This week we read from Ezekiel 32 to Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon. Under his rule, the Babylonian world empire defeated and swallowed up most of the near eastern nations. What we read in Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel gives us an up close and personal look at how this impacted Judah and Israel, also they address the surrounding nations under God’s judgment. When Nebuchadnezzar’s armies defeated Jerusalem and he brought many exiles from Judah to Babylon, Daniel and his three friends were among these. These young faithful Jewish teenagers would shape the faith impact the lives of pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar, world empire ruler, destroyer of Judah, Jerusalem and the temple of God that Solomon built. Nebuchadnezzar eventually was humbled before God and confessed that the Lord, the God of Daniel is indeed the Almighty God who is over the kings of all nations. Did you read the end of Daniel 4 yet?
This was no less than an act of God.
God loves to take that which is considered nothing in the world’s eyes and use it to accomplish God sized changes in our world. A handful of teenagers from defeated and devastated Judah, God used to convert the most powerful king in the world. Echoes of Joseph in Egypt come to mind.
In the future, after Daniel, we enter the gospels. There we meet a baby born to a poor virgin from a backwoods Galilean village called Nazareth. She and her betrothed humbly go to Bethlehem to register under the Roman government. There she gives birth to the Son of God, sent from the Father to defeat the powers of sin and death. This son of man, Son of God was seen by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. He will receive a kingdom who’s dominion will never end. This kingdom touches both time and eternity. It relies not on physical might and power, but on the Spirit of God, the Word of God and the humble followers of Jesus who bow to God in obedient faith. This kingdom’s power is made perfect through weakness, where God shines through. It was begun through a sacrificial death on a cross. The sacrifice was none other than the Son of God. What looked like terrible defeat was actually eternal victory. The acts of God we see in this kingdom of Christ, turn everything worldly upside down. God’s light and truth exposes the lies and deceptions of sin on the one hand, and the awesome glory and beauty of God’s redeeming, saving love on the other.
Tonight in our groups we will see how this child, born of Mary, grew up and gathered a following and told them of His plan to build His church. This church would spread throughout the world and ultimately will stand undefeated by even the gates of Hell.
Today’s text from Ezekiel illustrates this well. These are acts of God. God can do what no one else can. Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.”
God seems to love to do the impossible in unlikely ways.
Ezekiel 37 opens with God’s hand taking Ezekiel to the midst of a valley filled with bones. Human bones. The remains of a terrible war leaving multitudes slain and left unburied to rot and be eaten by vultures and wild beasts and who’s remaining bones were bleached and dried in the sun.
This object lesson is striking. We tend to sanitize the Bible’s messages by rushing past the hard passages or reinterpreting them into something less offensive than they actually were meant to be. This is offensive. Ezekiel is a priest. Priests were defiled if they touch the dead. Leviticus 21:1, 11, Numbers 19:11, Haggai 2:13. God’s law made it clear. Priests were not to touch the dead, with very few and limited exceptions. No obedient priest would purposely risk defilement by coming near or touching human remains. Now, where does God put Ezekiel? Smack dab in the middle of a valley of the dead. The graphic message is startling. God has his full attention. They are not just there, but God has Ezekiel pass by them, all around, so he can observe them. This experience, Ezekiel will never forget. Human bones everywhere. The valley is filled with dry, very dry, human skeletal pieces in disarray. Evidence of the horrors of devastation and defeat in war. No dignity, no respect, no compassion, and no hope. This is a place of death, a place where doom has won.
It is interesting what we try to do at times and places like this, is it not? Gettysburg, PA., Thursday, November 19, 1863, following Edward Everett’s two hour address, President Lincoln gave a ten sentence speech in two minutes, that is today considered one of the greatest and most influential addresses in our nation’s history. Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Actually, Lincoln’s speech is more remembered than the battle. Similarly, Ezekiel’s words here are more remembered than the war that devastated the lives and bodies of those bones. Sadly, Judah and Jerusalem were not defeated fighting for honorable purposes, but they were punished because of their rejection of God. In that sense, this valley is not evidence of great heroism and courage, but of great judgment against sin.
God’s question to Ezekiel in verse 3 is a bit haunting at first. “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel chooses his words wisely, “O Lord God, you know.”
God’s response is, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” Look at verses 5-8.
What’s going on here? What power is at work? Clearly this is an act of God, but how? How is God working here? How is God’s power being expressed? Through what means is God working?
It’s His word! His word spoken. His word prophesied and proclaimed. The acts of God here are through His word! Is that true today?
Notice the story continues. The bones come together, sinew and flesh cover them, but they are still dead. What more do they need? It is the Spirit, the Hebrew word here is “ruach.” The same word referring to God’s Spirit and man’s life force through breath.
Verse nine continues Ezekiel’s experience here as God says, “Prophesy to the Spirit!” Look at verses 9-10. This valley of dry bones, without life, without hope, comes to life again.
By God’s word, through God’s Spirit, in and with God’s people, God builds His church. God’s word proclaimed and God’s Spirit received and followed by God’s people, created in His image and likeness, form God’s church. God sent Jesus Christ, His Son, our Savior, to be head over all things, for the church, which is His body.
Without Him we are all dead in our trespasses and sins. Without Him we are destined to be dry bones. But through the word of God become flesh, and the Spirit of God poured out through Him, we are made alive in Christ Jesus. And even though we die, we will rise again!
Look at verses 11-14.
God tells Israel that there is a future for them beyond the grave. In the New Testament we discover that this future is for us as well! We Gentiles who trust in the Lord are called to be heirs of the promises of God. God reveals much, much more through the glorious light of the words of Jesus Christ about these things. Keep seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness first! Never give in to the temptations to turn from Christ. Never let the forces of this Babylonian world capture your heart and destroy your faith! Be a Daniel! Hear God’s word, follow God’s Spirit, bow to God’s will and walk in God’s ways. You’ll never regret it. There is nothing in this universe that is worth leaving God for. Nothing! Trust Him! Guard your heart. By God’s word, through God’s Spirit, in and with God’s people, God builds His church, all in the name of our King, Jesus Christ.