Ezekial 37:1-10, “The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
9 Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the [a]breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
This vision has been used from the time of Jerome as a description of the resurrection, and certainly it may be so accommodated with much effect. But, while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident that this is not the meaning of the passage. There is no allusion made by Ezekiel to the resurrection, and such a topic would have been quite apart from the design of the prophet’s speech. I believe he was no more thinking of the resurrection of the dead than of the building of St. Peter’s at Rome, or the emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers. That topic is altogether foreign to the subject in hand, and could not by any possibility have crept into the prophet’s mind. He was talking about the people of Israel and prophesying concerning them; and evidently the vision, according to God’s own interpretation of it, was concerning them, and them alone, for “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It was not a vision concerning all men nor, indeed, concerning any men as to the resurrection of the dead, but it had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people.
This passage, again, has been very frequently, and I dare say very properly, used to describe the revival of a decayed Church. This vision may be looked upon as descriptive of a state of lukewarmness and spiritual lethargy in a Church, when the question may be sorrowfully asked,” Can these bones live?” But while we admit this to be a very fitting accommodation of our text, yet we are quite convinced that it is not to this that the passage refers. It would be altogether alien to the prophet’s strain of thought to be thinking about the restoration of fallen zeal and the rekindling of expiring love; he was not considering the Reformation either of Luther or of Whitefield, or about the revival of one Church or of another. No, he was talking of his own people, of his own race, and of his own tribe. He surely ought to have known his own mind and led by the Holy Spirit he gives us as an explanation of the vision, not, “Thus saith the Lord, My dying Church shall be restored,” but, “I will bring My people out of their graves, and bring them into the land of Israel.”
With very great propriety, too, this passage has been used for the comforting of believers in their dark and cloudy days. When they have lost their comforts, when their spiritual joys have drooped like withering flowers, they have been reminded that God could return to them in grace and mercy; that the dry bones could live, and should live; that the Spirit of God could again come upon His people; that even at the time when they were ready to give up all hope and lie down in despair, He could come and so quicken them that the poor trembling cowards should be turned into soldiers of God, and should stand upon their feet an exceeding great army.
Once more. There is no doubt that we have in this passage a most striking picture of the restoration of dead souls to spiritual life. Men, by nature, are just like these dry bones exposed in the open valley. The whole spiritual frame is dislocated; the sap and marrow of spiritual life has been dried out of manhood. Human nature is not simply dead but, like the bleaching bones which have long whitened in the sun, it has lost all trace of the divine life. Will and power have both departed. Spiritual death reigns undisturbed. Yet the dry bones can live. Under the preaching of the Word the vilest sinners can be reclaimed, the most stubborn wills can be subdued, the most unholy lives can be sanctified. When the holy “breath” comes from the four winds, when the divine Spirit descends to own the Word, then multitudes of sinners, as on Pentecost’s hallowed day, stand up upon their feet, an exceeding great army, to praise the Lord their God. But, mark you, this is not the first and proper interpretation of the text; it is indeed nothing more than a very striking parallel case to the one before us. The way in which Israel shall be saved is the same by which any one individual sinner shall be saved. It is not, however, the one case which the prophet is aiming at; he is looking at the vast mass of cases, the multitudes of instances to be found among the Jewish people, of gracious quickening and holy resurrection. His first and primary intention was to speak of them, and though it is right and lawful to take a passage in its widest possible meaning, yet I hold it to be treason to God’s Word to neglect its primary meaning. The preacher of God’s truth should not give up the Holy Spirit’s meaning; he should take care that he does not even put it in the background. The first meaning of a text, the Spirit’s meaning, is that which should be brought out first, and though the rest may fairly spring out of it, yet the first sense should have the chief place.
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