The Promise To Dry Bones

by Ray Hawkins

The Lord-God of Israel, the Creator and Redeemer of mankind, is the One who can make a promise and perform it perfectly, for when He makes one, or a thousand, His honour and holiness are at stake. Should one promise fail, then He is dethroned and His holiness is stained.

His promises are not merely whispered to angels, or locked in Heaven's vaults lest they be known, but the Almighty has put them on to tablets of stone, on hand-written parchments, on printed sheets, into books, so that everyone may know His mind and intentions. For it is in the releasing of His Word before the eyes and ears of mankind that God in fact reveals what is in man's heart.

Men and women are given the chance to respond or run; to seek to build their lives upon the Word or bury it in the darkness of unbelief. The Word of God is man's judge. Perhaps this is one reason why so many, whether religious or not, try to make God's Word look foolish.

This gives them, to their vain way of thinking, room to manoeuvre, for to mix God's Word with myth, to silence it with shallow scientific 'proofs' are miserable attempts at self-justification. Yet in spite of all these things, the Word of the Lord just keeps powering its way through the rubble, to reduce men and women to repentance, renewal and a reborn relationship with God.

God is no Liar

The world has sought to make God a liar, so to do this it must oppose one of God's promises in an attempt to break it, and thus render it incapable of being kept. Perhaps the most striking example of this is its consistent attack on the nation of Israel.

To propagate the lie that God has finished with Israel, to render the nation unclean, to scatter it to the winds, to destroy its identity and unity, would be to foil the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For the Lord gave them the promise of the Land and the Messiah, so that if there were no Israel then what use the Land, and 'so what' to the Redeemer, the Messiah?

Ezekiel's Vision

Such an attempt has been made and recorded in Scripture. It is there for all to read, and to witness God's answer to it – found in the prophet Ezekiel chapter 37. This prophet was a captive in Babylon. Most of his people had been led away from Judah by the conquering hordes of Nebuchadnezzar. Those left had rebelled again and had been reduced to a scattered few, whilst the glories of Jerusalem had become rubble and ashes. Those in the faraway land could be forgiven if they imagined that the end had come, and that Abraham's children would be dust rather than numerous as the sand and stars.

Ezekiel may well have had thoughts such as these, and the vision God gave him would not at the beginning have made him any happier. "The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of a valley; and it was full of bones. Then he caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And he said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' So I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know.'"

Here was no mere tragedy. Here was a massacre of immense proportions. For it was not merely a family, or even a community. This represented the whole house of Israel: "Then he said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel'" (verse 11).

They had been cut off for life. Whilst Ezekiel was a captive from Judah and even from Jerusalem, so that the vision might well have been focused on the southern kingdom, yet it clearly includes the defunct northern kingdom, for without them it would not be "the whole house of Israel." To include this already deported and dispersed northern kingdom which Assyria had swallowed whole in 722 BC merely compounded the problem. No wonder the valley appeared full of scattered skeletons, possibly numbering millions. These bones were dry, so very, very dry. The carcasses had been picked clean by carrion and scattered by scavengers. These broken remnants of a people would have been bleached by the sun and corroded by the wind. How could they bring forth the Messiah? How could they return to life and inherit the Land promised to the seed of Abraham?

Unburied Bodies

And as if that were not bad enough, there was another problem. These bones were strewn all across the valley. They had had no proper burial; they were simply left to rot! And bad as this is, it signifies that they were considered cursed – they had polluted the Land. They had made it unclean and anyone who touched them would be rendered the same.

The writer of Ecclesiastes highlights the same thought: "If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he" (6:3).

That this was to happen to the southern kingdom was declared beforehand. It was to serve as a testimony to the impotence of idolatry and the faithful judgement of the Covenant-keeping God. It should have made the survivors realize that nothing happens by chance, and that God can make the ferocity of God-denying nations rebound for their judgement and His glory.

