Can These Bones Live (Ez. 37:1-10)

Sunday, September 10, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL; James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Good morning. Please open your Bibles to Ezekiel 37. (Pew Bible: p 678)

The story goes that during World War II, the army was scrambling to get medics up to speed on basic human anatomy so they could get them deployed quickly. And so they worked with an oldn country doctor to create a field manual of the human body that could be understood by everyday people. Here’s what he came up with:

“This is the human body, from head to toe:

A man has one skull. His brains are on the inside of it, if he has any, and his hair is on the outside, If he has any.

A man has one mouth, one nose, two ears, and two eyes. The mouth catches food. The nose catches cold. The eyes catch dust, and the ears catch his hat before it falls off his head.

The skeleton is what’s left when the insides are taken out and the outsides are taken off.

Most men have a backbone, but not all of them. For those that do have a backbone, their head sits on one end of it and they sit on the other.  

Men have a calf at the bottom of their leg, an ankle at the bottom of their calf, and a corn on the bottom of their toe. The ankle is there to keep the calf away from the corn.

And that’s the human body.[1]

The army actually would have done better if they had given every incoming medic a copy of Ezekiel 37! Because Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones was a remarkably accurate description of how the human body fits together, even before x-rays or MRI’s or anything else.

I’d like us to read Ezekiel’s vision together. This is Ezekiel 37, beginning in verse 1 and going to verse 10. It’s a pretty long passage, so I won’t make you stand up for the whole thing.


May God bless the reading of his word. Pray with me.

What the vision meant, and what it means

One of the basics of hermaneutics (which is a fancy word for how you interpret the Bible) is that the Bible can never mean what it never meant. So before we go off and try to apply a passage like this to our lives, first we have to figure out what it would have meant to Ezekiel.

God Himself tells us what this vision means in verse 11:

The bones are all the of Israel.”

By this point, there hasn’t been a “whole house of Israel” for over three hundred years, ever since Solomon died. Maybe there might have been hope for reunification before the Assyrians conquered the Northern kingdom, but once that happened in 722 BC, that hope took a big hit. The one thing that might have reunified the two kingdoms was the temple in Jerusalem. But once the Nebuchadnezzar burned that to the ground, Ezekiel was like, “Yeah… we are never ever ever getting back together.”

So when God says, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel had to be like, “Nope.” Look at verse 2:

He made me walk all around among them. I realized there were a great many bones in the valley, and they were very dry. 

They were very dry. They had been in that valley for a long time. They weren’t just mostly dead—they were dead dead!

So what this text specifically meant to Ezekiel and to his readers was, “Can God bring someone or something that is dead back to life?”

Now, the obvious answer is, “Of course He can.” There are nine accounts  of dead people being raised back to life throughout the Bible. And not just in the gospels. So the question isn’t just “Can bones live?” The question is, can THESE bones live?”

Can THESE people, who had rebelled and sinned against God, and turned away from Him and worshiped false gods, and been judged by God and punished for their sin—could they live?

And not just “Can God give them life,” but WILL God God bring them to life?

That’s what Ezekiel 37 meant. And that’s where the application is for us. Can God bring people who are spritually dead back to life? Can God bring a dead church back to life? Can God bring a dead nation back to life?

If the answer wasn’t yes, we wouldn’t be here. But let’s look at the four conditions that make it possible for God to bring us back to life.

1. It depends on the sovereignty of God.

Ezekiel’s response to this question is, “Lord God, only you know.” The prophet understood that anything and everything that happens is dependent on God’s sovereign will. Humanity would have been wiped out completely if God had not saved Noah and his family. Israel would never have existed in the first place if God had not chosen Abraham way to bless him and make of him a great nation. They would have all died in slavery if God hadn’t delivered them through Moses.

And it cuts the other way too. Israel wouldn’t have been conquered by the Assyrians if God hadn’t allowed it. Babylon could not have taken God’s people into exile unless God permitted it.

If we are applying this to the church, we know that Christ has already decreed that His Church– “Church” with a capital C– will endure forever, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (see Matthew 16:18). We also know that the church is not a building, but a gathering of God’s people. And in that respect, the Church will survive, and thrive, and endure forever.

At the same time, we must humbly acknowledge that we cannot, by our own actions, bring about revival. Churches–small c– are birthed, live, and eventually die. They can die because of sin, schism, changing demographics, or any number of other reasons.

According to LifeWay Research, more Protestant churches closed in 2019 than were started.

Let me repeat that: In 2019, around 3000 Protestant churches were started in the United States. But in the same year, 4500 closed.

While there are many things congregations can (and should) do to remain healthy and vibrant, How long your individual church remains vital is ultimately up to God’s sovereign purpose.

There is a 100% certainty that every single church building will one day be empty, because the Church will have been caught up in the air (see 1 Thess. 4:17-18).

Can these bones live? It depends on the sovereignty of God.

2. Can these bones live? It beings with the Word of God.

God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

Now, let’s pause to consider something. Look at the first four words of what God told Ezekiel to say to the bones: “O, dry bones, hear.” How is that supposed to happen?

