“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, Thou knowest. Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said He unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.” Ezekiel 37:1-10
I believe that this passage touches a matter which is very prominent in all our hearts. These ten verses speak of what we might call a life-giving work of God amongst His people, a life-giving work of our great God. I suppose we could reduce it to one word: a true divine revival, the word ‘revival’. Is that not a matter that you are very much concerned about in these days? Are we not all longing to see a new life-giving work of our God in our day and in our land? But if you look a little closer you see that this is not only a life-giving work of God; here we have what we could call a restoration of lost fighting potential. You see, there was this valley of dry bones, very many and very dry, and we wonder why such a valley could be filled with so many dry bones right there on the surface, and I think the only reasonable explanation was that an army had been overcome and devastated in that valley. We know that after the Lord did His work, His life-giving work, they all stood up a great army. Perhaps that is what they were, before the tragedy. And so here, I repeat we have a restoration by God of lost fighting potential.
These two things are urgently needed amongst the people of the Lord; these two things are needed in our hearts, and these two things are needed in my heart: an act of God that brings abundance of life, and also an act of God that restores lost fighting potential. You know one of the figures, or types of the church in the Old Testament is that of an army. We find that for instance in the Song of Solomon. We know in Song of Solomon the bridegroom is trying to describe his beautiful and his beloved bride, and yet in the description of the bride we have the strange phrase in chapter 6, verse 4, “terrible as an army with banners”. And it all comes in one sentence: the bridegroom says that she is a beautiful bride, but in the same sentence he says she is terrible as an army with banners. Now, I think all are agreed that in these chapters in Song of Solomon there is a description of the church of God, the bride of Christ. And thank God, in the eyes of our bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, we are beautiful, and He even cannot describe us, we are so beautiful in His eyes. God’s church is a beautiful church, beautiful in the eyes of the Lord, but she is not only a beautiful church; He sees her as an army with banners.
You see, our God is engaged in a great battle; we sometimes call it the great battle of the ages. We read about it in Ephesians 6 for instance, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers”: we are engaged in a great warfare according to Paul in Ephesians. God is engaged in a great warfare. In fact we read in Exodus 15:3, “Our God is a man of war.” In His grace and mercy He has not only brought us into His family, but He has also brought us into His fight. We read in Romans that the God of peace will bruise Satan under the feet of the Christians. So the church is intended to be a people with tremendous fighting potential in the spiritual realm. The Lord even said to His twelve disciples “I give you power over all the power of the enemy” and I remember how Moses said in Deuteronomy 28:7 that the enemies of the Israelites would come out against them one way, but they would flee seven ways. You see, God’s Israel was to be terrible against God’s enemies, and we must bring that of course right up to date and see how it applies to us. This is God’s thought for His church; it will be beautiful in the eyes of the Lord Jesus, but it would be a terrible force, a terrible army against the enemies of the Lord Jesus.
What has happened to that which represents the Lord’s church? Where is this abundance of the resurrection life of Jesus amongst the people of God? Where has it gone? What has happened to it? Is the abundance of the life of Jesus manifested in the comings together of the Christians? And what about fighting potential? I believe that every Christian, and certainly every local church, should be a terror to the forces of darkness all around us. We should be a great army, and terrible as an army with banners. What is happening to that which represents the church in these days? We read in Acts 19:13-17 how some evil spirit once said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” That was when some people just took on the outward form of Christian procedure. You remember those sons of Sceva; they knew the language of God’s servants, and they said, when they tried to cast out a demon, “We command you, through Him who Paul preacheth, to come out.” Then the demons answered back to these pretenders, “Jesus we know, Paul we know; but who are ye?” The real Christian should be well-known in hell, and well-known amongst the powers of darkness. Have you thought of that before? You are well-known in heaven, your name is written there; you are already a citizen of heaven; you are well-known there and you are much loved there, but there is this sense in which a real Christian should be well-known in hell and amongst the powers of darkness.
When the Christian is full of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus, and when the Christian is accepting and mediating the authority of Christ, even the powers of darkness know about it. But I am afraid there have been many casualties in this battle; the valley is full of dry bones; the fighting potential of the church has somehow disappeared.
