Oh 'Dem Bones!
The old song is a very basic anatomy lesson. To sing it you've got to know that "the thigh bone is connected to the knee bone" and so forth. The song talks about "those dry bones" and "those je-umping bones". Sounds a lot like some kind of spooky song that skeletons would sing in a haunted house. So, people may wonder why a song that seems more fitting to Halloween would also include the refrain: "Hear the word of the Lord."
The reason is this: the song is based on a Biblical passage that is dead serious and not comical at all. It was Ezekiel the prophet who told of God granting him a vision "by the Spirit", setting him "down in the middle of the valley, and it was full of bones." (Ezekiel 37:1). Let us see what Ezekiel saw in the valley, and what "'dem bones" signify.
"And He caused me to pass among them and round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley and lo, they were very dry." (Ezekiel 37:2).
The significance of dry bones is that they have been there a long time. These are the bones of the long dead, bleached white in the sun. The Lord asks Ezekiel an intriguing question: "Son of man, can these bones live?" to which Ezekiel, playing it safe, answers, "O Lord, God, Thou knowest." (vss. 2,3). Many things are impossible with man, but not with God (Matthew 19:26). With man, the answer is "no". But with God the answer will be "yes". This is a principle that every believer would do well remember during life's difficulties and in times when tough decisions must be made.
Ezekiel is told to prophesy over the bones, encouraging them to "Hear the word of the Lord." What is the significance of all this? Is the Lord just trying to scare Ezekiel out of his wits? Hardly! There is a reason for all this, and it goes beyond merely teaching about God's power to raise the dead as well, though His power to do so is used to illustrate the point being made.
"Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, put breath in you that you may come alive and know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:5,6).
It was the breath of God by which man became a living soul reflecting the image of God at creation (Genesis 2:7). It was the breath of God which inspired men to prophesy and to write the words which we now have as Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:20,21). Here, God promises to put the breath of life back into these long dead bones.
Imagine for a moment Ezekiel's wonderment about being placed in such a gruesome valley, surrounded by the spectacle of death. And now, comes the promise of life from the Source of life Himself. And then, as Ezekiel prophesies over the bones, they begin to rattle as they come back together, each "bone to its bone" (vs. 7). Following this, sinew and flesh reform over the bones and then the breath of God come from four directions and those long dead live again (vss. 8-10)! Marvelous and wonderful! But still, what does all "dem je-umping bones" mean?
"The He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say , 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off." (Ezekiel 37:11).
Ezekiel was a captive with the rest of his people Israel in far away Babylon. Israel and Judah had been completely destroyed; cities torn down; and strangers brought in from foreign lands to populate small towns among the ruins. Even the mighty temple Solomon had built to honor Jehovah, the God Israel had rebelled against, lay in ruins. It was all gone; everything. Israel had been crushed beyond repair, and everyone knew it; the Israelites, the Babylonians, the strangers (later known as "Samaritans"), the Egyptians, and everyone else in the ancient world. Israel was gone for good.
Through the vision of the dry bones, God informed Ezekiel, and through him the captive nation, that God can restore life to even long dead, dry bones; "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, 'Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you to the land of Israel" (vs. 12). The grave here is captivity. Israel will again be a nation. God had made a promise to Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, David and others that through Israel the Messiah would come. He had not come as yet in Ezekiel's day, so for God's promise not to fail God would restore the dead nation to life.
The Lord mentions some interesting specifics about this restored nation to come. He specifies that it will be restored on the same territory as it had occupied previously (vs. 21). It was. He also specifies that it will be no longer two nations, but one (vs. 22). During Rehoboam's reign, the nation had split in two; north (Israel) and south (Judah). It was foretold here that when Israel would be restored, it would again be one nation. It was. Also, though idolatry had been such a grievous and recurring problem in the past, the Lord says it will not be so in the future (vs. 23). It wasn't. Never again did Israel succumb to idol worship as a nation.
"And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes, and observe them." (Ezekiel 37:24).
This passage reminds us of many Messianic prophecies concerning God's spiritual kingdom to be established by One to come through David. The Davidic line will continue beyond the captivity. It is not surprising that since physical Israel was a "type" or "shadow" of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, that His rule would be paralleled with David's, and that the church, or spiritual Zion would be parallel with the old Zion. Jesus is king over spiritual Israel, the church, and has been since
its beginning (Mark 9:1; John 18:36; Acts 2:30-33; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 1:8 ).
The Lord also promised Ezekiel; "And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.: (Ezekiel 37:26). Note the following points on this verse:
God promised Ezekiel that He will make a new, "everlasting covenant" of peace with new Israel. This He has done through His Son, Jesus (Hebrews 8:6; 1:1,2). Jesus, Himself has become our peace (Ephesians 2:14,17). Where enmity once existed, reconciliation between man and God is made possible on the basis of the blood which ratified this new covenant (Matthew 26:28; Romans 5:9,10).
The Lord promised to "place and multiply" them. This reminds us of our spiritual blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1:3) and how God works with us to "provide the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6). If God be for us, who shall be against us?
The Lord promises to set His "sanctuary in their midst forever." We recall how Jesus had told the woman of Samaria that the hour had arrived for God to remove His sanctuary from Jerusalem and into the hearts of all men and women who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24). This is also brought out when Paul refers to both the local church (disciples) collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16) as well as the individual disciple (1 Corinthians 6:19) as the "temple" of God.
Yes, "'dem bones" are alive and well. The Lord has taken that which was spiritually dead in sin, and through the power of Jesus' blood has given both life and hope. Such things are not impossible with God (Ephesians 2:1-10).
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 3.9; September 1996