When It Looks Like the End

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Ezekiel 37:1-14

Just when you think you may have reached the end – of a relationship, of a career, of a family, of a life – and there’s no hope left at all, the Word of God comes with good news of a future and a hope.

I think that God must have included the book of Ezekiel in the Bible in order to keep us humble. The prophet Ezekiel lived among the Jewish exiles in ancient Babylon, and his messages were accompanied by visions, signs, and acted-out parables, some of which are strange to the point of being bizarre. You may have tried reading this cryptic book and found you couldn’t get much out of it.

What Ezekiel Saw

Just when you may be tempted to think that, you come to something like the 37th chapter of Ezekiel and its vision of the valley of dry bones, one of the most compelling and beautiful illustrations of the power and the promise of God in all of scripture.

The hand of the Lord was upon me, [writes Ezekiel] and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (v. 1ff.).

The sight that presented itself before the prophet was a valley, perhaps the scene of some ancient battle or calamity that had filled it with corpses. These had long since decayed, leaving only a vast multitude of bones in the sun, “dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,” bleached dry as dust. There was absolutely no life anywhere in that whole scene. It was a vision of death and disaster, a vision of hopelessness.

Then Ezekiel was asked an odd question by God: “Son of man,” God said, “can these bones live?” (v. 3). God didn’t ask him where they came from. He didn’t ask Ezekiel to guess what might have happened to them. He asked, “Can these bones live again?” Do you see any future here, Ezekiel? And Ezekiel gave the Lord a very wise answer. He could see that humanly speaking there was no hope of that at all. So his sight kept him from saying yes automatically to God, but his faith kept him from saying no. He balanced the human impossibility over against the reality of the power of God, and so Ezekiel replied, “Lord, you know” (v. 3). This is faith speaking, faith that refuses to say anything is impossible and which, instead, waits upon the Lord.

Then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”” (v. 4). And when the prophet spoke, when that word from God sounded forth, the bones began to knit together again forming skeletons.

These were covered again with tendons and flesh and skin, but they remained lifeless bodies. So God commanded the prophet once more:

“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

(vv. 9-10)

Because even death is not stronger than God, no situation is ever hopeless for those who trust in him. God speaks his prophetic word to the dry bones and the very dust is collected together again and then comes to life. That is the vision of the valley of bones which Ezekiel saw and which he tells us about in Ezekiel chapter 37.

What it Meant

But what did it mean? Fortunately, God himself gave the key to the vision’s meaning to the prophet. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” (v. 11), God said. In its original context and setting this story was a message of hope offered to the people of Israel when they were in exile in Babylon. After Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. most of its survivors were carried off into exile. This was a calamity beyond anything God’s people had ever experienced before. For Israel this threatened not only political but spiritual destruction. Jerusalem was the city of God, and when Mt. Zion was laid waste and the temple destroyed, then, as far as the average Jew could see, God had been destroyed. All of Israel’s history from the time of the patriarchs through the Exodus, the period of the judges, the monarchy and the building of the temple, the sermons and writings of the prophets, all of it was rendered meaningless. All the peoples’ beliefs, drawn from God’s revelation through the Law and the prophets, had proven to be false or so it seemed. In that hopeless setting of exile the people said, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost. We are clean cut off” (v. 11).

If Israel’s history had ended there in Babylon, they would have been right. The God of Israel would be just another ancient tribal deity whose tribe had disappeared, and whose existence ended with that of his people. The only folks interested in Israel today would be the archaeologists, and the Israelites would be like all those other “ites” in the Bible, a faint, far-off echo of a long vanished people. But God was not dead, nor was Israel’s history finished. At the very moment when everything looked hopeless, God said, “I will open your graves, and raise you from them, O my people; and I will bring you home” (v. 12). This was the Lord’s promise to his captive people, and it was all symbolized in those dry bones that came to life by the power of the Word of God.

What it Means

But does it mean anything to us? Is this just an interesting story, a fascinating glimpse into the history of an ancient people? No, this is God’s promise to us today as well! Ezekiel’s vision means that we can have hope where, humanly speaking, there is nothing but a dead end. It means that the dry bones in our lives can live again, because God is a God with power to restore them.

It means, for example, that there is hope for our countries, our churches and our communities. Everyone can see – those of us, anyway, who live in the west – that our society is under assault from a dozen different directions, any one of which could prove fatal. It looks as if all around us things are falling to pieces, that our nations, our societies, our very cultures are in collapse. There is secularism, urban decay, sexual promiscuity, confusion, drugs, social violence, economic collapse, ethnic strife, moral anarchy – and, meantime, most people are amusing themselves to death in front of the television set! It’s difficult to see how our society can survive all of these ills.

Worse yet, the church, the one institution meant to preserve society, looks equally hopeless. The church is intended to be salt and light – salt, preserving culture from corrupting influences, and light, showing the way to truth and health. But in many places people within the church no longer believe in the Bible or even live moral lives.

Believing Christians, it seems like, are such a small minority that it’s hard to see how they can matter at all. And even where our numbers may still be significant, as in some places in America, we seem to be making little real difference. Is it any wonder that we look around and ask, “Can these bones live again?”

Are we believers a sort of anachronism, still going through the motions, but completely irrelevant as far as the world is concerned? Not while God rules! Even when things appear to be lost, the sovereign Lord can still speak his Word, and send forth his Spirit to breathe new life into dead bones! So there is hope, hope for churches, no matter how dead they seem to be; hope for nations, no matter how far gone we think we are, and hope for families too.

Many of the same forces that are assaulting society in general are also undermining our families with truly dreadful results. Values have changed, ways of thinking have changed, behavior has changed. As a result the family has been so weakened that there is serious question whether it will survive. Today, people who believe there’s such a thing as a biblical norm for human sexuality or for family life are thought to be misguided or even sick. So all around us we see evidence of the destruction of the traditional family and ideological assaults on the institution of marriage. And the reason for it all isn’t far to seek. It lies in the abandonment of the beliefs and values that the Bible teaches and that most people once agreed upon.

But I want to tell you today that there’s still hope, hope for your family, hope for you because God is a living God whose word has power even to raise the dead. There is hope for us personally, for our families, for our own lives themselves. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Do I have any future?” Maybe you’ve been wondering, “Can I ever function normally again?”

When the poet Robert Frost was asked what he had learned in his eighty-some years of life he replied, “Life goes on.” Well, you know what? Sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes even when it does, it doesn’t seem to be worth it. Is this all there is for us to look forward to, just, “Life goes on”? Is that the best we can come up with, the most hopeful expectation? Just grit your teeth, hang on, try to endure it, live until you die. And what about that? What is there to say when the time comes to face death itself?

It is coming, you know, inexorably, inevitably. You and I both know we cannot stop it; we cannot escape it. What will happen to you when you’ve spent your life’s last day? Is there no more ahead than the endless night of nothingness? Not if you know the God of the Bible! These bones, these bones, these dry, dead bones – yours and mine – even though turned to dust, will live again! God will say to us, to you, to me, “Behold, I will raise you out of your graves, O my people, and I will bring you home.”

Hear that word of the Lord. Listen to his promise; it is true. Believe it and have hope!