Ezekiel was a prophet during a rough time. Let’s sketch the picture. God promises old childless Abram, later Abraham, that he will be the father of multitudes. God fulfills his promise through Isaac and Jacob to Joseph. After Joseph, this huge family, the Israelites, are enslaved in Egypt. God hears their cries and delivers them through Moses. They make a mess of it for a generation, but Joshua then leads them into Canaan, God’s promised land. Here, the people again rebel and begin worshipping other gods (you know, like we do: possessions, power, popularity, promiscuity…). To call them home to him, God allows neighboring nations to attack and force them into exile (yes, I see the irony).
Now Ezekiel’s job is to tell the remnant of Israelites still in Canaan that things are going to get worse because they are persisting in their bad behavior. And it does.
God loves us, though, and he never leaves us. God shows Ezekiel his plan for his people’s restoration (including you and me) after this time of suffering. God takes Ezekiel to a valley filled with scattered, dry, human bones (Ezekiel 37). He shows how he will bring his people back from this lifeless pile by knitting them back together bone by bone. Here’s the takeaway: regardless of how desolate your life appears, God has a plan to breathe new life into you and your circumstances.
All this is a preamble to what I really want to say, however (sorry!). Let’s look at what follows the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. This is God’s message of hope.
24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”
God’s solution to our rebellion was already in place thousands of years ago! In verse 24a, God does not mean the man David, the former king of Israel. David, the shepherd, giant-killing king, was already dead. God is instead pointing hundreds of years into the future to David’s descendent, Jesus (Matthew 1, Luke 3). God is foretelling Jesus’ role as our rescuer, our savior. Jesus is:
- the true shepherd (John 10) who cares for his united flock of aimless, stubborn, belligerent sheep (that’s us, by the way)
- the true giant killer who defeated the accuser, Satan, once and for all on our behalf
- the true king who is both the creator and descendant of David (Revelation 22:16).
Verse 24b (second sentence) answers the question that Jesus will face from his critics, the Pharisees. “If we have the law, why do we need you?” Here’s why. Jesus succeeds where the law fails us (Romans 8). We cannot keep the law; we are imperfect. However, Jesus took our place under God’s judgement. He did not contradict the necessity of following God’s commands for our protection, though. In his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5), here’s the very first thing he said about himself.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Here’s more good news. God has made a covenant, or promise, of peace with us (Ezekiel 37:26) and he will never leave us (verse 28). The battle is won! We are now standing in victory valley. Rise up dry bones and embrace the life that God has promised you. Praise God!