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Faithlife

Sermon Manuscript 050824

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(Greeting)

When I was thirty-eight I died of a heart attack.  (Tell the story briefly)

I was physically dead.  Completely unable to do anything.  Completely unaware.  Someone else had to pump my heart, and someone else had to breath for me.  I did not hear anything, see anything, feel or smell anything.  I had no thoughts whatsoever.

Try to imagine nothingness.

(Pray Psalm 23)

Theme:  Love or die

This morning we are going to take a journey into the valley of death.  Ezekiel 37.1

(Read the text) 

Background info – why is Israel “dead”

(Walk through the text verse by verse /  show the three conspirators)

Conclude

(Pray)

The God of Israel had made a promise to them through the covenant with Abraham.  The promise was to be their God.  He promised blessings to them.  (Genesis 17).   But they found themselves cut off. 

The darkness in the valley is overwhelming.  There is utter devastation. 

Who is Israel?

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”  That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.  (Romans 9:6-8)

The answer is that we are Israel.

      Jesus left his high home to walk in our valley of death.

      What do we look like to God before he gives life?

      In our own power what are we capable of doing?

Background

Ezekiel lived in a time of great international upheaval. 

The northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrian empire.  Assyria itself fell to the Babylonian state that had emerged.   

In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar had been carrying out a policy of deportation for a while.  The intent was to train them for positions in his kingdom:  “… he probably also intended for them to contribute to the Babylonian economy

God worked through Ezekiel during the Babylonian exile. 

Reason for the exile:  Israel had turned to idolatry. 

So, God’s purpose of bringing them back to him seems to have been realized through the experience of being uprooted from their homeland.  

At the end of the captivity large numbers were ready to endure the hardships of reestablishing a community dedicated to the worship of Yahweh, and those who stayed behind gave substantial sums to finance the venture.

God’s promises of restoration that were made to Israel made previously in Ch 36. 

Restoration must have seemed extremely unlikely given the circumstances.

They had been defeated, dispersed, and exiled into enemy territory.  They had lost their land, kingdom, and temple.  They were in every sense a “dead nation”

The Scene

bones are as dead as doorknobs.   absolute, complete death.  There is no ‘meat’ on them.  They are dry, disconnected, and unrecognizable.  There is no movement on the valley floor.  In the spirit, Ezekiel is lifted above the plain and shown a vast amount of destruction and devastation.  

Ezekiel is a priest that has been taken among the exiles in Babylon (1:3)

His name means God Strengthens and he is called by God to speak to the exiles.    

Theme of Ezekiel is the glory of the Lord.  God communicates this through the prophecies of judgment and salvation. 

Judgment is expressed in the calamity predicted and experienced by both Israel and the surrounding nations, while salvation is found in the comfort and consolation of Israel.  The purpose of all the prophecy, calamity, and restoration is that the people will know that Yahweh is Lord.  It is for his own sake that he acts, not Israel’s (36:32). 

Throughout  Ezekiel God offers both judgment and hope for the exiles of Israel in Babylon. 

This passage plays the part of predicting the salvation and restoration of Israel

Israel’s hope in the Lord is not ill-founded.  Rather, having taken them into exile He speaks through the prophet to inform them that they will be re-established. 

Ezekiel’s name is a message of hope to them.  “God Strengthens

The following passage speaks of the new king that will rule the new people.  The prior passages speak of God putting His Spirit in the people of Israel,

There are two voices in the book, Yahweh’s and Ezekiel’s 

There are two sections

First is an account of a vision given to Ezekiel by God,

and the second is an explanation of the vision.  The vision can also be shown as having two sections. 

When God speaks to the prophet, each speech is marked with the phrase וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלַ֔י “he said to me,” and starts with  “son of man.”  In verse three, there is what amounts to a rhetorical question posed by God to Ezekiel.  He says, “do the bones have the vigor of life?”  This leads Ezekiel to respond to the Lord by saying that “You know” the answer to that question. 

A probable conclusion of that sentence may be “but I do not know:”  The implication being that Yahweh is God and Ezekiel is not.  God is reminding Ezekiel, and thereby Ezekiel’s audience, that it is God that is acting not Ezekiel. 

This provides a foundation for establishing Ezekiel’s authority and the veracity of the vision.  The author ensures that the reader knows that it is not man acting, but God.

Alternate from despair to the hope of redemption.  This is the fundamental message that is conveyed:  despite the fact that the current situation for Israel is hopeless, there is hope.  Israel’s despair is more that matched by God’s grace. 

It is because of God’s redeeming acts that people who are cut off are restored.   


1a  It came to pass that the hand of Yahweh was upon me

Israel has been in rebellion against the Lord and he has sent them into exile.  They have seen their nation disintegrate resulting from the rise of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.  They are essentially a dead nation.

God makes his presence known to Ezekiel,

The hand of God is recognizable and identifiable.  His hand is not Ezekiel’s imagination or dreams, but rather something that is clearly of God.  When he touches Ezekiel there is no mistaking it for someone or something else. 

