Ezekiel 37:3 (ESV) … “And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
It was a humiliating thing for the body of a dead Jew not to be washed, wrapped, and buried with dignity in a grave or a tomb. These bodies were left on the battlefield to become food for the vultures to eat and objects for the sun to bleach. But the Lord had warned Israel in the covenant He made with them that their sins would lead to just that kind of shameful experience. “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.… Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away” (Deut. 28:25–26, nkjv). Jeremiah was preaching this same message in Jerusalem: “I [the Lord] will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth” (Jer. 34:20, nkjv).
The Lord told Ezekiel to walk around among the bones so he could appreciate their vast number and see how dry they were. As a priest, Ezekiel was never to be defiled by the dead, but this was a vision and the bones were not toxic. The prophet must have been wondering why the Lord gave him this vision, but the Lord’s question gave him the answer: “Can these bones live?” From the human point of view, the answer is no, but from the divine point of view, nothing is impossible. It is God who “gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17). Ezekiel’s reply didn’t question the power of God; it only expressed the prophet’s conviction that God knew what He was going to do and was able to do it.
The dead army (Ezek. 37:4–8). Ezekiel had prophesied to the mountains (6:2; 36:1) and to the forests (20:47), and now he is commanded to prophesy to the dead bones. The Word of the Lord is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12); it not only has life but it imparts life (1 Peter 1:23). “The words that I speak to you, are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63, nkjv). God’s word of command in Ezekiel 37:4 is followed by His word of promise in verses 5 and 6. Ezekiel believed the promise and obeyed the command, and the bones came together. Then the skeletons were covered with flesh and skin so that what was lying there in the valley looked like a sleeping army. The bodies lacked only one thing: life.
The living army (Ezek. 37:9–14). God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind and told him what to say. In the Hebrew language, the word ruah can mean wind, breath, spirit, or Spirit. Jesus made use of this when He spoke to Nicodemus about the blowing of the wind and the new birth through the Spirit (John 3:5–8). There’s also a reference here to the creation of Adam in Genesis 2. At his creation, Adam was complete physically, but he had no life until the breath of God entered into him (v. 7). When Ezekiel spoke the living Word of God, the breath from God entered the dead bodies and they lived and stood to their feet.
The Lord then explained the meaning of the vision. The dead dry bones represent the whole Jewish nation, both Israel and Judah, a divided nation and a dead nation, like bleached bones on a battlefield. Israel’s situation seemed hopeless, but “with God, all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). There will come a day when God’s living Word of command will go forth and call His people from their “graves,” the nations to which they have been scattered across the world (Ezek. 37:21; Jer. 31:8; Matt. 24:31). The Children of Israel will come together, but the nation will not have spiritual life until they see their Messiah, believe on Him, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit of life (Ezek. 39:29; Zech. 12:9–13:1). The nation will be born—and born again—“in a day” (Isa. 66:7–9).
Of course, there’s a spiritual application in this vision for any individual or ministry that is in need of new life from God. Too often God’s people are like that standing army, lifelike but not alive. How does the life come? Through the Holy Spirit using the faithful proclamation of the Word of God. Said Charles Spurgeon, “Decayed churches can most certainly be revived by the preaching of the Word, accompanied by the coming of the heavenly breath from the four winds.” From time to time, in response to His people’s prayers, the Lord has seen fit to send a new “breath of life” to His church and His servants, and for that blessing we should be praying today.