Well, realize Ezekiel is talking about a spiritual condition. We know from later in the passage that the people of Israel are able to cry out. They have enough self-awareness to realize they are dead. Drop down to verse 11

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 

Please don’t miss this: This is the starting point for anyone who comes to a saving relationship with Jesus. Paul describes us this way, in Ephesians 2:1-2

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

There’s always debate between Christians about what part our free will plays in salvation. One side says it is totally up to God. If we’re dead in our trespasses, that we aren’t capable of responding on our own.

The other side says that we have the agency to choose to follow God. They point to Romans 10:13, that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

I think Ezekiel points to a middle ground between the two. Anyone without Jesus is spiritually dead, whether they realize it or not. But every Christ follower comes to a point where they realize they are dead, and like these bones in the valley, they cry out to God—I’m dried up. My hope is lost; I am cut off from you.

How do we come to that point? God gets us there. God, through the Holy Spirit, creates in us an awareness of sin.

He does that through His word. Paul goes on to say in Romans 10:17 that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Church, that’s why it is so crucial that we make God’s Word our obsession. Because no one can be saved apart from hearing God’s Word.

Nearly 200 years before the Jews of Jerusalem were carried into exile, God spoke through to the northern kingdom of Israel through the prophet Amos:

11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Amos 8:11

Our issue isn’t about having the word of the Lord. In 2021, research showed that the average American household contained 4.3 Bibles. And that’s just physical, printed copies of the Bible.

Other research estimates that 91% of Americans own a smart phone. Which means that, thanks to apps like YouVersion, more than 9 out of 10 Americans have access to 2,898 Bible versions in 1,884 languages.

91% of Americans have a smart phone.
YouVersion has almost 3,000 Bible translations available for free.

Our problem isn’t a lack of access to God’s Word. It’s a lack of hearing it.

Bottom line, without a core commitment to teaching God’s Word and God’s Word alone, we won’t see people come to Jesus. And if Glynwood isn’t bringing people to a saving faith in Jesus, then not only will it die, it should.

For the dead to come to life, God has to will it. That’s the sovereignty of God. And we know from 2 Timothy 2:4 that God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

And for the spiritually to come to the knowledge of the truth, they have to hear God’s word.

And number three: once the spiritually dead hear the word of God, they must have the Spirit of God.

Look what happens next:

In verse 7, Ezekiel hears a rattling sound; and as he watches, the bones in the valley assemble themselves into bodies, and tendons and muscles and flesh covered them. But while the bodies have an appearance of being alive, verse 8 says that there was no breath in them.

Friends, please hear this, because your eternal destiny depends on whether or not you really understand this:

Appearance and reputation do not equal life. Jesus told the church in Sardis that they had the reputation of being alive, but they were dead (Revelation 3:1).

And to everyone around you, it may look like you have it all together. You have a great job, a beautiful family, a nice house, good health. You have every appearance of life.

But just like the skeletons in Ezekiel’s vision that were put together, with muscles and tendons and skin, you might still be dead.

Religious activity doesn’t equal life. When Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 23, it wasn’t for a lack of religious activity. They were doing all the things, but they were doing them with dead hearts. When Jesus condemned them, He used imagery very similar to Ezekiel 37:

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:27-28

Friends, for you to be truly alive, God’s spirit has to be in you. The Hebrew word for “breath” is ruach, and it is the same word used for spirit.

So hear what God’s Word says about God’s spirit:

The Spirit of God has made me,
    and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)

63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[a] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. I’d like you to turn there. Sometimes we get so familiar with John 3:16 that we don’t really pay attention to what’s around it. But now, look at what Jesus said to Nicodemus:

[Read John 3:3-8]

We’re going to bring this in for a landing. Here’s where we’ve been so far: For these bones to live, it depends on the sovereignty of God, It begins with the word of God, and they must have the spirit of God.

But finally, if God saves you, or if God has saved you, and God’s spirit begins to dwell within you, it is going to be for the mission of God.

Take one more look at Ezekiel 37, this time down to verses 9-10:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the 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 the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

A great what? Army. God brought life to the bones for a purpose. They were an army. Ezekiel doesn’t describe them as a vast congregation, a huge Bible study, or a powerful voting block. The word “army” carries with it an expectation of training, discipline, strength, and combat-readiness. The apostle Paul often referred to the saints as soldiers.

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (1 Cor. 9:7)

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need Philippians 2:25,

 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.2 Timothy 2:3-4,

 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house (Philemon 1:1-2)

Soldiers. In an exceedingly great army. An army has a mission and a purpose. And the purpose of the church is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

The purpose of the church is to do battle against a common spiritual enemy (Ephesians 6:10-17). The purpose of the church is to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

And that, church, will take an army.

[Cruise ship vs. aircraft carrier illustration]


[1] Adapted from the Holman Old Testament Commentary, Vol. 14 (Ezekiel), p. 262-263.



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