Chapter 21 – The Spirit of the Resurrection; Ezekiel 37:8

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Rom. 8: 2. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that hath raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Rom. 8 : 11.

The thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel is one of the most remarkable exhibitions of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, because it introduces with great clearness and definiteness the doctrine of the resurrection.

This truth, beyond all others, is characteristic of the system of redemption. It might be called the patent sign of the Gospel. Far more than the Cross, the symbol of baptism expresses the fundamental idea of the Christian religion; for, while the Cross speaks only of death, baptism tells also of resurrection and life.

This truth, foreshadowed in many Old Testament passages, and doubtless underlying the teaching of all the prophets, is brought out here with great distinctness, and makes the passage one of the marked ones of Old Testament revelation.

1. THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES. First, we have the vision in the valley of dry bones. This is not a vision of the resurrection proper, but rather of a special resurrection. The prophet is taken in the spirit into the valley of dry bones. It is the scene of some ancient battle, where he beholds around him the skeletons of the fallen army, and, lo! they are very many, and, lo! they are very dry.

A generation has passed since they fell. The flesh has long ago withered from the skeletons, and the bones lie bleached and withered under the open sun. Suddenly the question comes to him, “Can these bones live?” And his wise answer is “Lord Thou knowest.” Then there comes to him; first, the command to prophesy unto the bones, proclaiming to them the Word of the Lord, and announcing to them that they shall live. And, lo! there comes a noise and a shaking; and bone cleaves to his bone, and they assume the forms of men; but still there is no breath in them.

Then a second time the Word of the Lord comes to him, commanding him to prophesy unto the breath of life to come from the four winds and breathe upon these slain that they may live; and, lo! as he prophesies and commands, the spirit of life to come into these lifeless forms, there is a quivering moment, as the life passes into every frame, and they spring to their feet and stand before him a mass of living men, an exceeding great army.

2. THE APPLICATION OF THIS TO ISRAEL AS A NATION. God does not leave the prophet in doubt as to the meaning of the vision. Its first and immediate application is to his people. They were mourning over their national ruin and saying, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts.” But he tells them that the voice of God is yet to come to them; that the power of His Spirit is yet to breathe upon them; that even shattered and hopeless Israel shall revive; and that the nation shall spring to life once more and return to their own land to resume their place in God’s great plan, while their divisions and disunions shall cease forever, and God shall dwell among them and restore His ancient sanctuary and renew His covenant with them forevermore.

There could scarcely be a more appropriate figure of Israel’s depressed condition than the vision of the dry bones. For eighteen centuries their hope has been dead in a far more terrible sense than was true even under the Babylonian captivity. It is not a century ago since the children of Israel were disfranchised outcasts of every nation. Even in Great Britain itself the voice of the pulpit and of the whole Christian press was raised against the first proposal to give the right of franchise to Hebrew citizens and to allow the children of Abraham a place and a name among the Gentiles.

For centuries they have been truly “outcasts of earth and reprobates of heaven,” and the idea of their restoration to their own land, and to their ancient blessing, might well be deemed the most hopeless prospect that language could express. But, lo! already the vision of the prophet begins to be fulfilled. The Word of God respecting Israel has been recovered and reissued. God’s people have begun to understand His purpose concerning Israel and have begun to preach the Gospel, even to the unbelieving sons of Abraham, and to proclaim to them, like the ancient prophet, the word of hope and promise, and to call them from their graves to their true Messiah and their only hope. And, lo! already there is a noise and a shaking; and bone is beginning to come to his bone, and a national revival of Judaism is one of the most marked signs of the day.

A spirit of reunion and reorganization is everywhere abroad among them. National societies are being formed. The rich and the poor are coming together. Great leaders of the nation are lending their financial strength to the cause of the helpless and the outcast. While as yet it is not a spiritual movement, but merely a reorganization of national life and hope, it is just what the prophet predicted would first come to pass; and he must be blind indeed, who does not see the ancient vision being fulfilled today among the children of Israel in every nation under heaven.

But there is a deeper spiritual movement. The Holy Ghost is also beginning His saving work. The deeper heart of the nation is beginning to be touched; and some of her sons are recognizing their long rejected Messiah, and beginning to accept Him as their Savior and their King.

These are but precursors of that latter rain which is to fall, when the Spirit of grace and of supplication shall be poured out upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and they shall look upon Him whom they pierced and shall mourn for Him as one that mourneth for an only son. And then shall a fountain be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and uncleanness, and all the blessed promises for Israel shall receive their spiritual fulfillment.

Then shall Israel and Judah be united. Then shall the severances of ages be forever healed. Then shall they be cleansed from their defilements and uncleanness and idolatries, to sin no more. Then shall they take the place of God’s chosen people; and, as the Queen of nations and the special witnesses of Jesus, the sons of Abraham shall fulfill their high calling, and their restoration shall be complete.

Then shall God’s sanctuary be among them once more. Neither shall He hide His face from them any more, but they shall dwell forever in His covenant love, the Light of the world, and the Leader of the nations.

3. THE APPLICATION OF THE VISION TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE SOUL AND THE CHURCH. There is something worse than the death of a nation, something worse than the death of the body. It is the spiritual death of those who lie sunk in trespasses and sins. The condition of human souls is like the bones in the valley of vision, very many and very dry. There is no human probability of restoration or life. But there is hope in God and in resurrection life.

There is the same twofold agency which we see in the nation. First is the Word of God. This is the divine instrument in the conversion of souls and the quickening of the spiritually dead. “Being born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”

Although souls are lost and dead, God commands us to proclaim to them the Word of God, and to tell them that He has sent them life, and is waiting to quicken them and bring them out of their graves.