Four steps to revival
Is God going to be satisfied with that? Well, He was not satisfied in Ezekiel’s day. The Lord took steps to restore life amongst His armies and this fighting potential. The Lord took steps, revival steps, to bring about this transformation. This is something tremendously important for all of us who name the Name of the Lord Jesus. And it is tremendously important for those who seek to gather together to be expressions of His church. And I believe it is more and more important in the days in which we live. I think my wife and I have suffered something of a shock since we have been in Europe on furlough from the Philippines. We have had fellowship with brothers and sisters in different parts of England. And they have told us things which really had not reached our consciousness until they spoke to us. It seems as though some great power from hell is spreading itself, certainly over England, and my impression is that the enemy has been using what we call modern music in order to gradually take his own hold amongst the land, to take his hold in the land. We have been told with authority that some of the main entertainers in this rock music world openly say that they give themselves to demons before they commence their performances, and they are not ashamed of it: “We receive a power, a demonic power before we begin our entertainments.” And they say, “We cast demon spells over our audiences so that they come under a power that they cannot explain.” They say it themselves.
Well, as I say, this is the world, the satanic world of which we are being made more and more conscious in these days. Now is the church mighty against such forces? What has happened to God’s spiritual army? It is easy to go to church, open a hymnbook and sing, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war”, but what is the reality behind that? What is the church? Is the church full of the life of Christ? And is the church mediating, passing on, the very authority of Christ in a Satan-held world? I think you agree the Lord needs to do something like He did in Ezekiel 37 in this day and in the places, the countries, where we live. We will see in this chapter that the Lord took four steps to accomplish His work of restoration.
1. Vision of the need
Now I want to encourage your hearts and encourage my heart. When this kind of situation exists as in Ezekiel 37 God knows about it, and God is waiting and prepared to do something about this need. I think that is the first word of encouragement. The Lord acted in connection with this valley that was full of dry bones. The Lord knew it; the Lord acted in relation to it. And certainly the Lord knows the days and the situations in which we are living, and I believe God is prepared to take steps in our day in connection with that need. I would like you to look at the way in which the Lord acted here in this situation. And I believe that the Lord will work in parallel ways to this, even in our day and in our situation. We will just begin at the beginning of the chapter and make a few comments about the verses that we read together. What did the Lord do to bring in what He wanted? Let us look at this experience of Ezekiel. The first thing that God did as far as I can see in these verses is: He showed Ezekiel the urgent need and the terrible situation ù He showed it to Ezekiel. Look at verses 1 and 2: It says, “(The LORD) set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about.” The Lord “set me down” and “caused me to pass by” these bones round about. So the first act of the Lord in this situation was to bring home to His servant a consciousness of what the situation was. I believe that that will be the first step as far as we also are concerned, and I will say this may easily explain the way in which the Lord has been leading some of us. Do you find that the Lord Himself has set you down in the midst of a valley that is full of dry bones? Has the Lord been showing you what is the spiritual condition amongst His people? The Lord’s revival activity begins with this vision of the situation and the awful need. Are you burdened about it? Are you burdened about spiritual death amongst those who name the Name of the Lord? Have you seen it? Has the Lord’s hand put you down in some valley like this where your heart is sad and broken? And what about this matter of lost fighting potential? Are you burdened that the Christians and even the churches are not disturbing the forces of darkness very much, if at all? Are you concerned that that church which was such a power for God in the early days has more or less become a devastated army, and that it is only dry bones? This is something the Lord must do to initiate His recovery. He must get hold of some Christians whose hearts will beat with His heart over this matter. Some perhaps, the Lord is looking for some who will enter into His travail concerning this lost level of spiritual life and certainly this lost fighting potential. Perhaps, I repeat, perhaps that is why the Lord has been leading some of us as He has been leading us. He wants us to see something that touches His heart; He wants us to have hearts that beat in unison with His over this matter of lost spirituality. Perhaps that is why the Lord took my wife and myself to England. There we heard things we never thought we would hear, about the movements of the powers of hell over the whole population. And we see the need of God’s people because of this advancing power of Satan.
