Death makes us stop and think. So imagine how Ezekiel felt facing an entire Valley of death, a former battlefield, full of lifeless, dry, shrivelled bones.
Ezekiel 37:3-10 (ESV)
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon 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.”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had 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 the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
DOUBLE BARRELLED PROPHECY
Like much prophecy in the Bible, this one is double barrelled. It has an immediate meaning, but the Spirit of God also uses the same words in many other situations to speak to people long into the future. So let’s look at the double barrels…
1. BARREL ONE
While we might all face the proverbial “Valley of dry bones” in life at times, the immediate meaning of this prophecy, let’s be clear, is directly with the people of Israel…
Ezekiel 37:11-12 (ESV)
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.
Israel and Judah were in exile when Ezekiel saw this, they were lost, depressed, dry, isolated and miserable, without hope, in desperate need of a word from God.
The exiles longed to go home, to be in their promised land. And Ezekiel spoke into that need. In the last century we have seen Israel restored to their own land, but God wants more for them.
Since 1948 Israel appears to have come back as a nation, however in many ways it is really just a corpse. They have a flag, they have a constitution, they have a prime minister, and army, a parliament. They have a nation, and they even have bits of Jerusalem. But they are not complete yet.
Yes they are drawn back to their land, they are reassembled, and they are just like the vision they are not scattered bones but reassembled bones. They are being covered with sinews and flesh, but like the vision, they may look the part but they lack one thing. The breath of the Spirit of God. They are looking for their Messiah, but the nation of Israel needs the gospel of Jesus, and that’s why we must pray for Israel.
2. BARREL TWO
The vision has meaning also for us today, a second barrel.. It speaks to all of us directly here in Australia in 2021.
We all have times of dryness at one time or another in our lives . . . a proverbial valley of dry bones, a desert experience. Yes, even committed Christians can have a desert experience: a divorce, the death of a loved one, a debilitating illness, a surgery or accident from which it seems you will never fully recover.
These are times and places in our life when we ask ourselves, “Will this ever end? Will I ever be normal again? Will my life ever be the same?” Times when we ask, “God, where are You in all this.” Times of overwhelm, hopelessness, times when we, like Ezekiel are faced with devastation and doubt and fear. Times when we say to ourselves, “only you, Lord, know!”
Today, while acknowledging the vision of the valley of dry bones was speaking specifically to the nation of Israel at a time in their history, I also believe it speaks to us, His people, and to our nation in the 21st century.
DEAD MEN WALKING
So many of our people are like Dead men walking. That phrase describes how life feels apart from God—shunning his purpose, slogging forward, their feet mired in muck, the quicksand of hopelessness suckling them down so another step seems impossible.
Let’s be honest, even as believers, we sometimes face this: just slugging out life, going through the motions without inspiration, without excitement, or joy. Dry bones in a parched landscape.
Psalms 63:1 (ESV)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
This world is full of people who just exist, they don’t really live. All over the Coast are people who have decided to exist for their work, career, business or family. Many live for drugs, alcohol, sex or smoking. Most people don’t live for something eternal, they have no knowledge of the spiritual world, they live like dead men walking. They work at a job they hate all week to get to a brief weekend, where they party so much they can barely remember it, then they start again. And endless, worldly roundabout, an eternal groundhog day, where the most they can hope for is a few fun times before death and oblivion swallow them.
When we’re outside of God’s plans and purposes for our life, we resembles a pile of lifeless bones. Like Adam in Genesis 2:7, like the valley of bones, we can be formed, knitted together, we can even look the part, but what we lack is that breath of life from the Holy Spirit. Without His breath, our heart and mind remain stagnant and lifeless. We resemble a fresh corpse, skin enveloping the essence of nothingness. Unless the Spirit animates us we remain dead inside. We constantly need God. Simple as that.
Even as believers. We can go through life like a pile of dry, lifeless bones. We’ve all been there at some time, and some of you are there right now! Stop and look at your life. Are you preparing for life now or for life later?
CS Lewis said,
It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.
Colossians 3:2 (ESV)
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Focusing only on life here and now is like carefully combing your hair before heading into a hurricane. Yet we invest hours in making our bodies look better, our cars cleaner, our homes neater. Rather than working on our homes, or cars, or bodies, our time would be far better spent working on our relationship with God—serving him, working for his purposes, displaying his glory.
And frankly, if we don’t, we’re no better than a bag of dry bones. I believe that God sees us as so much more. He sees our eternal possibilities, He sees our destiny. He bought us with great sacrifice. We honour God when we live as the priceless beings we are, filled with the breath—the very Spirit—of God.
But where does it start?
1. IT ALL STARTS WITH GOD’S WORD
So God asks the question of Ezekiel…
Ezekiel 37:3 (ESV)
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”
God is asking you today the same question. Can the dry, dusty, scattered bones or your life live again? In the natural, it’s often hard to see how. But in the spirit, absolutely yes. Ezekiel says, only You know God. God has plans for your life, plans you probably don’t know about, plans to prosper you and not to harm you as Jeremiah says.
Anything we do as a church, anything you do for the Lord in your life, has to start with God’s Word. That’s why I urge you to join us in reading the Bible. You can’t grow, you can’t move into your God given destiny without absorbing the Word of God.
God spoke His Word to Ezekiel, and Ezekiel obeyed.
2. PROPHESY TO THE BONES
Ezekiel 37:4-6 (ESV)
Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon 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.”
Prophesy is not spooky or weird, it is just speaking the Words of God. Now this is a controversial area because, frankly, it is so abused in the modern Pentecostal church. I’ve heard some well meaning, but misguided people say all kinds of weird things and tell me that God is saying this or that. Think about it… How do Christians manipulate one another? They say, God told me, that’s how.
