Valley of Dry Bones


(Originally Saving the Unsavable, March 21, 1999)


April 10, 2011




Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."

4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD."

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."

10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.'

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act," says the LORD.

Amen. The word of God. thanks be to God.


The famed Billings Boatyard is in Maine, in the fishing village of Stonington. For decades, Billings has cared for the yachts of very rich. Billings has acres of buildings for storage and repair, and acres of land where boats are stored high off the ground on stanchions. They are wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap, and thus protected from harsh weather.

Far away in the furthermost corner of the yard, heaped up and uncared for, uncovered, exposed to the weather, are the derelicts—rotting away, forgotten or abandoned by their owners. Old wooden launches with motors rusted solid are lying there. Ancient sailing yachts lay beached on their sides, next to crumbling wooden lobster boats which have no function in this age of fiberglass.

Among these decaying vessels was a Beetle cat. A Beetle cat is a small day-sailer, 12 feet 6 inches in length, 6 feet wide, with mast placed forward as far as possible. It is gaff-rigged, having a boom at the bottom of the sail and an additional wooden piece that runs across the top of the sail at an angle from the mast. Back in the early 1900’s, Beetle cats were originally designed for teaching children to sail, but adults quickly grew to love their stability, easy handling, and good looks. When in good condition, a Beetle cat has lovely, sweeping lines, and is a beauty to sail on the sea, but this Beetle cat lay abandoned and in decay, with ribs like broken bones, decking which had long disappeared, floorboards stripped away. Her sail rigging lay tumbled about like long sticks in a pile on the ground.

She was forgotten and worthless, mere bones, until Gary Williams saw her. A glint of restoration hope gleamed in his eye. Could the Beetle cat sail again? Gary Williams is a recycler extraordinaire. He marched back to the office to ask Mr. Billings how much he wanted for the Beetle cat.

"What Beetle cat?" came the reply. "Didn't know we had one. Pretty stove-up is she? Well, if you haul her off, you can have her for nothing."

Gary did, and with care rebuilt the boat, stem to stern, ribs and decking. Rib by broken rib, the bones that give her form and shape, he replaced; then he built a new deck like a skin to enclose her. Where she had been pinned by iron nails, Gary used stainless steel screws. Where her deck had been white pine, Gary used marine plywood. Her sail, which had been made of canvas, was replaced with nylon.

Now she sits and bobs in the swells. Her hull is bright red. She is altogether worthy of the sea. She is a boat restored to grace and beauty, an antique bucket of bones brought back to life using modern tools and supplies.

Was she hopeless? Only to eyes without vision. Was she a derelict? Only to those who could not see her potential. Would she rise again? Surely, if the worker was willing to do the work.

We can ask that same question about a decaying church or a decaying life? Is it possible for a church to gain new life and usefulness? Is it possible for people who have lost their way to come back to God? What does it take? It takes a vision, a vision for that person or that church. The vision is of what God can do.

A boat can be restored, but it takes winds in the sails to get it moving again. Surgeons can reattach limbs to the body, but it takes the life-force of the body to energize the nerves and give those limbs function and mobility again. What does it take to make a nation or church or a person spiritually alive again? It takes the breath of God's Spirit.

Let us talk about Ezekiel. In the movie Pulp Fiction, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson wildly quotes disjointed phrases from this prophet usually as he is about to kill someone in cold blood. Or, if you prefer the History Channel on TV, whenever they have episodes about aliens who visited the earth in ancient times, they always seem to quote Ezekiel for support. But if you talk to people and they know anything at all about this prophet, they know something about this valley of dry bones which is found in chapter 37.

No other prophetic vision outside the book of Revelation dwells as graphically on physical details as Ezekiel. This passage is comprised of two sections: an image (vv.1-10) and the interpretation (vv.11-14). The vision is a response to the complaint of the Israelites in verse 11: "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely. " The complaint is from a people in exile. Back in chapter 33 at verse 21, the prophet mentions that it is the 12th year of the exile in Babylon. We know that the conquered Jews began arriving in Babylon in early 585 BC. 12 years later would be about 573 BC, and nothing has changed. They are still exiles with no end in sight, and no hope in sight.

The prophet reports in verse 1 that his vision of the valley of dry bones commenced when the "hand of the LORD" came upon him. That is to say God gave him this vision. He was transported to an unnamed and unknown plain or valley (the Hebrew word is biqah, which is somewhat imprecise). The sight that awaits the prophet is appalling. The valley is filled with bones, through which the spirit of the Lord leads the prophet. According to OT law, as a prophet-priest (see 1:3), Ezekiel was defiled by contact with the dead (Numbers 19:16). Thus his presence in the midst of the bones and his commission to prophesy over them would have been repugnant to him. Such a predicament often accompanies a divine summons in the Bible. God does not call us to do what is gracious and easy; God calls us to do what is unpleasant and hard.

