Following the glorious announcement of God’s intention to re-gather His scattered people into their homeland, giving them a new heart and enlivening them with His Holy Spirit, the people of Israel are given two extended word pictures which reinforce and amplify their hope-filled future. In 37:1-14, Ezekiel is given a vision of dry bones being transformed into a vast, living army. In 37:15-28, two sticks are joined together to symbolize the two kingdoms of Israel becoming one people. In both messages, the Lord emphasizes a restoration to the land of Israel (12, 21) and the fulfillment of God’s purpose to have a people for Himself: “they shall be my people and I will be their God” (23, see also 12, 27).
In the opening vision, Ezekiel is brought “in the Spirit of the Lord” to a valley full of dry, disconnected bones. Here is a graveyard of the slain, bones scattered (not buried) across the surface of the ground. The bones picture the current state of the nation of Israel—dead and dispersed. The Lord asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (3). Ezekiel, knowing the Lord can do anything but still seeing the seeming impossibility of dry bones coming to life, answers: “O Lord God, you know” (3).
Ezekiel is then instructed to “prophesy over these bones”, speaking “the word of the Lord” to them. He proclaims the Lord’s promise to reconnect the bones and reanimate the dead (5-6) into an “exceeding great army” (10). Ezekiel speaks the Lord’s word and the bones begin to rattle their way together—becoming skeletons covered in sinew and flesh, but lacking the breath of life (7-8). Now Ezekiel sees a valley of corpses, bodies without life. So the Lord instructs him to “Prophesy to the breath” (wind/spirit) to breathe upon these dead so that they live again (9). As Ezekiel obeys, he sees life return to the bodies: they “stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
At this point, the Lord interprets the vision for Ezekiel. The dry bones represent the scattered and slaughtered people of Israel. The vision of the dry bones captures the current assessment of the exiles’ despair: “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost” (11). Humanly, this is indeed the case. But God, who can do the impossible, promises to open the graves and resurrection His people, putting His Spirit within them and gathering them back to their own land (13-14). He will accomplish this by the power of His word: “I have spoke and I will do it, declares the Lord” (14).
The second vision, recorded in verses 15-28, also promises the re-gathering of God’s people back into their own land. Here the emphasis is on the unification and transformation of God’s divided, scattered people; God is going to bring His people together, cleanse them from their sins, and place them permanently in their homeland.
The Lord has Ezekiel take two sticks and write on them, “For Judah” and “For Joseph” (16). These two sticks, which represent the divided kingdom of Israel, are to be joined together into one stick in Ezekiel’s hand (17). When curious onlookers ask the meaning of his actions, Ezekiel is to proclaim to them a glorious, hope-filled message: the Lord is going to reunite the divided kingdom of Israel in His hand (19). But there’s more—much more. He will permanently re-gather them into their own land (22) and cleanse them from their wickedness and defilement (23). He will place “David” on the throne to rule them and make an everlasting “covenant of peace” with them (26). Best of all, He will set his sanctuary in their midst again and dwell with them “forevermore” (26-28). Then all nations will know that they are His people and He is their God (27-28).
Both visions show God promising to do the humanly impossible: re-animating dead, dry bones and joining two sticks into one. Both visions see Israel back in their homeland, united as one body or one people. Both visions make it clear that God is the One who does this miraculous work of reviving, re-gathering and restoring His people; this is a work of God’s power and grace.
Visions of God
The Lord has power to resurrect the dead and reunite the divided. The first vision emphasizes the resurrection power of God as He reanimates his dead, dispersed nation. The second vision highlights His power to rejoin the divided kingdoms of Israel. In both visions, these miracles require the miraculous power of God. Only He can do what seems to be impossible.
The Lord’s Spirit breathes life into lifeless people. At creation, the Spirit/breath of God turned a body into a living person (Genesis 2:7). In regeneration, God’s Spirit breathes life into a spiritually dead nation and people (37:9-10, 14).
The Lord wants His name and fame known among all the nations. Again in chapter 37, we hear the Lord say, “Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel” (28). While He works on Israel’s behalf, He does so primarily for His own glory. When He works to resurrection a spiritually dead congregation or person, He does so to showcase His glorious, life-giving power.
What the Lord declares, the Lord does. Verse 14 ends with an emphatic declaration from the Lord: “I have spoken, and I will do it.” What God says is as good as done. His word is living so it brings into reality what it declares.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen proclaim God’s word even when it seems to fall on dry bones. Ezekiel is commanded to speak God’s word to a dead crowd. His assignment seems an exercise in futility. But God’s word has animating power; it can be used by the Lord to bring life to what is lifeless. So speak God’s Word with bold confidence, trusting Him to use it to bring life.
Watchmen trust God’s Spirit to bring transformation to desperate situations. Watchmen proclaim God’s message staying faithful to the word He’s revealed. As they preach, they realize that only God’s Spirit can effect the changes that are desperately needed. Only the Spirit gives life to what is now dead. Only the Spirit unites what is now divided. Watchmen look to God’s Spirit to bring transformation to seemingly hopeless situations. It’s said that Charles Spurgeon, as he climbed the steps to the platform where he would preach, would quietly say to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” He trusted in God’s Spirit to use God’s Word to bring new life to dry bones!
Watchmen call God’s people to obedience because of God’s amazing grace. Ezekiel’s message about Israel’s future makes plain that obedience is not optional, but essential: “They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes” (24). However, obedience is not what qualifies us Israel to be God’s people, but what helps identify them as God’s people. They are saved and set apart by God’s grace and covenant faithfulness (23, 26)—in spite of, not because of, their actions. However, as God’s re-gathered, revived people, they must no longer “defile themselves” but walk in His ways. Obedience is mandatory but not meritorious. Salvation is by grace. Obedience is part of gratitude and identity.
Watchmen must take no credit for the mighty work God does. The Lord declares and does the impossible through His Word and Spirit. Resurrection, reunification and revitalization are His doing. God accomplishes these mighty works so His people (14) and the nations (28) will know He is the Lord. Faithful watchmen understand God’s ability and agenda will not take credit for His mighty deeds.