Vol. 2 - No. 2
The Valley of Dry Bones
by B. G. Echols
Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1-14) is probably the best known part of his book. Various treatments have been given to the passage including the old spiritual, "Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones."
Ezekiel went about the valley and saw many bones which were dry. God asked him, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel replied, "0 Lord, thou knowest." God told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, "0 ye dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord." When Ezekiel prophesied there was an earthquake, the bones came together, and they were fleshed out, but they had no breath. God told Ezekiel to prophesy for the wind to come into them. When Ezekiel did, the bodies lived.
God told Ezekiel the bones are the whole house of Israel and that he would cause them to come out of their graves and return to the land of Israel. The last verse of the paragraph reads, "And I will put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord."
There is no disagreement among commentators that God promises to return Israel to their land. This is clear to all from verse 12, "I will bring you into the land of Israel." The question is, when did or when will this prophesy take place?
Robert Milligan taught that this is yet to be. In discussing "the main and leading events connected with the future development and final triumph of the church" (Scheme of Redemption, pp. 540-548), he said we must look for "the general revival of the oppressed Israelites in the lands of their dispersion, and to their restoration to Palestine through the agency and superior diplomacy of their guardian angel." For proof of this he cited the passage we are considering.
The pattern that most premillennialists follow is similar. They believe Israel will be restored to the land, be converted and once restored shall never again fall away. Their national conversion and restoration will be a blessing to all the world. There are variations of the theme, but this is the basic outline.
Any interpretation of this chapter must be made in the context of the whole book. The principal design of the prophet was to comfort his companions in tribulation during their captivity and to deliver positive promises of their restoration to their own land, the rebuilding of the temple and the re-establishment of the worship. Ezekiel also was to save from complete apostacy a remnant for the return to Jerusalem. The Jews in captivity with him were still rebellious and idolatrous (2:1-7; 20:33-39). They still listened to false prophets (13:1-19). A faithful few must be kept from whom the Messiah is to come. Ezekiel was to encourage the people to follow the counsel given by Jeremiah (Jermiah 29). It was Ezekiel's task to impress upon the exiles the fact that their calamity had come because of their own sinful-ness. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (18:4).
The book is divided into three parts. The first division (chapters 1-24) contains predictions made before the conquest of Jerusalem, and is descriptive of that event. The second part (chapters 25-32) was delivered during the invasion of Jerusalem and contains denunciations of the nations of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. The third division (chapters 33-48 and including our text) was made after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. It foretells the return of the people from captivity in Babylon, their final glory in a renovated land, and a new Jerusalem.
In the last division the prophet's work is much different from that of the first. He is no longer preparing the people for the fall of Jerusalem, but the restoration. They must be kept free from sin and despair. One day Israel will be regathered to her own land, and will have one king. There will be true worship of the Lord, and then the city will be called Jehovah shammah (The Lord is there) (48:35). The sinful nation was destoyed, but God will not forget his own.
This last division contains many precious promises to the people of God. The prophecies in this division have a double significance. The temple would be rebuilt and the worship of God restored at Jerusalem. Also the spiritual temple of God would be built and redemption through Christ would be provided. The ultimate end of the material temple is the church of Jesus Christ.
With this overview, let's turn to our text. In chapter 36 God promised to restore Israel to the land. "For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" (36:24, 25).
This must refer to the restoration under Zerubbabel. If it is yet future and literal, Israel must now be or begin to worship idols for when the restoration promised in this verse takes place, Israel will be taken from her idols. After the re-turn from Babylon, Israel did not fall into idolatry. With this chapter referring to restoration from Babylon, it will help us interpret chapter 37.
In Babylon the people despaired and God seeks to encourage them. "Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: be-hold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off" (37:11). This vision continues the thought of chapter 36 and is intended to give them hope. The dry bones picture the weakened state of Israel. Man can do nothing; but God can. God will give them strength and re-store them. Homer Hailey makes this comment: "Jehovah was speaking of their return from Babylon as a resurrection, a promise which was fulfilled through Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah under the reign of Cyrus and Darius."
The remainder of the chapter draws from this theme a longer view to the time when the spiritual kingdom would be established under the Messiah, here identified as "David." Could it be that the valley of dry bones also refers to God's bringing forth those dead in sin and giving life in the spiritual government?