What an experience! What could it possibly mean?
Ezekiel shares his recall of it: God tells him to speak to dry bones; he hears a fearsome rattling; bones turn into whole people with tendons, muscles, skin. Then God orders him to speak to the wind. He must order it to “blow in from every direction, enter into these bodies, and start them breathing again” (Eze. 37:9, author’s adaptation).
Answering his order, the wind begins to blow, gently at first, but gradually building to a full gale, howling through the mountain gorges and into the valley, sweeping into the bodies, turning them alive. They spring to their feet, a vast and exceedingly powerful army! (see verses 1-14).
An amazing vision! A rather unforgettable experience! What can it mean for us today?
The bones are at the low point of their existence, in a valley. They feel depressed, helpless and hopeless. And the valley is full of them. Apparently, this is no individual’s unique experience. There are heaps upon heaps of bones. They denote “the whole house of Israel,” Ezekiel says (verse 11).1 Not just a part of the family, but the whole household. All of God’s people, nothing but a jumble of bones. It’s quite disheartening!
As he wanders among the bones, Ezekiel notices their dryness; they are very dry. Bones are not normally dry. Their normal bone marrow is a tissue that produces red and white blood cells.
Bones dry out only when they are old, very old. These bones have been lying around for a long time.
Looking closely now, we see different kinds of bones.
At the top of the pile are wishbones. How they long for the good old days. How they dream of the day when they will finally achieve something truly great and wonderful. If only things had turned out differently. If only I had been born under a lucky star, or been given a lucky break. If only I were somewhere else, someone else. If only . . .
Out there toward the edges are the lazy bones—loafers, idlers, slackers. Individuals too self-absorbed to become involved; afraid that an exertion will cost them something; afraid that the effort will be too much trouble. They prefer to lie low and let someone else take a stand. They are content to remain on the perimeter, uninvolved and unattached.
Then there are funny bones. Hit them with the need to do something, and they quiver with excitement and tingle with emotion. But that’s all. Never any action, only reaction. All fizz, no substance—crazy, funny bones.
We notice the jawbones. They like talking: about everything and everybody, but mostly about themselves. Extolling their own virtues, singing their own praises, rambling on about the wonderful things they will do when everything comes together and life is as it should be. When all is said and done, however, much has been said and nothing is done.
There, off to one side, that rather exclusive pile: at first glance, those bones seem quite promising. After all, we need people with firm conviction, with plenty of gristle. There is a problem, though: those bones can’t move. They’re too stiff, inflexible, and unbending; so rigid and obstinate, a rather morbid lot, those backbones.
Ah, we discover one at the bottom of a pile. Tailbones, we call them. Just sitting, waiting, until conditions are right; until someone else acts. Waiting for something else—they’re not sure what. Forever waiting.
What a terrible racket the bones of contention make. All criticism and censure, always finding a new bone to pick, a fibula to chew on! Announcing what’s wrong with everything. Denouncing what others are or are not doing. These are caustic, scathing, blistering bones.
Oh, those just lying there? Well, it’s a sad story: those are weary bones. They have tried so hard, for so long, to please everyone, but now they are too exhausted to move, too discouraged and disheartened to do anything. They are simply bone-tired.
These have no particular name. We just call them brittle bones. Brittle is what happens to all old, dry bones. Their marrow has disintegrated. Now they are all empty down deep inside, painfully hollow; lonely and afraid; a fragile shell of what their lives should be.
We notice that many of these bones are, in fact, broken. When bones become brittle and hollow, they are easily broken. Life has dealt them a shattering blow. They have been battered by circumstances, devastated by misfortune. Their dreams have crumbled; their hopes have been crushed (see verse 11). They are broken up, ravaged, and ruined.
But whatever their tragedy, whatever the reason for their emptiness and brokenness, however it is that they lost it all, these dry, dead bones are not hopeless. Dry bones can live again! How does it happen?
The Word must be spoken. Dead bones present no hope of restoration. But God will ever have us speak the word of faith. As Ezekiel says simply: “I did as I was told” (see verse 7).
When God tells us to speak, we are to give the message, without questioning or wavering. We are to prophesy, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:14).Indeed, the word of faith may be for our own dry bones, all too easily disconnected from life and God, and lying in our personal valley of gloom.
The bones must come together.When the Word is spoken, marvelous things begin to happen! There is movement; things start falling into place. Bones start coming together, bone connecting with bone. There is organization. There is symmetry and structure. Networks are formed; relationships are forged. Muscles, tendons, and skin must unite the bones.
Our God is into oneness, both individually and corporately. Individually we need to be and find our completeness only in Jesus (see Col. 2:10). And so it is organizationally as well. Unity is more than a matter of plans and structure; it’s a matter of Jesus. Together we are Christ’s body, with each one of us being an individual member or part of it (see 1 Cor. 12:27). We are one in body, Christ’s body; one in faith, the faith of Jesus; and one in mission, the mission of heaven.
God’s Spirit must enter the body. Our metaphor breaks down, of course, if we try to make things sequential. For the unity of which we speak is impossible without the Spirit. For any of the miracle to be, the wind must blow, breath must enter, and then the bones will live. It is not enough for something to happen on the outside; something must take place on the inside. God’s breath must sweep into our lives.
What is the breath? Remember, in the beginning, when man was formed from the dust of the ground? God then breathed into his body the breath of life, and “man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). The breath of life is God’s life given to us through the power of His Spirit.
As a result of receiving God’s Spirit into our lives, we are created anew in Christ. We become a spiritual person; “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a conversion, a profound transformation, and we receive the righteousness of Christ.2 Life has been breathed into the old, dry bones.
The bodies stand up. As breath enters the bodies, something wonderful takes place. They spring to their feet. They leap into action.
Notice, Ezekiel says that the bodies “stood upon their feet” (Eze. 37:10). They now stand for something. Fearlessly, they stand for God and for His truth; and as they stand, they move. There is action; there is activity. They have become true workers in God’s cause. There’s a fire in their bones (see Jer. 20:9). And as they stand and move together, Ezekiel suddenly notices that they have become a vast army—advancing, conquering, and moving on to victory.
There Is Hope
Nothing is too hard for God. Even if our bones are dry and brittle, there is hope. There is power in the Word. There is life in the Spirit. There is a future, a glorious future.
But the Word must be spoken; the wind must blow; the Word must be received; and the Spirit must enter our lives. Then we will be restored and revived.
God can bring about the miracle. Make no bones about it: He—He alone—can transform us into a new creation, working in us, “both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).Without Him our dry bones fill the valley. With God, however, there is hope, hope for the Church and hope for our lives. For what God says, He can and will do.
- Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- See Ellen G. White, “The Church Must Be Quickened,” Review and Herald, Jan. 17, 1893.
John Wesley Taylor V, Ph.D., is an associate director of education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.