By Elizabeth Tang
I actually wanted to discuss something else this morning, but I had a prompt to change the message on Friday. So at work on Friday, I plugged in my earphones as I usually do in order to gain some focus. We have an open plan office so there is constant noise whether that’s people on the phone, general conversations, or the mad typing of fingers on the keyboards. Because listening to music is more for background noise for me, I don’t often necessarily notice what comes on, but that day, I was suddenly struck by a song called “Dry Bones (Come Alive)” by Lauren Daigle, in particular by the chorus.
As we call out to dry bones
Come alive, come alive
And we call out to dead hearts
Come alive, come alive
Come up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones come alive
At hearing the song, the first passage that came to mind was Ezekiel 37 about the vision of the dry bones, which was a bit strange given it isn’t necessarily the nicest picture to bring to mind. But I felt there was a prompt to look into the passage and see the connection with visions & dreams and building a church to last (the theme for 2015) which we had been discussing.
The passage of “The Valley of Dry Bones” (Ezek. 37:1-14) reads as follow.
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. 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. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4-6 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7-8 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9-10 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11-14 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.’”
I tend to be someone who likes prompts so today we have the 5Ps to discuss in relation to this passage: Potential, Possible, Power, and Plans & Purposes.
POTENTIAL–Seeing Beyond the Here and Now
I imagine that when God took Ezekiel to the valley, he was confronted with a picture of vastness, yet in this vastness, there was a spotlight placed on all of the bones that surrounded him. For anyone being in the midst of the valley, that would have been a very daunting place. It reminds me a little of my trip last year to Tasmania with my cousin and brother when we were driving and a fog descended, which was a little eerie given there were hardly any other cars around since it was winter. As we were driving we noticed there was quite a lot of roadkill that littered the side of the road to the extent that we wondered if we were in the valley of dry bones! A daunting thought but maybe relatable to Ezekiel’s situation!
You can imagine that he might have been squirming to be taken away from this place, particularly given that, as a priest, being among the dead would mean he was unclean. But God spoke to him, saying: “Son of man, can these bones live?” My initial reaction if I were in his place would be: “No. You see how dead these bones are, they are so dried out and sun bleached with nothing left to them, so how can they once again live?” Imagine you’re the first person to arrive at an accident, and you see somebody lying motionless on the ground. You might attempt to CPR and try to revive the person; it makes sense given there is a bit of hope for them. But what if you saw a skeleton lying on the road? I presume you wouldn’t consider giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation because they’re just dead bones. There’s no hope. That’s essentially what Ezekiel was looking at: a valley of dead bones with no hope. But Ezekiel was a little wiser in his response than me, and rather than saying yes or no, he replied, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. It was quite a clever answer as he showed that, regardless of what his opinion was, God knows better.
Sometimes we look at ourselves and think we are like those dry bones, lacking in ability and skills. We think: “I’m not as good as so and so”; “why would God want to use someone who is so broken?” God doesn’t see us that way; He sees the potential in us to do great things. Even when it seems God has given us a vision that seems beyond our potential, let us remember that He has a better foresight and knows what is to come.
POSSIBLE–A Vision (Mission) Impossible Made Possible
The other week Ian and I went to see the new movie “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” part of the Mission Impossible series. I haven’t seen any of the movies all the way through. The extent of my knowledge was the theme tune and the quotes: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it” or “This message will self-destruct in five seconds”.
So for those of you who don’t know about the series, it essentially follows the Impossible Missions Force Team as they undertake a number of missions. Although the missions may, at times, seem impossible, somehow they are always able to complete the assigned missions. Obviously, because they are movies, the so-called impossible always becomes possible. But can you imagine what Ezekiel might have been thinking when God commanded him to speak to those dead and dry bones to not only come together (which could be possible given the pieces were there to put together) but for flesh to appear from nowhere and to attach itself to these bones! It seemed God was commanding a “mission impossible”.