PROPHESY CAN BE A BLESSING OR A CURSE TO THE CHURCH
Let me tell you how our leadership here sees prophecy..
We believe in this gift, but we also believe we must put safeguards in to stop abuse of the gift. There’s a lot of powerful prophetic words every week in this church, but most are quiet, behind the scenes, not public.
We are very uncomfortable with people whom we are not sure of publicly saying “thus sayeth the Lord.”
You see, if you say God told me, what reply can I have? How can I argue with God if He told you? And hang on, I hear God too, so why didn’t He tell me direct, instead of telling you to tell me?
Most genuine prophetic words I have heard have been delivered humbly and sensitively. I feel like the Lord is saying, etc.
1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (ESV)
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.
Prophetic words can be an incredible encouragement, but also an incredible danger! For this reason we do not allow directive or corrective prophetic words, except that they are filtered through the leadership team, and especially our prayer team. They are so dangerous! And all of it must line up with Scripture!
When people come to me with a prophetic word, my reaction is always, thank you, now please show me the Scripture.
THE PUREST FORM OF PROPHECY
But most prophetic words delivered in the church should bring life, encouragement and hope. As Paul says,
1 Corinthians 14:3 (ESV)
the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
And Paul tells us that over and above all the other spiritual gifts including tongues, healing and teaching, we should eagerly desire to prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
So let me ask you, what is the purest form of prophecy? If prophecy is speaking the words of God, and that comes with a heavy responsibility, surely the purest form of prophecy is speaking the word of God, the Bible itself. If I come to you and share a verse I believe God has given me for you, that is prophecy!
But let me also ask you, how can you speak that of which you know nothing? Listen, if you want to be used of God to speak words of life, just as Ezekiel was, then you have to know the Bible. You have to be in the Word constantly for God to use you to bring His Word to others.
3. SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL
So back to Ezekiel, who prophesied and the bones began to shake, rattle and roll.
Ezekiel 37:7-8 (ESV)
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
Sure, clanging and clattering bones make a lot of noise. They can almost tap out a rhythm resembling life. And ok, now they aren’t dry bones, now they have sinews and flesh and skin. However, by themselves they can only create an empty, soulless sound.
And we can be like that. Our busyness and activity provide no assurance that we’re moving forward for God’s Kingdom. We can work, go to church, have a family, watch TV, do loads of things, all good, but none of them matter in eternity. You can do many things in life, many good things but my question to you is, are they God things? We want life in this place, not just noise and activity!
4. EZEKIEL, PROPHESY TO THE BREATH
Ezekiel 37:9 (ESV)
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”
That’s God’s calling to Ignite, to you and I. He is calling us to breath life into the dry bones of Nambour and surrounds. We have his life within us, and God is anointing us to speak in prayer, in prophecy and in action to the lifeless corpses of Australian society.
Ezekiel 37:10 (ESV)
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the winds and told him what to say. In the Hebrew language, the word ruah can mean “wind,” “breath,” or “Spirit.” Bit like,
Genesis 2:7 (ESV)
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
We need the breath of God’s Spirit now more than ever, don’t we? See, it started with God’s Word, and then was completed by God’s Spirit.
IT FOLLOWS WITH GOD’S SPIRIT
In this vision, God’s prophetic Word precedes the move of God’s Spirit which brings true life to the dry bones. In the first barrel, the reviving of the dry bones signified Israel’s national restoration. The vision showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power, not outward circumstances. In barrel 2, It also signifies spiritual revival for you and I, and for our church in this day and age.
In Ezekiel time, how was God going to revive the disconnected, lifeless bones of Israel? He would do it by two key things: by His Word and Spirit.
The Word had to be accompanied by the giving of the Spirit as breath entered these bodies and they came to life (37:10), providing a classic illustration of spiritual revival. It was true for exiled Israel, and it is true for us today.
The Word and the Spirit must combine to bring spiritual revival to God’s church today. When one or both are absent, then God’s people have no living experience of his reality in their midst, and we are no better than dry bones or lifeless corpses.
2 Corinthians 3:17 (ESV)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
If we have just the word, we can become legalistic, if we have just the Spirit, we can become heretical. We need both…
Are you ready to breathe in God’s Word and God’s Spirit today?
JOIN THE ARMY OF GOD
Of course, this vision has a spiritual application for any individual, church or ministry that needs new life from God.
Too often God’s people are like that standing army—lifelike but lifeless, not truly alive. How does the life come? Through the Holy Spirit, using the faithful proclamation of the Word of God.
The fundamental lesson of the vision is repeated: when the Word and the Spirit are present, God’s people are enabled to live and prosper. Not just exist, not even just live, but to live life abundantly. This is the only basis on which hope can be held out to our despairing community.
Last year, 2020, while the whole world was living in fear and terror, we had the incredible opportunity of being able to reset our lives. The chance to rebuild our lives right, and rebuild our church afresh. God then moved the people out He didn’t want here, blessed subtraction, and He moved in those He does want here. Right now here at Ignite, God is moving us towards downtown Nambour and a new, fresh and exciting chapter.
But it is all useless if we as the people of Ignite are just dry bones. It is also useless if we are covered with sinews, flesh and skin, if we look the part, but have no word and no life of the Spirit. If we just go through the motions, all is in vain.
Today, we need the breath of life. We need the Spirit of God. If we are to be a mighty army for Jesus, we need the food of God’s Word and the breath of God’s Spirit.
So today I want to call you to stand with me in this mighty army. We are about to take on a fresh challenge, and take up a mighty mantle. You can sit in the sidelines and watch, or you can step up and play your part in God’s exceedingly great army.
It takes God’s Word, and God’s Spirit alive together in your heart.