Getting to Know God Meditations: 20. God of Transformation
Ezek 37:1-3 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
No Spectator God: ‘Deists’ believe in a ‘God’ but one that sits outside of our existence, a mere spectator, having set the whole thing going. How far from the God of the Bible, which is perhaps why deists don’t believe in revelation because the whole book is about revelation. The God of the entire Bible is one who intervenes in this world, who interacts with this world, who seeks to redeem and restore this fallen world, and thus is a God of transformation.
Ezekiel: No more is this seen than in this vision that Ezekiel has that we find in chapter 37. Ezekiel lived in the closing years of the existence of the southern kingdom (the northern kingdom had gone some 150 years beforehand). The kings of Judah at this time were a bad lot. The God of revelation had spoken to them again and again through Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylon (he had been one of the early Jews to be taken there in exile by Nebuchadnezzar). God had called them again and again to put the nation straight, to deal with all the evil that there was there but they refused. Thus both Jeremiah and Ezekiel brought words of warning that destruction would come.
If you read their writings this is not for the faint-hearted; it is unrestricted horror. There was nothing surprising about this in some ways. Nebuchadnezzar was the all-powerful despot of the region and had already swept through the land and culled it of some of its leaders. (Daniel was one who got taken with his friends into the court of the king in Babylon where he became God’s mouthpiece to this and subsequent reigns in Babylon. An amazing story – read the first 6 chapters of Daniel to see it.) When armies attacked and there was resistance, there would be fighting, even a siege, and there would be deaths; it is what men do to other men (and women and children – no exceptions in outright war!).
The Future: So Ezekiel has been getting these words from God that suggest that the days are drawing very near for the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the entire nation brought about by Nebuchadnezzar’s next invasion. It is clear from his writings that he sees it all coming. It looks like the end of Judah in the same way that Israel (the northern ten tribes) had been removed from the map back in 722BC. He doesn’t know it for certain but the southern kingdom will cease in 587BC when Jerusalem and its temple is destroyed. Yet within himself, he knows it is coming. He grieves over the certainty of what is about to happen – and then he gets this vision.
The Challenge: A vision, unlike a dream that you get when you are asleep, occurs when you are awake and conscious but suddenly everything before you disappears and you just see the revelation. He sees himself in a valley and the floor of this valley is covered with dry bones. It is the picture of a graveyard where no one has been buried, what happens after a great battle and the invading army has left and the land is now empty. The birds come and pick the carcasses clean. There is nothing left of the inhabitants of the land except their dry bones. As he gazes with horror, I suspect, on all of these bones, God’s voice comes to him: “Can these bones live?” (v.3a)
A Wise Response: I like Ezekiel’s answer, it is an answer of wisdom. Trying to be smart, we might have said, “Oh yes, Lord, you can do anything,” but Ezekiel knows it is not so much a matter of God’s power and ability but God’s will. He simply says, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (v.3b) God has the power, God can do it, but does He want to do it. There is about to be – and this vision corresponds to it – a mighty act of judgment on this ungodly kingdom by another ungodly, but more powerful, kingdom. The sinfulness of mankind will bring about what God has warned them about. It will happen but after it, what? Is it the utter end of this ‘experiment’ by God with a chosen nation that has refused to let Him lead them into blessing after blessing (except in the early days under David and then Solomon and once or twice afterwards), is this the end of Israel? What is God going to say about these dry bones, these ‘left-overs’ of Israel?
New Life, New Future: We won’t work our way through what follows but God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy over these bones, life, breath from God, tendons and flesh to cover them again (v.5-10) and they will rise up again as a vast army. It happens as he does and then comes the word of explanation: “Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” (v.11-14)
See the things He says through Ezekiel:
- “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them;
- I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
- Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord,
- I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and
- I will settle you in your own land.
- Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
And, remember, this is all spoken before the destruction comes. God will sovereignly move to restore Israel to the Land. His plans, that we saw in earlier studies to use Israel in a variety of way, have not changed. Israel will still be there in some four hundred years when the time is ripe for Jesus to come!
Overview: But what we see here is also a picture of God’s intents for mankind. As we’ve seen before – and again it was through Ezekiel – He doesn’t delight in deaths of people, He wants them to return to Him so that a relationship with Him can be lived out and He can further express His love to us. This is the ongoing message of the Bible. It was a purpose stated from before time began and reiterated again and again and again through the pages of the Bible. God does not want us to remain in the mess we so often create for ourselves, but wants to restore us to lives of peace, harmony, blessing, provision, safety and security. This is the end result of His restoring work.
The terrible thing about this, we should never forget, is that even the weakest of us can resist His will, for He never forces it upon us. All of this goodness is there for the taking but it only comes as the outworking of the relationship with Him for He is peace, He is love, He is goodness and we share all those things as we share in Him. May we learn that.