Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies - Ezekiel, Israel and the End Times
Ezekiel 37 - Dem bones dem bones dem, dry bones - Hear the word of the Lord!

by I Gordon
 

The chapter before us today is very famous. So famous in fact that it even has its own song! What little kid didn't grow up singing 'The toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone, heel bone connected to, um1, some other bone, argh, Hear the word of the Lord!' 'Dem bones dem bones demo dry bones' is an old spiritual song from the 1920's based on this chapter before us - Ezekiel 37.  Even if you aren't familiar with the song (where have you been?), you will be familiar I'm sure with Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones.

Now the vision and passage are interesting on several levels. They hold important thoughts for our own individual lives as well as a key prophetic message for the time in which we live. We'll look at both aspects as we move through this chapter. In verses 1-10 we'll explore some of the practical and personal thoughts that can come out of the passage and in we'll focus on the prophetic implication of verses 11-28. Got it? Good. Let's go. 

The valley of dry bones

Ezekiel 37:1-4 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. (2) He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. (3) He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." (4) Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!

Have a good look at the image to the left so that you can imagine something of the vision that Ezekiel saw. The Lord gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley full of old dry bones and then the question comes from the Lord – ‘Can these bones live?’ Well, the obvious answer is no. Bones don’t come back to life! You can ask a child that question and they will be able to answer it! And yet Ezekiel is no so quick to answer for He knows that he is giving an answer to the One who has a long history of doing what seems impossible to man. So Ezekiel simply says ‘Oh Lord, you alone know.’ There are lots of questions that we can’t answer in this life. Many times we can’t answer why particular things happen on this planet or in our own lives. Now as a Bible teacher I like to have answers! : ) I feel like I'm meant to have an answer when people ask questions. But there is so much that we do not know, and may never know until the Lord returns, so often all we can do is, like Ezekiel, sit back in awe of the majesty and sovereignty of God and say ‘Oh Lord, you know’... and then rest there.

The second point that I'll draw your attention to in this passage is what God asked Ezekiel to do. God instructs Ezekiel to speak to dry dead bones! Now naturally speaking, that is a level of crazy somewhat on par with God telling Moses to speak to a rock so that it would give up it’s water for all the Israelites to drink! But that’s exactly what Moses did and drink they did! (Numbers 20:8-9) And Ezekiel is equally obedient dispute the strange command. What a strange thing this is... but God asks you to speak to some dry bones as well! He asks you to share the word of the Lord with lives that are dead and have no hope in themselves of experiencing true life. Yet "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21) We often think that so and so won't ever get saved. 'Thingy-ma-jig is too hard, too dead in sins... he can't respond'. And yet when God lays someone on your heart to pray for or witness to, believe! Mary, the mother of Jesus, said something that is important at the wedding at Cana. With the wedding out of wine early, she mentioned it to Jesus and then said to the servants 'do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.' (John 2:5) It might seem odd, it may seem strange, but do what Jesus tells you. That is good advice. Ezekiel was asked to speak to dry bones. He may have thought it sounded a little odd as well but he obeyed as he should. And we should do the same.

Whoa... what's happening?

Ezekiel 37:5-10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. (6) I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' " (7) So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. (8) I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. (9) Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " (10) So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army.

This valley of dry bones is going to be 'breathed' upon by the Sovereign Lord. It is as this point that life will enter into them. The word translated 'breath' is the word 'ruach' which can be translated as 'breath' or 'spirit' or 'wind'. In fact in the King James Version this word is translated spirit 227 times, wind or winds 93 times and breath 27 times. This passage obviously draws on the the creation of man in Genesis 2 where man was first formed but life didn't enter into man until God breathed on him. 

Genesis 2:7  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Of course, Jesus did the same thing to His disciples before He returned to the Father showing that spiritual life comes only from God and through the Spirit of the living God:

John 20:21-22 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." (22) And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

The takeaway from this for you and me is that the Spirit of the Lord can give life to dry bones. That is true for non-Christians, dry barren Christians, and also this bunch of old dry bones before Ezekiel. Without the Spirit of God we are nothing but dry dusty bones. Let us not become proud or self sufficient but always see our need of the Lord's Spirit in our lives.

The interpretation given

Ezekiel 37:11-14 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' (12) Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. (13) Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. (14) I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "

The valley of the dry bones is a very well known vision and passage and often it is interpreted as giving hope to the Church. Well, we can certainly see applications in the text for our own lives and that is fine but we shouldn’t do so at the expense of the original context and primary meaning. And what is the context and primary meaning you ask? Well, it is quite simple for God explains the vision for us. The bones are the house of Israel. They have lost all hope thinking they are cut off and see no future. They are simply like dry dead bones. So what time frame does this describe? It describes the Israelites scattered amongst the nations before God drew them back to be a nation again in 1948. This passage also describes the thoughts of the Jews in Germany and other European countries in WWII who suffered terrible persecution and death.  

Speaking on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the fulfillment of at least part of Ezekiel 372 stating:

“The Jewish people rose from ashes and destruction, from a terrible pain that can never be healed. Armed with the Jewish spirit, the justice of man, and the vision of the prophets, we sprouted new branches and grew deep roots. Dry bones became covered with flesh, a spirit filled them, and they lived and stood on their own feet, as Ezekiel prophesied: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.”

Now it is important to note the order of this restoration in the Ezekiel passage. The bones come back together and skin is formed on them. So there is a physical restoration first. But there is no breath in them at this stage. Then the Lord gets Ezekiel to prophecy a second time and this time the breath of God breathed over these dead bodies and they were given life. This act shows the order in the restoration of the nation of Israel. J. Vernon McGee writes:

"What has happened to these bones has occurred in three stages: (1) they were scattered bones, just as dead as they could be; (2) then they came together, and flesh and skin came upon them—they were bodies, but dead bodies; and finally (3) they were made alive. We will find in these three stages a real key to understanding Bible prophecy concerning the nation Israel."