The stage for the vision is set with a question which God addresses to the prophet in verse 3, "Mortal, can these bones live?" The prophet answers with complete trust: "O Lord GOD, you know." This shows us why the Lord loved Ezekiel. Ezekiel had total faith in God.

Now we need to ask ourselves a question here. Is this passage about the resurrection of the dead? Is the question, can God resurrect the dead? Or, is the question, Can God do the undoable? Can God save the unsavable? The valley of dry bones represents a completely hopeless situation. Can the bones live again? The obvious answer is “No. There is not even the least possibility of life among those bones.” But if God is involved, there is a way, and the least possibility becomes absolute certainty. So primarily the passage is about what God can do, but there is also a message about the resurrection of the dead. Can a dead body live again? The obvious answer is of course not, not the least possibility, but if God is involved, of course that body can live again.

The prophet is commanded to prophesy over the bones. He obeys in v.7 and while he is prophesying, he hears a "rustling" or "rattling" which turns out to be the noise of the bones reuniting exactly as promised, except that the bones, newly supplied with sinews, flesh and skin, do not as yet have breath. They do not have an animating spirit, but God is not done yet.

In v9, the prophet is commanded to prophesy a second time, this time to the "spirit" or "wind" or "breath." The Hebrew word is “ruach.” This is much the same as the "breath of life" (ruach chayyim) breathed by God into Adam at creation. Thus, Ezekiel is establishing a parallel between the creation of Adam at the dawn of the first age and the re-creation of God’s people at the dawn of a new age. As God created Adam by breathing on him the breath of life, so God creates his people by breathing upon them his Holy Spirit.

The prophet is commanded to summon from the four "winds", the spirit which animates all living things, in order that the spirit may revive the restored bodies. With the prophet's execution of this second command (v.10), the animating spirit enters the dead and they stand on their feet, a vast populace described by God as "my people."

Having demonstrated his absolute sovereignty over the forces of life and death, God then explains to the prophet, in verses 11-14, the significance of the wonder he has just witnessed: God intends to do with the house of Israel what he has just done with these nameless bones. The dry bones represent Israel. Their situation was absolutely hopeless.

To this desolate condition, the prophet is commanded by God to prophesy a third time, in v12, to the Israelites themselves, announcing the Lord's intention to open the graves of the Israelites and to lead them back to the land of Israel. Having experienced this miraculous return to their homeland, the Israelites will acknowledge the sovereignty of God (v.13), and a loving God promises in v14 to put his Spirit upon this enlightened, restored people, bringing them to life, and establishing them once again as his covenant partners.

Let us summarize then. No created power could restore human bones to life. God alone could cause them to live. Skin and flesh covered them, and the wind was then told to blow upon these bodies; and they were restored to life. The wind was a symbol of the Spirit of God, and represents God’s overcoming power. This vision of Ezekiel has three purposes.

First of all, it was to encourage the despondent Jews; to encourage them to believe that there can be a restoration after the Babylonian captivity. Secondly, the vision is also a intimation of the resurrection of the dead. Thirdly, it represents the power and grace of God, in the conversion of the most hopeless sinners. The Bible teaches that the sinner who is lost and far from Christ is in a completely hopeless condition, like this valley of dry bones. Sinners are absolutely unable to do anything about their condition. They are dead, dead in sin. Only the spirit of God breathing upon that sinner can enable him or her to turn to Christ and believe and be saved.

Let us then depend not upon ourselves for hope and salvation but upon God. Let us trust God to keep us by his power through faith unto salvation.

Think again upon Ezekiel’s first answer to God. God asked Ezekiel, "Mortal, can these bones live?" Does Ezekiel reply, "Yes! You can make it so!"? No. Does he reply, "No! They are bones, never to walk about again?” He does not. Ezekiel says, "Only you know, God. It is entirely up to you." Only God's will can make it so. Only God knows what hope can come to that person lost in sin. Only God knows what hope can come to that church that has lost the spirit.

How many churches are praying that they will come to life again? How many people feel a dryness in their spiritual bones? How many are yearning for empty lives to be filled?

The vision of the valley of bones is frightful. It is a vision of our death and our grave. We want to turn and look away, but everywhere we turn, there are more dry bones. Marriages fail. Relationships are broken. Anger and aggression and anxiety eat away at us. They dry us out. Our lives become dusty bones.

There is a dryness deep down in us that will not go away, a thirst that cannot be quenched. Some try drinking from false streams, the polluted rivers of power, possessions, sex, drugs, alcohol. Nothing we reach for, nothing within our grasp, can touch this eternal thirst. Who will preach to our bones? Who will breathe life into them?

In Jesus, who died and rose, these bones can live. They live by his Word and his Spirit. Christ can achieve the impossible. He can intervene in the lives of churches and in our own personal lives, renewing our spirit, giving us hope, giving us new life. Nothing is impossible with Christ. He can save the unsavable.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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