In the last week or so we have been looking at several of the prophets that God used over 300-400 years to call out to Israel and Judah. He wanted relationship with them so badly and they continued generation after generation to turn their backs on Him by putting other god’s before Him and choosing to disobey Him. At the time of Ezekiel, Judah and thousands of others had been deported to Babylon when their king surrendered to the leadership of Babylon because they couldn’t fight them any longer. (God would have protected them and kept them safe as a country if they would have followed His plan, but they chose their selfish ways instead of His and landed themselves in exile in another country.) God used Ezekiel as a watchman to warn the people of Judah to turn to God as they were living in captivity. His message was that God expected personal obedience and worship from each of them no matter their circumstances.
As I have read through the prophets this time I have developed a deep sympathy for them in the work God assigned to them. They spent their lives preaching to people who were not interested in their message. Their job was vitally important and necessary in God’s plan, but in the world I think they just appeared crazy. When I picture Ezekiel calling out to people on the streets, or meeting with groups to deliver God’s message, the picture that comes to my mind is the guy in a crowded city or on a college campus who is yelling out his message to a bunch of people who are maybe a bit afraid of him, or who are wondering if he is mentally stable, or at the very least feeling uncomfortable as they pass by. How do you stay motivated to get up every day and stay at the work at hand when you are mocked, ignored, and pushed aside every time you speak? I hope that my perception of what it must have been like for Ezekiel is wrong, but after reading chapter 37 and seeing Ezekiel’s personal encounter with God, I’m pretty confident that Ezekiel’s job felt like a steep uphill climb, daily!
So three quarters of the book of Ezekiel is God’s message to Judah while in captivity. The entire book is filled with God’s words that Ezekiel speaks to the people of Judah over years of time, until chapter 37 hits. In this chapter Ezekiel reports the events of the vision God gives to him one day. The first verse, “The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones.” The bones were scattered out all over the ground and dried out completely. God asked Ezekiel if these bones can become living people again. Wisely, Ezekiel answers that God alone knows the answer to that question. So God has Ezekiel prophecy to the bones that He will put breath into them and make them live again. He will put flesh and muscle over them and cover them with skin and they will come to life. So Ezekiel obeys. As he speaks there is a rattling noise all across the valley and the bones gather themselves into complete skeletons and as he watched, muscle and flesh formed over the bodies but they still had no breath in them. So God again told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bodies. As he did, breath came into their bodies and they all came to life and stood to their feet. Then God told Ezekiel that the bones represent the people of Israel, old dry bones…all hope gone. God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the people anyway and tell them that He will open the graves of exile, cause them to rise again, and then He will bring them out of exile back to the land of Israel. When this happens they will know that He is the Lord and He has done what He said He would do.
God reached out to Ezekiel to encourage him and give him new urgency and motivation to share God’s message. Ezekiel had been sharing God’s word for years with no fruit, no change in the people, and no hope for change. (Frankly, I would have given up!) God knew that this message needed to land in some hearts so He could accomplish His plan for bringing Jesus to the earth in a family from the line of David. God needed Ezekiel to stay faithful in a steep uphill climb so that Israel and Judah could be reunited and He could live among His people again.
This morning, can you see encouragement from God anywhere in your life to stay at something that feels hard but needs to be done?