Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. (Ezekiel 37:5)
As a child, reading the Bible, the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones provided an entirely fascinating story. I have a vivid imagination – what I call the ‘writer brain’ – and so this conjured images as bold and dramatic as any sweeping panorama of fiction or drama. It spoke of the power of God which restored vast armies to life, effectively doing what was utterly impossible. The story ranked, in my mind, up there with Elijah on Mount Carmel – it portrayed a God of power achieving things beyond the limitations of human ability. It spoke, essentially, of His glory, and of hope for mankind.
The truth is, all these responses still apply, but they are now tempered with wisdom and knowledge gleaned from a spiritual walk with that same God. It is the realisation that this spiritual principle of resurrection, regeneration and renewal is constant, ongoing, and a vital element of the relationship God has with His people. What happened in the valley of dry bones was a reminder of the creation, when God breathed into man to give him life, and a prophetic glimpse of the future infilling of the Holy Spirit t bring new life.
Being human, we are so often bogged down by the literal, obvious and logical. We limit ourselves by the perceptions we impose, and even our imaginations are finite and structured by what we know and understand. That is the nature of the world and a physical existence in the world. We see that the sum total of dry bones easily represents God’s people collectively – the church in our particular perspective – and often hear sermons preached on the need for this kind of miracle to bring life to the church. This is is undoubtedly true and has definite relevance.
But the story of the dry bones is also intensely personal. The focus throughout the relating of this vision is on the Spirit – God putting His breath in us so that we may live. On meditating on this entire passage, I noticed an interesting inversion of order that provided another persepective.
In today’s verse, God commands Ezekiel to prophecy that He will put His breath in the bones and they will live. He follows this with putting on flesh and sinews, etc. In the actual process, however, these two are reversed – the bones come together first, then sinews, flesh and skin. The Ezekiel is commanded to prophecy to the breath that it would come and give life. Given that nothing God does is either contradictory or without particular purpose and intention, this raised the inevitable ‘why.’
What I realised is that the first instruction is intention – God setting out the ultimate objective, which was to give life to the bones. The issue of flesh, sinews and skin was not the objective. The breath was, this being the source and determining factor. Like the creation of man, the physical body was simply the framework or vessel into which the breath or life was breathed or placed. Fixing the body was essentially part of the method of achieving the objective.
The principle of this is, of course, that God is both spiritual but also immensely practical. He has determined how things will function in this world with its limitations of time, space and material presence. This entire vision is about spiritual life within the physical life – what He does to enable His people to become a strong army in this world by placing His supernatural life within their physical bodies. It is a perfect and striking picture of the new life in Christ and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. It is a prophecy of the New Testament believer, and the church collectively.
But we shouldn’t forget that God achieves His objectives by working on the principle of one. While He does raise up a dead army in this vision, He does it one skeleton at a time – not chronologically but simultaneously, but each individual is treated individually. The passage says in verse 7: and the bones came together, bone to bone. There is no random gathering and lumping together, no collective sweep into one giant miracle. It’s particular and it’s personal. Bone to bone. The right bone to the right body. The assembly is perfect, the pieces fit together meticulously, matched and joined in a way that reveals an intimate knowledge of individuality.
That is how God works with His people. As individuals. To bring life in it’s fullest measure He must first bring together the bones. Putting the body back together is simply part of the process, but it’s a God-ordained part. He has determined that the life will exist and function within the body while here on earth, and so the body must be put together before the life can be breathed into it. Simple logic but wonderfully profound. It is the Spirit that defines the difference between the ‘lump’ and the ‘life,’ but the lump needs attention before the life can fully do its intended work.
We need to move past the concept of ‘the body’ as relating only to physical healing. The body represents our earthly existence, which includes body, emotions, intellect and will. Just as the body is made up of different bones, so we are made up of a wide variety of different things that constitute our individuality, character and personality. These bones need to be ‘fit together’ and anything that doesn’t belong needs to be removed. While Ezekiel’s dead army was restored in an instant, ours is a process. It starts at salvation and will end when we are with Him in eternity.
It is the ‘fitting together’ of who we are that is the method of achieving new life. As we walk in obedience to His Word – represented by the speaking to the bones – so we are reassembled according to His perfect plan. Things that are not of Him are removed, and things that are, are added in their place. We become the person God intends us to be, not the dry bones, the earthly parody of what He created in His image.
As He begins to restore us to the person He intended, His Spirit works within us to bring life – His life, not ours. This is the ultimate significance of the vision. Without God, we are nothing more than ‘lumps,’ lifeless bodies with no particular purpose. We simply exist. It is only the life of God – the breath of God, His Spirit within us – that can make us alive. Without it, we’re just another body on its way back to being dry, dead bones.
The bones are subject to God. It may have been the prophet who spoke the words, but it was God who commanded and empowered. Ultimately, we are reminded that He alone has the power and the right to to restore, resurrect and regenerate. Life is the prerogative of God alone. We cannot replicate it or even properly emulate it. He is sovereign. The bones did not question either the power or authority of God. They simply obeyed.
The God of then is the same as the God of now. He hasn’t changed and His principles haven’t changed. The very clear message emerges – if we want to be fully restored to the life of Christ in us through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we need to first be dead. God works best with dry bones – those stripped of pretence, illusions, assumptions and misplaced expectations. Anything else hinders the process. Really living requires first really dying. The person we were is of no relevance whatsoever. The only thing that has relevance is the person God knows and intends us to be.
The startling and inspiring reality about the life from God is that we cannot even begin to comprehend its abundance. Dying to self may sometimes seem like going backwards, especially in a world which loudly promulgates the doctrine that we deserve to be and have and achieve what we desire. But the life the world offers leads to the valley of the dead, and the life that God offers brings us to the place of God, where His power and authority and majesty work within us to effect what can never be possible in our own ability. We live in Him only as far as we are willing to first die in Him.