The Promise To Dry Bones

The Lord God of Israel, the Creator and Redeemer of mankind, is the only reliable one who can make a promise and perform it perfectly, for when He makes one promise, 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 down on 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 unleashing of His Word before the eyes and ears of mankind that God in fact reveals what is in mankind'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, as it gives them, to their vain way of thinking, room to manoeuvre. But to colour the Word with crudity, to mix it with myth, to silence it with shallow scientific 'proofs' are only 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, and then to restore them to renewal and a reborn relationship with God.

The world has even sought to make God a liar, and 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 a Redeemer?

Ezekiel's Vision

Such an attempt (to propagate the lie that God has finished with Israel) has been made and is recorded in Scripture. It is there for all to see, and to witness God's answer to it. It is found in Ezekiel's prophecy chapter 37. Ezekiel was a captive in Babylon where thousands 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.

In the faraway land they could be forgiven if they imagined that the end had come, and that Abraham's children would be dust rather than as 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 the valley; and it was full of bones. Then he caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, they 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 everyday tragedy. Here was a massacre of immense proportions, for here was not a mere family, or tribe, or even a community, but "these bones are the whole house of Israel" (37:11). They had been cut off for life.

Whilst Ezekiel was a captive from the realms of 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 the deported and dispersed northern kingdom which Assyria had swallowed years earlier merely compounded the problem. No wonder the valley appeared full of scattered skeletons, possibly numbering millions.

And these bones were dry, so very very dry. Their appearance spoke of being overwhelmed by the enemy, the carcasses picked clean by carrion, scattered by scavengers, broken remnants of a people, bleached by the sun and corroded by the wind. How could they bring forth the blessed Messiah? How could they return to life and inherit the land promised to the seed of Abraham?

Unburied Bodies

As if that were not bad enough, there was another problem. These bones were strewn all across the valley. The bodies had had no proper burial; they had been simply left to rot, and so were considered cursed. They had polluted the Land, and anyone who touched them would be rendered the same.

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 out and which they have worshipped. They shall not be gathered nor buried; they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth" (Jeremiah 8:1,2).

"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).

The nation was now physically, morally and spiritually dead, and ceremonially unclean, thus we may sympathize with Ezekiel when he made a political answer to God's question: "Can these bones live?" He could only reply: "O LORD God, you know."

God makes known to us through the prophet His power to prevail however: "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"'" (37:4-6).

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. The resurrection will not stem from any decision of the bones themselves, nor from some Gentile nations having kind thoughts about Israel.

The northern and southern kingdoms are to be re-united in the Land, for Ezekiel says that the two 'sticks' must come together to be one again (37:15-27), and they must be included in this miracle of the bones.

What an awe-inspiring spectacle for the prophet to see bones coming together, "bone to bone", and being bonded together to form skeletons, the inclusion of muscles and flesh, the covering of skin. Surely we have seen this event in the past few decades being fulfilled just as Ezekiel prophesied.

The Babylonian captivity ended with the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, then the southern kingdom was released from bondage by Cyrus. This allowed many of both northern and southern kingdoms to return to the Land. But the Nation was not a sovereign unfettered state under the leadership of a son of David.

Some centuries later the Roman Empire took control and ushered in the world-wide diaspora that has lasted for twenty centuries, Gentile nations thus treading the Nation and the Land underfoot as dry and scattered bones, and finally producing the Holocaust.

Since May 1948 however the 'bones' have to some measure had the chance to come together. Perhaps the "noise, and suddenly a rattling" (37:7) were the two world wars that so dramatically changed the destiny of nations and resulted in the rebirth of the State of Israel – scattered bones becoming skeletons, skeletons becoming lifeless corpses, lifeless corpses standing upon their feet, alive, vibrant!

Those corpses not only stand upon their feet, but they become "an exceedingly great army" (37:10), an army that has survived against an avalanche of enemies surrounding them and threatening to engulf them even up to the present day.

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 act to achieve this spiritual life. The 'when' and 'how' He will blend all the prophecies yet to be fulfilled are a source of wonderment and anticipation to us as we watch developments.

Even though the Nation is in the Land, both Land and Nation have not been cleansed from their contamination with dead and unburied bones. This association with their forefathers continues to make them unclean until God overcomes this, as the prophet records:

"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" (36:24-26).

We may not know the hour of the fulfilment of these promises, 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 that Israel would ever stay as dry bones, that the house of Israel would fill the valley with bones again! They would sell their souls to make God a liar, and His Word impotent. But "he who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision" (Psalm 2:4).

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 is yet to be concluded.