Dry Bones and Lame Men: Do You Want to Get Well?

Ezekiel, a Hebrew priest, was among the first of those taken out of Jerusalem into Babylonian exile. While in exile, he was confronted with a vision of the heavenly throne on which sat “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” And Scripture says when he saw it, he fell to his face (Ezekiel 1:28). From His throne, God speaks to Ezekiel about how the Israelites continue to rebel and sin against Yahweh. They were so wrapped up in idolatry that they were even practicing worship and holding ceremonies to other gods in the temple, making it no longer fit to house God’s presence. God commissions Ezekiel as a watchman and a prophet over Israel, one who speaks the words of the Lord to the people, “…whether they listen or fail to listen…” (Ezekiel 2:7). Only in this way might the people be made aware of the offensiveness of their sin and turn from it.  

With the Lord’s words in his mouth (Ezekiel 3:1-3), Ezekiel warns the people. He shares how they have prostituted themselves, abandoning the husband-like protection and care of Yahweh to lust after idols and foreign practices (Ezekiel 16). He reveals how God’s wrath will be poured out on the whole nation as He deals justly with their unspeakable sin. Ezekiel urges the people to turn from their wicked ways and back to the Lord before it is too late, for “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). 

All of Ezekiel’s warnings and visions of a terrible future in which the Israelites fall to the swords of their enemies come to pass. Because of their rebellion against their God, the streets of Jerusalem are filled with the dead (Ezekiel 11:6). Although not all of the Israelites face physical death from the Babylonians, they are also left spiritually dead – seemingly separated from the Abrahamic promises that defined them as a people. They are torn from the temple. 

However, in this spiritual death, hope remained. 

As he is hearing the words of God against the people of Israel, Ezekiel is overwhelmed and cries out in desperation: “Alas, Sovereign Lord! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?” (Ezekiel 11:13)

The Lord promises Ezekiel and, indirectly, the Israelites, that, although he is removing them from Jerusalem for a time—although he is scattering them among the nations—He will bring them back to the Promised Land (Ezekiel 11:17). But this return will not simply be a second chance in which God says, “Hope you can do it right this time.” No. This return will be a transformation, a revival in which the people will truly repent and remove all of the idols from the temple (Ezekiel 11:18). Upon this return and removal of sin, God promises them an internal transformation as well:

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them a heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 11:19)

Many of us have read the story of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, but how much richer is its meaning knowing its context? Ezekiel received this vision from the Lord after Jerusalem had fallen and the exile was already underway. Yet the promise of revival seemed so distant. 

At this moment, God leads Ezekiel into the valley of the dry bones. There is no sign of life, only the oldness and the dryness of that which appeared unrevivable. Until God asks his servant a question: “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3).

The obvious answer is no: they are too dry, scattered, and dead. However, in his reply, Ezekiel acknowledges these undeniable facts while also inviting the Lord into the apparent hopelessness of it all. 

“Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 

Upon this answer, the Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. As Ezekiel obeys, the scattered bones come together and are clothed in muscle, tendon, and flesh. Then the Lord filled them with His own breath, creating a “vast army” (Ezekiel 37:10). 

The Lord tells Ezekiel that these bones are the people of Israel, His chosen ones. They are scattered among the nations, dead in their spirits, dry in their convictions, and awaiting the Almighty. Ezekiel is commanded to continue prophesying to the people, reminding them that they will not remain in this state for long—Yahweh will soon give them His spirit.

A key observation, however: the dry bones were not made alive until Ezekiel acknowledged their state, until he confessed “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

God did indeed bring his people back to Jerusalem. The temple was rebuilt and the nation was refreshed following exile. However, as Christians, we know that these miraculous visions of Ezekiel also speak to the state of our dry souls revived in Christ. Even more broadly, they reveal the hope of Christ’s return, which will mark the end of all sin, all death, and all scattering as He draws his people to Himself in the reality of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). 

Yes, Christ promises us eternity. But what about our souls now? We are tired. Dry and scattered. Often lost in the sin that so easily entangles. 

Revival often seems so out of reach. God, why are you so close yet so far? Exile feels neverending. 

One of my favorite New Testament stories is in chapter 5 of the Gospel of John. Jesus is in Jerusalem near the pool of Bethesda. On occasion, the pool was stirred. When this happened, many believed that the first person to touch the water would be healed. The pool was always surrounded by “…a great number of disabled people…the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (John 5:3), all desperately waiting to be healed. 

Here, Jesus encounters a man who has been lame for a long time. He has been waiting by the pool for thirty-eight years. Jesus asks him an outrageous question.

“Do you want to get well?”

Is the answer to this not clear? The man has been trying for decades to get well. However, it would be unwise to dismiss the profundity of Jesus’ question, for in it, we hear echoes of Yahweh’s voice to Ezekiel:

“Son of man, can these bones live?” 

The dry bones appeared beyond hope. Too scattered. Too old. Too incapable of living on their own. Much like the lame man. 

Ezekiel responds in surrender, leaving room for the Lord to work. In the same breath, he admits defeat and hope. “Sovereign Lord, only you know.” 

Does the lame man not do the same thing? Responding to Jesus’ question, he says, “I have no one to help me into the pool…” (John 5:7). Thus, in the same breath, he confesses his desperation and hope. He will be healed, if only he is helped. After this response, Jesus commands the man to get up and walk. He is cured at once (John 5:8). 

Very often, we want to feel refreshed rather than seek full renewal. However, Jesus does not ask us if we want to feel well. He asks us if we want to get well. The Lord does not ask if the dry bones can move. He asks if they can live.  

What will be our answer? 

Before we become an army and before we can pick up our mat, we must acknowledge our deep desperation and lameness. When we confess our sins and run back to God, our breath of surrender simultaneously becomes a whisper of hope. The water stirs, and a hand extends to help us into the pool. 

If you want a heart of flesh, you must be willing to surrender your heart of stone. If you want revival, you must first decide that you want to get well. 

Categories: Faith

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Brad Fogo

Convicting and encouraging! Thank you, Maisey, for tying these two events together and pointing us to the One who can revive us and heal us.

Patty Kee

Very exciting to hear these two stories connected in such a beautiful story! Well written! Excellent words from the Lord!!