confidence. Yes, God could restore Israel, but who knew if he intended to? The Lord wonderfully answered that question in the affirmative (vv. 12–14). He not only could, but actually would, restore Israel’s fortunes. There was wonderful hope in their hopelessness.

While the text speaks most directly to the state of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, the contention that these verses speak to the salvation of sinners and the eventual resurrection of the body is a valid application. Israel was not mired in hopelessness because God was able to rescue them. Similarly, though we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and utterly incapable of doing anything pleasing in God’s eyes, God’s power is always sufficient to save his people. God not only can, but actually wants to, save sinners! This is the glory of the gospel. This should move us in at least two ways.

First, we must recognise that there is no reason for us to despair as we witness to and pray for our unsaved loved ones. We may not know if God will save the loved one about whom we are so burdened, but we can confidently assert that he is willing to save them. We can therefore boldly share the gospel with them and confidently pray for God to do his work in them.

Second, we must recognise that, having experienced Christ’s resurrection power, God’s Spirit has entered us and now empowers us to walk in him. By God’s grace, we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4), which means that “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” (Romans 8:12). As believers, indwelt by God’s Spirit, we do not have to be controlled by the flesh. We can walk in fidelity to God, living a life pleasing to him, because we have his Spirit to empower our obedience.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 37:1–14 this morning, ask God to help you embrace the power of the Spirit in you to walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh. And allow this text to instil confidence in your prayers and witness for those you love who need the gospel, knowing that God is willing to save any who turn to Christ in faith.