2. Faith in the Lord to meet the need
What is the second step? We can only touch upon this briefly. Verse 3 is a very important verse in this unfolding story: “And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest!” Has the Lord been asking you that question in connection with the need of His people and His churches? Has the Lord been asking you this question? Has He shown you something that, we may say in one sense, breaks His heart. And has He consequently said to you, “Can these bones live? Can there be a change? Can there be a God-sent revival? Can there be a recovery of divine authority amongst the people of God?” He says, “Look at the bones; look at them; can these bones live?” Now the Lord has a purpose in asking that question, and this is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. For some reason which only the Lord fully knows, the Lord will only do His great works when He has some who will trust Him for it. I cannot explain it, but God has voluntarily restricted Himself to fellowship with a few simple people who will be simple enough to trust Him for His miracles ù and I mean big miracles which change a spiritual situation. The Lord waits for those who will say, “Yes, Lord, You can do it, and I trust You.” Now, was Ezekiel of that kind in this verse? You may say I did not read the verse properly. Because Ezekiel’s answer was, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” Can I say that was an expression of faith in a wonder-working God? Well, I will tell you this: this was not an expression of the natural mind. Perhaps the answer was not as full as it should have been, but it was more than the natural mind could ever have produced. There was what I would call at least a ‘glimmer’ of faith in God. Of course, using natural reasoning the answer would be very simple, “It cannot be, they cannot live Lord, they cannot live. Those bones are very dry ù they cannot live.” That is the natural answer. But that was not Ezekiel’s answer. Ezekiel at least puts it back on God, and Ezekiel says, “O Lord God, you know.” It reminds us of that man in the New Testament, who said to the Lord Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (Marc 9:24). And do you remember the time when the Lord was on the mountainside, with thousands of hungry people all around Him? And do you remember that the Lord said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread that these can be fed?” (John 6:5). I think Philip was a good mathematician, but it was just natural wisdom. He said, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread would not be sufficient for such a multitude for each one to have a little” (John 6:7). But it was Andrew who, standing by, had a glimmer of faith in his heart. And yet it seemed so foolish. He said, “There is a lad here who has five loaves and two fishes” (John 6:9). And then I think as soon as the words came out of his mouth he felt ashamed. He said, “But what are they among so many?” My point is that there was what I called a moment ago a small ‘glimmer’ of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to do an impossible thing ù through a few loaves and fishes. Perhaps we could not call it full faith, we could not call it glorious faith, but it was real some faith, some real faith in the Lord. Otherwise he would not have mentioned that little boy with that lunch packet ù that is all it was ù one lunch packet. And is not our Lord gracious? He can detect real faith even though it is trembling faith. And as soon as Andrew said that, the Lord had His release to do His miracle, and He said, “Cause them to sit down”, and they were all well satisfied were they not? It says, they all had as much as they wanted. Poor Philip thought of each having a little, shall we say one biscuit. But the Lord never thinks in terms of one biscuit. Remember that spiritually ù everyone may have a little ù that is not the Lord’s measurement. It says, they all ate, and they were filled, and there were baskets full left over. Our Lord Jesus is one who believes in and imparts fulness of blessing. And so, yes we admit, poor Ezekiel also has only feeble faith. But he is delivered from the natural mind. He did not say, “Of course they can’t live.” He looked up, and he said, “Lord, thou knowest”, and I would say this is the second step in bringing in the transformation. He shows us the need, and then He looks for some faith in a few perhaps who trust Him to meet the need.
