Then he said to me, "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.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel." (Ezekiel 37:11-12; ESV)
Ezekiel's famous vision of the valley of dry bones captures the heart of the entire Bible as the story of the Bible is the story of God's solution to the greatest of all human problems: death. Of course the Scriptures address more than just this one issue, but this theme drives everything else. Its early chapters reveal to us that we were not designed to die, but because of our first parents' rebellion against God, death and everything associated with death entered the human experience. We later read how God called Abraham to be the channel through which life would be restored to the nations of the world. The nation that God purposely developed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was God's chosen vessel to make himself known to the world, so that in the end death would be completely eradicated.
The people of Israel were not chosen because of superior moral or spiritual qualities, but rather to demonstrate the depths of the predicament in which we all find ourselves. Over and over again Abraham's natural descendants illustrate the human race's need of deliverance. The most vivid picture of this is also the foundational event in Israel's history: Pesach (English: Passover), which this year begins the evening of April 14. Having been led by God to Egypt in order to save them from starvation, Israel eventually finds itself in oppressive bondage in their adopted land. Helpless and oppressed, God powerfully and dramatically rescues them.
In spite of this, the history of Israel continued to demonstrate human beings' inability to free ourselves from the greater oppression, death, which is fundamentally a spiritual problem, since it arises from rebellion against God and our resultant alienation from him.
By the days of the prophet Ezekiel, Israel had lost hope. The nation was scattered and exiled. The symbol of God's presence, the Temple, was on the brink of destruction. Israel had miserably failed to be the kingdom of priests God called them to be (see Shemot / Exodus 19:6).
Ezekiel's vision of Israel as a pile of old dry bones was an appropriate description of their condition at that time—a people not just dead, but long dead. Still, the vision was not given to describe their final condition, however, but rather as a message of hope. This was not the stuff of motivational speeches. For you cannot motivate the dead. Israel was completely incapable of restoring itself. But what’s that to God? He, who created life, recreates life.
In this passage the resurrection of the dead is intimately associated with the return of Israel to the Land of Israel. Taken by itself, this vision of graves opening and the dead coming back to life might be taken as a metaphor for Israel’s return only. But this is not the only passage that refers to resurrection (see also Isaiah 25:6-12; 26:19; Daniel 12:1-4). Using resurrection to describe the return emphasizes the miraculousness of the return and at the same time points to the inauguration of the age to come when death will be no more—a restoration like no other.
The deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the return from exile in Babylon, and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 all demonstrate that nothing is impossible with God. An honest analysis of Israel’s condition prior to each of these events shows that Israel had no reason to hope. But with God anything is possible.
Are you feeling hopeless right now? Look to the God of restoration and resurrection. He who brings the dead to life, will bring life to you, if you trust him. There’s no telling where he will take you from there.