The Vision of the Dry Bones
Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the LORD was on me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD…

Like many other visions before and since, it is partly shaped by the circumstances of the times. The horrors of the Chaldean invasion, which had resulted, in carrying away the Jewish people into Babylon, were still fresh in the memories of men. In many a valley, on many a hillside in Southern Palestine, the track of the invading army as it advanced and retired would have been marked by the bones of the unoffending but slaughtered peasantry. In a work written some years ago, Mr. Layard has described such a scene in Armenia, an upland valley, covered by the bones of the Christian population who had been plundered and murdered by Kurds. Ezekiel, wrapt in a spiritual ecstasy, was set down in a valley that was full of bones. But what are we to understand by the dry bones of the vision of Ezekiel? This is plainly a picture of a resurrection, not, indeed, of the general resurrection, because what Ezekiel saw was clearly limited and local, but at the same time it is a sample of what will occur at the general resurrection. It may be urged that this representation is presently explained to refer to something quite distinct — namely, the restoration of the Jewish people from Babylon, and therefore that what passed before the prophet's eye need not have been regarded by him as more than an imaginary or even impossible occurrence intended to symbolise a coming event. But if this were the case, the vision, it must be said, was very ill adapted for its proposed purpose. The fact is that the form of Ezekiel's vision, and the popular use which Ezekiel made of it, shows that at this date the idea of the resurrection of the body could not have been a strange one to religious views. Had it been so Ezekiel's vision would have been turned against him. The restoration from the captivity would have been thought more improbable than ever if the measure of its improbability was to be found in a doctrine unbelieved in as yet by the people of revelation. We know, in fact, from their own scriptures, that the Jews had had for many a century glimpses more or less distinct of this truth. Long ago the mother of Samuel could sing that the Lord bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up, and Job could be sure that though worms destroy his body yet in his flesh he would see God; and David, speaking for a Higher Being than himself, yet knows that God will not leave His soul in hell nor suffer His Holy One to see corruption; and Daniel, Ezekiel's contemporary or nearly so, foresees that many who "sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt," and later on the courageous mother of the seven Maccabean Martyrs cries to her dying sons that "the Creator of the world, who formed the generations of men, and thought out the beginning of all things, will also of His mercy give you life and breath again if you regard not yourselves for His sake." Undoubtedly there was among the Jews a certain belief in the resurrection of the body, a belief which this very vision must have at once represented and confirmed. Ezekiel's vision, then, may remind us of what Christ our Lord has taught us again and again in His own words of the resurrection of the body. But its teaching by no means ends with this. For the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision may well represent the conditions of societies of men at particular times in their history, the condition of nations, of Churches, of less important institutions. Indeed, Ezekiel was left in no kind of doubt about the Divinely intended meaning of his vision. The dry bones were pictures of what the Jewish nation believed itself to be, as a consequence of the captivity in Babylon. All that was left of it could be best compared to the bones of the Jews which had been massacred by the Chaldean invader, and which bleached the hillsides of Palestine. "He said unto me, These bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off." Certainly in the captivity little was left of Israel beyond the skeleton of its former self. There were the sacred books, there were Royal descendants of the race of Jacob, there were priests, there were prophets, there was the old Hebrew and sacred language not yet wholly corrupted into Chaldean, there were precious traditions of the past days of Jerusalem, these were the dry bones of what had been earlier. There was nothing to animate them, they lay on the soil of heathenism, they lay apart from each other as if quite unconnected. To the captive people Babylon was not merely a valley of dry bones, but socially and politically it was fatal to the corporate life of Israel, "Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O My people, I will open your graves." And this is what actually did happen at the restoration of the Jews from Babylon. Each of the promises in Ezekiel's vision was fulfilled. The remains of the past history, its sacred books, its priests, its prophets, its laws, its great traditions, its splendid hopes, these once more moved in the soul of the nation as if with the motion of reviving life. It was a wonderful restoration, almost if not altogether unique in history. We see it in progress in the 119th Psalm, which doubtless belongs to this period, which exhibits the upward struggle of a sincere and beautiful soul at the first dawn of the national resurrection, and we read of its completion in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah; it was completed when the Temple, the centre of the spiritual and national life, was fully rebuilt, and when the whole life of the people in its completeness was thus renewed in the spot which had been the home of their fathers from generation to generation. And something of the same kind had been seen in portions of the Christian Church. As a whole, we know the Church of Christ cannot fail, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; but particular Churches may fail in their different degrees, — national churches, provincial churches, local churches. These, like the seven churches in Asia, which stand as a warning for all the ages of Christendom, these may experience their varying degrees of corruption and ruin and the moral insensibility which precedes death. And some of us may have noted a like resurrection in some institution, neither as defined as a church nor yet so broad or inclusive as a nation, in a school, a college, a hospital, a charitable building, a company. It is the creation, it is the relic of a distant age, it is magnificent in its picturesqueness, it lacks alone nothing but life. It persists in statutes that are no longer observed, it observes ceremonies and customs which have lost their meaning, it constantly holds to a phraseology which tells of a past time and of which the object has been forgotten. But certain it is in each year its members meet, they go through the accustomed usages, they signalise their meeting, it may be by splendid banquets, by commanding oratory, but in their heart of hearts they know they are meeting in a valley of dry bones. The old rules, usages, phrases, dresses, these are scattered around them like the bones of Ezekiel's vision, a life which once animated and clothed has long since perished away. Lastly, the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision may be discovered, and that not seldom, within the human soul. When the soul has lost its hold of truth or grace, when it has ceased to believe or ceased to love all the traces of what it once has been, do not forthwith despair. There are survivals of the old believing life, fragments and skeletons of the old affection, bits of stray logic which once created phrases which express the feeling which once won to prayers, there may remain amid the arid desolation of every valley full of dry bones the aspirations which have no goal, the actions which have no real basis, no practical consequences, the friendships which we feel to be holy and which are still kept up, the habits which have lost all meaning, we meet with writers, with talkers, with historians, with poets whose language shows that they have once known what it is to believe, but for whom all living faith has perished utterly and left behind it only these dried-up relics of its former life. "Can these bones live?" Can these phrases, these forms, these habits, and these associations which once were part of the spirit life, can they ever again become what they were? A man may have ceased to mean his prayers, his prayers may now be but the dry bones of that warm and loving communion which he once held with his God, but do not let him on that account give them up, do not let him break with the little that remains of what once was life. It is easy enough to decry habit, but habit may be the scaffolding which saves us from a great fall, habit may be the arch which bridges over a chasm which yawns between one height and another on our upward road; habit without motive is sufficiently unsatisfactory, but habit is better, better far, than nothing. Some of us it may be surveying the shrivelled elements of our religious life cannot avoid the question which comes in upon us from heaven, "Can these bones live?" They seem to us, even in our best moments, so hopelessly dislocated, so dry, so dead, but to this question the answer always must be, "O Lord God, Thou knowest." Yes, He does know; He sees, as He saw of old into the grave of Lazarus; He sees as He saw into the tomb of the Lord Jesus, so He sees into the crypt of a soul of whose faith and love only these dry bones remain, and He knows that life is again possible.

(Canon Liddon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,

WEB: The hand of Yahweh was on me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Yahweh, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.

The Vision of Dry Bones
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