Yet, there are so many instances when the impossible was made possible in the Bible. In Genesis, God promised Sarah/Sarai will have a baby in her old age. He could have chosen to act when she was of child bearing age, yet God chose the time when she was barren to do it. How about the time when Mary asked, “How can this be?” The angel had told her that she was going to be pregnant while she was still a virgin. The angel Gabriel told her, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Or how about the instance when the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” and Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible”. Another incident in John 11 tells the story of Lazarus, one of Jesus’ friend who had died and was laid to rest in the tomb. To any person, it was too late for Lazarus. “Had Jesus been there a few days earlier, this would not have been the situation” many would have thought. To them, there was no hope. But from that hopeless situation when Jesus called him out of the tomb, the situation became possible.
Visions and dreams are often given to us, and they are not always bought to life in an instance. Time can pass (months, years, and even decades). The longer time passes, the more it might feel like that vision or dream is as dead and as dry as those bones and we might feel like nothing will/can ever happen. However, God’s speciality is to use the situations that are humanly impossible to show the supernaturally possible and change a “Mission Impossible” into a “Vision Possible”.
POWER – Power in the Word of God when He Speaks
Once the bones came together and the flesh formed on the bones, the bodies would probably resembled like any other body, but there was still something missing. In verse 8, Ezekiel noted that there was no breath in these bodies. For us to be alive we need to breathe. We need to breathe to be able to take in the oxygen we take need for our cells to function in our body. Ezekiel seeing the bodies that had been formed noted the importance of the breath that they needed.
“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army”. (vv. 9-10). Notice that there is a slight emphasis in the words “This is what the Sovereign Lord says”. Three times this phrase is used. The first time, when the bones were brought together in verses 5-6; the second time, in the call to breathe in the bodies; the final time, in what Ezekiel was to tell the people of Israel. These words show where the power to give that life-giving breath came.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he was raised by the call and words of Jesus (John 11:43-44): “Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” To the bystander, it might have seemed crazy to call out the dead person, but imagine the look they would have had when Lazarus actually came out of that tomb! This could only have happened because of the power that Jesus had in the words that He said! I once heard someone preach on this, and they asked us whether we had really thought about the power behind and in the words that Jesus had said. He had to be specific in saying, “Lazarus come out”, because if He had just said, “Come out”, the bystanders around would have had even more of a shock when an army of previously dead people were suddenly alive again! The passage shows that power to give breath and life was not in Ezekiel saying the words per se, but in God’s words. The interesting thing is that even though God could have done it himself, He still used Ezekiel to deliver the words. God wants us to be part of His plans and visions and invites us to be a part of it. Yet, He doesn’t leave us on our own but gives us the power, equipping us for His plans.
PLANS/PROMISES – A Vision of A Hope
It may seem a bit of a sombre passage to talk about it, but I want to link the point that the valley of dry bones points to a vision of hope. As the vision of the dry bones concludes, God reveals the meaning of the vision to Ezekiel. To give some background in the lead up to this passage, the tribes of Israel have been scattered, becoming a people who were lost, questioning their identity and losing hope as a nation. In essence, they had become the dry bones, yet God was promising them more than what they could see.
I’ve often shared Jeremiah 29:11, one of my favourite verses. This verse is often easy to take it into a personal context, but if we look at it in context of the Israelites, we can see that it speaks that God would redeem His people after years in exile. Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NLT) says: “This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.’” Both of these verses give Israel a glimpse of the future that they would one day be revived and restored, providing not only a hope but of a promise of what was to come.
Isaiah 55:10-11 (NLT) says: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.
These verses illustrate that God’s words will set out to do what they would intend to do. They will complete what they are purposed to do just as the vision He gave to Ezekiel and the word He gave to Jeremiah. God was giving His people an assurance of coming home and being a vast and mighty army able to do anything with God. Our visions and dreams should also be seen in this light. We may go through struggles, but there are plans and promises to come for God is in the middle of it. If a dream or vision has been God-breathed, we should not fear for the outcomes because He already knows.
In catching hold of the dreams and visions God has given to us:
- We need to see the potential God sees in us and not take things at face value.
- We need to know that it is only through God that situations will become possible even if they feel impossible.
- We need to understand that the power comes from God and not from our own strength, yet He still wants us to be part of His work.
- We can have assurance that God has and fulfils His plans and promises.
God wants His people to make a stand, to see His vision, and to run with it. He wants to see His Church become the people He envisaged them to be: a Church that will stand out from the world as it is today. We were made to be a holy people set apart for God, people who see the world He created the way He meant it to be.