Ezekiel 37:1-14

A. INTRODUCTION

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?
Toe bone connected foot bone
Foot bone connected leg bone
Leg bone connected knee bone
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?” (Verse 1)

Despite the apparent humour in the traditional African American Spiritual “Dry Bones,” the background to the story—one episode in the life of the prophet Ezekiel—is one where humour is very far from his mind. In fact he was going through a very rough time both personally and professionally.

B. THE DRY BONES

1. Ezekiel – The Prophet
In his middle twenties, he had been taken captive and resettled on the plains of Babylonia (Ch 1); he’d been married, and happily so, and yet his wife had just died (Ch 24); he was a priest, as his father had been before him (Ch 1); and the Temple he had worked in, apart from being miles away, had been totally destroyed (Ch 24). And on top of that, he was being asked by God to carry out his prophetic ministry—a ministry which included acting out symbolism on a grand scale—by holding back his emotions.

But whatever he thought of his situation, Ezekiel was aware that even though life was difficult for him, it was also difficult for his fellow exiles. After all, he was aware of the tragedy in which his people were involved. Indeed he shared their dilemma. Yet he was still prepared to put his own personal feelings aside, to maintain a passionate intensity towards God, his message, and his fellow exiles.

2. A Hopeless Cause (1-3)
And the reason that his own people were more depressed than he was, was because even though they too had been relocated to the dusty plains of Babylonia, they had lost hope. They’d fought a war and lost; they’d been forced to leave their homes behind some ten years before; their families had been split up; their country had been occupied; and Jerusalem and its Temple had been destroyed. Indeed, all the same things that Ezekiel faced. Except for the fact that Ezekiel still believed in God and practised his faith, whereas the people had given up. They had lost hope and they had lost faith. Consequently they no longer believed that their religion was relevant.

Indeed, they believed, that if the Temple was where God had chosen to live with his people, the its destruction by the Babylonians meant that the Babylonian gods were supreme. And with the destruction of the Temple, their faith and all hope had been lost.

3. God’s Solution
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?
Leg bone connected knee bone
Knee bone connected thighbone
Thighbone connected hipbone
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?” (Verse 2)

Ezekiel was alone in believing in the continuing existence of God. So Ezekiel knew that God’s people needed a miracle to get them out of their predicament. And that’s exactly what happened. The restoration of the people came through the initiative of God—despite the fact that the majority of the people had abandoned him. And in typical Ezekiel style the solution came in terms of a vision.

4. Prophecy to the Bones (4-8)
And in the first stage of the vision, God took Ezekiel and took him to a valley of dry bones, symbolising the lifeless and despondent people they had become. And there, God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.

Now despite what Ezekiel was going through himself, he did as he was asked. And as he watched, he saw bones clicking together, piece by piece; he saw tendons being attached and flesh appearing upon them; and then last of all he saw skin clothing the skeletons, restoring the people to some sort of normality. However, even though the bones had become human in form, they were still without life.

In other words, as a priest, Ezekiel was told by God to continue to exercise his priestly ministry, even in this strange land. He was told to preach and encourage the people in their faith; to tell them that despite the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, despite everything that had happened to them, God was not dead. He had not abandoned them, and they weren’t totally dead either. God knew well their predicament, he was with them, he would come to their rescue, and he would restore what they had lost—principally a faith in him.

But just as the bones had come together and were without life, Ezekiel was warned that preaching and encouraging would not be enough on their own. It might stir people up to have some hope, but preaching would not in itself be enough to restore their faith. Indeed, exhorting people to listen to God’s word was only the first step of the journey.

5. Prophecy to the Breath (Wind or Spirit) (9-10)
So God then outlined to Ezekiel a second stage in the process. And continuing the same vision, he told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. In other words, to practice his priestly ministry. To pray for his people that God’s spirit would indeed work amongst his people.

And that is precisely what Ezekiel did. He prayed. And as he prayed, the spirit entered those human forms, that had once been dry bones. And all of a sudden, those people who had been lost and despondent were suddenly restored to life, their faith had been renewed, and their hope had been refreshed.

In other words God’s people came to the realisation that God was with them after all. They rediscovered that even though the Babylonians had many gods, only their God was supreme. And he could and would restore their fortunes, return them to their homes and families, and give them hope.

