The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.
John Chrysostom believed that, “The Ezekelian story culminates in chapter 37. Israel is restored out of dry bones (vv. 1-14), and both its houses are handed over to the care of the “shepherd” David (vv. 15-28).”
Though only two verses in length, the introduction to chapter 37 lays the foundation of the proceeding, divinely orchestrated, events. They also capture a recurring theme in Scripture. The power of God, as illustrated in the divine hand, often accompanied or even administered by the Spirit, paints a picture of God’s abilities to accomplish His work. In Acts 8:39, Phillip is taken away by the Spirit of God. In Mark 1, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and sustained Him for forty days (Matt. 4:1; Lk. 1:80).
This is not a hand which asks for its object to respond. The divine hand, the Spirit of God, accomplishes the will of God irrespective of any attempted obstruction or the fickleness of the human condition. The reader will notice that wherever the hand of God moved, there Ezekiel was also moved.
In the latter half of v. 1, the prophet was brought to the midst of the valley which was full of human remains. The remains were in the poorest condition possible, short only of turning into dust and becoming fertilizer for the valley floor. These bones were the bones of dead humans and so for Ezekiel—a prophet and priest of God—to be brought to the middle of such a place is astounding for two reasons:
- Ezekiel was a priest (Ezek. 1:2). Priests were not permitted to defile themselves with the dead (Ezek. 21:2). However, the laws of the priesthood were abolished in Christ Jesus, who is our ultimate High Priest. The function of Ezekiel as both prophet and priest points forward to an eschatological Messiah who would fulfill both offices perfectly. The type (Ezekiel) reveals the ante-type (Christ) in that he was the only living person among the dead. Christ had life in Himself and was the one living prophet and priest in the valley of the dry bones of the world.
- The immensity of the bones and the hopelessness of the general situation is a two-fold revelation of both ethnic Israel’s present state as it related to Ezekiel’s historical context (i.e. Babylonian captivity), and the state of God’s people, en toto, prior to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 37:14; Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:8).
God caused Ezekiel to survey the field of death at which point the prophet realized the gravity of the situation. There were very many bones, and not only this, but those bones were very dry. The emphatic nature of both the quantity of the bones and the poor condition of the bones is intended to communicate the utter hopelessness of the dead. Here we see a two-fold sense of the passage. First, citizens of Israel must feel utterly hopeless being held captive in a foreign land. Second, the universal enemy against humanity—sin—brings forth the fruits of hopelessness, that is, death. Death is not only the point at which the biological functions of the human body cease, it is also the point at which hope is the most faint.
Yet, even in the midst of hopelessness, God promises the unthinkable. We will look at that unthinkable promise in the following post.