Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV) 1 The hand of the Lord was on me, 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. 2 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. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Deoxyribonucleic acid. Do you know what that is commonly known as? DNA. DNA testing is done for a variety of reasons. One example was in the Pioneer Press last week. DNA testing was applied to a sailor killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. His identity was found to be a young man from Woodbury. Isn’t that amazing? Seventy six years later, DNA testing on what must have been just bones could determine a person’s identity and he could be brought home, so to speak, for a proper and honorable burial at Fort Snelling military cemetery. Amazing as that is, far more amazing is what is done to dead, dry bones by the Holy Spirit in the vision we saw from the prophet Ezekiel a few moments ago. What is the Holy Spirit teaching us in this vision from so long ago? Well, together let’s look again at Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and meditate on THE SPIRIT APPLIES HIS DNA TESTING. You fill in the parts in your service folder as we go along. I’ve given you the first letter of each part. But before we go on we do well to ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and blessing.
After the rule of King Solomon God’s people Israel became a divided kingdom. There was the northern kingdom which retained the name Israel. And there was the southern kingdom called Judah. By the time of Ezekiel the northern tribes had been carried off never to be heard of again. This was because of their constant apostasy, idolatry, and sin against the Lord and a refusal to listen to his word. Judah remained for a time, but for the same reasons were carried off to captivity in the world power, Babylon, as God had lovingly warned again and again through the prophet, Jeremiah. One of those waves of exile included Ezekiel. He was of a priestly line that served in the temple in Jerusalem. His name means, “The Lord is strong.” While in captivity God called him to also be his prophet. The first part of the book named after him is filled with warnings to God’s people that they should harbor no false hopes or deceptive feelings that they could somehow get back home on their own. On the contrary, Ezekiel’s prophecy from the Lord was that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. And indeed they were. But in the later part of Ezekiel’s message to God’s people there was renewed hope. He would one day bring them back to their land. They would prosper there. But most import, he promised in chapter thirty-four that David would shepherd them. Really, it was great David’s greater Son, the one who would be born in David’s city of Bethlehem, who would lay down his life for them and all sinners like them. And he would rise again to give them new and lasting life. The vision before us on this Pentecost festival is part of that renewed hope.
It is a vision given God’s spokesman clearly by the Lord as we are told the hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel and he was led by the Holy Spirit. Someone aptly described it as “an overpowering experience of divine revelation.” Much like the New Testament book of Revelation, this was only one of the many pictures and symbols in the prophet’s experience as he shared God’s message with God’s people. What he saw was a valley of dead, dry bones. He was led back and forth over the whole scene to get the big picture, so to speak. Then the Lord (by the way, the name God is used only once in this vision. Adonai Jaweh is used over and over, reminding Ezekiel, God’s people at that time, and us this is the Lord of the covenant promise of a Savior for all lost sinners). Then the Lord asked his prophet, “Can these bones live?” He was drawing Ezekiel’s attention and, perhaps testing his faith. Ezekiel totally believed the Lord could do whatever he wanted, even with dead, dry bones.
Then came that powerful command to his prophet that he should speak God’s awesome word to these bones. The Savior God would give them bodies again, something like he did from the dust of the ground at creation and they would come to life. Then, as said sixty-five times in this book, “Then they will know that I am the Lord”.
So to whom was the Spirit’s testing applied in this vision and what do you fill in as part one? Dead. Because of their sin and rebellion, God’s Old Testament people were spiritually dead. But, by nature, that is true of all of us. The Spirit had the apostle Paul write in Ephesians 2, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” No life before God whatsoever. Just as God had warned Adam and Eve, if they sinned against God they would die. They and all who followed would be dead, dry bones in God’s eyes. Something like the bones of that sailor, the Spirit’s DNA testing is done on dead, dry bones, yours and mine included.
But earlier in his message to God’s people, the Lord had told them through the prophet that he does not desire the death of the wicked, but that they live. The vision he now gave to his prophet verifies and assures the Savior Lord wants new life for his people dead in their sin. Ezekiel applied the Spirit’s DNA in God’s powerful message of new life to them. The bones rattled. The Lord renewed the bodies on these bones. But they did not have new spiritual life until the same breath the risen Jesus breathed on his disciples when he appeared to them behind locked doors and said, “Peace be to you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” was breathed on them. Ezekiel relates, “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet a vast army.”
So what do you write in for part two that starts with an “N”? New life. Not just breath of life in our bodies which should never be taken for granted and always be appreciated as a gift of God. Far greater, spiritual life. Back to Paul in Ephesians 2. After he reminds us we are all dead in sin, he follows with, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you are saved.” That is done among and in us only by the gracious working to the Spirit through God’s powerful Gospel as seen on Pentecost as the tongues of fire settled on God’s spokesmen and they shared the mighty works of God in Christ Jesus even in different languages. And it hasn’t stopped. Oh, we may not see tongues of fire on our pastors and teachers, but the Holy Spirit continues to provide spokespeople, parents, friends, teachers and pastors to make dead sinners alive to confess in faith, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” This is the Lord’s modern day vision of, “Then they will see that I am the Lord.” No, DNA testing cannot bring back to life physically or spiritually, but the Spirit can and does change our identity from dead, dry bones, to alive in Christ and in him able to stand as part of his army all through life and then home in heaven forever.
So this vision gave the people of Israel a certain hope of returning home. This really had to be. How else would Bethlehem of Judea be the birth place of the one promised to Abraham that through his seed all people would be blessed? How else would the Savior Lord keep his promise to his people of every day and age held captive by sin and death and strangers in this world a home where they would be alive forever? This meant a Savior for dead, dry bones, resurrection to a forever life, in the home that Savior provided with his death and resurrection and is even now preparing for his redeemed people. No more tears or mourning, no death. Alive forever!
Jerusalem was not the real home for God’s Old Testament believers in the coming Savior. Nor is this world our real or forever home. That sailor killed in Pearl Harbor was brought home to a proper and honorable burial all because of the DNA testing. All because of the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s holy word like Ezekiel’s vision and the reality of our Savior’s death and resurrection we have a lasting, joy filled home waiting in heaven. So fill in the final part of your life in Christ. Alive forever!