The Vision of Dry Bones

by Robert Murray M'Cheyne

In Ezekiel 37:1-14, we have the description of a vision which, for grandeur and terrible sublimity, is perhaps unequalled in any other part of the Bible.

In his vision, it seemed as if the prophet were stationed in the midst of a vast battlefield, where tens of thousands had been slain, and none left behind to bury them; and many a summer sun had whitened and dried the bones. As he viewed the dismal scene, these two thoughts arose in his mind: "Behold, they are very many; and, lo, they are very dry."

Then the voice of his heavenly Guide breaks in upon his ear: "Son of man, can these bones live?" He answered: "O Lord God, thou knowest,"as though to say: "They are dead and dry; but if You will put Your living Spirit into them, they shall live."

Receiving this answer of faith, God bids him prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them: "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."

Had the prophet walked by sight, and not by faith, he would have staggered at the promise. But he believed God rather than himself, and therefore he obeyed: "So I prophesied as I was commanded."

If the scene which Ezekiel first beheld was dismal and desolate, the scene which then appeared was more hideous: "…Behold a shaking; and the bones came together; 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." Here was a battlefield indeed, with its thousands of unburied dead-masses of flesh, every eye lifeless, every tongue silent as the grave.

Again God speaks: "Prophesy unto the wind (or Spirit)… and say, Thus saith the Lord God, Come from the four winds…and breathe upon these slain that they may live." Ezekiel did so, "and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood up upon their feet…."

The first application made of this vision is to the restoration of the Jews. It teaches that at present they are like dry bones, scattered over all lands-very many, and very dry, without any life to God. It teaches that the preaching of Jesus, though foolishness to the world, is to be the means of their awakening, and that prayer to the all-quickening Spirit is to be the means of their new life. It teaches that when these means are used, God's ancient people shall yet stand up, that they shall then be led back to their own land, and planted in their own land, and not plucked up any more.

But another, and to us a more important, application of this vision, is to the unconverted souls in the midst of us.

Unconverted Souls Are Very Many

When a soul is first brought to Christ, even with the joy of being quickened into life and freed from the death of trespasses and sins, there is an awful feeling of loneliness. When he looks round upon the world, he feels like Ezekiel. He feels alone in a world of dead. He feels like Elijah on the Mount of God, when he complained: "Lord…I, even I, am left alone." He feels like John, when he said: "…the whole world lieth in wickedness."

To the eye of faith, what a lonely wilderness is this world. Is it not so, believing brethren? Look into your own family, look among the families of your neighbors, look into your native town-are not the many all dead, dry souls? Nay, look into the Christian church. O, brethren, is it not true that, like the members of the Church of Sardis, most have a name to live and are dead? Do not most of you show no love for the brethren? and is it not written: "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death?" Oh yes, the most are dry bones!

The Bones Are Very Dry

1. Dry bones have no comeliness. Nor has a fallen, unconverted soul any beauty. It is like a beautiful body smitten by death, corrupting in the grave.

2. They are without any marrow or spirit. They have no work of the Spirit in their hearts.

3. They are inert toward God. If we preach the Word to them, they have no heart to heed. If we tell them of the wrath of God that is coming upon them, they are not moved to flee-dry bones cannot run. If we tell them of the loveliness of the Lord Jesus, they are not moved to embrace Him. Ah! these dry bones are very dry.

Oh, brethren! if you go away unmoved, you yourselves are the only evidence we need that unconverted souls are "very many; and, lo, they are very dry."

Preaching Is God's Instrument for Awakening the Unconverted

These bones were dead, dry, spiritless, lifeless, yet God says: "…Say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." Just so, my unconverted friends, are your souls-lifeless, without ears to hear, without hearts to attend to the things which are spoken. You have such hard, wicked hearts, that no words of mine can persuade you to embrace the beseeching Savior. Yet though our words have no power, God can work mightily through them; and this is His message unto you: "O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." If you keep away from the house of God, and lock up your Bible, you put away from you God's chosen instruments to reach you.

Prayer Must Be Added to Preaching

The effects produced by the prophesying of Ezekiel to the dry bones were remarkable in restoring their bodies-but still they were as dead as ever. And, oh! how like this is to the effects which often follow on the preaching of the Word. How often are people brought only to the form of godliness, but none of the living breath of godliness. Ah! my friends, is not this just the way with our congregations at this day: abundance of head knowledge, of orthodoxy and argument, but where is the lowly heart that loves the Savior? Where is the simple faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints? Does not the Savior say, when He looks down on our churches: "There is no breath in them"? Oh, then, brethren, let us implore the Spirit to "breathe upon these slain, that they may live."

Learn From This

To unconverted friends: We speak the weightiest arguments into your ear, yet all will not move you. We must lift up our voice, and prophesy to the Spirit-we must bring down the Almighty Spirit before we can touch your hearts. They are too hard for us; and we have to go back weeping to our Lord. Even if we could show you the Lord Jesus Christ Himself-the bleeding, beseeching Savior-your wicked hearts would not turn or cleave to Him. You need Him that made your hearts, to break and bend them.

Secondly, believing brethren, what an instrument has God put into your hands! Prayer moves Him that moves the universe. O men of faith and prayer!-righteous, justified men, whose prayers avail much! Be you entreated to give the Lord no rest. Pray for the Spirit to "breathe upon these slain, that they may live."

From Additional Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne

by Robert Murray McCheyne, 1847.