By Henry Mahan
There are at least three things taught in these verses.
This scripture is a prophecy of the restoration of Israel as a nation, and some say the conversions of many of them. Charles Spurgeon wrote in 1864, 'There will be a native government again. The state of Israel will be incorporated. The Jews shall return to Palestine and walk upon her mountains and sit under her fig trees.'
This scripture is a description of the resurrection of the dead.
I have watched as the bones of the dead in Mexico have been transferred from a grave to the family box; and in amazement I have wondered, 'Can these bones live?' Our Lord said that they will all live again (John 5:28-29).
But as all of the Old Testament scriptures 'testify of Christ' (John 5:39; Luke 24:27), this scripture is a picture of the resurrection of dead sinners to eternal life through and by the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; 1 Cor. 15:22). The giving of life and salvation to dead sinners is a greater miracle than the restoration of Israel or the resurrection of dead bodies. The two greatest mysteries and miracles are (1) the Son of God became the Son of Man and (2) the sons of men, by his grace, become the sons of God! (1 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 3:1).
1. Here is the truth about human nature--dead in sin.
vv. 1-2. Do you want to know the truth about our fallen state?
Do you want to see what we really are as a result of Adam's transgression? (Rom. 5:12). Here it is! Evidently there had been a battle fought in this valley years before, and many men were killed. Their bones lay scattered about in the sand, bleached white, so dry and parched a dog would not pick one up, all the moisture and marrow gone out of them for years, very many and very dry.
Martin Luther once said, 'If a man could get a full view of his sin and lost condition as it really is, he would lose his sanity.' Like these dry bones, by nature we are without help, without hope, without Christ, and without God in this world (Eph. 2:12).
The dead sinner cannot feel, will, fear, love, repent, nor believe because he is devoid of spiritual life. He is dead!
2. 'Can these bones live?'
v. 3. This is the question the Lord God put to the prophet. Can men with blood, breath, and bodies stand where these bones lie in the dust?
This is the whole issue of scripture. Can the Ethiopian change his skin? or the leopard his spots? Can we do good that are accustomed to do evil? (Jer. 13:32). Can the fragrance of the rose issue forth from the sepulchre? Can the cursing tongue praise the Lord? Can hate be turned to love and pride and arrogance to humility?
The prophet gave the only answer! 'O Lord God, thou knowest.' The preacher certainly has no power to accomplish such a miracle. The bones themselves have no power to raise themselves. So a dead sinner has no more power to give himself spiritual life than a dead body can raise itself. Our Lord said, 'No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him' (John 6:44). No man will move toward God until God moves him. By nature we not only have no power to live, but we have no desire nor will to live. 'Thy people are made willing in the day of thy power' (Psalm 110:3).
3. The command comes from the Lord, 'preach to the bones'
v. 4. Prophesy unto the bones and say unto them, O ye dry bones hear the word of the Lord.' I suppose if one wanted dry, dead bones to live, the very last thing he would consider doing would be to preach to them. But this is God's way and God's command, 'Preach the word of the Lord to them' (1 Cor. 1:21; Rom. 1:16, 10:13-17; James 1:18).
The word of God is the word of life.
Christ is the word of God, and one cannot separate the word incarnate from the word written and spoken.
Life-giving sermons are sermons filled with Christ-- his person, his obedience, his blood, his resurrection, his exaltation, and his intercession (Acts. 13:38-39; 2 Cor. 5:18-21).
When Christ is preached (who he is, what he did, why he did it, where he is), those who are given ears to hear, hear Christ (John 13:20). The Holy Spirit and the word of God bring life (1 Peter 1:23). This is why the apostle Paul determined to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), for this gospel preached is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16).
4. The message that God gave Ezekiel to preach rang of free and sovereign grace
vv. 5-6. The message was not an appeal to the bones to do something for God, but it was a proclamation of what God was pleased to do for them. 'I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live.' 'I will lay sinews, flesh, and skin upon you.' 'You shall know that I am the Lord' (Isa. 45:22). The word is not 'I will if you will;' but rather God, says, 'I will and you shall!' God's will and purpose are not subject to man's depraved will. He works all things after the counsel of his will and makes us willing (Eph. 1:11). Through the years preachers have been exhorted not to preach God's sovereignty, covenant mercies, elective grace, and effectual, particular redemption to sinners; but these are the very truths God instructed the prophet to preach to these dead bones. Tell them who God is, what they are, and what God is pleased to do for them in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3-14).
5. The results of preaching the gospel of God's glory.
vv. 7-10. 'So I preached as I was commanded.' Wouldn't it be refreshing if all preachers would forget the programs, the entertainment, the methods, the eloquence and preach the word of God as they are commanded!
'There was a noise' or a stir! If the true word of God is preached in the power of God's Spirit, there will be a stir--the stir of interest, of life, of joy, of faith. But there will also be the stir of opposition, persecution, and trouble.
'O breath, come and breathe upon these slain that they may live.' Ezekiel did more than just preach; he prayed to the Spirit of the Lord to give life (John 3:5-8). Doctrines and facts (as true as they are) do not save nor give life. Christ is our life and he must give life! He said, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live' (John 11:25).