The valley of the dry bones coming to life is probably the most well known passage in the book of Ezekiel and one of the most misinterpreted. It has roused artists and musicians as well as those with outlandish ideas who seemingly ignore the explanations given within the text itself. The passage should be considered in its immediate context and should not be spiritualised nor used to support fanciful speculation. Ezekiel was both a priest and prophet and his prophecies were uttered whilst in Babylonian captivity. Israel and Judah are clearly in view (Ezekiel 37:11) and Ezekiel 37 graphically portrays the promise contained in the preceding chapter.
There is a progression of events in the closing chapters of Ezekiel, since the war involving Gog and Magog in chapters 38-39 is still future and precedes the Messianic kingdom contained in chapters 40-48. Ezekiel 37 is like Ezekiel 36 in that there are elements of the ‘already and not yet’ in terms of fulfilment of the promises towards Israel.
From start to finish the vision of the dry bones is a sovereign act of God. As in other instances, the hand of the Lord directed Ezekiel (cf. Ezekiel 1:3; 3:14) then showed him a valley of dry bones and caused him to pass by all around them. The bones were both numerous and noted for being dry and as Ezekiel passed by them, it would have helped him to appreciate the extent of the dire situation.
Ezekiel was asked as to whether the bones could live and does not answer the question directly yet responds, saying to the Lord, that He knows. In human terms the thought of life emerging from dry scattered bones is non-viable, but for the Author of Life who created ex nihilo, that is indeed possible.
Hear the Word of the Lord
The Lord commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones to hear the word of the Lord. We should remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). This passage speaks of the restoration of the Jewish people to their land not just physically but also spiritually. It was the Lord that would breathe life into them and they would live.
These events would and are occurring in a process in the land of Israel now. Sinews would come upon them and flesh and skin would cover them. Then breath would be given to them and they would live. Ezekiel prophesied as he was commanded and firstly there was a noise and suddenly a rattling as the bones came together. Sinews and flesh came upon them and also skin covered them yet strangely there was no breath in them.
The natural precedes the spiritual. Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and then the Lord breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7). The word ‘breath’ in Ezekiel 37:9, 10 conveys the idea of the breath of life. Intriguingly Eve was made from Adam’s rib bone and Adam recognised her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh but it is God who gives life.
Ezekiel was then commanded to prophesy to the breath from the four winds to breathe on the slain that they might live. It was humbling matter for the body of a Jewish person to not be properly washed, cared for and buried with dignity. [i]This prophecy would have given the Jewish people in exile great comfort considering the northern kingdom had been captured by the Assyrians and many of those from Judah were in Babylon. No doubt they felt pulled apart and scattered and they may have questioned whether they were living or just existing? As one commentator puts it, “Israel had died in the flames of Babylon’s attack, and had no hope of resurrection.”[ii]
These Bones are the Whole House of Israel
As Ezekiel prophesied, they not only came on their feet but became an exceedingly great army. The Lord explained to Ezekiel that those bones were the whole house of Israel. The Lord would open their graves and bring them into the land of Israel. In doing that they would know that I am the Lord; He would put His spirit within them and they would live. Ezekiel’s next prophecy in Ezekiel 37:15-28 would explain how the Lord would take two nations and make them one nation, never to be divided again and furthermore brought into their own land. What a hope for the future and an astonishing consolation!
They would be placed in their own land. Amazingly on May 14th, 1948, Israel became re-established as a nation. Many Jewish people have returned from the ‘four winds of the earth.’ It is remarkable that a nation which was scattered worldwide returned and revived the language (Zephaniah 3:9) and in the Messianic kingdom they will continue to use the shekel (Ezekiel 45:12) which is even used today. Ezekiel 36 foretold their agricultural success particularly with the production of fruit (Ezekiel 36:8, 30). In Mark Twain’s era this would have seemed unlikely but now Israel is successfully exporting fruit worldwide.
Again and importantly, the natural precedes the spiritual. The bones came together followed by the sinews, flesh and skin, until finally the breath was poured into them and they lived. Chapter 36 also speaks of national regeneration (Ezekiel 36:25-27) which is a process hence Jewish people have and are returning physically to their land, though are yet to enjoy the full spiritual blessings until as a nation they turn to the Lord (Romans 11:26-27). In 1948, there were just twenty three Jewish individuals believing that Yeshua is Messiah in Israel, though now, even using a conservative estimate, there are over 30,000 believers and 300 Messianic congregations. The growth has not been linear but exponential.[iii]
Although this passage is about the restoration of Israel there is also application for the believer. There must be the word of the Lord (Ezekiel 37:4) and the breath (Spirit) of God for someone to be born again.[iv] “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
[i] Warren. W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p1330
[ii] John F. Walvord & Roy Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, 1989, United States), p1298
[iii] Ezekiel’s Dry Bones Prophecy About Israel Coming Back To Life One for Israel January 8th, 2018 https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/ezekiels-dry-bones-prophecy-israel-coming-back-life/
[iv] William Macdonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995, Nashville), p1063