Deconstructed Israel

Desolation of bones

1b  and He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and caused me to rest in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones.   2  And he caused me to pass among them all around, there was a great abundance upon the face of the valley and behold they were withered in abundance.

God’s Spirit brought Ezekiel - into a valley full of dry bones.   dry bones, not bleached bones. There is no activity whatsoever on the valley floor.  The bones are utterly dead containing no sign of life.

Scattered bones indicated the complete destruction of an enemy (Psalm 53:5 and Isaiah 38:13).  However, to burn an enemy’s bones was wrong (Amos 2:1).  Contact with bones would cause a person to be defiled (Numbers 19:16) and the decent burial of bones was considered to be very important (Genesis 50:25 and Ezekiel 39:15) [Howard 1996, 354].      

In the early scenes the language that describes the Spirit is active. 

The language describing the valley floor is completely passive.  The clear implication is that while Israel is cut off and dying God is still at work.  Indeed, he is very active. 

“around and around” is used.  The effect of doubling it is to emphasize the motion.  Everything in the passage leads to the conclusion that God is about to redeem Israel in an act that will bring Him glory.

The King’s Message

3  And he said to me, “Son of man, do the bones have the vigor of life?”  And I said, “Lord Yahweh, you know.”

Divine question:  Certainly God already knows the answer, the bones have no life in them. So, what can the purpose of the question be other than to make a point?  leads the prophet to realize his proper role in his relationship with God.  That is, God is God and Ezekiel is not. 

The point is emphasized by God’s use of the phrase (son of man) which reinforces the notion that Ezekiel is human, not divine.  By reminding Ezekiel of his mortality God also reminds him of his own eternal and transcendent nature. 

Ezekiel’s answer acknowledges his inability to know while at the same time recognizing the Lord’s power.

4  And he said to me, “prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘dry bones hear the word of Yahweh.’”

Having understood his relationship to God, Ezekiel is given the office of king’s messenger and commanded by the Lord to speak to the bones.  In their utterly dead condition the bones will hear the word of God through his messenger, the mortal one – the son of man.

5  Thus the Lord Yahweh said to these bones, “behold I cause the spirit to enter them to live.

6  And I will give upon you sinew and I will cause flesh to ascend upon you, and I will spread skin upon you, and I will put breath/spirit in you, and you will have the vigor of life, so that you will know that I am Yahweh.

The Lord’s message is wonderful, he will cause the spirit to come to the bones that they may live.  Graphically, God describes the process that he is about to follow with various layers of a body being brought up to cover the bones.  Because the process described is so specific it must be important to the story being told.  Each element conveys a progression that results in life with the final step being God putting in them the spirit, or breath.  He does this with a purpose, which is that the audience of the prophecy will know that he is Yahweh:  that exiled Israel will know it is the Lord who is acting on their behalf.

The bones come together

7  So I prophesied as I was commanded and there was a sound, and behold a quake, and the bones came close, bone to its bone.

Ezekiel speaks to the bones and an amazing thing happens.  In the valley, a low place filled with considerable and complete desolation, the dead hear the word of God and the dry bones start to respond.  Utterly unable to bring themselves to life, now in God’s power, the dead begin to gather. 

Reconstructing Israel

8  And I looked, and behold, sinew and flesh were upon them and skin spread over, but there was no breath in them.

The plan as described by the Lord is implemented and the bones become covered with all that make a body, yet there is no life.  This explains the depiction of the biological construction.  There is a division between the material within which life exists and the ability to live.  The Lord is saying that it is not flesh and bone that make life.  Rather, it is through the spirit alone that life is actualized.  It is impossible to overstate this fact.  Life is not something that is accomplished without the express involvement of divine power:  the dead do not contribute to the process of being made alive.

 

Commission to Prophesy

9  And he said to me prophesy to the breath son of Adam, you will say to the breath, “thus commands the Lord Yahweh:  from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slaughtered ones and they will become alive.

Without the breath of life the bones stay dead, whether they are covered with flesh or not.  The gathered bones, covered with muscle and flesh, look like they should be alive.  Because they are not God commands Ezekiel again  this time to speak to the spirit. Again God reveals something of himself.  The Lord commands the mortal man to command the spirit.  Looking ahead to verse fourteen we find that the breath, or spirit, that makes life is the very breath of God.  How can it be that God would allow mortal man to command his spirit?  The ubiquitous spirit is told by Ezekiel to gather at the valley, to breathe on those slaughtered, and they will live. 

Proverbs 24:11-12 says this,

“Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?”

This is the advice given by God to mankind.  If that  is what God says to us, then it makes sense that he speaks to us from his own thinking.  From his heart, and in his love, God saves those destined for slaughter.

“Without God’s spirit, there is no life.  The biological reality is inherently a theological reality”

Ezekiel commands the breath

10  And I prophesied like he commanded me and the breath came in them and they became alive and they stood upon their feet, very great strength (army).

