Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones
I’ve talked about Ezekiel 37 that references the Valley of the Dry Bones in articles here on this blog in the past. I bring it up again today because of a conversation I recently had with someone who describes himself as a “serious Christian.” Turns out he aligns more with the left than anything else though he stated he didn’t like the political labels. That’s all well and good and usually means the person doesn’t want to be categorized as something they come across as being.
I’m a very serious Christian. Trump’s budget does not line up with the teachings of Jesus.
He comes out against President Trump and aligns himself with the left. What is anyone supposed to think? At any rate, he pointed out the following as an attempt to prove that God wants governments to take care of the poor. He stated…
Ezekiel 16:49-50. God is interested in government budgets and criticizes one in this passage.
I informed him that this particular passage was referring to Israel and because they began as a Monarchy (then against God’s wishes, implored Samuel to give them a human king), God expected Israel to take care of its poor, to not let them go hungry. After asking him what he meant, he stated this about how he believes Christians are to urge government to help the poor.
I believe we are all called to care for the poor, including government officials. My read on the ezek. passage leads me there.
The problem with his “read” is that the Ezekiel passage he referenced deals only with Israel, not nations in general. God had high hopes for Israel (which one day will be completely fulfilled in that nation). He expected much from them because of the oracles and revelation of God to them, not to mention the major ways in which God created, coalesced, led, fought for, performed miracles for, and brought them to a Land that was originally not Israel’s (though it was always God’s to give to whom He chose to give). After bringing them into the Land that He swore to Abraham He would give them, He settled them in that Land under the leadership of Joshua.
While God held Israel to a very high standard, He did not necessarily hold other nations to that same standard and why would He, since He had not revealed Himself or His covenants and commandments to those other nations? Israel was different. Israel was expected to take care of their own as God took care of them. Jesus spoke about this often and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) is just one example of Jesus reminding the people of Israel how they were supposed to live.
People often take what is directed to Israel and apply it to Christians in general, or as in the case of the person quoted, extrapolates Scripture onto secular governments. In truth, we notice that Jesus never condemned Rome. He never expected Rome to take care of the poor or homeless.
In fact, Jesus was not political at all. His mission was to call the lost sheep of Israel back to the fold. On occasion, He also dealt with individuals outside of the nation of Israel (like the Samaritan women). But in general, His entire ministry was directed to the nation of Israel, calling them back to God and Himself as their Messiah.
People who are on the left politically often seek to understand Scripture in an allegorical way, as opposed to a literal way. This often brings them to completely incorrect conclusions about specific passages. It would be like someone reading this article and then applying their own meaning to my intentions without concern for what I actually meant. Everything in this article (as with all others), is meant to be understood in the way I intend. It would be wrong of someone to read this article and assume it to mean something it doesn’t simply because their meaning/understanding better fits their narrative or agenda.
In my discussion with our friend, I pointed out that what was directed to Israel cannot be extrapolated and applied to other nations. His response was telling.
Per John 1, Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word of God. If prophets said it, so did Jesus.
Do you see what he did there? This kind of empty circular reasoning might make him think he’s proved his point and therefore off the hook, but in reality, his over-generalizations do not serve the Word of God at all. In fact, these types of rogue empty often make the Word say something it does not say. Christians are the ones who are to help the poor and the oppressed, not governments. In fact, more often than not, there is tremendous waste within governments. The bigger the government becomes, the larger the waste and to expect governments to take care of the poor and homeless is irresponsible. Christians cannot shirk their responsibilities by urging the government to do what we are called to do.
At one point, our friend makes the following blanket statement:
the OT prophets spend a great deal of time calling out all nations for their treatment of the poor.
That’s not true. More often than not, OT prophets spoke about and to Israel. That was the purpose in God raising them up, to call Israel back to the fold, to point out the many sins that were piling up, and to repent of those sins and choose to follow God again. Yes, the prophets mentioned other nations, but it was normally as a point of reference to let Israel know which nation God would use as His arm of judgment against Israel. He often also stated how His judgment would fall on the nation He used to discipline Israel. A rare exception is the Babylonian Kingdom headed up by Nebuchadnezzar. Though God used Nebuchadnezzar as His arm of judgment against Israel, instead of destroying Babylon, it appears that God actually worked with Nebuchadnezzar and brought him to repentance and dependence upon God eventually.