"'At that time,' says the LORD, 'they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves. They shall spread them before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served and after which they have walked, which they have sought and which they have worshipped. They shall not be gathered or buried; they shall be refuse on the face of the earth'" (Jeremiah 8:1-3).

"They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth" (Jeremiah 16:4 matching Ezekiel 6:1-14).

The nation was now physically, morally and spiritually dead, and ceremonially unclean. Thus we must sympathize with Ezekiel when he made a political reply to God's question as to whether these bones would live again: "O Lord GOD, you know!"

Resistance to God's Will

Heaven-hating hordes have done their best – their worst – to render God's promise impossible to keep. Satan and his hosts might sit back to enjoy a moment of glee. It is short-lived however, for God makes known through Ezekiel His power to prevail:

"Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD"'"

Motivation from God

We notice that three times God declares He will be the motivating force. He is the one in charge and it is His grace that is being expressed. He will honour His covenant, even though the Nation be merely bleached bones. What is achieved will be seen as His doing. The miraculous resurrection will stem not from any decision of the bones themselves, nor will it evolve from some Gentile nations having kind thoughts about Israel and thus putting the bones together.

The northern and southern kingdoms are to be reunited in the Land, for Ezekiel says the two 'sticks' must come together to be one (37:15-27), and they must be included in this miracle of the bones. The prophet saw the bones coming to bones in appropriate position in the bodies: "bone to bone" , and being bonded together; the shuffling of the bones and the formation of the skeletons; the gradual inclusion of muscles and flesh; the covering of skin.

History of Fulfilment

Surely we have seen an event in the past few decades to enable us to make a calculated assessment of the prophecy's fulfilment. We recall that the Babylonian captivity ended with the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Then the southern kingdom was released from bondage by the decree of Cyrus, which enabled representatives of both northern and southern kingdoms to return to the Land. But the Nation was never again a sovereign unfettered state under the leadership of a son of David.

Some centuries later the Roman Empire took control and this ushered in the world-wide Dispersion that lasted for over nineteen centuries. From the days when Gentile nations have trodden the Nation and Land underfoot we have a history of dry and scattered bones culminating in the mass slaughter during the Holocaust.

Since May 1948 however the 'bones' have in some measure had a chance to come together. Perhaps the noise and the great shaking that Ezekiel saw in his vision were the two world wars that so dramatically changed the destiny of empires and nations, and at the same time resulted in the rebirth of Israel. Scattered bones become skeletons; skeletons become lifeless corpses; lifeless corpses stand upon their feet, alive, vibrant!

Has the world ever witnessed such a miracle before? And what Ezekiel saw we too have seen with our own eyes: those corpses not only stand upon their feet, but they also become "an exceedingly great army" , an army that has survived against an avalanche of enmity all round it threatening to engulf it.

And what of the breath? "I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live . . . " (37:14). How will this mighty people become alive again to God? Once again it is God Himself who must be the originator as well as the object of spiritual life. The 'when' and 'how' He will blend all these prophecies yet to be fulfilled are a source of wonderment and anticipation as we watch developments.

There is still the fact that even though the Nation is in the Land, both Land and Nation have not been cleansed from their contamination with dead and unburied bones. God will overcome this: "For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgements and do them" (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

God is surely calling us to faith in His promises. We may not know the hour of their fulfilment but we know its certainty. God told the prophet Habakkuk: "Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come. It will not tarry" (2:3). What He promises He will perform.

There are those who wish Israel would ever stay as dry bones; indeed, some would make the house of Israel fill the valley with its bones again. They would sell their souls to make God a liar and His Word impotent. But God is not put off by puny perverseness. He merely laughs! (Psalm 2)

And why should we think it impossible for Him to raise either a nation or an individual from the dead, whether from a valley or a tomb. Ezekiel saw the Nation Israel rise from the dead; Isaiah saw the Messiah slain yet living (chapter 53); so did the psalmist (16:8-11).

The Lord is committed to His Word. Let us take the opportunity that faith affords to be committed to God through His Word. This way we will share in His victory and rejoice even though the final act has yet to be concluded.