Where does the power for discipleship come from? We can’t convert anybody, and we certainly can’t cause someone to grow in spiritual maturity. As a result of the curse of sin, an unbeliever is spiritually dead with no ability to revive himself. How, then, are we to obey the command to make disciples in the midst of apparent hopelessness?
As Ezekiel was led through a parched valley, he wondered how many lives had been lost. Everywhere he looked, there seemed to be endless piles of bones without any sign of life.
A violent battle had taken place leaving many corpses behind, but decomposition and wild animals had taken their toll so that only dry bones remained.
“Can these bones live?” the Lord asked Ezekiel.
Preaching to the Dead
No doubt, this was a difficult question to answer. To say “no” would be to doubt the very power of God. But, to say “yes” wasn’t easy considering the bleak sight all around him. Perhaps Ezekiel had heard stories of dead people being resuscitated.
However, the valley wasn’t filled with recently deceased corpses; no, these were merely bones. There was no skin, no organs, nothing besides disconnected skeletons, and they were so dry they surely had been there a while.
“O Lord God, you know,” Ezekiel safely replies.
“Prophesy over these bones,” commands the Lord.
Now, I’ve preached to some seemingly lifeless audiences, but I’ve never preached to bones. Humanly speaking, this is a rather strange request. What good is it to declare the Word of the Lord to those who are dead?
However strange it may have been, Ezekiel obeys. As he preaches, the bones begin to shake. They come together to form fully connected skeletons. Tendons and muscles begin to form and are finally covered with skin. Instead of bones, there are now full human bodies.
But there is still no life in them.
The Lord tells Ezekiel once again to prophesy, this time to the breath. Ezekiel obeys another strange request and breath begins to enter these lifeless bodies. This pile of bones becomes a mighty army.
Hope for Dead Transgressors
Ezekiel 37:11–14 provides the interpretation of this vision. In short, God’s people had disobeyed the covenant and pursued other gods. The people had seen God’s grace over and over which led to being presumptuous in their sin. They didn’t think God would ever destroy Jerusalem.
However, they failed to remember the covenant curse for disobedience as described in Deuteronomy 28:25–26: “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. . . . And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth” (a repeated warning also appears in Jeremiah 34:17–20). The bones scattered abroad the valley in Ezekiel’s vision are a picture of those who received the covenant curse through the Babylonian defeat and also lacked a proper burial for the slain.
Despite the grim effects of their disobedience, the vision ends with hope. Through the proclamation of God’s Word and the life-giving power of the Spirit, a re-creation takes place. The people have experienced judgment for their sins, but God has not completely abandoned them.
He will redeem his people and keep the unconditional promise he made to Abraham that one of his descendants will bless the nations (Gen. 22:15–18).
The Power to Make Disciples
We’re all likely familiar with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”