People who are left of center politically normally have a very allegorical approach to Scripture when they refer to it at all. In other words, Scripture is often seen as having many meanings and they simply need to pick one and apply it to the situation at hand. This is not the way to understand God’s Word. As has been stated, the Bible says one thing or it says nothing. While there might be several applications of a passage of Scripture, there is normally only one meaning.
A case in point is Ezekiel 37, the Valley of Dry Bones. That passage uses allegory to highlight what God is going to do with a specific people in the latter days. The chapter speaks of the prophet Ezekiel being shown a valley filled with bones. The bones were very dry signifying that they’d been part of bodies that had died and over time, the sun had bleached those bones. There was virtually no life in them at all.
As Ezekiel is looking over the valley containing all of the very dry bones, God asks the prophet a question in verse 3.
Son of man, can these bones live?
Ezekiel responds with, “Sovereign Lord, you know.” Then God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones. We need to remember that Ezekiel is seeing this vision of the bones. The bones are not really there, but God shows him a vision. God then points out to Ezekiel what He will do with those bones. It is an interesting process starting in verse 5.
This is what the sovereign Lord says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live. I will put tendons on you and muscles over you and will cover you with skin; I will put breath in you and you will live. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ – Ezekiel 37:5-6
Notice that God shows Ezekiel the process He will use to bring these bones back to life. It doesn’t happen all at once. God sums it up by saying “I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live.” First, God will put tendons and muscles and eventually cover the bones with skin. Second, God will then “put breath in you” and the bones will live.
So we go from seeing a graveyard of dry bones in a valley, to understanding that at some point, God will “rebuild” these bones into living beings. Ezekiel obeys the Lord and in a series of events, watches the dry bones come back to life.
I’ve heard many sermons on this portion of Scripture that inform us that this parable of sorts is speaking about the future Church that had not come on the scene yet and wouldn’t for thousands of years. These preachers essentially ignore the meaning provided in the text itself.
The difficulty with this interpretation is manifold. In fact, if we jump down to Ezekiel 37:11, we learn what God’s meaning is concerning these bones and He makes it very clear. Yet in spite of this clarity, people continue to claim that the meaning of this story ultimately resides in the Church.
Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Look, they are saying, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ – emphasis added
The first “he” in the above verse references God who speaks telling Ezekiel that “these bones are all the house of Israel.” Folks read this and think, “Oh, God does mean the Church because He says ‘all’ to include the future Church.” These same people deny that God is referring to Israel. It leads to a transference that ultimately states the Church has replaced Israel.
God says “all” because He wants Ezekiel to understand that God is not dealing with individuals per se, but is referencing the entire nation of Israel as a unit. That is how God has always dealt with Israel even when he compared the number of people in Israel to the stars of the sky.
We’ve seen how Israel as a nation went out of favor with God in AD 70, roughly 40 years after the leaders of Israel rejected Jesus as Messiah. Jesus predicted in His Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 that the nation would be destroyed in judgment. This occurred when Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem and captured it, leaving it in ruins and the sanctuary as well. Since that time, history tells us that Israel itself effectively died. The nation stopped being a nation.
Yet, in 1948, Israel once again became a nation against all odds. Not only that, but Hebrew, considered a dead language prior to 1948 made a comeback and now is spoken by many people today. Essentially, Israel as a nation ceased to be and the language once spoken was forgotten through disuse.
The person I’ve quoted in the first part of this article asked me what I thought of “man-made” Israel today? His question clearly told me of his own beliefs regarding Israel, believing Israel today is illegitimate and their presence in the world of nations is accidental and problematic.
I pointed out the absurd nature of his believes. Against all odds Israel “rose” from the dead in 1948 and has since prospered and continues to exist in spite of the fact that tiny Israel is surrounded by 20+ Arab nations. The people of these nations want Israel gone from the Middle East and all Jews killed. We are to believe that this is simply a coincidence, that God was not behind anything, that Israel’s national presence in the modern-day has nothing to do with Ezekiel 37 or many other passages connected to Israel and what God says He will do in the latter days? It is too exceptional to believe that all of this is simply the result of an accident.
Is God sovereign? Does God work to bring His promises to fulfillment?
In the case of the Ezekiel 37 passage, it should be clear that because of God’s own declaration regarding the identity of the bones (as Israel), we know that the bones at one point were alive (they were bones after all signifying that they had once lived inside living bodies), but had died and now God was going to resurrect these bones again.
We live in an exciting time, where we are seeing some ancient prophesies come to fruition. Unfortunately, until the end of time, there will be doubters and individuals who insist on interpreting the Bible in a way that seems best to them, irrespective of God’s intended meaning.
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