This explains some of the issues that people have with the modern day nation of Israel being a fulfillment of prophecy. Some don't believe that the modern state of Israel can be fulfilling prophecy because they remain largely secular and have not come back to the Lord. But we see from this prophecy that there is a physical restoration by the Lord BEFORE Ezekiel is called to prophesy again which causes life (spiritual life through the Spirit) to enter them. Arnold Fructenbaum writes:

"The re-establishment of the Jewish State in 1948 has not only thrown a wrench into amillennial thinking, but it has also put a chink into much of premillennial thinking. Amazingly, some Dispensationalists conclude that the present State of Israel has nothing to do with fulfillment of prophecy. On what grounds do they so flagrantly dismiss the present State of Israel? The issue bothering them is that not only do the returning Jews reject Jesus, but the majority of the returnees are atheists or agnostics, not Orthodox Jews. Certainly, Israel today does not fit biblical passages speaking of its return as a regenerated nation. However, this reasoning fails to see that the prophets spoke of two international returns. First, Israel will regather in unbelief in preparation for tribulational judgment. A second worldwide regathering in faith will then follow in preparation for the blessings of the messianic age. Once recognized that the Bible speaks of two distinct regatherings, the present State of Israel easily fits into prophecy."3

And let me just add one thing here. If the Jews have been gathered from the nations as the prophecy foretold, and Israel is now back as a nation as the scripture foretold, how long will it be before all these other prophecies (including the coming of the King!) are fulfilled? NOT...LONG...AT...ALL!

One nation under one King

Ezekiel 37:15-28 The word of the LORD came to me: (16) Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, 'Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.' Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, 'Ephraim's stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him.' (17) Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand. (18) When your countrymen ask you, 'Won't you tell us what you mean by this?' (19) say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph--which is in Ephraim's hand--and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah's stick, making them a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.' (20) Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on (21) and say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. (22) I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. (23) They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

This section sees the Lord getting Ezekiel to take two sticks and join them together. And then he had to carry them around so that everyone could see them! Sounds a little odd but there is a very good object lesson in these two merged sticks. The two sticks stand for the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel which will come together as one people under one King. Judah was the southern kingdom and Ephraim, or Joseph, represents the northern kingdom. The Bible Knowledge Commentary gives us some of the background to this prophecy:

"After Solomon died the nation of Israel split asunder, in 931 b.c. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah because Judah was its larger tribe and because the country was ruled by a king from that tribe (cf. 1Ki_12:22-24). The Northern Kingdom was called Israel, or sometimes Ephraim (e.g., Hos_5:3, Hos_5:5, Hos_5:11-14) either because Ephraim was the strongest and most influential tribe or because the first king of Israel, Jeroboam I, was an Ephraimite (1Ki_11:26). Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 b.c., and Judah was taken into exile by Babylon in 605, 597, and 586 b.c."

The first aspect of this prophecy which states that the Lord will 'take them out of the nations and gather them back to the land' has been partially fulfilled. All of the scattered Jewish tribes have been gathered (in part) and dwell in the land of Israel today as one nation. There is still however, a further gathering of the exiled Israelites to occur when the Messiah Jesus returns. It is only then that they shall be one nation under one King. At that time all enmity and jealousy between the northern and southern kingdoms will be gone as seen in the following passage in Isaiah:

Isaiah 11:10-13 In that day the Root of Jesse (Jesus) will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. (11) In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. (12) He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (13) Ephraim's jealousy will vanish, and Judah's enemies will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.

One glorious forever

(24) 'My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. (25) They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. (26) I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. (27) My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. (28) Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.' "

The final part of Ezekiel 37 touches on the great thought (as seen also in previous chapters) that after the breath of spiritual life is breathed back in the nation of Israel, they shall finally live with their One King and One shepherd.  In this passage it mentions 'David' as that king but as seen previously, this is alluding to 'the son of David' the Messiah. Some scholars believe that the actual David will also be very prominent at this time, ruling and reigning under King Jesus during the Millennial reign. I would agree with that. If you read the passage above you will quickly note a word that is repeated 5 times. I'm sure it jumped out to you and I have no need to mention it, but just in case... That is the word 'forever' (well, there are 4 'forever's' and 1 'everlasting' but it is the same Hebrew word 'olam'). I like that. I like that the troubles that we go through as believers are for a season only and then comes the 'forever' when things are made right. I like that Israel's grand story which has seen tremendous blessings and judgments right down through the ages, ends with a glorious 'forever'. Look and think about some of these forever's for while in context it is speaking of Israel's future, they also apply to believers today as well:

Praise God that He can... no scrub that... Praise God that He WILL bring an 'out of this world' ending to this whole story. Do you know that hope? Are you looking forward to it? If you don't know the Lord then realise that you are currently as dead, spiritually speaking, as Ezekiel's valley of dry bones. But through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, He can breath new spiritual life into you. He said 'You must be born again'. There is no other option but praise God that He is the One who gives life to the dead and He can do it for you. If you are a believer then i simply encourage you to press on to the higher calling of our Lord. He is worth it and you will never be disappointed that you did when you enter the FOREVER!

 


  1. It is about this part of the song that you begin to mumble before bringing it all back home with a rousing 'HEAR THE WORD OF THE LORD!' 

  2. https://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/netanyahu-at-auschwitz-says-prophecies-of-ezekiel-37-have-been-fulfilled 

  3. See more here (page 15,16 especially) http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v5n4_2.pdf