Ezekiel 37: 1-11
The hand of the Lord was on 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. He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’
I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’
Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 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.”’
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. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
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, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”
In the passage we’re looking at this week, one man is surrounded by a scene which is so incredibly desperate, discouraging and dark that it could easily overwhelm him, cause him to lose all hope. However instead of focusing on his own limited ability to make things change, he chooses to grab hold of God’s unlimited availability of His resurrection power and His life-giving Word.
Let’s begin with verse 1: “The hand of the Lord was on 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.”
A bit of background to give us some context. Ezekiel was a prophet during the 6th century BC. God had brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, He had blessed them with abundance, wealth and a spacious land to live in. And how did they repay him? They turned away from Him, disobeyed His law, and worshipped idols. God kept on calling them back to Himself, back into commitment to the covenant they had made with Him. But they chose to go their own way.
And, as always, the nature of sin and disobedience is this – it takes us to places that we never wanted to go and it keeps you there than you wanted to stay. Some of us know that all too well from experience.
We look for freedom and liberation apart from God, but instead of freedom what we get is oppression and slavery. We become imprisoned by the very things we thought would bring freedom and happiness. Compromise leads to captivity.
That’s what happens Israel. They commit idolatry, spiritual adultery by going after the foreign gods of the other pagan nations around them, and God’s hand of protection and blessing is lifted off from them. They end up getting invaded by one of these pagan Empires that they so want to be like - and first of all 10,000 of them are carried off to a place called Babylon, where they lose everything that they had. This includes Daniel and his 3 companions. Ten years later the Babylonians go back and finish off the job destroying the temple in Jerusalem and devastating the people of God.
So Israel have gone from exaltation to exile, from glory to grim. Many years after this, Paul would write to a church community in Galatia:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5: 1)
When God sets us free, let’s stay free. Let’s not go back to our old ways of either licentious sin or legalistic religion – but let us stay enjoying and applying the glorious liberty Jesus has accomplished for us.
Back to Ezekiel 37 - One of these captives in Babylon was a young priest in training, a man called Ezekiel, and he, along with other prophets like Daniel and Jeremiah prophesy during this 70 years of exile. They speak, decree and declare God’s Word into their situation often with it not being received well by their own people. They receive their revelation from God in different ways – words, pictures, visions, symbols. And it’s their job to communicate God’s heart, Gods message to His people.
The people might have forgotten about God – but God hadn’t forgotten about them.
They may have turned away from Him – but He still pursues them.
They may be in a foreign land and think that God and His presence is limited to their temple in Jerusalem – but God shows up wherever His people are, whatever state they are in, and He calls out to them, He seeks after them, He reminds them of who they are, He calls them to come back to Him, and He promises to restore them, to give them back all they have lost.
So Ezekiel has these series of prophetic visions, and in the first half of the book, most of them are about God’s judgment of His people basically telling them why they are in the mess they are in.
There’s a place for that. Some of us need to know that God didn’t get us into the much of mess and pain and heartache we’re maybe in at the minute. But it’s really good to know that even in the midst of our mess, God is merciful. Our sin is never too gross for His grace. And so in the later part of this book, God begins to speak hope, comfort, promise, reassurance of restoration, revival and renewal.
That takes us to chapter 37 verse 1. In the message paraphrase it reads like this:
“God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones.”
God grabbed me. I love that. In the middle of a foreign land, in the midst of the routine of an ordinary day, God took hold of Ezekiel. Put his hand on him and lifted him up and out of his normal life.
There’s moments in our lives where God just grabs us – grabs our attention, grabs us back to Himself, grabs us from danger and harm.
I’m so thankful for the times when God has grabbed me. Snatched me to safety. Caught my attention when I was running into danger, stopped me from going down a direction which could ultimately have destroyed me. Showed me the truth, the reality of my situation. Grabbed me with His grace, pursued me with His promises, called after me with His kindness.
Look at the NIV again:
“The hand of the Lord was on 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.”
When we are grabbed, we are repositioned. Brought out of something and brought into something.
That’s what He’s doing with some of you right now. He’s grabbing you, not to punish you but to reposition you.
There’s a reorientation going on.
A shifting. A turning. A new vision coming, a new perspective coming into focus.