This very word which they are unable to understand or feel or believe is the power through which they are to be awakened and brought to life. There is a strange potency in the Gospel to awaken the human conscience and to quicken the human spirit by the power of the Holy Ghost.

But the Word of God alone can bring about only an outward reformation like the baptism of John, which changed the lives of men and the forms and habits of their conversation; but it cannot put breath in them. And so the first effect is the abandonment of sin, the reformation of life, the assuming of the forms of righteousness, but there is no breath in them. The great agent in the real and vital transfiguration is the Spirit of the Living God, “the breath of life from the four winds of heaven.”

There is something very significant about the way in which the prophet was commanded to address the Spirit. It was not the language of entreaty, but of command. Just as he was commanded to prophesy to the dry bones and to bid them live, so he is commanded to prophesy unto the Holy Ghost and to bid the Spirit come and quicken those lifeless stones.

Is there not for us the significant suggestion and a solemn lesson that we are to speak the Gospel to men in the authority of God, and with the expectation of its power, and that we are to claim the Holy Ghost to accompany the words and to give efficacy to our testimony and work with the same authority? That we are not only to ask Him and invoke Him, but to command Him and to use Him, and fully to expect His almighty efficiency to accomplish the work for which He sent us?

Just as the laws of electricity, when properly understood, place at our command the forces of electricity, so, when we yield to the laws of the Spirit’s operation, we may command the Spirit’s operation and fully count upon His almighty working and infinite power. Is not this the real meaning of faith and the real province of Prayer in the ministry of the Gospel? Is not this the secret of many of our failures? Do we command Him as we might? Do we use these infinite forces which God has placed at our service for the accomplishment of the work for which He has sent us?

The effect of the Holy Spirit’s work is not a mere reformation, but a transformation. The forms of life are quickened into real life, and the men spring to their feet, and stand before him, “an exceeding great army.” They do not now need to be carried. They are themselves self-supporting; nay, they become an army of mighty power, and go forth in aggressive conflict to fight against the enemies of God and to impart to others the blessing which they themselves have received.

This mighty Holy Spirit is recognized as present in the world. The four winds indicate the four quarters of the earth, and they suggest the omnipresence and the ever-presence of that blessed Spirit who is with the Church, through the Christian dispensation, as the enduement of power for every commission on which the Master has sent her. Shall we claim our high and divine resources? Shall we utilize the infinite and all-sufficient supplies which our Master has committed to us? And shall we, with a simpler, bolder confidence, give forth the authoritative Word, and call down the Almighty Spirit to quicken the dry bones of a lifeless Church and to awaken the spiritually dead, that Christ may give them life?

4. THE FUTURE RESURRECTION. While this passage is not a literal vision of the resurrection from the dead, at the same time it assumes it and takes it for granted. That glorious doctrine is more fully unfolded and differentiated in the teachings of the New Testament. We see it first in its great pledge and first fruit, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see it next in the resurrection of His people at His coming, and we see the vision of it in its final and glorious age at the consummation of all faith.

In every instance it will be, in some measure, at least, the work of the Holy Spirit. He who is working out the spiritual resurrection now, will accomplish it at the glorious appearing of our Lord, and will change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.

We shall not dwell on this glorious doctrine now. It will be much more fully unfolded in later Scriptures. It is our blessed hope, and already we have its divine pattern and pledge in the first begotten from the dead, the glorious Prince of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

5. THE APPLICATION OF THE VISION TO THE WHOLE REALM OF FAITH AND SPIRITUAL POWER. There is a greater truth presented than even the literal resurrection. The thought lying back of the prophet’s vision, and the profound truth which it throws forward upon the prospective of faith is that the resurrection is t he pattern and the guarantee of all that God is able and willing to do in response to the faith of His people.

Expressed in a single sentence, the thought is that we have a resurrection God, and we ought to have a resurrection faith. Is not this the sublime thought which the Apostle Paul has presented in the magnificent climax of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, where he prays that the “eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe!”

Now comes the measure and standard of that power, “According to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Henceforth, the standard of faith and the measure of God’s working for His people is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When any trying situation presents itself, when any hard question is asked, and unbelief seems to say, “Can these bones live?” we have the simple answer, “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God.”

There are things that are darker than the grave and sadder than death. There are spiritual situations; there are family troubles; there are business difficulties; there are catastrophes and calamities; there are needs and trials compared with which the tears of bereavement are sweet, and the darkness of the sepulchre is bright indeed. But, thank God, we can meet these difficulties, these trials, these situations, these seeming impossibilities, and say, “Our trust is not in ourselves, but in God, who raiseth the dead. Who delivered us from so great a death, who doth deliver, in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us.” This is our hope for the hour of fierce temptation, for the time of sorrow and trial, for the conflict with sickness and pain, for the desperate campaign with the powers of the darkness as we go forth to save men and evangelize the world and bring the coming of our Lord.

All these are situations too hard for us; but, thank God, we can meet them every one with the God of the resurrection, with the hope of the resurrection, with the faith of the resurrection, with the life of the resurrection, with the pledge of the resurrection, and say, “Yes, it is all true. With men it is impossible — BUT GOD — who raiseth the dead.”

Break from your fears, ye saints, and tell
How high your great Deliverer reigns;
Sing how He spoiled the hosts of hell,
And led the monster Death in chains.

Say, “Live forever, Wondrous King,
Born to redeem and strong to save;”
Then ask the Monster, “Where’s thy sting,
And where’s thy victory, boasting grave?”