3. The preaching of God’s Word
It will not take me very long to mention the two other steps. What is the next thing after Ezekiel’s answer? We see there was a prophecy, a giving of God’s Word to those bones. Verse 4: “And he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” And the Lord put the right word in the heart of Ezekiel. And in verse 7: “So I prophesied as I was commanded” ù the giving of God’s Word even to the dead bones. That is the next step. And I believe, dear brothers and sisters, this is the next step as far as God’s will for Holland, and His people in this land, is concerned. And it applies to every place. The Lord works by His life-giving Word. I believe this is tremendously important. You know, one of the great temptations of our day and age to which we are subjected is to come down to an intellectual and philosophical approach to the situation. The Lord said knowledge would increase in the last days and it is easy for us to become very clever in this world. Even a child has information poured into its mind all day long, every day ù valuable information ù more than we had when we were children. That is why these young people are so clever and it is difficult to talk to them; they are getting very big heads, and I pity them. And as far as we are concerned, you know it is possible for us, in days like these, to come down onto a merely intellectual level. We work out what is the right psychology for a situation, like the present situation. What is the best psychology to apply? We think we are getting results, in our cleverness, but we find the results do not last. The Lord Himself said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” If we use fleshly resources and fleshly reasonings we shall only get fleshly results. And I myself, I feel that that is one of the great temptations amongst even God’s servants in these days. That is not the way in which these bones were made to live. The command was: “Speak My Word to those bones”, but for most of us, in enlightened days like these, that is far too simple. What is the good of quoting the Bible to them? If you succumb to the temptation, you will not see the revival, and the restoration of fighting potential. The commission to Ezekiel was: “Give My Word to those bones”. Brothers, those of you who have responsibility in the ministry, don’t lower your levels. You may have to speak understandingly to young people, and certainly lovingly. Give them the truth of the Bible, whether they take to it easily or whether they reject it. I have learnt this over many years. I have found it is the Word of God that accomplishes the work of God, the straight Word of God, “Thus says the Lord!” And well, we see that when Ezekiel did the apparently foolish thing, preaching to bones the Word of the Lord, the Lord worked. I believe that is why Paul tells young Timothy, “Preach the Word”, (2 Tim.4:2). And I think that is what the Lord is saying to me in these days. I have been looking on a valley of dry bones; my heart has been bleeding as I have learned these things, but the Lord has said to me, “Preach the Word!” and by His grace, that is what I will seek to do, wherever He takes me. I want to be able to say from the Bible, “Thus saith the Lord!
4. Unhurried prayer
Then the last step in the recovery, verse 9: “Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord.” At the end of the verse: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” And so, Ezekiel prophesied even to the winds, and the breath came. So here we have got, what I believe, a ministry of prayer, earnest prayer. You know, these two things must always go together. What did the apostles say in Acts chapter 6? “We will give ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word.” They knew what their responsiblity was, and they did not simply say, “We will give ourselves to our preaching job. Let’s get some deacons to look after the practical problems in the church. And we’ll get on with our preaching ministry.” We do not find that in Acts chapter 6. They said, “We will give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word”, and I will tell you, brothers and sisters, that is where it hurts, and that is where it costs. We will perhaps give out the Word of the Lord in these needy situations, but that must be supported by a secret ministry of crying out to the very breath of God. This is the ministry in the secret place; and God will not work without this ministry in the secret place of prayer: “Come, O breath.” And the word ‘breath’, as in the Dutch translation, is the word ‘spirit’ ù “Come, O Spirit”. I believe that is the great need in Holland, in my poor England and in all the countries of Europe, and I believe over in the Philippines and India, where we have been labouring for these many years. Our most important meetings are the unhurried prayer meetings, when we call out to the very Spirit of God, “Come, and change the situation.” Of course, giving the Word to the bones accomplished something. The bones began to move and come together, but what is the good of complete skeletons if there is no breath? The bones came together in the right place. It says, “bone to his bone”. The bones that belonged to the hand fitted into the bones that belonged to the hand. It was not a hand bone trying to fit into a foot bone ù no, according to this chapter ù “bone to his bone”. Now there is a place for us amongst the people of God, a right place for us, but as I am saying prophesying to the bones brought some result. At least they were complete skeletons, but that is not a mighty army. The difference came when Ezekiel called upon the very breath of God to come and put life into those bones. This message is a costly call from the Lord. But when the Lord first saved us, He told us it would be costly to follow Him. You know, it is costly to be put down by God in a valley full of bones, even that first step is a costly step. To have to look at this, day after day, maybe year after year; it is a cost. And when the Lord challenges your faith about that situation, that is costly. We read in Hebrews 11: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” God waits till someone will trust Him for this miracle. But again, as I say, that is costly. And giving the Word of the Lord to the bones, is that costly? Some of you brothers who have been giving out God’s Word in Holland and other countries, it is costly isn’t it to find yourself in a meeting full of bones? Now what are you going to say? You can say, “That’s only bones. We won’t waste time going to such places. The word was, ”Prophesy, even to the bones”. There is life-giving power in the Word of God. Even if they are all dry bones, give the Word, brethren. And then this most costly thing: the ministry in the secret place ù the unhurried crying to the Lord to recover His testimony. How many of us will pay the price, and see the miracle? The Lord must help me in these four things, and the Lord must help you. May the Lord help us, and may we see God’s great army in our needy, needy world. Amen.