The effect of Ezekiel’s prayer was nothing short of miraculous. And what preaching itself had failed to achieve on its own, prayer had made a reality.

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?
Hipbone connected backbone
Backbone connected shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected neck bone
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?” (Verse 3)

6. Comment
You know, it was quite a vision that was given to Ezekiel regarding those dry bones. And, in the scheme of history, it wasn’t that many years later before the people found themselves back home and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.

For a community full of totally depressed and despondent people, God provided one man with ministries of encouragement and prayer; one man who knew intimately the problems of the people. And through that one man exercising his ministries of encouragement and prayer, the people were restored to faith and hope, and rediscovered the purpose of life. However it didn’t come without a cost, because that one man, Ezekiel, had to put his own personal feelings aside, which included not mourning for his own wife, in order to fulfil God’s wishes.

C. JESUS: A MINISTRY OF ENCOURAGEMENT AND PRAYER

Now, of course, the story of Ezekiel and his people is just one story of the use of the ministries of encouragement and prayer. And Jesus had a similar ministry. Only in Jesus’s case he came to encourage people, and to reconcile people with God, not in the context of an exile but in the context of a Roman occupation.

1. Ministry of Encouragement
Indeed, Jesus spent much of his time preaching and encouraging those who were less fortunate: those with not much to live for; the unloved; and those with little hope. He told those rejected by society that God cared. And he demonstrated it in the way he treated those who society had no time for—the outcasts, the sick, the lame, and the blind.

2. Ministry of Prayer
Jesus also spent much time in prayer. He prayed for his people, he wept over Jerusalem; and even the night before he died—when his own death was hanging over him—he prayed for his disciples and all other believers too (John Ch 17).

D. IMPLICATION

Which brings us to today. Because the days of Ezekiel and Jesus are not the only times in history where there has been a valley of dry bones. Indeed, that image could equally be used to describe the state of the church today.

As a consequence, the story from Ezekiel should give us real hope.

1. Our Dry Bones
Because, firstly, no matter how dry or dead we may feel at times, this story illustrates that it doesn’t take much of a spark, for God to bring dry bones to life and to give new purpose. The reality is that even though we might abandon him, God does not abandon us. And so whether it seems like we are going nowhere—or it seems like the church is going nowhere—no matter how dry the bones may be, we need to hold on to the fact that God is able to do the spectacular and bring those dry bones to life, and in a very dramatic manner.

2. Our Ministry of Encouragement and Prayer
Secondly, the importance of encouragement and prayer even today cannot be overstated. Indeed, they are a vital part of any Christian’s ministry.

Ezekiel may have been a priest, but encouragement and prayer are things that anyone of us can do. And if we all did those two things, think of the difference that we could make to the dry bones, with God’s grace.

3. The Importance of One Individual
And thirdly, should any of us think that we alone could make no difference, we should never forget the importance of the individual. Because if Ezekiel—one man—could be used by God to have such an effect on one nation, and if Jesus—one man (even though he was God’s son)—could be used by God to have such an effect on the world, then what then does that say for us and what we as individuals can do for one another, with God’s grace.

The ministries of encouragement and prayer are essential parts of the practice of our Christian faith. They are essential for the welfare of our church. But even so, it may only need one person starting off and exercising those ministries, for God to bring the rest of the church to life.

E. CONCLUSION

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?”

“Dry Bones” is an amusing, fun sort of song, but behind it is a disaster story. Behind it is the story of the prophet Ezekiel and his fellow captives going through a very rough time. It was a situation in which God asked Ezekiel to put his own personal feelings aside, to encourage and pray for his fellow exiles. And what a powerful difference that made to the rest of the people.

Now, we may not be faced with the same extremes that Ezekiel or his fellow exiles faced. Nevertheless even our bones can become pretty dry. Yet one person, exercising the gifts of encouragement and prayer, can make such a difference too. The story of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones shows that no matter how down and out that we become, God does care. It also shows that one person can make a real difference.

In the western world the church is noted for its “dry bones.” So today we need people who will exercise their ministries of encouragement and prayer. (Things we all can do and should do.) The question is, “Are we prepared to let God use us? And are we prepared to put our own personal feelings aside (like Ezekiel) and give it a try?”

Posted 17th August 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis
www.brianacurtis.com.au