The son of man obeys the divine command of the Lord and speaks to the breath.    There are many of them, they rise to their feet from their prone positions, and they are great in their strength.  (We live!  We are the army of God restored through his Spirit, commanded by the son of man)

The Vision Interpreted

Despair

11  And he said to me, “Son of Adam, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dry and our cord (hope?) has perished. We are divided to us.’”

To ensure that the message is clearly understood God explains the vision to Ezekiel.  The Lord tells him who the bones belong to, and what they have been saying.  They are the whole house of Israel and they are bemoaning their fate.  Judah has been exiled in Babylon and Ephraim has been lost to Assyria.  They are dead as a nation, lost as a culture, and seemingly forsaken by their God.  The Lord, however, knows their plight and expresses it to Ezekiel.  God, being the ultimate communicator uses language that the people can understand.

Hope

12  Thus prophesy and say to them, “thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I will open the graves and I will cause you to arise from your graves, my people.  And I will bring you to the land of Israel.

13  And you will know that I Yahweh have opened your graves and ascended with you from your graves, my people.

14  And I will give my breath in you and you will live and I will cause rest with you upon your land and you will know that I Yahweh spoke and I have done it, declares Yahweh

The final scene is that of great hope.  The Lord once again commands the prophet, the son of man, to tell Israel that he will bring them out of death.  He will cause them to rise again, and he claims them for himself as his people.  But God goes farther than that.  He says that he will return them to their home, that his breath in them will cause life, that he will ascend with them out of the grave as a result, and they will have rest.

In the end God’s purpose is that his people will know that he spoke it and did it.  It was not they: They did not have the power.  The gods of the other nations did not have the power.  Only the true Lord can do this.  

Synthesis and Application

In the midst of exile God provides his people with the hope of restored life and rest.  Through the prophet’s writing we hear the compassion and purpose of God.  And of course, it is a message that is meant to be shared with his people both then and now.

To the people of Israel that lived in exile this word from God must have been like water in the desert.  They had indeed been cut off, the nation was essentially homeless, and parts of it had been lost forever.  In their desperation they saw no hope.  When he touched the prophet, God showed Ezekiel what the people look like.  What he saw was utter desolation. 

The message is clear:  without God we are dead.  And not just dead, but scattered, motionless, dry, disassembled skeletons unable in any way to give ourselves life.  Hopelessly lost we cannot even look to God, for we have no eyes.  We cannot hear his words for we have no ears.  We cannot feel his touch for there is no flesh.  Our hearts cannot beat in rhythm with his, for ours are merely dust in the wind.  It is in this condition that he found the people of Israel and it is this condition that he finds us.  It is the condition of the people when Jesus was born.  

But how did the bones come to be that way?  The answer lies in a story that is as old as creation.  Leaving the intimate love relationship they had with the living God people turned to other lovers.  Israel defiled her worship and made herself unclean.  They found sin and lusted for it.  From such defilement God could do nothing but withdraw and judge his people with destruction. 

In their blindness God’s people found falsehood and chose it.  They thought it would comfort them, that it would provide security.  They thought it would remove them from the worries of the world.  But instead in the darkness, their trust was betrayed and they were slaughtered.

But God does not despair.  Nor does he wring his hands wondering what to do.  Rather, in his power, in his love, and with great compassion, he spoke through his messenger into the wilderness valley and a miraculous thing happened – the bones began to move!  They began to gather to themselves.  This in itself is beyond comprehension.  How would it be possible, since there was no life in them?

Reminded of Jesus and his incarnation. 

Jesus came among us as a prophet and spoke to his people. 

Sent as a messenger by God he was the “son of man” who would eventually send the Spirit of God to enliven his people. 

What must he have seen when he looked around.  Was it a world full of dead bones?  Did he see bones covered with sinew, flesh, and skin, but without breath? 

When he rebuked the Pharisees he said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27). 

Today, as then, people turn from God to follow an almost endless list of idols.  Money, power, sex, and status all blind people to their need for the love of God.  They are like the Pharisees full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  And many people are simply dead bones walking.

A truth to take to home is: 

There are three who conspire to bring life.  Yahweh directing the “son of man” directing the Spirit of God. 

His purpose is that we will know he is the Lord, and that He is the one who speaks life into us. 

Questions to ask: 

As Christians do we speak with our own authority, or do we speak with God’s? 

Do we trust God in the midst of trial? 

Do we order our lives around him? 

Do we recognize his purpose and his glory? 

We can not lead people out of the wilderness/valley if we have not gone there with them.

Beloved – When you look at the people passing by do you see a world full of the walking dead?

Dead children?  Dead women?  Dead Men?

Do you know that they need the breath of God to make them live?

Do you know that they need restoration?

So, take this word to some dry bones that you know.  “Love and Live”  “Know that God has spoken it into existence”

“He who has ears, let him hear.”

(Pray)


Without God We are Just dead men walking

Main point:  Will you not know?  The Lord alone is capable of saving his people.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit

Yahweh, son-of-man, My Spirit

Matthew 22:13  then the king said to the servants.  Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness;  in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called but few are chosen.

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