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Lessons for today from the Old Testament: The valley of dry bones

Updated on January 7, 2017

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Ezekiel 37-The valley of dry bones

When the bones come alive it is a miracle of God's power.

One of the most vivid pictures in the Old Testament is recorded in Ezekiel 37. The message in the vision that Ezekiel relates is as important today as it was in those days. The vision starts with a valley in which the ground is covered with “very many dry bones”.

Ezekiel is told to prophecy to the bones and to tell them to listen to the word of the Lord. The promise of the message is that God is going to bring these dry bones to life. First he will give sinews and muscles and then cover them with skin. Then he will give them breath and life. Then Ezekiel will know that God is Lord.

As the prophet proclaims Gods message he hears a rattling noise and the bones begin to come together. As he watches, in obvious amazement, the skeletons are covered with skin. Then the prophet is told to prophecy to the wind and it comes from every direction to bring the dead bodies to life. So as the prophet obeys God’s command, the many bones come alive, “enough of them to form an army”.

It is a powerful vision with an equally powerful message. What did it mean then and what does it mean today? The message to the people in Ezekiel’s time is explained in chapter 37, verses eleven through fourteen and is at the same time, one of judgment, but also of hope. It can even be seen as a Messianic prophecy of the general resurrection that is to take place when Christ comes again. However, to the people of that time it must have been clear: “You are spiritually dead and need to come alive”. It also looked forward to a time of promise when Judah and Israel would again be united as one.

What does it mean to us today? On a practical level it speaks to the fact that many people are like bones lying on a valley floor. There can be nothing more desolate and despairing than coming into such a valley. Here would be evidence of previous human existence but now the picture is one without hope and dignity. These people did not enjoy the privilege of a decent burial, but must have died in battle or of thirst. Both these options are possible on a spiritual level.

Many todayhave fallen in the battle that takes place today between the Soldiers of the Cross and the army of Satan’s servants. So looking at society in general today, it can be said that looking through spiritual eyes the world would be a valley of dry bones. Lack of faith, belief in the distortion of reality by the father of all lies, Satan, and starvation because of neglected study of the Word has caused this disaster. The daily news is testimony to a world which, in many ways, is without hope and direction, battling to find its way.

The good news is that today, like in the time of Ezekiel, there is hope for the hopeless. The message that Jesus left with his disciples was to go into the whole world and tell them about a new kingdom, a new life, and a new hope. (Matthew 28:18/19) When in the parable of the prodigal son, (Luke 15:11-32) the lost son returns home, the father says “my son was dead but now he is alive.”

Like in the time of Ezekiel, hope comes through the proclamation of God’s Word. In Romans 1:16 Paul, writing to the church in Rome says: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (N.I.V.) As the good news about Jesus is preached and people respond to the message they are brought to life. In the same letter the writer states: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life”. (Romans 6:3/4 N.I.V.)

In Revelation 1:18 the words of Jesus comes to the Apostle John: " I am the Living One, I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades". In Revelation 11:11 the text says: "But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them and they stood on their feet..." Ezekiel like Revelation uses vivid symbolism to illustrate spiritual reality to us, who are living in this physical world need to come alive to live in God's Eternal Kingdom.

Today the vision of Ezekiel is as meaningful as it was yesterday. The dry bones scattered in the valley floor are symbolic of many today who are spiritually dead. Like in Old Testament times there is hope if the Word of God is proclaimed. Life can yet be put into those dry bones!

Reference: N.I.V. translation.

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    • Johan Smulders profile image
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      Johan Smulders 10 months ago from East London, South Africa

      Interesting thoughts Jay!

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      Another possibility is that there really was someone commanding Ezekiel, but he was Human and Not God.

      History is a story of the rise and fall of civilizations. Catastrophes have occurred which wiped out civilization as we know it with only a few survivors to carry on. Such catastrophes have taken the form of floods, super-volcanoes and comets.

      All one has to do to fully explain the Old Testament is to substitute the word “Atlantian” (Prehistory) for Lord or God or angels for the Old Testament to make sense. All actions by God, The Lord or angels in the Old Testament were by Atlantins. This reading preserves the history of the Hebrews and absolves God of the atrocities committed by The Lord (ordering the killing of men, women and children.)

    • Johan Smulders profile image
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      Johan Smulders 10 months ago from East London, South Africa

      We need to understand that the imagery in the Bible needs to be understood on a spiritual basis. There is a war going on between good and evil and the casualties are those who choose not to follow Jesus. Satan cannot harm the physical body but he can destroy the soul. God so loved the world that he sent his Son as saviour. The message is sometimes graphic and violent but on a spiritual basis the result is very serious and needs to be heeded.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Is Ezekiel using "Apocalyptic language" when he says:

      To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city. (Ezekeil 9: 5-7, NKJV)

      Does the ordering of the killing of "old and young men, maidens and little children" make God a murderer?

      I personally believe God should never be depicted as violent. All stories or language used to depict the Ideal as violent is wrong. Such stories are at the root of our social problems. What do you think?

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Well said, Johan. Life comes to us in ways that we never knew possible.

    • Johan Smulders profile image
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      Johan Smulders 3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Ezekiel uses what is known as Apocalyptic Language in his writings and the book of Revelation uses similar language. It rests heavily on dramatic pictures that represent important spiritual truths. The vision of Gods appearance is not literal but symbolizes God communicating with mankind.Thanks for your comment!

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      I understand you are taking the "vision of dried bones" as a metaphor. What about earlier in Ezekiel where he describes, "visions of God" in detail? He describes something flying out or a cloud several times. Is this also a metaphor?

    • Johan Smulders profile image
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      Johan Smulders 3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Amen!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Certainly I have been like the bones. But no one is beyond the reach of the Lord. Great job.

    • Johan Smulders profile image
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      Johan Smulders 3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Interesting and insightful view. Thanks for making it. You are right about the view that it spoke to the dead religion of its day. I was making some homiletic applications.

    • freeradicalsteve profile image

      freeradicalsteve 3 years ago

      I think the Book of Ezekiel as a whole has great value for the ekklesia today and especially Chapter 37's "valley of dry bones". To me, the bones represent the members of the ekklesia that have come out of the "dead" church system ...and as yet they are not a "body" .... but they will be ... the Lord will fill us with His life and take us into a "new and living way" of relating to him and each other.

    • Johan Smulders profile image
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      Johan Smulders 3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks for the very positive comments. God bless! My interpretation is that the new Israel/Jerusalem is in fact the Church / Kingdom!

    • word55 profile image

      Word 3 years ago from Chicago

      Hey Johan, what a way to sum up my reading tonight. You are spiritually endowed, my brother. This was an excellent article of various truths in the great Bible. You're a Bible scholar. Give us more!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Oh, I have always loved this story. Fascinating indeed. Pertinent right now too! Great hub. Up and more and sharing. God bless, Faith Reaper

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      To me this means Israel coming home from all parts of the world and building her army as she is now doing. She has been scattered and died everywhere but now the end is drawing near and it is time for the final curtain. But just my thoughts on it. ^